If you are anything like us you have daily struggles with procrastination. We see it every day in our own work as creative business owners and it’s one of the top problems our clients share with us. There are always opportunities to procrastinate: maybe it’s that great idea you keep putting off, maybe it’s just a small, key piece of something bigger.
You tell yourself “today is the day I’m going to knuckle down and get it done”. And then, just when you think you are ready to go … that doubt creeps in. All the “reasons” you have for not doing it come flooding back.
What you find when you start digging is that procrastination is really a mask for other emotional states … and that’s what we’re talking about in this episode.
In the words of Psychology professor J. Ferrari, “[People] think that procrastinators are just lazy. And that’s not what’s going on. It’s an avoidance strategy. It’s a way of never demonstrating to yourself or to others your abilities or your capabilities.”
“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”– William James
IN THIS EPISODE YOU’LL LEARN:
- How procrastination often comes from some combination of Avoidance, Fear, Rebellion, Perfectionism, and Overwhelm
- How creative business owners are uniquely affected by procrastination
- some techniques you can use to overcome a procrastination mindset
You can also subscribe to this podcast on our Youtube channel.
Brad: Welcome to Structure and Flow. The Structure and Flow podcast? I think we’re The Structure and Flow podcast, episode 115, and this is Five Reasons Why Creative Entrepreneurs Procrastinate. We’re setting an example today by doing this at the very last moment before the episode drops.
Minette: Yeah. Hi everybody, I’m Dr. Minette Riordan, along with my husband Brad Dobson. We are the founders of the Path to Profit Academy where we teach creative business owners just like you how to not do what we do.
Brad: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t do as we do.
Minette: Don’t do as we do, yes. Just like raising children. Actually we’re usually not … Well, I can’t speak for you. I’m not generally a procrastinator when it comes to work.
Brad: I’m a procrastinator for the things I don’t want to do.
Minette: Yeah, I think that’s true. So why are we talking about procrastination today? Because in our productivity for creative business owners group I asked a couple of questions when people joined the group, and one of the number one responses to the question, what are you struggling with most related to productivity is procrastination and number two is focus.
Minette: We talked about focus quite a bit on this show, so today we’re focusing on procrastination. It’s a tricky one. We could go really deep into the psychology behind this. We’re going to go a little shallow into the psychology.
Brad: Basically what she’s saying is you’re messed up in the head.
Minette: No, I’m not saying they’re messed up in the head. I would own that maybe I am kind of messed up in the head. I think to be a creative business owner you have to be a little messed up in the head.
Brad: Yeah, we all are a little bit, some to different extents I guess.
Minette: But here’s the truth. Brad and I are just back from two and half weeks of travel and vacation and a little bit of family insanity getting kids back to school, and we’re having a little challenge getting back into the swing of things, that unfortunately right before we left for our trip we both got sick so we didn’t get this podcast recorded ahead of time. So he wasn’t joking. It’s Monday and you’re going to be hearing this episode on the Tuesday or whenever you listen to it.
Brad: It’ll be hot off the presses.
Minette: It will be hot off the presses and this is not how we like to work. I think what I’ve learned as a coach over the last five years is that we teach what we most need to learn, and apparently today what I need to learn is how much procrastinate even you’re tired and on East Coast time and we’re on the West Coast.
Brad: Yeah, something like that.
Minette: Want to read the quote?
Brad: Yeah, the quote today is from someone I’ve never heard of but has two first names, from William James. “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”
Minette: I love that.
Brad: And I am the worst with that. I let those things sit around, and not only do they remain undone, they continue to take up cycles in my head.
Minette: Well, we call them open loops, and I know we’ve talked a little bit about this on the show before, but there’s a physical burden that happens when you have unfinished tasks. It takes up consciousness, it takes up space, it takes up mental thought, it sometimes takes up unconscious thought as well. But I think it adds to the tension and the stress that I carry in my shoulders, other people carry in their back or their legs. We all tend to physically carry these unfinished tasks with us. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to talk about procrastination today, is because you cannot be a successful business owner if you’re consistently procrastinating on your most important work.
Brad: All right, any work but definitely your most important work.
Minette: And that most important work could be writing a blog post, finishing a book, creating a painting, or something as simple as collecting money or paying your bills. So that work varies dramatically, and for creatives, we tend to as Brad said put off the work that we don’t want to do.
Brad: Yeah, and I wonder. A lot of times we have people telling us that they’re stuck. They’re stuck on launching, they’re stuck on getting that one great creative idea under way, and I wonder how many people equate that with procrastination.
Minette: Being stuck?
Brad: So yeah, they’re saying, “Well, I’m procrastinating. I’m letting it. I’m just … I keep leaving it or it keeps falling off the table. I always find something else to do.” I wonder if the two are integral. Just a side thought, but it came to my mind.
