How to stop procrastinating in 5 easy steps

Filed in Blog by on April 30, 2014 0 Comments

Image post it note with words do it now written on it. Now is crossed out and replaced with tomorrowIf you want to know how to stop procrastinating then you have come to the right place.   I can tell you all you need to know in two words – “start doing”, and therein lies the problem.  The real question isn’t how to stop procrastinating but rather how to start doing.

Fortunately I can help you with that one too.  But first you need to understand a little more about procrastination.

The Power of “Should”

There are a million and one things we don’t do every day and we never give them a second thought.  But when it comes to the things that we procrastinate about our lack of progress eats away at us.  We constantly berate ourselves for letting another day go by without progressing …………………………… (fill in your own task).  So what makes the difference between not doing it and worrying about it and not doing it and never giving it another thought?

It all depends whether you believe it’s something that you should be doing or not. If you don’t believe it is something you should be doing you can put it off and you won’t give it another thought.  But if, on the other hand, you believe it is something that you should be doing then you won’t be able to let it go.  You will find yourself continually thinking about it and checking what you have achieved so far against what’s left  and this process won’t stop until the task is done.

Negative Feedback Loop

Now this is a very clever strategy for ensuring that you remain focused on completing important tasks but the downside is that it also acts as a constant reminder of your lack of progress.  Not only is this depressing in itself but it also makes it even less likely that you will take any action because you start to doubt your abilities and question what is wrong with you.  It doesn’t take much to jump from “I should have phoned the client” to “I haven’t phoned the client” to “why haven’t I phoned the client” to “I’m useless” which is then reinforced by your on-going lack of progress which becomes “see, I told you I was useless I still haven’t phoned the client.”  So how do you break-out of this cycle?  It’s actually quite straight-forward if you follow these five steps.

“When all is said and done, a lot more is said than done.”  Lou Holz

Step 1 – Put “should” under the microscope

So we know that part of the problem with procrastination is that we have a belief that we should be doing something and we’re not. So the first step is to challenge this assumption.  After all we only have a limited amount of time and energy so we need to decide where to focus and what to prioritize. Is this a good use of your time?  Is completing this task important to you?  Is it in line with your vision, values and goals?   See A simple Idea that Might Change Your Life.  You might decide that actually this task isn’t that important to you and you can let it go.  You might find that you are naturally kick-started into taking action because you realize just how important this task is to you.  In either case procrastination is no longer an issue.  Alternatively, you might agree that completing this task is important for you but you still don’t take any action.  So it’s on to step 2.

Step 2 – Are you the best person to do this task? 

We all have certain things that we like to do more than others which we never need to be convinced or cajoled to complete. They tend to be the things that we are good at and that make us feel good – our strengths in other words.  On the other hand the stuff that we don’t tend to get on with often involves the things we think are going to be difficult or that we aren’t any good at.  So it makes sense to ask yourself these questions, “Am I the best person to do this task?  Can I delegate this task to somebody else?  Who do I know who has a strength in this area?”   The benefit of this approach is that you are freed up to deal with other things that are in your area of strength; the task gets completed to a higher standard than you would probably have done it and you can stop stressing about your lack of progress.  So if you can delegate your unfinished task to another willing party this can be a great strategy to sideline procrastination.  But sometimes there isn’t anybody you can delegate to or you are the only person who is allowed to complete the task so its time to move on to step 3.

Step 3 – Check you have everything you need to do this task?

Sometimes there are very practical reasons that might stop you moving forward.  It might be that you don’t have all the information you need or you may be lacking certain equipment or perhaps you don’t know how to proceed.  It is always worth asking yourself the question, “Do I have everything I need to move forward with this task?”  And if you identify something you need that you haven’t got you can then work out how you are going to get it.  However, these situations are relatively straight forward to deal with because you can usually very quickly identify what the block is and once you get the information, equipment or advice you need you are able to start moving forward on your task so procrastination is no longer an issue.  Where life becomes much more challenging is when the block is not a practical one but a psychological one.  On to step 4.

