When I started this blog post, I did what I normally do: I opened a new doc, wiggled my fingers, and rested them on the keys of my laptop. “Procrastination,” I wrote.
No flashes of inspiration were coming to me, so I did what I also (sometimes) normally do: I looked at my pinned tabs in Chrome, I checked my emails, I looked around. A bird flew from chair to chair, a strange sight in a shopping mall.
“How did he get in here? More importantly, who helps him get out?” I pondered.
Naturally, I picked up my phone and Googled, “Who gets birds out of malls?” A blog post from The National Audubon Society appeared first, providing step-by-step instructions for capturing a rogue mall bird so you can safely free him.
“Well, I can’t very well ask for a shoebox and a towel and spend my afternoon attempting to capture this bird, can I?” I reminded myself. I checked the search results again.
Ah, finally, an answer that made me feel better and like the burden was not on my shoulders… Some stranger on Quora who may or may not be an authority on the topic wrote that typically the mall workers wait for the bird to enter a store with lower ceilings, and then carefully capture and remove the bird from the mall.
“Thank God, this bird will be freed by the nice mall workers and I can sleep tonight.”
I returned my eyes once again to my computer screen and the document with one lonely little word on it. The word “Procrastination.” I’d just procrastinated writing a blog post on procrastination.
To quote Airplane II, “Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.”
Why Do We All Procrastinate?
I’m sure if you’re a human reading this and not a Google bot, you’ve experienced a similar situation. Maybe you didn’t have a bird to make procrastinating the easy and obvious choice, but you of course found plenty of distractions to keep you from doing the thing you knew you needed to do.
Why do we all procrastinate?
Well, all the brainy neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and researchers are finally telling us what we want to hear: it’s not our fault. Well, not really. At least not in the way you’re probably thinking…
You’re probably used to thoughts like “I’m lazy,” or “Why can’t I just be disciplined enough to do this?” You know, all those thoughts that crop up and tell us we’re not normal — that there’s something wrong with us.
But here’s the good news. According to Dr. Tim Pychyl, a professor of psychology and a member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa:
“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.”
He explains that we’re hardwired to prioritize “short-term mood repair” over the “longer-term pursuit of intended actions.” In other words, those productivity and time management books that promise they’ll teach you how to do 40 hours worth of work in 8? You can finally remove them from your Amazon cart.
‘Cause here’s the thing: we don’t procrastinate because of a character flaw. We procrastinate because it provides immediate relief from unpleasant feelings or moods around the task at hand. And Dr. Pychyl isn’t the only one who thinks it has more to do with feelings than flaws.
Dr. Fuschia Siroir, a professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield, says,
“People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.” She also says, “The thoughts we have about procrastination typically exacerbate our distress and stress, which contribute to further procrastination.”
Wait, so all that self-blame and feeling bad about yourself because you’re procrastinating just makes you procrastinate more? Life is full of “fun” little cycles like that, isn’t it?
The good news is now you know, and knowing is half the battle.
So, the next time you catch yourself procrastinating, don’t be too hard on yourself. Acknowledge that there’s nothing “wrong” with you, and that all you’re really doing is what you’re programmed to do: deflect threats/discomfort/pain for temporary relief. It’s evolution, baby.
And hey, the problems caused by your procrastination aren’t your problems anyway — they’re the problems of future you. Do you really care more about future you than you do present you?
Of course not, because future you isn’t as solid a concept as present you. Sure, if you do what you need to do it might feel good for future you, but present you is more interested in feeling good right now.
How Can We Stop Procrastinating?
So, we know that you’re normal. Phew. But does this mean there’s nothing you can do? Is procrastination an inevitable part of your future?
Thankfully those smart neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and researchers didn’t stop with “You’re normal.” They also offered some advice for how to hack our brains and get things done.
What’s the secret? 1. Give yourself a greater reward than the reward procrastination provides. 2. Make it harder to procrastinate and easier to get things done. 3. Think only about the next step.
#1 Give yourself a greater reward.
Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center, calls this the “Bigger Better Offer” or “B.B.O.”
How does it work?
