One common resolution (or goal or intention, for those who don’t do resolutions) for any new year is to stop procrastination. Easy to say, but harder to do … Unless you understand the root causes of procrastination. In this second installment of my series on procrastination, we’ll cover how the things you don’t know contribute to procrastination, and how you can overcome that issue.
(Missed the first installment? Find it here.)
Many entrepreneurs discover early in their businesses that they know the substance of what they do but not the business side. For instance, I once worked with a highly talented photographer who could produce an amazing “day in the life” book for families, but who found herself at a complete loss on how to market her services so that families could find her. She also didn’t know quite how she should charge her clients, and when she started using an online invoicing system, she didn’t know how to use that, either.
When you don’t know where or how to start on a task, or when you don’t have any idea how to do the task, it’s easy to procrastinate.
We tell ourselves the white lie that we’ll just mull it over while we check email or wash the dishes or watch the second season of Downton Abbey. Sometimes we’ll even start digging deep on what we don’t know, but the research becomes its own distraction: instead of looking for the “quick start” information, you research to the point that you could write a manual—but because you’re just reading, not doing, you still don’t really know what to do.
And sometimes a task becomes overwhelming because you can’t see the finish line.
If you don’t know what will mark the end of the task or the project as a whole, it may seem to be too big and too overwhelming to start.
That lack of clarity is common when you confuse tasks, meaning discrete to-do activities, with projects, which is a larger activity composed of multiple tasks. Writing an article is a project, with tasks that include coming up with the idea, pitching it to a publication, outlining the article, doing research, writing the article, editing it, and so on.
When you realize that you’re procrastinating because of what you don’t know, here’s how to shift into action:
- Get clear about what, specifically, you need to know in order to act. If you could find the starting point, would that be enough to get you moving, or do you need a better understanding of the big picture?
- Get clear on what the actionable step is. If you can’t see a finish line, you probably need to redefine the task. If you haven’t yet read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, do that as soon as you can. Allen is a master at showing you how to break down a project into a series of tasks and action steps. When you learn this system, your to-do list will include a task like, “outline the structure of new website” (a task) rather than “new website” (a fairly enormous project that encompasses design, structure, content, copy, and more).
- Get clear on the help you need. One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs and professionals making is deciding to go it alone. Yes, you’re smart enough to figure out whatever you need to figure out, but the cost is often too high. You could spend five days learning to create a landing page, you could outsource the whole project, or you could get help from a mentor who could tell you what tasks you need to complete, which you should outsource and to whom, and in what order you should perform those tasks. The last of those options is often the least expensive in terms of time, money, and lost opportunities.
If a lack of knowledge is stopping you, identify what you need to know to get back into action.
The sooner you take a deep breath and admit what you don’t know, the sooner you can solve that problem and get the work moving again.
About Julie Fleming
Julie A. Fleming, principal of Lex Innova Consulting, teaches lawyers to use innovative and effective measures to build a strong book of business and a lucrative practice. A former patent litigator, she is the author of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling, Seven Foundations of Time Mastery for Attorneys, and the forthcoming Legal Rainmaking Myths: What You Think You Know About Business Development Can Kill Your Practice,as well as numerous articles focusing on topics such as business development, practice management, work/life balance, and leadership development. Before launching her consulting business, Julie practiced law for over a decade in firms of 3 to more than 2100 attorneys, specializing in patent litigation. A graduate of the Emory University School of Law, Vanderbilt University (B.A.) and Georgia State University (B.S.), Julie is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and currently serves as Vice Chair of the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law.
Jory has invited me to write on how to grow a solid business, and I’d love to hear your questions! What frustrates you? What challenges would you like to transform into opportunity? What are you curious about? Comment on this post and/or send your questions directly to Julie@LexInnovaConsulting.com. Please let me know you’re a friend of Jory’s. Can’t wait to hear from you!