Minette: Yeah, it’s a great question. I see stuck usually as flowing more from overwhelm and not knowing exactly what to do. But stuck and procrastination are both rooted in fear big time, which is one of the five reasons why creative entrepreneurs procrastinate. Let’s dive into our five topics for today and talk a little bit about them.
Brad: Reasons for people procrastinating, fear is a great one, afraid of failure or success. I saw in another article that kind of resonated with me. I know this happens in my head. They’re anxious about the negative consequences of an action. Especially if you’re someone like me whose mind thinks ahead and/or races ahead and thinks about all the different possibilities, you can definitely get caught up in fear of some of the bad possibilities actually happening, and that …
Minette: It’s fear of failure, fear of judgment, and fear of success all mixed up together, fear of what other people will think of us, fear of it’s not going to look good enough, be good enough, I’m not smart enough. Who am I to put this out there in the world? All those negative thoughts usually are underneath procrastination. And what happens when we’re in fear, is that we quickly go into avoidance because we don’t want to feel the fear. Procrastination is a form of avoidance.
I found this great quote by someone else who we don’t know who he is but there’s a car named after him, Ferrari. He said that people think that procrastinators are just lazy. And that’s not what’s going on. It’s an avoidance strategy. It’s a way of never demonstrating to yourself or to others your abilities or your capabilities. It made me think about a lot of the people you worked with when you were in software that didn’t want to work smarter because they thought then they would have to work harder or be asked to do more. Or it makes me think about … I love the idea that procrastination is not about being lazy, but it is about avoiding showing people what you’re capable of, which can be kind of scary when you know you’re amazing, but what if no one else really thinks you’re amazing?
Brad: Yeah, well, and some people definitely have it in their character not to be the head sticking up. They just want to …
Minette: I had a total random squirrel moment thinking about whack-a-mole.
Brad: Yeah, I had the same thought. It’s about the same thing. If you always keep your head down in whack-a-mole, you’re never getting whacked.
Minette: So true. So fear and avoidance.
Brad: And you can quote me on that.
Minette: Fear and avoidance are two reasons why people procrastinate. The third one is one of the ones that I see raising its ugly head very frequently particularly for creatives, especially for artists and especially for new business owners and that is drum roll please …
Brad: Perfectionism. We’ve never talked about that before. Oh boy, perfectionism. Yeah, you don’t know if you can do it right. You’re worried that you just can’t do it perfectly. I guess you could probably boil that down to fear in terms of because perfect is oftentimes one of those subjective things.
Minette: It’s totally subjective.
Brad: But oftentimes it’s, “Oh, I can’t make it as perfect as I think that person thinks it needs to be.”
Minette: Well, I think perfectionism is another mask for fear of failure, and avoidance as well. I think that we get caught up so much in trying to please others and in worrying that what others will think, and yet at the same time I think perfectionism is very prevalent for those of us who are overachievers and who are just competing with ourselves and it’s never good enough. And usually your good enough is so much better than anyone else’s that it will never be perfect.
I learned this lesson absolutely the hard way when I first started my printed magazine and after a dozen issues or something I finally realized it was never going to be perfect. No matter how many editors we had or how great the editors were, we were never going to catch every mistake, every typo, every error, no matter how many times we read it, how much energy we put into it, and I learned to start to let go of perfectionism.
Art has been another way and another practice for me of letting go of perfectionism and learning to enjoy the process. My husband and kids laugh at me because I paint over canvasses all the time. So my son has two paintings in his bedroom that I’m not allowed to paint over that have his name on them. But learning to just put work out there because when you’re a business owner the truth is that you cannot create in a vacuum. You cannot sit at home behind your computer, behind your canvas, whatever, the notebook, and wonder if it’s right. It really doesn’t matter if it’s perfect or even if it’s good enough. It only matters if your ideal clients are going to like it.
Brad: That kind of segues into or it’s what I was thinking about, is that you get a certain amount of freedom from perfectionism when you are creating for your tribe. You’re not Target or Coca Cola or McDonald’s. You don’t have to make a perfect soda or a perfect burger. If you are creating for your tribe, anything you create or almost anything that you create is going to resonate with them, and it’s thus perfect for you and them and the interaction between you and them, you and they. So you get some freedom from perfectionism from that. You don’t have to create something that’s objectively perfect, the perfect song, whatever it is. Actually songs are a great example of this where you might hear something that you absolutely hate, but the person that wrote that song has a great fan base, their people love that music, to them it’s just the perfect song. This happens all the time. Think about it that way and you get some …
Minette: Like Barry Manilow versus rap.
Brad: Hey don’t dis Barry Manilow. Everything has a place.
Minette: It does, absolutely does.