Well, procrastinating feels kinda good because it keeps us from doing the thing we don’t want to do, whatever that may be. Avoidance feels all warm and fuzzy. So, we have to find something that feels even warmer and fuzzier.
What you might not expect though, is that that warmer and fuzzier feeling comes from self-forgiveness. We have to respond to our tendency to want to procrastinate, not with self-blame, but with self-acceptance. We have to show ourselves some compassion and not take this one habit and let it define us.
When we make it personal and infer that because we’re procrastinating we’re lazy, undisciplined, bad stewards of our time, etc., we actually create even more pain around what we need to do, and deepen our drive for avoidance.
So step one is letting go of that self-blame and giving yourself a pass. That’s the reward: self-compassion and forgiveness. And it’s a much bigger reward than the reward of avoidance.
#2 Make it harder to procrastinate and easier to get things done.
What are your go-to procrastination activities? Do you head over to Facebook? Delete emails? Google existential questions? Organize your desk drawers? Whatever you do, make it harder for yourself.
Delete the Facebook app from your phone or logout of Facebook on your computer so it takes more effort and time to log in. Or, keep your phone in a locked drawer while you’re working on the task at hand, so you can’t just reach over and pick it up every time a notification dings.
But don’t just make it harder to do what you want to do — make it easier to do what you need to do.
Most writers are pretty familiar with procrastination, and the successful ones have methods for making it harder to procrastinate and easier to get work done. Some use writing programs that remove every possible distraction and leave only the document up in front of them. Others turn off their wi-fi, and still others forego the computer altogether and use typewriters. All of these methods are perfect examples of the procrastination brain hack we’re talking about here.
Another common example is the gym clothes/pjs hack. The idea is if you want to work out in the mornings but are having a hard time making a habit of it, sleep in your gym clothes so all you have to do is get up and go. No excuses.
Want to meditate daily? Enable reminders from your meditation app for first thing in the morning. The moment my alarm goes off, my meditation app says, “Swipe right for your morning meditation.” So of course I meditate more frequently since enabling that reminder. Why wouldn’t I? All I have to do is swipe.
#3 Think only about the next step.
Hey, let’s face it. Part of procrastination is intimidation. We see something we don’t really want to do and it’s big, it’s daunting, it’s threatening. So we don’t do it.
Lots of productivity gurus tell us that the answer lies in breaking big tasks up into smaller, more doable chunks. Sure, breaking a big task up into smaller tasks might help, but when it comes to procrastination, all it’s really doing is giving you 20 little things to do instead of one big thing. Lengthening the to-do list isn’t really the solution.
Instead, eliminate the anxiety around the task by thinking only about the next step — not all the steps hereafter.
What needs to be done to start the task? Now that I’ve started, what’s my next step?
When you focus only on the next step you have to take, you eliminate the emotional resistance to starting. This simple switch in how you think calms your body and prevents overwhelm, because you’re not even thinking about the 20 different things you have to do to achieve your goal. You’re only thinking about the one thing you have to do right now.
But the way you think about that next step is important, too.
Instead of thinking, “I have to do this next,” think, “What’s the next thing I would do, even though I’m not going to do it?” suggests Dr. Pychyl.
That curious and non-committal approach will take some of the “should” and “have to” emotion that causes resistance out of the task, allowing you to just get started.
And the good news is that once you’ve started, it’ll be easier to keep the momentum going because of the sunk-cost bias. This is the neural bias that makes us stick with things we’ve already “sunk” time and energy into.
(That’s why it took you so long to finally give up and put away that 1000 piece Darth Vader puzzle you started.)
What Things Should You Be Doing?
In business, there are a lot of things you need to do to be successful that you might not really want to do. Like follow-up. A lot of business owners dread the follow up process for many reasons, and they come up with all kinds of excuses for why they don’t or won’t do it. But those excuses are really just forms of procrastination.
The solution: hack the heck out of your brain by making it more convenient to do what you need to do. Set up systems that automate processes you don’t get excited about and watch as the rewards roll in. Once it’s easier and more rewarding to get those things done than it is to avoid them, you’ll find yourself procrastinating less and less. And that’s something present you and future you can be happy about!
