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Part of being human—especially a human who runs a business—is having to do things that you don’t necessarily want to do. Maybe it’s boring, or it is going to take a long time, or maybe you have to talk to someone you don’t like. Unfortunately, some of these tasks may be vital to the operation of your business. Procrastination may let you avoid an unpleasant task in the short term but have serious long-term repercussions on your business—especially if it becomes a recurrent pattern. Here’s how to identify procrastination and stop it before it causes permanent damage to your business.

What is Procrastination?

Merriam-Webster describes the verb “procrastinate” as “to put off intentionally and habitually; to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.” Business procrastination is when you deliberately postpone business-related decisions or actions. Often, instead of performing a vital task, you choose to perform menial tasks that are not critical to the success of your business. Putting off menial tasks to perform critical ones is prioritization and effective time management. Sometimes, circumstances will cause delays in decision-making or other processes; however, procrastination specifically refers to a task that you have all the resources to complete but are choosing not to.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Stressed and frustrated businesswoman

There are lots of reasons why you might end up procrastinating on important business-related tasks. If the goals you have set for yourself are unclear or abstract, you might not know exactly what steps you need to take to accomplish them. Sometimes, you may have set far-reaching goals without breaking them down into smaller milestones. If this is the case, you may become overwhelmed and feel unsure of how to get started, so you end up doing nothing.  

It’s easy to assume that procrastination results from laziness or not caring about a task, but many times this is the opposite of the truth. Caring too much can also cause people to put off completing important tasks. Perfectionism is actually a huge cause of procrastination. If you suffer from perfectionist tendencies, it’s hard to start a task until you feel like you can do it perfectly. Since perfection is an unobtainable standard, you might repeatedly put off the task because it never feels like the right time. Fear of failure or rejection or anxiety about your ability to complete the task correctly can also lead to procrastination.

Of course, sometimes you procrastinate just because the task seems boring or difficult. But no matter what the motivation behind procrastination is, the net result is the same: important tasks go undone to the detriment of your business.

What Are Potential Consequences of Procrastinating in Your Business?

At the end of the day, your business exists to make money, more money than it spends on daily operations. Procrastination can cost your business money in numerous ways. When you put off decisions until the last minute, you don’t have the time to think through those decisions properly and might choose poorly. Procrastination can also damage your reputation with clients and potential business partners. Constantly rushing to get things done at the last minute can cause your quality to suffer. The other option is that you miss deadlines or fail to deliver orders on time. Either way, people are not going to trust your company to deliver reliable results and will take their business elsewhere. Customers today expect prompt replies and failure to respond to questions or concerns in a timely fashion can lead to bad reviews and a loss of revenue. Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor, and when it presents itself, you have to act quickly. Procrastinating can cost you partnerships, publicity, and other opportunities to grow your business.

A large pile of magazines and books

Examples of Business Procrastination

Business procrastination can take a lot of forms. Let’s say you own a digital marketing agency. Your internal marketing team is working on a new campaign to bring in new clients. You keep pushing back the deadline for launching the campaign because even though it is a good campaign, it’s not quite perfect yet and you keep wanting to make new changes. By the time you finally okay the launch, your competitor has already run a successful campaign and taken a large share of your potential new customers.

Or maybe you work with a client who is very stringent about their deadlines. You realize that the project is behind schedule, but you don’t want to tell the client yet and deal with the fallout. You avoid scheduling a meeting with the client until right before the project was set to be fully completed, and then let them know that you will have to push back the deadline right before you were set to launch. Your client is furious and cancels their contract with you once the project finally gets completed.

Your agency has been growing and you need to fill several new positions. You’ll have to figure out the responsibilities and qualifications for each position, post them on job boards, screen applications and resumes, schedule and conduct interviews, make your final decisions, write up contracts, and complete the onboarding process for every role. It seems like a huge task, and you get overwhelmed just thinking about it, so you avoid doing it. In the meantime, your current team is overwhelmed with projects and begins to suffer from burnout. The quality of your agency’s work declines and clients are dissatisfied.

There’s a stack of paperwork detailing your agency’s finances sitting on your desk. You know you need to organize and file them correctly, but it will take a long time and there are other things you’d rather do. When tax season rolls around, you are suddenly scrambling to find the right information to submit all your required documents. You now run the risk of making a mistake on your forms or submitting them past the deadline, either of which could result in penalties or audits.

Business meetings and teamwork by business people

How to Stop Procrastinating

It’s easy to see why you shouldn’t procrastinate, but that’s easier said than done, especially once it’s become a habit. If you find yourself falling into a pattern of constantly putting things off, here are some tips to get back on track:

Make sure you set measurable goals

If you don’t know what you have to do, it’s hard to do anything. Make sure you set clear, concrete goals to guide you.

Break large tasks down into manageable steps

Don’t treat large projects as one task. Identify all of the components that go into them and treat each one of those as individual tasks. You can break down projects into as many smaller ones as you need to make them feel manageable.

Eliminate Distractions

Social media and the internet have made it easier than ever to focus on anything other than what you’re supposed to do. Set yourself up in a quiet space and ask others not to bother you for a set amount of time. You can turn off your phone or find a productivity browser extension that will block social media sites on your computer while you work.

Accept the possibility of failure and give yourself permission to make mistakes

Nobody is perfect. Failure is a part of life. Getting comfortable with this fact will make everything in your personal and professional life easier. You might find journaling or having someone you can talk to about your anxieties helpful.

Remind yourself of the potential consequences of procrastinating

A simple reminder that not getting started can be worse in the long run than making something imperfect can be enough to get you going. List out all the potential negative consequences of not starting now.

Get started!

Even if you write one sentence, send an email asking to schedule a meeting, or read through the first three papers in the stack, once you get started it’s easier to continue. Remember to reward yourself for all the progress you do make.