How to Deal with Procrastination as a Startup Founder
The Practical and Non-Scientific Way
There is always something that seems more important than the task you should be doing right now. This is probably the most common excuse for procrastination among startup founders.
Most of us are faced with this problem at some point in time.
A study has shown that people spend about 2,000 hours per year on average procrastinating. That’s about two months in a year!
Procrastination can seriously hurt your productivity if you let it get out of hand. This is why you need to learn how to deal with your own procrastination. It will help you to become more productive and get things done faster.
Here are some practical tips that will help:
1) Start with small tasks first, then roll up your sleeves and get down to business for the big stuff.
This way, you’ll tackle the most difficult tasks first thing in the morning when you have a lot of energy and willpower to get stuff done! It’s like tackling Everest from bottom up instead of from top down (well, not exactly like that but you get my point).
Personally I rarely finish things if I start big (really, really big) — I’m just not very good at getting motivated for tasks that seem like a huge burden on day one (I’m much better at it when there’s no tomorrow).
So I start small and then once I’ve finished little tasks, I feel good enough to tackle bigger ones! That way, even if I don’t finish everything during the day, I feel good knowing that at least I’ve got my routine under control (and also hopefully managed to do something else meaningful during the day besides all my routine stuff).
Sometimes even small wins can give us enough motivation to keep going actively until we reach our goals! So here’s what I suggest — set aside a little time each morning or each evening for all those little things that don’t require much time but require your attention nevertheless (e-mails, social media updates etc.).
Once your day starts properly — either in the morning or later as part of your daily routine — set aside another block of time for bigger and more complicated tasks.
2) Take breaks between hard work sessions by doing something completely different.
We all know how important breaks are — they allow our brain to relax and rest while keeping our creativity flowing! It’s recommended to take breaks between hard work sessions by doing something completely different.
It can be anything — a walk in the park, a quick run, a cup of coffee etc. — but you need to switch gears when you’re taking breaks to allow your brain to relax and rest!
3) Learn how to say no!
It’s very easy to get overcommitted and it’s not uncommon for startup founders to overbook themselves many times during the year. I’ve never met anyone who can do everything they’ve committed to during one day! If you’re new in business and don’t have much experience in dealing with this problem yet — start learning how to say no!
I will talk about it in detail later but for now, just understand that saying no is one of the most effective ways of dealing with your overbooked schedule and procrastination issues at the same time.
4) Be realistic about what you can achieve during one day/week/month.
If you don’t know where your time goes, try tracking your daily activities for a week or two.
If you still don’t know where your time goes after this exercise — well, maybe this is not an issue of procrastination but rather an issue of bad planning?
The best way to deal with procrastination is by developing good habits in terms of time management and planning!
5) Set up simple systems that will help you stay on track.
There are many useful tools and apps that will help you get stuff done or avoid distraction online while improving productivity at the same time (e.g. RescueTime).
But most importantly — good old pen & paper work too! Try writing down every task that requires your attention as soon as it appears on your radar screen (while tracking everything else at the same time). And try doing something about every single task right then and there instead of putting it off until later (or even worse — just ignore it completely).
It might seem like extra work at first but trust me — once you create simple systems like this, they will save you loads of time in the long run by teaching you how to manage all those tasks efficiently.
6) Don’t work on items that you don’t feel like working on.
Sometimes you have to do things that you don’t feel like doing — it’s part of life as a startup founder. But sometimes you don’t have to do something just because it’s on your to-do list!
If you feel like doing something else, do that instead! It doesn’t make any sense to force yourself doing something if it doesn’t bring you any joy or satisfaction. That’s why I suggest that you should only work on items that you really want to work on.
7) Be disciplined and follow the task management system religiously.
I’ve learned this lesson the hard way — if there is no one to remind me about my daily tasks, I won’t do them! I’m really bad at keeping track of daily tasks without using some kind of a system. And the same goes for other people — we all need someone (or some tool) reminding us about our daily plans and activities in order to stay focused and get stuff done!
I personally use Things 3 and Fantastical 2 for this purpose but there are many other alternatives available too (e.g. Todoist, AnyDo, Wunderlist etc.).
8) Do what needs to be done instead of what is important or urgent right now!
There are lots of things in this world that need our attention every day — none of them is more important than the others because they’re all equally important.
That’s why we can spend our time focusing on anything we want: we choose what’s important or urgent right now! As long as we know how to spend our time wisely, it doesn’t matter whether we focus on spending time with loved ones or working on some marketing plan — our time is ours and it belongs only to us so let’s use it wisely!
The most effective way of dealing with procrastination is by identifying the next actionable item in your task management system and immediately starting doing whatever needs your attention right now (even if it isn’t very important).
You will be amazed how much more productive you can be if you start putting things into action instead of waiting for a better time (which never comes)! This approach works best when you combine it with good task management systems mentioned above — try taking small steps towards achieving your goals gradually instead of waiting for a big win (or going big first and failing miserably).
In addition, try setting up simple systems that will remind you to work on your goals every day instead of only once in a while. The more often you work on your goals (small or big), the sooner you will achieve them!
In conclusion, when it comes to optimizing productivity and dealing with procrastination, the most important thing is to create simple systems that will help you stay on track.
Learning how to say no will also be very helpful in this respect (especially if you’re overbooked). Just make sure that you don’t disappoint anyone by saying no if there’s any chance that you can do something for them in the future instead.
About the Author
I am the Founder of Cudy Technologies (www.cudy.co), a full-stack EdTech startup helping teachers and students teach and learn better. I am also a mentor and angel investor in other Startups of my other interests (Proptech, Fintech, HRtech, Ride-hailing, C2C marketplaces and SaaS). You can also find me on Cudy for early-stage Startup Founder mentorship and advice.
You can connect with me on Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexanderlhk) and let me know that you are a reader of my Medium posts in your invitation message.