CEOs and business owners may be more successful than others, but they’re often inclined to put off things they don’t want to do, just like everyone else. Whatever the task – having to fire a bad client, making a difficult call to a board member, deciding how to handle an under-performing employee – the longer you drag your feet, the more complicated the problem becomes.
And, of course, other business-related issues and obligations are stacking up in the meantime.
Effective leaders understand their time is too precious to waste on needless delays in taking action. Not only does postponing key decisions affect the growth of the business, your employees look to you to be decisive and morale can suffer if they think you fall back into “procrastination-mode” when important steps are needed.
Here are tips for overcoming the all-too-human tendency to procrastinate:
1. Find the root of the problem. If you find yourself putting off certain problems time and again, take a few minutes to ask yourself, Why does this happen? By probing into the reasons for your reluctance, you may find “triggers” that come up whenever a particular task comes around. This awareness can lead to an active solution.
2. Minimize distractions. The place where you work may be responsible for your tendency to procrastinate. Your phone keeps ringing, employees come and go from your office, there’s one more article you want to get to online – and before you know it, valuable time has been lost. If something demands your full attention, look for an empty conference or some other work-setting with minimal distractions. It will help you focus on the task at hand.
3. Go after the big game first. One characteristic of procrastination is postponing the most difficult problem to last, with the vague hope it will go away on its own. The truth is – as we all know – the big problems never go away. The next time a pressing issue emerges, try tackling it head-on. All the other stuff you’ve been putting off will seem like “small change” by comparison.
4. Break it down. Tackling that big problem doesn’t have to take place all at once. See if you can break it down, prioritize the various moving parts, and attend to them one at a time. You may be surprised how much progress you make with this approach.
5. Things don’t have to be perfect. You’ve got an upcoming presentation with a key customer and you’ve been prepping hard on stats and PowerPoint slides. Somehow, despite your best intentions, the presentation doesn’t seem quite perfect. But the pursuit of perfection almost always guarantees delays of one kind or another. Your presentation has to be good, of course, but it will never be perfect. Give it your best effort and move on.
6. Use goals to build momentum. Setting specific goals gives you a “finish line” for those tasks you’ve been putting off. Put your key goals in writing (major and minor) and, once they’re completed, check them off your list. The process helps build momentum for addressing the next big issue.
Postponing action is easy to do, but invariably it provokes feelings of guilt and anxiety. Compare those negative emotions to the great sense of accomplishment when you take care of the big problems and clear the deck for the days or weeks ahead. By overcoming procrastination, you also serve as a role model for your team, demonstrating the value of taking care of important tasks and then moving on.