Step 4 – Work out the cost of inaction

So by this stage we have confirmed that it’s important to us to complete this task and that we are the only one who can do it, there are no practical issues standing in our way but we still haven’t actually taken any action.  It’s time to think about the pain / pleasure principle.  This is Freud’s theory that describes human behaviour as being driven by the desire to move towards things that cause us pleasure and away from things that cause us pain.  The fact that we aren’t taking action suggests that at an unconscious level we are associating too much pain and too little pleasure with completing the task so inaction seems a better option.  But has our unconscious made the right call and what’s it based on?

It will probably help to work this through using an example so let’s imagine that you have sent a sales quote to a client and you now need to ring them up to find out whether they want to proceed.  But every time you think about ringing them you end up doing something else instead.

Begin by identifying all the benefits to you of taking action – e.g. you will know how the client wishes to proceed, you might get a sale or at least you will increase your chances of getting a sale because you can respond to any questions or objections the client might have.  You can tick this task off your list and you keep the boss happy.

Then identify the costs to you of taking action – e.g. If you ring the client you face possible rejection and feeling like a failure if the client doesn’t want to proceed.  Plus your boss may be upset with you for not making the sale.

In my experience most people don’t like rejection and feeling like a failure so perhaps it’s understandable that our sub-conscious would want to protect us from these feelings.  However, there are also consequences to our inaction which also need to be considered.

Identify all the benefits to you of not taking any action – e.g. you can still believe that you have a chance of making the sale, you will avoid the possibility of rejection and feeling like you’ve failed.

Finally, identify the costs to you of not taking any action –  You may feel stressed, anxious or frustrated because you don’t know what the client is thinking or planning to do, you may start berating yourself because of your failure to call the client, you may miss out on the sale because the client thinks you’re not interested and takes his business elsewhere.  You run the risk of upsetting your boss who may view your inaction as failure to perform.

By looking at the benefits and costs of both taking action and not you get a much more accurate picture of what your current behaviour is costing you and this may be enough in itself to shift the balance towards taking action.  Or it may be that this exercise enables you to at least understand what is really blocking you so that you can get some help with working through the issue.  I don’t know about you but it seems to me that overall you will be in a better position if you call the client than if you don’t although you might still need a bit of help getting over the starting line.

And if your judgement is that ultimately you are in a better position not doing something rather than doing it you will have the satisfaction of knowing you have made a conscious decision to let it go after careful and full consideration.

Step 5 – Sweeten the deal

If you have made it to step 5 without getting on with whatever it is that you need to do then chances are that the consequences of inaction are not extreme enough to galvanize you to act.  Extreme pain and extreme pleasure tend to be real motivators.  So to get you past the starting line you need to sweeten the deal either by making it less painful or more pleasurable to take action.

These are  my favourite sweetners:

1.  Make it fun – put on some music, make a game out of it or turn it into a competition.  This works well with things like housework or repetitive tasks that you find boring.

2.  Use a timer – Set a timer for ten minutes and then start your task.  Once the timer goes off you can either give yourself permission to stop or re-start the timer and keep going for another ten minutes.  Just keep repeating until the task is complete.  This is a great technique for getting you off the starting blocks – there are very few things that you won’t be able to cope with doing for just ten minutes.  And what you usually find is that once you have started you realise it’s not as bad as you thought it was going to be and you keep going.  It’s great for tasks that appear overwhelming.

3. Tell yourself out loud that you are not going to do it and at the same time start doing it.  I know this sounds absolutely ridiculous but it works.  This is the one that I use with short tasks that I know are necessary but which I don’t like doing.

4. Reward yourself for completing the task – this is the strategy I use when I have to complete something that I find challenging particularly if it’s something that I am going to have to do regularly.  By rewarding myself with something pleasurable every time I complete the task I start to associate the challenging task with feelings of pleasure and I will naturally stop procrastinating.  The reward can be big or small it’s whatever works for you.  This approach would work well with the telephone problem described above.

5. Make a commitment to others – in ten years of coaching I have met many procrastinators but none who felt comfortable in letting down other people.  So making a public commitment that you are going to complete a task by a specified time to somebody whose opinion of you matters can be a really strong motivator.

So there you go – how to stop procrastinating in five easy steps.  I would love to hear about any other strategies that you have used to overcome procrastination.

