How to Stop Procrastinating and Smash Your Goals
You have a plan. You know exactly the steps you need to take to start a life-changing, six-figure online business. And yet…
Maybe you took one of our premium courses. Maybe you’ve read all of our posts, and even a handful of bestselling business books. Whatever the case may be, you have the knowledge you need to get started.
But you can’t seem to get yourself moving. You simply can’t stop procrastinating.
There’s always something that gets in the way of your goals—meetings with friends, hobbies, sports, not to mention your day job.
“Maybe I’m not cut out to be an entrepreneur, after all,” you say to yourself in desperation.
Before you throw in the towel, hear me out. Regardless of the goal you’re trying to achieve, you have the power to stop procrastinating—if you know how to structure your work.
No one is born with perfect motivation. What separates successful entrepreneurs from those who never do anything about their dreams is that the former know how to get moving and let their momentum guide them to where they want to go.
If you want to learn how you can stop procrastinating once and for all, this post is for you. I’ll outline a simple master plan that will help you stay motivated and keep taking action, day in and day out.
Sound like something you need? Let’s get started.
Procrastination is the act of postponing action towards a goal. It’s when you feel restrained from doing something, despite the fact that you want to do it.
You want to go to the gym but you postpone joining one because “something” happens, so you never start and your goal of losing weight never gets checked off your list.
You want to start getting consulting clients, but you can’t find the time to cold call prospects, so your consulting business never grows and stays a dream forever.
Procrastination isn’t a weakness or a problem you have. It’s perfectly normal to procrastinate. We all do it, even successful people. The difference is that the latter know how to avoid the root cause of procrastination.
So what it?
It’s the fact you invest more weight into your present than in the future costs of your actions (or lack thereof).
Such is the definition that George Akerlof, the 2001 Nobel Prize winner in economics, explains in a famous paper on the subject.
“Procrastination occurs when present costs are unduly salient in comparison with future costs, leading individuals to postpone tasks until tomorrow without foreseeing that when tomorrow comes, the required action will be delayed again,” says Mr. Akerlof.
When you feel like going to a friend’s party matters more than working on developing a prospect list for your consulting business, or a supplier list for your ecommerce store, then you’re putting more weight in the former than the costs of not doing the latter.
The keyword here is salience, that is, the act of placing too much weight on the things you can see and not on the ones you can’t. You can see your friend texting you telling you how fun it’s going to be; you can’t see the money you haven’t earned in six months by blowing off important work.
It’s psychological myopia; a mental quirk of evolution that, sadly, we all have. We could get all anthropological and start talking about how our ancestors benefitted from such myopia when they were living in the African savannas 10,000 years ago, but we don’t need to get into all that.
The fact is that you can’t cure yourself of procrastination and you can’t entirely solve this problem. But you can outsmart it by, among other things, playing in the direction of your psychology, gaining clarity of thought, and getting help from others to keep you from procrastinating.
In the rest of this guide, you’ll take a look at each of these solutions with greater detail.
Outsmart Your Own Psychology
Procrastination can feel like a problem that’s bigger than yourself. You can’t control it; it just happens, and when you realize it, it’s too late. While the previous definition explains the nature of procrastination, it still doesn’t explain why you do it, so let’s get specific.
According to a study by William J. Knaus, there are two possible reasons you procrastinate:
- You believe you are inadequate to do the task you’re putting off
- You believe the world is too difficult and demanding
But wait, there’s more!
Other studies have found a multitude of other reasons:
- You have a fear of failure (B. L. Beck, Koons, & Milgrim, 2000)
- You have a perfectionist attitude (Burka & Yuen, 1983)
- You have high self-consciousness (Ellis & Knaus, 1977)
- You’re anxious (Schlenker & Weigold, 1990)
Procrastination is clearly a multi-faceted problem too complex to fix with a magic wand. Still, you can work on some of these issues one by one, depending on whether you actually suffer from any of them.
Let’s take an example common among most entrepreneurs: cold calling. No untrained salesperson likes to cold call people; it’s stressful and hard for anyone who’s not used to getting rejected often.
