Productivity hack – don’t delay asking questions where you might not like the answer

This morning I got an email post from the Positivity Blog which lists five ways to overcome procrastination (see the box below, all good tips).  The email immediately made me think of a form of procrastination I see frequently at startups, and that is avoiding asking questions where the answer might be one you don’t want to hear. 

The problem typically occurs when progress isn’t as rapid as everyone had hoped and can have any number of reasons, but probably the most important is a desire to not lose the possibility of a development that will rapidly change the company’s fortunes.  That is understandable as everyone needs hope, and complicated by the fact that the issue is never black and white – it can always seem smarter to not ask for a deal today when with a little more background work the chance of getting a yes might increase by next month – but the irony is that it is at precisely these times that a company needs to focus its energy and resources on finding new opportunities that will progress more quickly. 

One thing I can say for sure is that the best executives I have worked with are very quick to call it when a hoped for development starts to look unlikely and at that point they rapidly divert resources and mental commitment to other more promising areas, usually without killing the original opportunity.  The chairman of BuyAt, the late Bruce McLaren was especially good at this.

To make my point real, the sorts of developments and opportunities that I’m talking about are fund raisings, exits, big partnership deals and one off big sales.  Every company needs them and everyone should work hard to chase them down, but my point here is to be very conscious of the point where the returns on your effort start to diminish.

"How soon ‘not now’ becomes ‘never’."

Martin Luther

"A year from now you may wish you had started today."

Karen Lamb

Procrastination is probably one of the most common problems people have in their day to day life. So find a procrastination solution that works for you.

Here are five of them. Try them out and see which one or ones that fit you the best.

1. Do the hardest thing first.

What this means is simply to do the hardest and most important task of the day first thing in the morning. A good start in the morning lifts your spirits and creates a positive momentum for the rest of the day. That often creates a pretty productive day.

2. How do you eat an elephant?

Don’t try to take it all in one big bite. It becomes overwhelming which leads to procrastination. Split a task into small actionable steps. Then just focus on the first step and nothing else. Just do that one until it’s done. Then move on to the next step.

3. Recognize that there is more pain in procrastinating than not.

If you have procrastinated a lot you might have discovered that you procrastinate to avoid doing something that is boring, hard etc. You want to avoid that pain. But after having some experience with procrastination you’ll probably realise that procrastination itself causes your more pain than actually just doing what you were supposed to. Realising the true amount of pain in the two choices will make it easier to get things done.

4. Make a small deal with yourself.

Promise yourself that you’ll work on something for just 5 minutes. After those 5 minutes you can do something else if you want to. But make a note in your schedule for when you will come back to the task and work another 5 minutes on it. No matter how unpleasant a task may be, you can often talk yourself into working 5 minutes on it.

I’ve found this one to be effective to make a dent in those tasks you have put off for a longer while. Because many times you will just continue working after those 5 minutes have passed. It is the first few minutes of getting started that is the hardest part.

5. Use my three step method for doing something even when you don’t feel like it.

Mundane or routine tasks can be a bit boring. Maybe you have a lot or emails to reply to or phone calls to make. Batch them – do them all in row – to get them done quicker.

If you feel inner resistance and just can’t get started try this three step method to be able to reduce that resistance, up your motivation and get going.

Step 1: Accept it.

When you feel resistance within towards doing something the natural instinct may be to try to push that feeling away. To brush it off. I have found that doing the opposite and just accepting that it is there can do wonders.

Tell yourself: "This is how I feel right now and I accept it".

This sounds counterintuitive and perhaps like you’re giving up. However by accepting how you feel instead of resisting it you reduce the emotional energy that you are feeding into this problem. It then tends to just kinda lose speed like a car that runs out of fuel. And oftentimes it becomes so weak after while that it moves out of your inner focus and disappears.

This step may be all you need to reduce the negative feelings enough to be able to start taking action. If not, move on to the next step.

Step 2: List the positives.

After you have accepted how you feel list the positives of getting this thing done. Do it on paper, on your computer or just in your head.

When you don’t feel like doing something it’s very easy to get stuck and just focus on the negative aspects such as it being hard work or the risk of pain or failure.

So you need to change what you are focusing on to motivate yourself to take action. Making a list of positives like benefits and possible opportunities can be very effective for turning your focus around.

If you have problems getting started ask yourself questions that will empower you. Questions like:

– What is awesome about this situation?

– What is the hidden opportunity in this situation?

You can pretty much always find positives about anything. There are lessons to be learned about yourself and your world and opportunities to be found if you look at things the right way.

Step 3: Just do it.

You should now have reduced much of the resistance within and feel more motivated to start taking action and getting your thing done

It is at this point tempting to start thinking again. To reconsider and ponder. But I have found that if you do that then it easy to fall back into the same place where you began. You start to question doing this. Your focus starts to turn back to the negative aspects again.

So when I am at this point I usually just stop thinking and get my butt out of the chair. I get moving and I just do it.

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  • I have a tendency to just keep taking action consistently with no guide until its all done.

  • Thanks for sharing this Nic. I definitely procrastinate a lot lately and I need to get out of this vicious circle.

    This plan sounds exactly what I need.

    Thanks again.

  • What happens when you have too much to do and you have to choose some things to put off until tomorrow?

  • The problem typically occurs when progress isn’t as rapid as everyone had hoped and can have any number of reasons, but probably the most important is a desire to not lose the possibility of a development that will rapidly change the company’s fortunes. Totally agree with that point right there.

  • Totally weird. That wasn't me. And there aren't many David Semeria's in the world. Why on earth would some pretend to be me?

  • interesting blog, keep it up.