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Entrepreneur 101 – If only I had known

Filed in Blog by on January 24, 2014 4 Comments

So The Flourishing Business is now a year old and I am a year wiser.  As I go into this new year full of hope and enthusiasm that the seeds I planted last year will flourish there is a part of me that wishes I could rewind and do the first year all over again but knowing what I know now.

So I wanted to share with you 10 things I learnt:


1.  Everything takes longer than you expect

Even when a client says yes they want to go ahead it may still be weeks or months before they actually do so you always need to be feeding the pipeline with new opportunities.  Even a sure thing can fall at the final hurdle so have plenty in reserve.  I learnt this the hard way and not only does it cause problems with cash flow it can seriously affect your motivation.

2.  You will not succeed until you put your head above the parapet

As much as you kid yourself that all those nice safe activities you are doing in the comfort of your office are vital to your business success you will only really make any headway when you get out there and start selling your business. Sure it’s scary and boy do you feel vulnerable but it’s also pretty exciting and without vulnerability there’s no growth.  The trick is to sell in a way which feels authentic to you and makes full use of your strengths.

3.  Be clear on your vision

Running your own business means that you are responsible for everything and pretty soon you find that you have too much to do and not enough time to do it, not to mention the fact that it’s exhausting.  So you need to be really clear on why you started the business in the first place so you remain motivated and you can decide which activities are worth doing and which aren’t.  It is really easy to fill your day with activities that are not related to delivering your vision at all.  See my earlier post ‘A simple idea that might just change your life’ 

4.  People lie at networking events!

O.k. maybe lie is too strong a word so let’s be generous and say people exaggerate at networking events.    So don’t start panicking if everyone you speak to starts telling you how busy they are.  Success attracts success so everyone plays the game and does their best to appear successful, even if it means bending the truth.   When I first started networking I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong, “why was everybody else so successful and I was struggling to get business?”  I soon learnt the rules of the game and I now know to take it all with a pinch of salt.

5.  The clock is ticking all the time

It can be quite a difficult mental transition from being employed to self-employed or it certainly was for me.   The quicker that you grasp the idea that you are an entrepreneur now and every minute of your time has a value on it the better. You either choose to spend your time in ways that earn you money or in ways that cost you money, those really are the only choices.  I work from a home office and I work in an industry that is people-focused and by nature I love to help people so there were lots of opportunities for distractions and to be honest I got distracted quite a lot. The wake-up call came for me when I did the books and didn’t like what I saw.

6.  Helping others is the way to success

Looking back over the year all of my business has come from people I either know directly or have come to me because I have helped somebody they know.  It is as true as ever that people buy from people and they buy from people they like and trust.  So help people as much as you can because not only are you helping others to succeed in the short term but you will be  helping yourself in the long term.  People will remember you and for all the right reasons.

7.  Take time spending your money

It is really easy when you start a new business to spend money like water.  You are so enthusiastic and keen to get everything off to a good start that you jump right in before you even really know what you need.  Slow your purchasing decisions down – question whether you really need to buy it now and are you going to make full use of it.  If you can’t answer yes to both questions don’t buy it.  Start small, start affordable and you can easily upgrade once you outgrow what you have.  And of course always, always track the money and stay on top of your accounts.

8.  Don’t devalue what you do

It is really easy to get into a situation with a client whereby you start cutting prices.  If you do this then you are moving the client’s attention away from the value that you bring, the reasons why they should be prepared to pay you what you are worth and turning it into a commodity sale.  There will always be somebody who can undercut you and if you get into a bidding war all you are doing is driving prices downwards.  If you are looking to establish strong, sustainable relationships with clients then you have to talk to your client in terms of the value you deliver. If the client doesn’t value what you do maybe they aren’t the client for you.  It is o.k. to walk away from business.

9.  Be energized and follow your strengths

O.k. maybe it’s not a surprise that as a strength’s practitioner I would say this but that doesn’t stop it being true. There are no short cuts in business, it takes hard work to be successful just like everything else.  However, you are much more likely to keep going if you are doing something that you find enjoyable or interesting and you are good at it.  It was no surprise to me that the things I consistently did throughout the year revolved around my strengths.  So if something really isn’t your strength then team up with somebody else who can do it for you. There may be a cost involved but they will do it quicker and to a higher standard than you ever will. And remember No.5 above – your time is money. So spend your time on the areas where you can really deliver high value.

