As the year comes to a close and year-end planning is on the minds of all accountants, it’s more important than ever to get a handle on procrastination so that deadlines aren’t missed, and so that you’ll also be able to enjoy the holiday season with your family. There’s nothing worse than having to work frantically the last few weeks in December because you’ve procrastinated for so long that everything has piled up into an insurmountable mountain of overwhelm.
A few months ago on the podcast I discussed how to overcome avoidance and discussed the difference between avoidance and procrastination. In that episode I pointed out that if you consider yourself a procrastinator and believe that avoidance is just another aspect of procrastinating, think again.
Basically, avoidance is what happens to procrastination when there’s no deadline to make you actually do the thing, which is why it can become so easy to fall into the trap of avoidance. There’s no one and nothing holding your feet to the fire and no perceived penalty for not doing it, therefore, it becomes easy to make friends with inaction and avoidance.
On the other hand, procrastination is when you put off doing something, but eventually get it done. It’s usually when you have a deadline of some kind and you tend to wait until the pressure or expectations are so great, that you take the action to complete the task; a common issue for a lot of accountants.
The problem though when it comes to procrastination, is that you fool yourself into believing that that’s just what you do; that you are the type of person who needs to wait until the pressure is high or the deadline is looming. You may have even labeled yourself as a procrastinator, believing that that’s just part of your identity and there’s nothing you can really do about it.
You may even think that it’s how accountants get things done, letting looming deadlines hang over your head like a guillotine, excited by narrowly escaping beheading each time and priding yourself on finally getting it all done in the nick of time. But have you ever asked yourself, what are the costs of procrastination to you, your family, your health, or your productivity and efficiency?
While procrastination might be considered normal to many accountants, that doesn’t mean you need to normalize it for yourself. There is a much better way to break the habit and overcome procrastination so that you can get back to the business of having a peaceful, balanced life.
Whether you’ve been procrastinating when it comes to your accounting work, doing things around the house, or you’ve been procrastinating a long-held dream or goal, you’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors by putting things off. By learning how to overcome procrastination, you will give yourself the opportunity to live with less stress and overwhelm, to get more done in less time, and to be there for your family in ways that procrastination has made impossible.
This week I’m going to discuss 5 causes of procrastination and the best way I have found to overcome procrastination.
The causes of procrastination
As a busy accountant and mom, if you find yourself having an issue with procrastination, join the club! It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are, whether you work from home or in an office, or how organized you try to be, everyone experiences procrastination at times in their life, especially hard working, and oftentimes overwhelmed, working moms.
Whether you’ve unsuccessfully tried different things to overcome procrastination for quite a while or you’re just now deciding you want to get a better handle on it, this episode is going to be really valuable. As I’ve shared in previous episodes, when you know the cause, you have the power to change the effect.
The first cause of procrastination is the fact that you have a human brain. You may have already learned this on the podcast, but here’s a reminder: your lower, primitive brain is motivated by three things – to seek pleasure, to avoid pain, and to be efficient.
Because of this, you may not have realized that when you are procrastinating, it’s often because the thing you’re supposed to do falls into one of these three categories – it isn’t pleasurable, it’s difficult or confusing, or it’s often not simple and easy.
To the lower, more reactionary part of your brain, it’s really more fun, more comfortable and more enjoyable to not do something that takes effort. Therefore, it makes sense that procrastination would be so easy because it feels better in the moment to follow the path of least resistance and not do the thing that pushes one of those three buttons.
The second cause of procrastination is a fear of failure. This is a common issue for women because your female brain equates failure with danger, therefore, if there’s even a possibility of failing, you will keep putting off the thing as a protective measure, no matter how big or small the task is.
What often happens with a fear of failure, is that you actually fail ahead of time by not taking the action necessary to tackle the project or complete the task before the threat of a deadline is putting excruciating pressure on you. This is especially challenging for accountants because of the often high stakes of the work we perform for our employers or our clients.
Unfortunately, a fear of failure then becomes a Catch-22 because by causing procrastination, it actually makes it easier to make mistakes when things are done in a deadline frenzy. While failure is realistically always an option, to your brain it’s an option to be avoided at all costs making procrastination seem like a good idea.
The third cause of procrastination is perfectionism. As I’ve said before in previous podcasts, the accounting profession is a breeding ground for perfectionism, making procrastination even easier for accountants to fall into the trap of, and to justify.
The need to do things perfectly at work can also spread into other areas of your life as well, making perfectionism and procrastination like a giant web, catching everything you need to do both personally and professionally. The pressure you put on yourself to be or do things perfectly as an accountant and as a mother are often just too much for you to handle.
Before you know it, you’d much rather scroll Facebook, check your email again, or do some more research in order to appear busy. Unfortunately, procrastination is very easy for perfectionistic accountants because you can always hide behind the need for more knowledge, putting off doing a project in favor of thinking about or analyzing it more.
The fourth cause of procrastination is not having a plan. For a deadline driven profession like accounting, it might seem like the plan to finish your work on time should be enough when it comes to having a plan, but it’s definitely not.
Without having a very clear, step by step plan of how you are going to start and complete your work, your brain’s default will automatically make confusion and overwhelm very easy in order to again expend as little energy as possible. I’m sure you’ve had this happen where you look at your client list or your to-do list and immediately feel a sense of overwhelm with the enormity of the work that has to get done.
