Articles // June 24,2022

6 Strategies Leaders Can Use To Overcome Procrastination

By Meenakshi Girish , Editor – Swetha Sitaraman

Let’s face it. Leaders are humans too. And if we as humans deal with procrastination daily, then the best leaders inevitably do too.

I know someone who works 12 hours a day and manages businesses across the globe. It is astonishing to note that someone so productive who gets so much done daily finds it hard to get out of bed each morning. “I spend at least half an hour in bed after I wake up. I too am a slave to the snooze button! Maybe the reason why I don’t bother changing my routine is that I still get all my work done on time,” he mentioned recently.

We are sure you are an excellent leader who achieves massive results every day. But is there a way you could achieve more by overcoming your procrastination? Here are a few strategies you can use to overcome procrastination and become better at what you do.

What is and is not procrastination?

Being productive isn’t just about getting things done. It is about doing the right things at the right time when the requirement arises. Procrastination means putting something off for later. You might be working all day, but if you are not achieving the goals you set for the day, could one of the reasons be because you put off doing something? Are you focusing on the low priority tasks and leaving the high priority ones for some other time?

So, what is not procrastination? If you were intrigued by the start of this article but have other high priority work to do today, you might decide to read the article tomorrow. This does not mean you are procrastinating – it means you are postponing the task for later. You could focus your entire attention and read the article tomorrow rather than pushing yourself to skim through it today. It would help you glean more insights and gain long-term benefits.

In other words, if you have a genuine reason to postpone doing something, then it is not procrastination. But if you keep postponing a task indefinitely or switch focus to avoid something then you are procrastinating. 

Have a clear sight of where you are headed and prioritise the tasks that matter to you. If you are managing a client’s social media account, it will not help if you keep writing quality blogs for them. You will of course generate good leads and top SEO rankings, but the objective is to make it big on social media. Know your goals so that you can complete tasks pertinent to them and work smartly.

Be honest with yourself

If you are procrastinating, the best and first thing to do is to be honest – at least to yourself.

“My manager assigned this task to me late”.

“The deadline is a week away anyway”.

“Nobody else on the team is working on this either”.

“I am too swamped with other work”.

“I can easily finish that later in the day”.

Stop making up excuses like these and lying to yourself. Be truthful and acknowledge it if you are not able to get things done. It is always okay to push some tasks to the next day. But you must work on a clear plan and be sure to get the work done the next day at least.

Just start

You must be familiar with Nike’s popular tagline – Just do it. We couldn’t agree more! A lot of leaders face starting trouble. It is often hard for us to begin a mammoth task when we imagine how time-consuming it would be. You might be a sales rep who has to visit five clients for sales pitches every day. And the thought of scouring the city in the heat would make you want to get back indoors and avoid any conversations, especially if some of the clients are difficult.

The solution to this starting trouble is to just begin. One technique that has proven to work is to divide the task into small parts and begin with baby steps. An athlete was once asked how he managed to complete fifty push-ups every day. He said, “I push myself to start and do one push-up. Once I get down to it and complete one, I find myself automatically doing a second then third and then up to fifty!”

If you have to complete ten pages of a report in ten days, try to finish one page per day. It is quite probable that once you sit down and finish the first page, you will get into the flow of working and complete more than you planned.

Set clear goals

This point reinforces the previous one. Try not to begin any task without setting clear goals on how much you wish to achieve by the end of the day. Always remember that you should set an end goal – ‘I will stop with one article today’, or ‘I will wind up my meeting within 30 minutes’. Some people even find it easier to motivate themselves to work if they know when to stop for a break. The brain forms a mental countdown which keeps pushing them to get the task done sooner.

It also works if you add a purpose to the task. Try to set yourself a goal with an outcome in mind. For example – If I complete the email response – I will have a template that I can use. If I complete this expense sheet – I can forget about it for the rest of the month. If I write this status report – I can enjoy an hour of extra sleep in the morning. By thinking of an outcome, you are incentivising your future self to get the job done today.

Speak to people who have similar goals

There is no greater motivation than speaking to leaders whose goals align with yours. This is a great way to know how far ahead they have come and share best practices. It is also a good way to motivate yourself with their inspiring journey. It makes your goal possible to achieve and attainable with consistent efforts. Pay attention to how people reward themselves for the work they get done. This speaks a lot about them and can help you implement similar patterns to incentivise yourself.

One of the co-founders of a reputed marketing agency in Chennai said, “I spend an hour working and reward myself with a 30 minute break. But during that one hour of working, I ensure I turn off all distractions and focus on deep working alone. This makes me feel rewarded, as I feel I deserve the break after working. This motivates me to continue the second round of work after the break. It is a vicious but uplifting cycle – I work so I can take a break soon, I take a break, I am more eager to work as I can truly earn my next break.”

Identify distractions and avoid them

Distractions are a major reason why people find it hard to get work done. Your colleagues might pull you into conversations. You might end up daydreaming or there could be digital distractions, which leads you to lose track of time. There are all kinds of distractions and while some people can work in any kind of environment, others might need to cut themselves off to do some deep work. 

The solution is to identify these sources of distraction and remove them. If you can’t remove them (like say you can’t stop your colleagues from coming to your workspace and chatting with you), then try to distance yourself from them or explain to them that you will get back to them after an hour. Try turning off your social media notifications until you complete a task. Identify which part of the day you are most productive and use that for tasks that require deep focus. If you are a morning person, then wake up early to get things done and spend the evening (when you are least productive) to do other things. None of us can be good at everything, so the best way to overcome procrastination is to play to our strengths.

Learn to say ‘no’ to people

Hold back from making commitments to other people. At times, we find it hard to say no and end up putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to get the work done. A popular saying goes – If you say yes to someone else, you are saying no to your own goals. Be sure to prioritise your tasks and personal goals before taking on work from others. Sometimes, it is better to say no when things get too much rather than overcommitting yourself and getting nothing done.

People think they might come off as incompetent or unhelpful if they refuse any work given to them. Truth be told, quality matters more than quantity. Any good leader would know that it is more important to complete a few tasks with full efficiency instead of doing many tasks while your productivity levels are depleting. Working even after you feel exhausted will make you resent your goals, so know when to stop even if you haven’t achieved your daily target.

What have we learnt here?

One key factor we have learnt so far is to be kind to yourself if you can’t get things done. If you were planning to complete a task today but it’s getting pushed to tomorrow, you should reflect on everything else you did today. Be kind and honest to yourself so that you can become a better version of yourself tomorrow.

Leaders aren’t always the most productive people on the team. But they are the ones who are honest with themselves and acknowledge the fact that they have a lot on their plates. They are good at prioritising and working on only some tasks every day but bringing their A-game to everything they do. The next time you are worried about your procrastination killing your productivity, just get up and make a list.

Make a list of everything you have to get done by the end of the day, the week and the month. Connect these to the goals that you wish to accomplish for the year. This will help you narrow down which tasks require your immediate attention and you can focus on them. If you wish to learn more about how to overcome procrastination and manage your time and energy levels, click here.

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In my career leading and building high-performing teams, I enjoy inspiring & coaching employees to unlock their potential for maximum performance. The team's success is my deepest delight. Global Coaching Lab provides the platform to put this into practice every day and fulfill my passion of making others great.

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