10.  Put the effort in and magic happens but not necessarily in the way you expect!

What I can see as I look back over the year is that the times when amazing things happened were all times when I was very focused on my vision, there was lots of activity, I was using my strengths to the full and I was really energized and enjoying life.  It was at these times that clients unexpectedly appeared or I was introduced to a great contact or an opportunity fell in my lap.  The results were not always the ones I expected but they were good ones. Conversely when I lost sight of my vision, I became demotivated, distracted and I really struggled.  So my guiding philosophy for 2014 is focus.

I hope that you can benefit from my experience and avoid some of the pitfalls that slowed me down.  I would love to hear if you have had a similar journey or what advice you would like to pass on.

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A simple idea that might just change your life!

Filed in Blog by on January 17, 2014 13 Comments

Image of someone holding two balls one green one red

I would like to share with you the simplest and most powerful idea that will change your life if you choose to adopt it.  You don’t need to be highly educated to understand it, you don’t need lots of money to apply it and it doesn’t matter what changes you want to make it will help in all situations.  It’s not a new idea, I am just presenting it to you in a way that you will instinctively understand and will therefore hopefully adopt.

So how does this idea work?  Firstly, you need to accept a couple of principles.  The first is that all of us, regardless of who we are from Bill Gates to Queen Elizabeth II to you, have two limited resources – time and energy.  We all only have 24 hours in the day and we all have to stop and sleep to recharge our cells.  Therefore we all need to make choices about how we use those precious resources which leads to our second principle.  We are all where we are now in our lives because of the decisions, actions, thoughts and choices we made in the past.

So assuming you accept these principles I want you to think about what you really, really want your life to be like?  This is your one and only life so what’s the dream?  Now think about your life as it is at the moment and ask yourself if you carry on living your life as you are now where will you be in five years time?  At this point some of you may be happy and some of you may be depressed but the wonderful thing is that in this moment, right now, you have a choice of how to spend your time and energy.

You can either choose a “green ball” which takes you closer to what you want or you can choose a “red ball” which takes you further from what you want.  It really is that simple.  It doesn’t matter how many red balls you have in your life right now you can in this moment choose a green ball and one in the moment after that and one in the moment after that and pretty soon the green balls will be crowding out the red and you will be living a different life – the one you said you wanted.

Adopting this approach puts you back in the driving seat of your life because the reality is regardless of the choices you do or don’t make the sun is going to rise and it’s going to set and one day it will be setting for the last time for you.  So why not make the most of your life now whilst you are here living on this wonderful planet.  You may not be able to control what other people do to you or some of the curve balls that life throws at you.  But you can decide what you want and you can keep choosing green balls to make it happen.

So how does this work in practice?  Imagine your vision is to be fit and healthy and you are at the train station waiting for a train.  You feel hungry and go to get something to eat.  You are faced with crisps, chocolate, burgers, danishes and baguettes – which do you choose?  Which is the green ball choice? For one client faced with this choice she decided none of the options were green ball and instead she waited until she got home to eat.  It could be that you are running your own business and that your vision is to be the number one provider in your local area.  You feel as though you have too much to do and too little time to do it, however, only some of those activities are green balls.  If you really do want to be the number one provider in your local area then in each moment you need to start choosing the green balls.

And if from time to time you make a bad choice and choose a red ball it doesn’t matter because in the very next moment you have the opportunity to choose a green one.  The trick is to recognize that you made a red ball choice and switch to green and keep choosing green.

Hopefully by now you have realized that in order for this idea to work you need to be absolutely crystal clear about what you want.  So may be the green ball choice right now is to take some time out, go somewhere quiet and just think about what it is you really want from your life and then you can start making it happen.

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Rubies in the Rubble – A company in touch with its “why”.