You know you should do it and do it consistently. You know the value of doing it and what you have to gain. But even still, you just don’t do it…
That’s the story behind a lot of things in life, from flossing and hitting the gym a few times a week to skipping the latte and putting that money into a savings account.
Truth is, we all make excuses in life — it’s part of being human. In fact, some excuses are so universal that we hear them pop up over and over again.
But if you really dissect them, you’ll find they’re illusions with no real meat to them. Like these 10 excuses we hear for why businesses just don’t follow up…
Excuse #1: Follow up is a waste of time.
Wait, what? Uh, actually, not following up makes the rest of your sales process a waste of time.
Think about it…you spent time on your marketing in order to attract that customer.
When the customer got in touch with you, you or your office staff spent time on the phone answering their questions and scheduling their appointment.
Time went into getting their info and adding them to whatever system you use to manage your clients and your schedule.
Then, your tech spent time driving to the home or business, walking around, speaking with the customer, and gathering the info needed to understand the scope of the project.
Afterwards, your tech spent time putting together an estimate for the work that needed to be done and getting that estimate to the customer.
That’s a lot of time spent. And if you shoot that estimate off and never reach back out to the customer to follow up, that’s a lot of time wasted.
When we really dissect it, we find that follow up is not a waste of time — it actually prevents the rest of your sales process from being a waste of time.
So don’t let the fact that follow up takes time mislead you into thinking that it wastes time.
Excuse #2: Following up is not as productive as selling what’s in front of me.
Ooh, look! Something shiny and new! We get it. The new, the fresh, the right in front of you is way more appealing than the old.
But you’ve already provided an estimate and you’ve already invested time and effort into the sale.
Why spill your beer, strain your back, and nearly break your fishing rod trying to reel in that big fish, if you’re just going to cut the line and recast when you see sardines nearby?
Truth is: jobs that require follow up are almost always more lucrative, higher ticket jobs. In other words, they’re your big fish.
If you don’t want to worry about your next meal, you need to keep after the big fish, even though the little fish may be easier to catch.
We’ll drop the fishing analogy now.
Here’s the moral: don’t abandon the most valuable jobs just because you’re not big on follow up. You could be one, two, three touches away from convincing your customer to say yes to handing over their money, their trust, and their loyalty.
So stick with it, even when something new comes along.
Excuse #3: I don’t want to bother my customers.
Okay, like literally everyone else, you’ve probably been harassed by an annoying salesperson who just couldn’t take a hint or wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Maybe a sales rep from a certain 4 letter word review site? Just a guess…
Yes, being contacted over and over again when you’ve already said you’re not interested is annoying, and the fact that you don’t want to be like that means you’re a good man, Charlie Brown.
But reaching out to your customers every so often after you’ve provided an estimate isn’t a pushy, annoying thing to do.
Sure, if they say no and you continue to reach out to them to try to get them to change their mind, you’re stepping into “bothersome” “annoying” “harassment” territory. But follow up in and of itself isn’t synonymous with harassment.
The two should feel nothing alike!
Ever had a vet call to check on your pooch after a visit? Ever had a company email to see if you had any questions about a big purchase you were mulling over? Was that annoying or did you kinda, sorta like it?
Truth is: what your customers will actually think when you follow up is that you haven’t forgotten about them…that you care about them beyond that first interaction. Those are good thoughts and feelings to have.
So separate follow up from harassment in your mind. They’re very different things, just ask Webster!
Excuse #4: Following up makes me look desperate.
Here’s the thing: following up will only make you look desperate if you make it all about you.
When you make it about the customer and their needs, there’s no way you can come off as desperate. Instead, you’ll come off as caring and helpful.
In reality, you’re doing them a disservice by not following up because:
- People forget
- Uncertainty leads to inaction
They have hesitations they might not voice if they aren’t followed up with by someone who is understanding and wants what’s best for them.
If you truly believe the service you’re providing is something your customers need, something that will enhance their lives, following up isn’t an act of desperation, it’s your responsibility.
And if you choose not to follow up out of fear of appearing desperate, those hesitations will always stand between you and your sale.
Excuse #5: Following up doesn’t work.
You know what else doesn’t work if you don’t keep at it or do it right? Almost everything.
