Who doesn’t know that desire to watch just one more episode on Netflix, instead of hanging up their clothes? Or, cleaning the whole apartment, instead of making that one exhausting phone call? Taking care of your logo design, instead of writing your business plan or reading articles about successful start-ups, instead of preparing for your own investor pitch?
Procrastination is everywhere and almost everyone has experienced it at least once.
To understand how to overcome your personal delay behavior, you have to understand the concept of this phenomenon first: Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished by a certain deadline. It’s the intentional delay of important tasks and it can also be a way of escaping the potential negative outcomes that may follow as a result of decisions you've made.
One could say that procrastinating now and then is not too bad – we aren’t 100% productive in our jobs and daily lives anyway; that’s what it means to be human... right? That’s partly true, but when it comes to a start-up and the high risk of bootstrapping and founding, procrastination can actually kill your business and personal success. Especially when procrastination starts to overtake your productive hours and prevents you from making important decisions in a timely manner.
What is important to understand, is the actual reason for this behaviour. Without understanding your personal reasons for procrastinating, you won’t be able to overcome it. Once the real cause is identified, it is easier for you to search for the right productivity hacks and solutions to prevent it.
Here is a collection of common challenges that cause start-ups to procrastinate and examples of potential remedies:
Especially at the beginning of a start-up when there is a great idea it’s particularly hard to focus on the importance of writing things down and putting everything in a structured way. Founders tend to get lost in their idea and instead of focusing on the next steps. They revel in the fantasy of becoming the next Elon Musk, having their product in every household or failing anyways and therefore being afraid of their own idea. Designing your future merchandise before even starting the company won’t lead you to success. This specific kind of procrastination also happens in later stages: the number of tasks starts to become overwhelming and you feel like the whole world's to-do list is on your shoulders.
Here’s the key:
Tell yourself that it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed or uncertain when it comes to a new idea or a highly increased workload – talk about it, but don’t complain. People around you will encourage your decision and inspire you to continue.
Brainstorm with friends, family or mentors on how to prioritize your time and structure your daily work. Especially the bits that you don’t love to do. There are people out there that have been in the same position. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it’s already mounted to the car.
Put systems in place that help you to prevent procrastination and automate your tasks. There are thousands of tools and solutions that are able to help you with sorting your ideas and obtain structure while tackling tasks. But, don’t get lost in the automatization spiral. Sometimes the search for tools and solutions can be procrastination as well. ;)
At the beginning of a start-up, it’s all about visions and ideas, but this quickly changes to actual tasks and to-dos that can be risky and also don’t always lead to the outcomes you wished for. You have your first meetings with investors and pilot customers. Your team is hyped and so are you. But, then there’s rejection: They don’t want to invest, they don’t need your product, they say you are too early stage and that you should come back when the demo is an actual product.
The most common reactions to that are ignoring the very important feedback that comes from these situations and deep-down feeling completely discouraged. You stop having fun and instead start trying to get a little bit of that fun back. You do the things you love and that reward you with fast fixes, instead of doing the things you need to do for your start-up to improve.
Try these things when feeling discouraged:
Reflect on the feedback with your team and improve your project. After every failed meeting, social media post that didn’t generate any reach or prototype version that failed - sit down with your team and exchange thoughts. Make this a tradition. Reflect on the feedback you get from outside, listen to your team members' thoughts and enlighten your day with a bit of human interaction. There’s not a single problem that can’t be solved when you have a team by your side.
Give yourself 72 hours to think about the situation and then come up with a solution. People often tend to fall into a black hole of self-pity when unpleasant situations happen. These situations have nothing to do with you. It’s all about your start-up! Instead of indulging in self-pity, come up with a solution. If you didn’t get the investment, then make sure to get the smaller public funding programme instead. If you didn’t get the LOI from this very big player on the market, just go to their competitor and try it again!
Celebrate small milestones. This sounds easy, however, it is often forgotten in the fast-paced environment of a start-up. Small wins like finally getting an appointment with a potential customer, small funding or a start-up competition you won are all steps on your way to success. Reward your team and yourself for the little things. Order a new gadget for the office, get up and drink some coffee or just pat your colleagues on the back for the good work. This will pay off!
The most common and most understandable reason for procrastination is unpleasant and boring tasks. It’s clear that founding a start-up also involves blunt tasks like managing your CRM, creating an endless amount of excel spreadsheets to forecast your financial growth or cold emailing potential partners and customers.
This reason, nonetheless, is the easiest to overcome:
Know your team members' strengths and weaknesses. If you yourself are on the more creative side of things, it’s obvious that creating a liquidity plan isn’t fun for you. But isn’t there a team member that actually enjoys juggling numbers? Make sure to plan the team’s resources accordingly and try not to put tasks on people that are clearly not their pet issues. Ask yourself targeted questions. If you’re at the very beginning and have to handle all tasks on your own there’s an effective way to overcome this kind of procrastination:
Ask yourself what happens if you don’t do the task, also ask what the possible outcomes are if you do the task and reconnect with your goals. This will get you back on track and enable you to handle the most exhausting tasks while having the big picture in mind.
Manage your time. Setting a timeframe and getting used to time triggers is an easy way to trick yourself into overcoming unpleasant tasks. If you have an annoying task that you don’t want to start, try splitting it up into little tasks and concentrate for 25 minutes on the first little task. Then reward yourself with a little break. You know that there is an end to the task because of the timeframe you set for yourself and the best thing that can happen is - you create momentum and finish the whole thing in one go.
Summarizing, there are no right ways to deal with procrastination. You have to personally identify the reasons for your procrastination and come up with remedies. But, if some of the reasons in this article trod on your procrastinating toes, you’re already on the right path to identifying your personal pattern and overcoming it.
Remember that procrastination is human and don’t beat yourself up when you catch yourself Googling pictures of kittens instead of writing your tax return.
Everyone is different and has distinct reasons and motivations for founding their start-up. There is a bunch of advice out there – apply what works best for you and confidently ignore the rest.