It would be no surprise if you tend to procrastinate around cold calling. But if you know that a feeling of inadequacy could be the reason you postpone your cold calling, that’s what you have to work on before you can stop procrastinating.
Take a deep look at this issue and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you feel like you can actually cold call (or whatever it is you’re procrastinating)?
- Do you feel you have the knowledge to carry out such a task?
- What’s your immediate “gut feeling” cold calling gives you? Is it anxiety? Fear of rejection? Fear of failure?
- Are you a perfectionist? If so, could it be that your tendency of wanting to control everything is stopping you?
- How do you view the situation? Do you feel like it overwhelms you? Does it scare you?
Answering these questions will help you get a grasp on the psychological reasons you procrastinate. With these answers, now you can face each of these problems one by one.
If you feel like you lack the knowledge to cold call, then read a book, start a training program, or get a coach. If you’re afraid of failure, reframe the situation to one of learning and skill acquisition. Talk to someone who’s done this before so you can visualize and feel the realities of cold calling.
Your psychology exists for a reason: to give meaning to the world around you and to protect you so you can live your life with the most comfort possible. If you feel like it’s preventing you from achieving something, then recognize it and play by its rules, but do it in a way that benefits you.
Have a Clear Goal
From there, you need to investigate whether you lack a clear and specific goal, which makes it much easier to procrastinate. It’s not the only reason, but it’s a big one that helps you avoid taking action.
The goal of “starting an online business” is more of a wish than a goal, sort of like wanting to make a million dollars. While such a broad goal can push you towards learning about entrepreneurship, you must get more specific before you can develop a plan to start that dream business.
A useful model you can use to improve the clarity of your goals is the “SMART” system, as explained by Steve McLeod, the instructor of our course Triple Your Business. In the course, he explains that a SMART goal is:
- Measurable—it must have a number
With this model, your goal of starting an online business could be defined as:
Launching your ecommerce store by January 1, 2020.
If you compare this goal with the previous one, you can see that it meets the S.M.A.R.T. attributes:
- It’s specific – you want to launch a business by a date.
- It’s measurable – you have a clear action to complete.
- It’s actionable and accountable – “launching” connects with the idea of making your store live instead of “starting,” which could be many things. You can also ask someone to keep you on track of achieving such a goal.
- It’s relevant – it’s connected with your broader goal of “starting an online business.”
- It’s time-bound – it has a specific date.
In order to stop procrastinating, you need to have a clear goal that motivates you into taking action, and the SMART model will be the first step to overcoming procrastination.
Define Actionable Steps
With SMART goals, you will know exactly where you want to go. But you need something more tangible along the way. That’s where putting actionable steps in place will help you avoid procrastination.
An actionable step is any task that you define that will move you into taking action towards a goal. If your goal is to launch your store by January 1, 2020, then a set of actionable steps that get you closer to the goal would be:
- Researching the best ecommerce platforms
- Opening an account with any of these platforms
- Installing a theme
- Defining a product to sell
- Writing the product description
Actionable steps are easy to identify, because you can ask yourself whether you’ve done each of these steps and answer such questions with a simple yes or no. There’s no in-between step around installing a theme; you either install it or not. Thus the step “install a theme” is actionable.
Actionable steps on their own, however, won’t help you much if they don’t connect with your ultimate goal of starting a business.
The key difference between defining actionable and useful steps from irrelevant steps is that the former stem from the goal, whereas the latter are randomly assigned.
A common process used in the business world is to reverse engineer your steps from the goal. In this context, reverse engineering means you break a goal into pieces and recreate it from scratch knowing how all the pieces (the action steps) will fit.
In the example above, the actionable steps I’ve defined are all tied together to the goal of launching an online store (it helps that I’ve launched one and am familiar with the steps required).
Take your SMART goal and break it down as granularly as you possibly can. Make each step SMART as well, so you can measure your progress and even get help from others.
Once you have all your actionable steps in place, it’s only a matter of organizing them. A to-do app will help you put all your action steps in one place so you only need to open it and see what’s next.