Filed in Blog by on October 25, 2013 3 Comments

I am not even that fond of chutney but the next time I buy some I can guarantee it will be “Rubies in the Rubble” chutney.  The moment of conversion came when I heard Jenny Dawson, founder of “Rubies in the Rubble” respond to an audience question at the Business Collective’s 2nd Annual Conference yesterday.  The question was about the long-term sustainability of her business model which is to make high quality jams and chutneys out of produce that others are throwing away – what’s to stop somebody else copying the idea, she was asked.  Without a moment’s hesitation Jenny responded that there was nothing to stop anybody – even Tescos – from doing the same and if her company achieved nothing other than stopping millions of tonnes of food being wasted every year in the UK then she would be happy.  That’s the answer of someone who knows exactly why they are in business and it show enormous personal integrity and commitment to her values.  It is exactly what Simon Sinek was talking about in his book that I reviewed last month, “Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action.”  She has certainly inspired me to take action I am off to Waitrose to make my first purchase.

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A future built out of strengths

Filed in Blog by on September 24, 2013 0 Comments

Image granite stone wall mourne mountainsMark Twain sent apologies to a friend for sending a long letter as he didn’t have time to send a short one and I know how he feels.  I don’t want to waste my time writing long posts that you don’t have time to read so from now on I am limiting myself to one hundred and fifty words.  Today’s focus is on the future and where you will be if you continue on your current path.  Are you heading somewhere you want to go?  Yes – congratulations.  No – what are you going to change?  Please share.  As for me – I wrote in an earlier post that I wanted to achieve more so I have been thinking lately about what “more” looks like.  It’s a life where destination and journey are both important.  A life of teaching, writing and coaching.  A future built out of my strengths.

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To follow or to lead – that is the question

Filed in Blog by on September 3, 2013 2 Comments

The question is really one of authenticity or personal integrity.  Let me explain – I am the youngest of five children and so perhaps it’s no surprise (if you believe Michael Grose’s birth order theory that is) that I am a bit of rebel and don’t like to blindly go where others lead.  I will always ask questions and challenge the status quo which is probably why I was stopped in my tracks recently when I was told, “no-one will pay you to be a pioneer.”  This isn’t what you want to hear when you have just set up your own business particularly when that business is in the vanguard promoting the importance of human flourishing.

So what do you do?  Do you remain true to what you believe in and carry on advocating that there is another way of doing things, break new ground and become a leader but risk failure and all that comes with it.  Or do you play it safe and follow in the footsteps of others and do things the way they have always been done but better and accept that you have traded some of your potential for security?  It’s a tough choice and one that has occupied my mind for the past couple of weeks which is why there has been an absence of posts recently.

The answer for me lies in the third way.  Continue Reading »

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Getting the measure of things

Filed in Blog by on August 10, 2013 6 Comments

I told you in my first post that I wanted a flourishing life but what does that actually mean?  How will I know when I have achieved it and how do I make sure that I enjoy the journey?  I intend to use as my reference guide positive psychologist Martin Seligman’s PERMA model of flourishing.

Seligman identified five factors that he believed were necessary for well-being and that contributed to human flourishing:  positive emotions; engagement; meaning; positive relationships and accomplishment.  He chose these factors because they each contribute towards well-being, they can be pursued for their own sake and it is possible to define and measure them independently of each other.  Collectively they create a theory of well-being.  So let’s take a look at the different elements to see how things measure up. Continue Reading »

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Beginning with the end in mind

Filed in Blog by on August 7, 2013 4 Comments

cropped-cropped-dsc02313-e1377250704362.jpgStephen Covey was absolutely spot on with his second habit of highly effective people when he said that they should begin with the end in mind.  It sounds so simple and yet it can be so hard to do in reality.  Take me for instance – I have been struggling for the past few hours to work out exactly why I am writing this blog for you.  What can I possibly offer you that hasn’t already been covered by far more eminently qualified people in the field of positive psychology than me?  In terms of ground-breaking academic research the honest answer is nothing.  But then I don’t suppose that is why you read a blog.  What I can offer, is to share with you my personal journey to a flourishing life and to introduce you to my fellow travellers along the way.  I hope that you will be able to join me for a short while at least and that en route you may find some inspiration and practical ideas that you can apply to your own life. Continue Reading »

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