Brad: Some of it it’s in elevators. But anyways, it’s just a thought that you can free yourself up from a lot of perfectionism if you have a tribe that you’re creating for.
Minette: Absolutely, and people are waiting, they’re waiting for the information, they’re waiting for the connection, they’re waiting for your next product or waiting for you to show up and service to them. So I would really invite you to look at what’s underneath perfectionism because oftentimes fear is just again underneath perfectionism.
We’ve talked a little bit about avoidance, fear, perfectionism, and next I’m going to go to Brad’s favorite one.
Brad: Oh rebellion. Yeah, I don’t want to be told what to do, not fun, or it’s hard. Yeah, I push back pretty quickly on people telling me what to do. So that’s another reason for something not getting done, is if I got asked to do it. I’m one of the people that Gretchen Rubin terms as a questioner. So you could tell me to do things all day, but if I don’t have a good personal reason for doing them they’re not going to happen ever.
Minette: And again, this is kind of an inside thinking thing to recognize that rebel in you. So many of us became entrepreneurs out of that spirit of rebellion and not wanting to be told what to do, not wanting to be told when to do it, or by when to have it completed it. So sometimes that rebel can work for us and really activate us to take action and speak out and stand up in the world. But there’s other times where that rebellion is more like that inner two-year-old throwing a tantrum saying, “I don’t want to take a nap. I don’t want to go to bed. I don’t want to. I don’t want to. I don’t want to.” So if that I don’t want to is underneath procrastination is really important that you become conscious of that as well.
Brad: And finally after avoidance, fear, perfection … perfectionism, rebellion …
Minette: That wasn’t supposed to a tongue twister.
Brad: Yeah, if you’re not held back by all of those things, we have one more for you, overwhelm. Don’t know what to do. Actually this ties into an article that is a recent article, well a number of articles about a study they did that found that one of the reasons for perfectionism at the brain level, the actual biological level is that part of your brain is sending, is overwhelming your amygdala with too many emotions, and at a … I guess a basic level you’re just not, you haven’t trained your brain to reduce that flow of emotions and that overwhelm from emotions.
I know overwhelm can mean different things in different contexts, but I thought this was a really interesting study because basically what it means is if you take the time to meditate and do some mindfulness work and do some actual brain training work, you can reduce that overwhelm and then you’re better at handling those emotions when they come up at that critical time when you’re deciding whether or not to do a task.
Minette: Overwhelm often gets combined with stress, anxiety, fear, some of the other emotions that we’ve already talked about. But on a practical level where I see my clients getting overwhelmed is by all the things they think they need to be doing in their business and sometimes by all the things they do need to be doing. In fact, Brad and I came back from vacation, did some planning on Friday, and I’m looking at my to-do list for the next quarter going, “What, how am I-
Brad: Yeah, it’s not that good-
Minette: “How am I going to get all this done?” It’s good, it is good, but it’s when you do the plan and you set out the plan, it can feel really big because right now we’re still in the high level planning, not in the what do I need to just do today, which is part of the way that we really encourage people to get out of overwhelm, is just to take one action, any action, even if it’s go for a walk. Like Brad said, meditation is a great way to help with managing the emotions around fear, avoidance, and overwhelm, but so is physical activity. So taking a walk, turning on your favorite Taylor Swift song. Well, maybe not Brad. But maybe your Latin salsa.
Brad: There you go.
Minette: And dancing around your house for one song. Three minutes is the average length of most songs. So turn on the song and dance. There’s something about just shifting the physical energy in your body that can help you get back into action and move out of overwhelm.
Then even more practical than that people go into overwhelm when they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing to grow their business. It’s essential that you have a really clear plan with clear goals and clear priorities that are connected to big your vision and your big why. We talk a lot about vision and why on this show especially in our very early episodes I think we did at least one podcast on your big why. But knowing what you need to get accomplished and understanding how much time it will take to actually get the task done can help to eliminate overwhelm and procrastination.
I could probably add as a sixth reason to our list that one of the reasons we get overwhelmed is that we underestimate or we overestimate how much time a particular task will take. For example, taxes. You might be completely overestimating the amount of time it will take you to do your taxes, unless you haven’t done any accounting all year. And it might take you some time and I can understand why you procrastinate because it feels really overwhelming, but if you’ve been working on your projects all year long, all week long, all month, all quarter, we’ve talked about planing a lot, overwhelm gets eliminated when you’re clear about what your plans are.
Brad: Cool. I guess that kind of goes into our short list of how to overcome procrastination.
