Keep avoiding the same tasks? Make a procrastination list!

Just do it already

Like everybody else, there are days when small business owners just don’t feel like working. And with nobody breathing down our neck to get things done, it’s easy to put certain projects or tasks off for days, sometimes months. (I swear, I’m making a dentist appointment this afternoon!)

Most people call this procrastination — the practice of keeping up with yesterday.

Procrastination doesn’t mean you don’t get shit done, it just means you’re really good at putting off tedious stuff until the last minute. You might consider it “prioritizing,” but instead of carrying over yesterday’s to-dos to the top of today’s checklist, you throw them at the bottom. Again and again.

Whether you’re new to procrastination (bless your heart) or have been doing it your whole life, you can probably relate to at least one factor that plays into this not-so-ideal behavior:

  • Total Avoidance. It’s not fun, or you’re just plain dreading it.
  • You’re a perfectionist. If you’re not in the right frame of mind, or don’t feel like you have enough time to do it THE WAY IT MUST BE DONE, you put it off.
  • You thrive on urgency. You’re one of those slightly insane people who works best under pressure. Last minute? Great!
  • You have more important things to do. Like get a mani-pedi. This is directly related to Total Avoidance.
  • You’re too busy. It might be time look at honing your scheduling skills or getting some help.

I’m not going to support your procrastination ways – I’m here to help you finally cross those dreaded tasks off your to-do and mental checklists FOREVER (or for now).  So we’re going to try something new, and maybe a little bit crazy: a procrastination to-do list.

Step 1: Create a running list.

You can probably come up with a healthy list of items that keep slipping to the bottom (or never making it onto) your to-do list, but more than likely there are some things you don’t recognize as procrastinations — things that actually do impact your productivity and success. Seriously brainstorm and write down a list of work-related things you put off – even if you put them off until the end of the day, when really they should have been done from the start. (You can tackle your personal procrastinations some other time.) Don’t worry about the specifics; just write down tasks that are on your plate, and those you know are coming up.

Warning: Creating a long list of your procrastinations might be overwhelming. That’s OK. Admitting you have a problem is the first step!

Step 2: Organize your list.

Now it’s time to get your hands a little dirty and organize your list by significance and occurrence.

Significance: Consider the importance of each item on your list. Write a number next to each entry, with “1” as the most important and “5” as, well, four degrees less important.

Occurrence: Think carefully here — how often do these same to-dos come up? Daily? Weekly? Once in a lifetime? You might be surprised how often or little the same task rears its head. Next to each item, write down a time frame or estimation of how regularly it will reoccur.

Now that you have two descriptors associated with each procrastination, you should have a better idea of how you’ll prioritize them. Rank your list by order of importance and timeliness. As you’re scrutinizing your list, look for patterns. You might find that you can divvy your list into buckets, like health-, finance- or marketing-related items. Recognizing these trends will both help you prioritize your list and, more even more important, pinpoint areas where you can really focus on improving.

Step 3: Create deadlines.

There’s a really good chance the items on your procrastination list don’t have deadlines — that’s why they’ve been so easy to put off for so long! (Ahhh, now it all makes sense.)

A lot of people who have overcome the procrastination rut recommend setting self-imposed deadlines to promote action. Sounds silly, but when I gave it a shot, it actually worked! Nobody was telling me to do X, but the idea of not checking that task off my to-do list when I promised myself I would felt like a major fail. And I wasn’t going to let this minute mark my long day as failed — you bet your bottom dollar I got ‘er done.

To create a more sustainable system of checking off those “maybe laters,” you might find it helpful to drill this thought in your head: Everything on my list needs to get done at some point. It does, right? Otherwise, it wouldn’t have made THE list. So if it needs to get done, then we need to associate each item with a due date. Use the occurrence and significance work you did above to help determine when you need to knock each item out.

Step 4: Incorporate those deadlines into your everyday schedule.

Now that you’ve thrown some action dates next to each item on your procrastination list, it’s time you start acting! In no way should (or would) you spend an entire day checking off each item on your list. You’d go nutso! But it’s time you get cracking and accomplishing as many as you can, as often as possible. That list is only going to grow with time, you know.

This strategy has worked really well for me: I starting each day with a task that I’m not looking forward to. It sounds depressing, but it’s actually the opposite! Once I check that dreaded chore off and realize it really wasn’t that bad, a wave of momentum rolls over me and I feel completely motivated to keep plowing through my day.

Step 5: Add new items to the list.

Each week you’ll have a few things you put off, and it’s crucial those items make it to the list! While it will be gratifying to whittle your procrastination list down to a few final items, you’ll end up with another mountain to climb if you fail to consistently add new items to the list. You’ve done the hard part of creating that list; just make it a habit to review and add to it every day. Who knows? There might even come a day when you really don’t need it!

Genevieve Tuenge
Genevieve Tuenge is a writer, former small business owner and creative director. She's an avid supporter of local mom-and-pop shops, and has devoted much of her career to helping small businesses understand and access the tools and information they need to thrive online.