Without a daily and weekly plan, confusion just makes procrastination so much easier. When you haven’t decided ahead of time what needs to be done and when, with the higher, planning part of your brain, you are leaving it up to your reactionary, lower brain that would rather watch Netflix than finish the 50th tax return.
The final cause of procrastination is feeling unmotivated. This is such a sneaky cause of procrastination because your lack of motivation then gets interpreted as a reason to not take action or as a “sign” that you should probably wait until you feel better about doing the thing you know you should be doing.
But the truth is that, in the moment, your brain is ALWAYS going to have resistance to starting something. It’s rarely onboard, so when you add all the mentally complicated things that accountants have to do on a daily basis, with all the mental, emotional and physical things that moms have to do on a daily basis, it’s no wonder your motivation can often seem non-existent.
Whether it’s cleaning out that closet or starting that complicated set of financial statements, if you are in the habit of procrastinating, your brain is going to want to take the easy way out, every single time. Your lower, primitive brain is like a toddler that wants candy instead of broccoli, oftentimes interpreting the normal things that accountant moms have to do as yucky and unappealing as broccoli is to a toddler.
As you can now see, whether it’s the fact that you have a human brain, you have a fear of failure, there’s an issue with perfectionism, you don’t have a plan, or you feel unmotivated, there are many causes of procrastination, especially for hard working moms like you. But now that you know some of the causes, let’s talk about the best ways I have found to overcome procrastination.
The best way I have found to overcome procrastination
As an accountant and mom, there’s no denying that you have a lot on your plate. If you think about it, what you manage to do on a weekly basis would probably rival what your ancestors did over the course of a few months or maybe even a year.
With everything that you are responsible for, both personally and professionally, it can often seem incredibly daunting and challenging to get everything done, making the habit of procrastinating easy to stay stuck in, even though it may be frustrating.
The issue is that, like a lot of women, you probably look at the things on your long to-do list from the starting line, seeing a huge gap between where you are and the finish line where everything is complete. This Grand Canyon-like space between nothing done and everything done, can make you just feel like staying home and pulling the covers over your head.
But the problem is that, to your mathematical, analytical accountant brain, you see things in a linear fashion. For example, you probably see $10,000 as closer to $0 than to the goal of reaching $100,000, or you see the 20% success rate in your attempts to stop the habit of overeating at night as closer to not following it at all than it is to being 100% successful.
It might seem like basic math, but this math is all wrong when it comes to procrastination because the difference between doing nothing and doing something, is the biggest difference there is. You’re never going to feel 100% like doing a lot of things, but the truth is that you’re not supposed to feel 100% in order to do something.
The key to overcoming procrastination is understanding that on a scale of 0 to 10, the step from 0 to 1 is literally more important than anything else. Unfortunately, it’s also the most difficult step to take, especially if you have a procrastination habit.
But here’s the secret I learned – you just need to take the step from 0 to 1 because that will create the most important factor – momentum. Once even the smallest momentum is created, you just need to rinse and repeat as often as it takes.
When I decided to start a podcast, the enormity of that endeavor on top of my full-time accounting job and coaching business seemed so big and complicated, that putting it off until “the right time” seemed like the best idea initially. How was I ever going to be able to learn how to create a podcast, manage and market it, while also coming up with weekly topics and doing the extensive research it would take for each episode?
When I looked at my accounting workload, my family responsibilities and everything else I wanted for myself and my family, starting a podcast seemed like an impossibility. But here’s the truth – it really wasn’t that hard once I just did the first episode; going from none to one was the most important step because once I started, the momentum I created just needed to be put on a rinse and repeat cycle every week, making it possible for me to create one episode every week for over 100 weeks so far.
I really want you to know that the hardest part isn’t getting to the finish line, it’s taking that first step over the start line. Therefore, the key to overcoming procrastination is knowing that the motivation to go from 0 to 1 doesn’t just happen naturally, you have to create it on purpose.
The way you create momentum and motivation on purpose is by understanding that overcoming the inertia of 0, requires overriding your lower, primitive toddler brain that would rather have candy than broccoli. By using your wiser, more mature higher brain, you can overcome procrastination more easily than you might have realized.
So the next time you are faced with the urge to procrastinate, you just need to acknowledge that it’s perfectly normal for the candy-loving toddler part of your brain to resist, but that you can choose on purpose to take some small action to create momentum. Motivation and momentum don’t come from pondering, studying or thinking about taking action; it comes from taking action no matter how you feel.
Just know that perfectionism will tell you that doing a little doesn’t matter, but that’s a lie because doing a little is everything. In order to overcome procrastination, you just need to decide to move from 0 to 1, allowing momentum to take you to the finish line.
- The problem though when it comes to procrastination, is that you fool yourself into believing that that’s just what you do; that you are the type of person who needs to wait until the pressure is high or the deadline is looming.
- Whether you’ve been procrastinating when it comes to your accounting work, doing things around the house, or you’ve been procrastinating a long-held dream or goal, you’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors by putting things off.
- As you can now see, whether it’s the fact that you have a human brain, you have a fear of failure, there’s an issue with perfectionism, you don’t have a plan, or you feel unmotivated, there are many causes of procrastination, especially for hard working moms like you.
- The way you create momentum and motivation on purpose is by understanding that overcoming the inertia of 0, requires overriding your lower, primitive toddler brain that would rather have candy than broccoli.