How to Use Procrastination as a Tool to Grow Your Consulting Business
As soon as I said it, I regretted it. I was sitting in a new café in Oakland, CA with the owner and a mutual friend. The owner said he wanted to showcase artists in the café. My friend said, “Deb’s a painter.” The owner turned to me and said, “Do you want your own show here?” “Sure,” I said. “I would love that.”
The problem is I had done one painting. One. And he expected me to fill his walls.
What does that have to do with procrastination?
Well, I had six months to produce enough paintings for the show. That should have been enough time. Right?
Yes, but only if you start painting on day one and keep at it for the entire six months, which, as you can guess, is not what I did. I procrastinated. For 5 months. And there was no plan B. I had to deliver, but, with one month left to go, I was panicking.
Was procrastinating unhelpful and self-defeating? Absolutely! But it had a surprising benefit. It created a situation where I had no time to indulge my fears or self-doubts. I remember distinctly staring at a piece I was working on, getting flooded with self-doubt, and saying to myself, “No time for that. Gotta keep painting.”
I plowed through because I had to. Were all my paintings fantastic? Nope. Were they good or good enough? Yes! And, precisely because I got in the groove of producing and didn’t have time to get mired in self-criticism, the last painting I did was the best I have ever done.
The Right Tool and the Right Job
You can’t build a profitable and sustainable consulting business on procrastination. But it can be helpful when you are growing your business.
Productivity is often thought of as the opposite of procrastination. But productivity is not the hero and procrastination the villain. It’s all about applying the right tool at the right time to get the effect you want. Being productive is great when you need to get key business activities done and don’t want to sacrifice other areas of your life that are meaningful to you. But if misapplied, productivity can cause exhaustion or burnout.
Procrastination works the same way. Let me give you some examples.
Procrastination Reveals What’s Really Going On
A wonderful use of procrastination is revealing where and why you are stuck in building your business. Because procrastination is often a response to an emotional issue, it can reveal what we need to surface and address to move forward. Fear is a common trigger for procrastination. My kitchen has never been as clean as when I’m afraid to do something in my business! If I’m furiously focused on projects that have nothing to do with what I need to do for my business, that usually tells me that I need to address the underlying fear of it.
The key, of course, is not to mindlessly procrastinate or notice but then ignore the difficult feelings driving it. When you see yourself procrastinating, pause and check in with what you are experiencing emotionally. Grab a journal and write it out. Talk to someone you trust about what you’re feeling and ways you can address it. Often writing it or saying it aloud helps dissipate it or reduces the emotional charge that comes with it.
Procrastination Invites New Decisions
Procrastination isn’t always about fear and self-doubt. Sometimes—many times—you may just not like doing something. So you do something you enjoy instead. At these times, procrastination can be what spurs you to examine how you are spending your time and energy.
Is it a task that really has value to growing your business? If not, give yourself permission to stop doing it. If it is essential, do you have to be the one to do it? Can you assign it to someone on your team or hire someone to do it?
Is what you say you need to do really aligned with how you want to operate or grow your business? Are there different choices you could make that don’t require that action but still support your business goals?
Are you procrastinating because you don’t have the knowledge or skills you need to get the result you want? If so, how can you acquire the knowledge or skills or, again, find someone who has them?
You certainly don’t want to pivot every time you procrastinate, but it can be a helpful trigger to ask yourself if making different decisions can better serve you and your business.
Procrastination Allows New Ideas to Emerge
Deliberate procrastination can create space in your mind for inspiration and innovation. Allow yourself to have unstructured “whatever” time or, as my husband calls it, “mushy-mind time.” This means just doing whatever you feel like doing—or doing nothing—instead of your list of have-tos. Use this time to let your mind daydream or wander.
Sometimes that time just lets you recharge and refresh your mind, energy, and spirit. Other times, it can open up new ideas you don’t consider when you are in go-mode. If you are doing something that has nothing to do with your business, you may think of a solution to something you’ve been struggling with, a new business opportunity for you to explore, or a better way to serve your clients.
I know it can be difficult for Type-A folks (like me) to set aside the grind and hustle for any amount of time. It can be tough to not flood our minds with structured thoughts, such as planning and strategizing. It can be tempting to fill our time with unhelpful and sometimes draining distractions, such as TV or social media.
Instead, try to just do the dishes, take a walk, create art, rearrange your sock drawer, or whatever it is without making yourself do anything in your mind or distracting yourself. Recognize that these moments are useful and contribute to the success of your consulting business as much as focus and action do.