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Why Do We Procrastinate And How Can We Beat The Urge?

Ever find yourself eagerly logging your expenses, or clearing the furthest reaches of your inbox while contemplating whether you’ll ever find the will to finish that report, crunch those numbers or fix that problem?

You’re not alone. Procrastination, which often means doing low-value tasks to avoid difficult, more important ones–or else doing things we enjoy rather than things we don’t–is all too common.

One theory is that it’s hyperbolic discounting in action: the tendency to choose smaller rewards now over larger rewards later.

This concept is normally applied to economics (do you want $10 today or $50 in five months’ time), but it applies here too because, by replacing important tasks with easy admin, we’re getting a really bad value exchange in return for a brief burst of satisfaction.

And for entrepreneurs, who ought to be solely focused on the jobs that are important and urgent, it’s a false efficiency. Succumbing to the draw of simple, repetitive tasks can become a serious issue for the health and growth of our businesses. So, how do we get a grip on it?

Gaining self-awareness

First, we must grasp why we procrastinate in the first place. A 2013 study by the University of Sheffield proposes that we are prioritizing the regulation of the mood of the present self over the consequences to the future self (another good reason to never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry).

Knowing this, we can convert a lengthy, difficult job into a series of smaller, more manageable steps that can be performed with speed, giving us the sense of satisfaction we crave.

Greater self-awareness can also help us work out if the jobs on our to-do list should be there at all. While it’s always useful to have a basic level of understanding about areas that lie outside your expertise, tasks you’re putting off may be best left to those who know more.

For example, you’ve identified a pressing problem in your business: your website is doing a poor job of turning visitors to customers, and it needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

This job is both important and urgent, because it’s hurting new business and your bottom line with every day that passes, but it’s also overwhelming if you don’t know what to fix.

So, let’s break it down and work out what the job really entails:

  1. Do some internet research and teach myself a little about website user behaviour and psychology, so I can be more informed
  2. Look at our analytics to see if these reveal anything obvious about my website’s failings
  3. Write a short project brief, outlining the problem and what a good outcome would be
  4. Through my network, request recommendations for website consultants
  5. Narrow recommendations down to a shortlist of three, contact them all and ask for information about their service
  6. Compare quotes and ask further questions
  7. Hire the best consultant
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