Minette: Yeah, and the truth is that from my perspective, and I don’t know about Brad, he can speak for himself, but procrastination is not a time management problem. People think that procrastination is a productivity issue or a focus issue. From my perspective procrastination is an emotion management problem and it requires a tremendous amount of inner work. We’ve been doing this a lot over the last couple of years, a lot, a lot, a lot, and it’s painful, we get it. But when you get to the root cause of why you procrastinate and ask yourself a really powerful question, ask yourself what’s the upside of procrastination, because for everything that we do that supports us or doesn’t support us, there’s both an upside and a downside. There’s something you’re gaining from procrastination. It could be not feeling the fear and discomfort of being more visible in your business. It could be fear of not having a difficult conversation or it can be fear of how hard the work is going to be. But you have to really understand what are you getting out of procrastinating?
Brad: Oh, you’re making me think now, because I got all sorts of these things that I’m not dealing with.
Minette: Yeah, because there’s always an upside, right? I mean this is to me the magic of coaching and why I find having a coach so powerful and so important. I highly recommend that you get a mentor, a coach, use journaling or expressive arts practices, even just talking to a friend or a spouse. To be perfectly honest Brad and I both had a big boohoo on the beach this morning, right?
Minette: It’s been a stressful emotional time and just going for the walk and talking through it together and shedding a few tears. We have some aging parent issues going on that are challenging right now, and it’s challenging, but we know that we have to do this inner work as well as the outer work of being organized in order to move through procrastination issues.
Brad: The outer work that’s kind of an interesting one. Sometimes this can help you do an end around on your procrastination. I know that I have sort of micro procrastinations that I’ll be setting at my desk and there’s always an opportunity to do another task that is maybe more palatable and where I don’t have to deal with the fear associated with x or y. Sometimes if you have a larger scale plan and a structure around that, a project that you’ve and this one task it’s just part of it, it can be easier to treat it as just another task that you need to blow through to get towards that bigger goal, that bigger plan. Just a little psychology that works for me sometimes.
Minette: I find just micro actions help, just having a list of both big actions and micro actions. In one of our upcoming episodes we’re going to be talking about workflow and how really understanding the scope of your projects, big and small, can help you to improve productivity as well. But no workflow organizational system, time management app, productivity whizz, get things done Pomodoro method, none of that will work for you unless you master the mindset piece.
If we have learned anything in our three years working together it’s that we are on these parallel tracks of personal development and business development that are ongoing, and we are passionate about supporting our clients to make sure they get the mindset support as well as the practical support. I can give you plans and strategies all day. Brad can talk about tech and digital marketing until we’re blue in the face. But what we’ve seen is that if our clients are not taking action even when they know what it is that they’re supposed to be doing, that there’s some deeper mindset work that needs to be done.
Brad: Yeah, yeah. I would finally just encourage you when you find yourself procrastination … procrastinating. Goodness, we’re talking strangely. This is almost the same as an eating issue. You need to be able to be mindful at that time of what’s going on in your brain. It’s okay if you then procrastinate. Or it’s just the same as okay if you then pick up the next cheeto, but if you’re will-
Minette: You’re thinking about Cheetos.
Brad: Cheetos. If you’re willing to open your mind and admit to yourself, “Hey, I’m doing this because,” and you can be honest with yourself and just start recognizing those things and eventually you get to a point where you just understand what it is you’re doing and there’s sort of this admission that, “Okay, I understand myself at this point,” and then sometimes that procrastination flows away. Cool.
Minette: Procrastination, it’s a sticky wicket, it’s a lot deeper topic than maybe you think. Is it really just an excuse or a mask for some of these deeper emotional problems? Or is it simply that your plans for your business aren’t clear? It could be either/or. I guarantee you it’s probably a combination of both.
We want to encourage you to take some action and move through procrastination by asking yourself, why am I procrastinating, is it one of these five reasons: avoidance, fear, perfectionism, rebellion, overwhelm? What’s the upside of procrastination? And where could I spend just 15 to 30 minutes getting my thoughts and my to-dos organized so I’m really clear about what my priorities are for the week so I can ramp up my productivity?
Brad: Cool. What are we going to talk about next week?
Minette: We are going to talk about morning routines and how they can set you up for success. In fact, I just got a great email from someone else that I follow this morning, another couplepreneur that were talking about productivity also, about why that first 15 minutes in the morning are the most important. We won’t just talk about the first 15 minutes. For us our morning routine usually stretches to a couple of hours, but we love our morning routine.
Do you love your morning routine, and is it working for you? Sometimes your morning routine can tie right in with procrastination and one cup of coffee stretches to two or three. But morning routines, that’s what we’re going to be talking about on episode 116. If you have not taken our unique productivity style quiz yet, we want to encourage you to go and do that. You can do that the pathtoprofitacademy.com/upsquiz and find out which of the four types of productivity are yours. This will help you understand why you procrastinate according to your particular productivity style.
Brad: Bye guys.
Minette: See you next week.