What is procrastination?

From the verb, procrastinate; to put off doing (something) until later.

Not to be confused with its near neighbour in my pocket dictionary –

Procrustean, adjective; of or like Procrustes in Greek Myth who seized travellers, tied them to a bedstead and either stretched them or cut off their legs to make them fit.

But enough of that.

What I want to know is who or what steals your time?

Your clients, your customers, your parents, your kids, your spouse, your friends, making coffee, answering email, the television, the mobile, the internet, the dog, Facebook and Twitter?

Reflecting a little harder on this – would you say that these things and people are really responsible for your inability to get those jobs on your to-do list done?

Or are we in fact letting them distract us from the task at hand?

And if we are, why is that?

Well it could be just that you really don’t enjoy doing that particular job and you’d do anything to avoid it (including the housework), or it could be that you are missing something simple but vital in your life?

Is there some basic need that you have which isn’t being met?

Abraham Maslow proposed a theory in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality which stated that as human beings we have many needs that have to be taken care of before we feel fulfilled. He arranged these in a hierarchy (see below) suggesting that we could not hope to attain fulfillment in the top layers of the pyramid, if the basic needs at the base of the pyramid were not met.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

When working with business owners, I often find that the reasons they are in business for themselves rather than someone else can be found in the top two portions of the pyramid. They want the esteem that having a successful business brings them and they want the self-actualisation from the knowledge that they are working to their own values and standards, not someone else’s.
However, when business owners try to work to meet the needs at the top of the pyramid before taking care to fulfil the more basic needs at the base of the pyramid, they find themselves slipping away from the task in hand to do other things. These can include making a cup of tea or coffee, shopping, browsing the internet, checking bank accounts, replying to emails, chatting with kids (friends or spouse), sleeping, checking the doors are locked, vacuuming the stairs – You can see just how easy it is to do something else instead (as a well known kids programme of the 1980’s put it!).

At a recent networking event, I asked the business women there what they did instead of doing what they feel they should be doing. Here are some of the answers and alongside them I’ve hinted at the possible needs that doing these fulfil in us.

Procrastinator > > > > > > > > > > Need

Coffee > > > > > > > > > > > > > >Physiological

Email > > > > > > > > > > > > > > Love / Belonging

Friend / Kids / Husband > > > > > >Love / Belonging

Sleeping > > > > > > > > > > > > > Physiological

Checking the doors are locked > > >Security

Social Media > > > > > > > > > > >Love / Belonging

Snacking > > > > > > > > > > > > >Physiological

So you can see just how this builds up and how easy it is to put off make any progress on those major tasks.

Here are my top tips for helping you to succeed when all you want to do is put it off.

  1. Recognise and acknowledge the needs you are fulfilling when you spend time doing “stuff” rather than the job which is at hand.
  2. Make sure there’s time in your diary to fulfil these basic needs. Schedule time in your daily diary for coffee breaks, chatting with friends, internet browsing and checking & reply to your emails. Then stick to it!
  3. Break down the tasks. Sounds obvious, but sometimes spending 10 minutes breaking a job down into component parts (like a mini project plan) makes it much less daunting to tackle.
  4. If it’s something you really hate doing (for me that’s my accounts) then outsource it to someone who loves it. They’ll get it done in half the time you would (after just one more cup of tea or a quick walk round the block) and you can use the time you free up in a more profitable, meaningful and enjoyable way for your business.
  5. Do it worst job first thing in the morning. Getting the nasty job out of the way first really motivates you for the rest of the day.
  6. Tell someone you are going to complete it by a certain date and time and ask them to check up on you to make sure you’ve done it. Accountability works wonders, I told my friend Susan that I was going to finish this blog post today!

If none of these work for you, take a look at this great cartoon by Lev Yilmaz have a laugh at yourself and get stuff done tomorrow – because it’s not really that important, or is it?

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