How to Overcome Procrastination and Build Momentum in Your Work
Understanding what blocks and delays really mean.
I’ve struggled with procrastination most of my adult life. People have often thought I’m lazy or disorganized. Not true. I’ve always had drive and I typically have the details of my life pretty well put together. My problem actually has never been related to motivation either. That’s why motivational tips and time management books helped me figure out how to overcome procrastination.
Nothing changed until I realized this truth – – > Procrastination isn’t about motivation. It’s about confidence.
This insight came when I put myself through a time study and then did some analysis. I discovered that procrastination was at its nastiest and most debilitating when I lacked confidence in some way. When I’m tempted to procrastinate, it’s because I’m not confident in either my skills, my process, or the information I’ve gathered about a project. For me, the key to overcoming procrastination is resolving a confidence issue in one of these areas.
(Does this article sound familiar to you? I talk about this concept fairly often and first published an article about it on the Designing to Delight blog. Feel free to check it out!)
Overcome procrastination by building skills.
Hard to admit it to myself, but most often those nasty procrastination habits are strongest when I’m not confident of my skills. When I feel the urge to procrastinate, I’ve learned to pause and identify anything “new” about the work in front of me. Maybe the project is unfamiliar and I’m not sure of the requirements. Perhaps I feel a bit intimidated by the client or the scope of the expected results. Sometimes this is just a smidgen of good old imposter syndrome. These are really all just confidence issues.
Creating momentum requires identifying my feelings of insecurity and shifting my mindset by creating a plan to overcome the challenges I see. Gaps in my skills? Time to find a resource to help me build competence. Intimidated by a project’s requirements? This is an opportunity to review my previous successes and my process for creating results.
Sometimes the gaps are real… but sometimes they are simply a mental issue. Imposter Syndrome, for example, can be nefarious and difficult to conquer. My approach? I acknowledge how I feel… afraid, intimidated, insecure… and then give myself a pep talk. I read through old testimonials and words of praise from former clients. I might even contact a peer or trusted colleague to discuss how I feel.
In other words, I take time to acknowledge and explore my feelings – but then I move on as an experienced, resilient professional. Insecurity is no match for my commitment to my business and my drive to keep my commitments.
Overcome procrastination by refining your process.
Over several years working with clients, I’ve developed a pretty good process for identifying client needs and creating a core message and marketing strategy that will get results. My method is solid, and it delivers time after time, balancing creative energy and candid conversation with repeatable process steps to provide the structure that moves any project forward. This is true NOW, but it wasn’t always the case.
Just like you, I want my clients to be thrilled (over the moon, actually) with my work. I want clients to experience breakthroughs in their thinking, gain insight into the marketing process, and feel confident implementing the strategy we create together. These are the results I demand from my work, and before I had a consistent process to get us there I would sometimes freeze.
The key to overcoming this kind of procrastination is building a system you trust and then following that system in a repeatable way. There are times when clients want to shift my timeline, skip steps, or step outside of the process in some way. While I’m open to a bit of flexibility (my approach is personalized and open for customization) I’m a stickler on keeping modifications minor.
Marketing strategy is a puzzle my process was created to solve. I don’t let clients push me away from it. This allows me to move forward with confidence.
Overcome procrastination by gathering information.
These days, procrastination is very nearly obsolete in my business. I’m pretty confident in my marketing mind, and I trust my collaborative process to provide consistent results for my clients. But I still struggle with feeling blocked at times… especially when I just don’t have enough information to work effectively.
Recently I worked with a client who was excited to shift her marketing messaging so she could reach a different target market. She had lots of great ideas and was willing to thoughtfully engage in our sessions. We moved smoothly through my proven process… setting marketing strategy and creating core messaging to move her business forward.
Everything felt right… until it didn’t. I started struggling a bit, and felt frozen as I worked on her marketing implementation plan. Something felt off… and I initially dealt with that by pushing the project to the side. Hello, procrastination!
After a few hours of wasted time – including holding my phone as I scrolled social media (looking at you, Pinterest), I forced myself to evaluate the situation. Time has taught me that I’m only effective when I’m actually working, and therefore procrastination is an unacceptable way to use my time. As I reviewed this project, I realized the information gathered and the work done to date was not sufficient for the work at hand.
While talking to the client in the initial steps of my process, I had cut corners and skipped portions of my usual discovery plan. Why? My client’s excitement was contagious and I had allowed myself to be distracted by her enthusiasm and energy. I failed to ask the boring questions… the ones that aren’t super fun but are actually pretty important for the success of the project. I’d allowed myself to move forward without all the facts.
Once I realized this, the solution was simple. Humbling, but clear. I contacted my client and suggested we connect for another conversation. During that conversation, I asked all the boring questions I’d skipped previously… and gathered the information I needed to complete the project successfully.
Here’s the point I want you to take away from all this…
Procrastination is an indication of another problem.
Stop feeling guilty. Move past the struggle to push through. Resist distracting yourself with those tasks that suddenly become important when challenging work presents itself. (That administrative work or email inbox will wait, I promise.) Take a moment to pause and evaluate your situation and the present circumstance. Reflect and look for the real problem.
You may just be seriously overtired or really overbooked. Maybe some part of your life is out of balance and you lack the energy to get the work done. Procrastination can mean you simply need to take a little time to rest or reevaluate your priorities. But quite possibly you’re facing a confidence problem and struggling to trust your ability to complete the project because of a lack of skills, information, or repeatable process. Isolate the underlying problem and solve it. That’s how to build lasting momentum in your work.
Every business faces challenges. Let’s talk about how you can refine your strategy and shift your approach to conquer the things keeping you from achieving your goals.
While client work and operational tasks feel incredibly valuable, they are actually less important than the work we do strategically inside our businesses.