Measure Your Progress
Lack of motivation can be a sign that you have a perfectionist attitude or, similarly, have a strong tendency for self-criticism.
A study done by Shahar, Kalnitzki, Shulman, & Blatt (2006), found that people with high self-criticism tend to show lower levels of self-reported “present goal progress” and “future goal expectations.”
Now, I know it’s easy for me to sit here and write that you “should take it easy” and “be good to yourself.” But let’s be honest, no one criticizes themselves on purpose; it’s a problem that runs very deep.
In order to overcome your own self-criticism, which is highly subjective, you can track the progress you make, which is highly objective.
If one of the main tasks of launching a business is to open a store with an ecommerce platform like Shopify or BigCommerce, then the fact you did that is an undeniable sign of progress. You can criticize yourself all you want, but once the progress is made, there’s no need for self-loathing. You’ve done it, and now you can start populating it with products.
Make a list of all the actionable steps you previously defined and add them to a spreadsheet. In the top row and leftmost column, add the task, and in the following columns, add a weekly date.
Assign each task to a specific date—you can set out to define your business name next week, buy your domain the week after, and open your store the week after that.
If you’re inexperienced in most of the tasks you have on your list, assign a conservative date. You don’t want to push yourself too hard and then watch yourself fail, which will demotivate you.
As you fill the dashboard, you will be developing a plan of action that will take you closer to your ultimate goal of launching a business (or whatever your goal is). Most importantly, you will be able to track your results and put yourself in a positive motivation loop.
The dashboard you’ll be filling out is quite similar to Steve McLeod’s (the instructor of our course Triple Your Business) “traffic light reporting system,” which helped Foundr triple our growth in one year.
With such a dashboard, there will be no space for self-loathing and criticism—the progress will be right in front of your eyes. 👀
Success rarely comes from working alone. There’s a reason why almost all famous, successful companies had more than one founder.
Most successful companies, especially tech firms like Microsoft, Intel, Facebook, and HP, had at least two founders.
Not only did these founders tap into each other’s strengths—Paul Allen’s technical acumen and Bill Gates’ business skills are one good example of such synergy—they also were able to use the other person as an accountability partner.
If you don’t have a business partner, don’t despair; you can still get an accountability partner and reap the benefits of having a co-founder, without actually having one.
There are many places you can look for an accountability partner, including:
- Facebook groups (including Foundr’s)
- Reddit’s entrepreneur subreddit
- Mastermind groups
- Local business groups
Look for people who are having trouble making progress and who need help. Search for potential synergies, like in the example from Steve Allen and Bill Gates. If you are experienced in marketing and the other person knows a lot about design, and both lack the other’s skills, then both can help each other and, at the same time, keep each other accountable.
In many of these groups, people often create mastermind groups where everyone works to keep each other accountable.
In a mastermind group, the members regularly meet weekly, biweekly, or monthly to share ideas, thoughts, information, feedback, contacts, and resources.
Mastermind groups help you find the motivation you lack by adding peer pressure—the idea that you do something because others do it—and inspiration—the idea that you find motivation through the success and advice of others.
As Napoleon Hill, who introduced the idea of mastermind groups in his classic , explains:
No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind.
Eat That Frog
All the points shared above can help you keep yourself motivated. Eventually, however, you will have more food on your plate that you can handle. Your to-do lists will become filled with tasks and ideas. You’ll likely get confused and overwhelmed. What do you do first? What’s truly important?
There are many frameworks for prioritizing ideas, and the simplest one is to “eat the frog first.”
According to Jack Canfield, a famous author and motivational speaker who came up with this concept, eating the frog means that if you have two important tasks, start with the biggest, hardest, and most important task.
You can’t and shouldn’t do anything else until you’ve finished that task.
Each morning, start with that one task that scares you but will make all the difference in your business.
Call that business partner as soon as you open your computer.
Launch that promotional campaign right after you wake up.
Develop the financial plan that will help you model your future progress.
It won’t be easy—no one likes to eat frogs, hence the name! But if you stick to it, you will develop the discipline it takes to become the successful entrepreneur you know you can be.
And you will never have to worry about procrastination again.