What if you went to the gym once, and because you didn’t lose weight or build muscle, you put your sneakers in storage thinking, “Well, obviously working out doesn’t work and I’ll never reach my target weight”?
That’s absurd, right? But that’s how a lot of business owners treat follow up.
Tough love alert: If you haven’t had any success with follow up, you either aren’t:
- following up consistently
- following up enough
- or following up right
It can be hard to figure out what works for your particular business and with your particular customers…What wording helps seal the deal? How long should you wait between touches? How many times should you reach out?
All of that takes time and effort to figure out. But if you get it right and stick with it, follow up will work. Promise.
Excuse #6: I always forget to follow up.
Being a business owner means you have a lot on your plate. And if your techs or office staff are in charge of follow-ups, they have a lot on their plates, too.
But here’s the thing: if something’s important enough, you’ll make sure you don’t forget to do it.
You’ll set a reminder, mark it on your calendar, or find a way to make it an automatic part of your sales process so you don’t have to think about it.
Do you forget to pay your employees? Do you forget to order materials? Of course not, because you know how important these things are.
Follow up is just as important, so make changes in your business so it gets done every time, no matter how much you’ve got going on.
We’re lucky to live in a time when technology makes it easier than ever to remember things. We have our phones in our pockets or palms at all times, and with reminders, notes, voice memos, and Siri, forgetting is really no longer a legitimate excuse.
Excuse #7: The customer will let me know when they’re ready.
My mother always used to say, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” My father’s favorite was, “Assuming makes an ass out of you and me.”
I’m sure your mother or father said similar things to you, too. And like me, you’ve probably discovered (much to your chagrin) that mom and dad were right about a lot.
…Like the value of staying in touch and where assumptions get you.
Assuming your customers will get back to you when they’re ready — that they don’t need to be followed up with — is a mistake.
Some customers need more hand holding. They need more assurance. If you have customers who are a little unsure or have questions, they may postpone making a decision if left to themselves. And that in itself is a decision, a decision not to act.
Following up allows you to put out your feelers and see how you can help those customers move forward. So don’t wait around for your customers — because for them, it may be easier to not do anything.
Instead, be there to answer their questions, allay their fears, and help them move past the fear of moving forward.
Excuse #8: I don’t have dedicated sales people to follow up.
If you don’t have any help for follow-ups, it can be extra challenging to implement consistent follow up. But it’s certainly not impossible…
Some business owners have success carving out time and committing a couple of hours at the end of their week to following up with all their open estimates.
Others find ways to automate the process so it gets done without them spending valuable time playing phone tag.
The point is, there are ways to make follow up work for your business, even if you’re a one man or one woman show and you’re wearing all the hats. You just have to get inventive and look for a solution that fits your business.
Don’t give up, because this is really important!
Excuse #9: The jobs that require follow up to close are the bottom of the barrel.
Truth is, on average, jobs that close after some good old-fashioned follow up are worth more.
Think about it: higher ticket decisions require more time, more trust, more contact. It’s easy to say yes to a $50 service, but a $5,000 service — that takes some serious time, consideration, and trust. Those are the jobs that you’re going to need to follow up on.
Are there some jobs in that stack of open estimates that are truly “bottom of the barrel”? Of course. But hiding in that stack are also jobs you want. And we’re willing to bet they’d actually be the most lucrative jobs if you took the time to follow up and close them.
In fact, we have one client who realized his unclosed estimates contained hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional annual revenue when he started following up.
Doesn’t sound bottom of the barrel, does it?
Excuse #10: I’m saving those open estimates for a rainy day.
Saving money for a rainy day = smart. Saving leads for a rainy day = not smart.
Why? When you first provide an estimate, that lead is hot. But the longer you wait to follow up and close that job, the colder that lead gets. And guess what?
Colder leads are harder to sell.
Strike while the iron is hot by following up and helping your customers move towards a decision.
The best part is, when you consistently follow up and close those bigger, higher-ticket jobs, you won’t need a rainy day fund, ‘cause you’ll be makin’ it rain!
Have you stopped making excuses? We’d love to hear how follow up is changing your business. Leave a comment and let us know how you made follow up work for you!