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We all do it. 95% of the population spends part of their working day procrastinating. Piers Steel states that the average person spends 2 hours a day procrastinating. Of course some people do it more in the workplace than others - and this is where the effect on sales can occur. B2B sales reps already have around to perform daily, from calls to email sends, in order to achieve success, so they don’t really have time to put aside for procrastination! Time wasted can lead towards a slip in conversion rates and onto a lack of motivation - then underperformance occurs.
So let’s get right to the core of it! What is procrastination, why does it happen and what can we do the change things?
What is procrastination and why does it happen?
Contrary to popular belief - procrastination is not an act of being lazy; it’s when an individual avoids the task at hand to do other things instead. Some people can be incredibly productive when they procrastinate, but the fact remains that they’re not completing what needs to be done. Some people know they’re doing it, and others don’t, but the effect is the same in the workplace.
The question of why we do it is an important one, and differs from person to person and task to task. We need to ask this question, as if we know the root cause of procrastination, we’ll be more likely to find ways of preventing it. There are several causes of procrastination:
- Fear of failure - This is a commonly found cause for procrastination, and a theory agreed on by most who study it further. When you have low confidence in your skills, or a task seems daunting, you don’t think you’ll succeed and you fear failure. This is prominent in a sales environment, the rejection seen in a sales role can bring about negative feeling towards your skills. Especially for a new starters just getting to grips with it all - the feeling of guilt due to lack of success sets in for low self-confidence.
- The downside of success - In the workplace, this can be a prominent cause for procrastination. If you succeed, will you be expected to do it again and do it more often/to a better quality? Some people relish the challenge but others fear the future when they’re asked to carry out new or difficult tasks in business. It’s not that they don’t want to succeed, they just fear those above them won’t see that they dislike the task or find it a struggle.
- Enjoyment - This is a huge factor in procrastination, you’re always more likely to want to do something if you enjoy it - because it has value in your mind. If you dislike something, it has little value to you and you’ll naturally find ways to avoid it. 40% of salespeople find prospecting the most difficult part of their job, and it’s a task that many salespeople struggle to gain enjoyment from, so are keen to put it off.
- Time - Time works in two ways here. Firstly, if you feel like you don’t have enough time to complete a task, often, you won’t even want to start it! (Linking in many ways to the fear of failure). Secondly, we are put off by things that take a long time - we want quick rewards (especially in a sales environment), so will lose focus and drive when we are faced with a task involving a high amount of time investment.
Overcoming procrastination on your sales floor
Ok, so we know what causes procrastination - how can we move forward and overcome it? In a study of which occupations procrastinate most - sales was 5th! It’s a common problem that needs to be addressed before its effect damages a company’s revenue results. Whether managing a sales team, or just looking to self-improve, here are some actionable steps you can take to say goodbye to procrastination and hello to a new outlook of productivity! You’ll see the sales closing in no time…
- Forgive yourself
If you want to start this journey on the right foot, you need to say “it’s ok”. A big part of why we procrastinate is linked to feeling of negativity, and kicking yourself for procrastinating just boosts that negative mind-set causing you do it even more! It’s a vicious circle that can seriously affect how you see everything from your working day to your career as a whole. A recent survey asked “to what extent is procrastination having a negative impact on your happiness?” 46% of those surveys said the impact was prominent and 18% reviled the impact to be “extreme”.
Forgive yourself, its ok that you’ve procrastinated, it’s a natural thing - now let’s move on!
This mentality can take some time to implement in a team - especially when there are new starters present, who feel totally out of their depth! Come up with exercises to make it easier- associate forgiveness with a positive action to reduce the negative mind frame. For example, every time you say “I forgive you” (to yourself or a team member), give them a positive reason why they’re forgiven- “I forgive you because you’re a brilliant team player!”.
- Get personal
In self-assessment, or a 1-2-1 with a team member, open up the barriers of “business” and ask questions about the person. Go through each cause of procrastination and ask them to find an example of where it occurred their personal life - putting off buying Christmas presents or making a trip to see family. This sounds a little far removed from business, but getting to the bottom of what makes them aggravated and what gets them excited is the key to tackling procrastination head on. Then apply it to business afterwards, asking for examples in the work place where they’ve been aware of procrastination - you’ll then gain insight into what tasks your team enjoy and what they personally feel is a struggle.
As we all procrastinate at home as well as in the work place - the reasoning behind it is more than “strictly business”.
Make a “persona” of yourself and each team member, so you know the best way to encourage them when they need it, reward them when they perform well and approach them when they need to step it up.
- Break it down
Once you’ve done this analysis, the time has come to break up your day in sales. Having every day planned out into chunks of 45 mins to 1 hour makes everything look bitesize and manageable, you’ll be far more inclined to get started! Also setting aside time to do nothing but make prospecting calls, or send touch-point emails not only gives a great focus, but also makes those more unpleasant tasks look easier. You can see when you’ll have them completed, so you’ve no reason to let them drag and worry you. Scheduling in breaks as well allows you to have guilt-free time away from your desk, and for large teams, this can be socialising time so they’re less inclined to feel the need for socialising at their desks.
Set rewards for those who stick to their day plan, and for those who take to it really well, encourage gamification. Set them personal goals and rewards for each block, no matter how trivial it seems - “make X amount of calls before 1 o’clock and I’ll buy your lunch!” Then start to up the challenges day by day. You’ll see you team soar in performance as they can put genuine focus and drive into to each and every day.
Top-Tip: Organise your day based on energy. At times you feel are your most productive - be it first thing in the morning of after lunch - tackle the worst and hardest tasks. This may seem like a great way to bring you down at work, but this will mean you face your nemesis when you’re at your best - these tasks won’t seem so unpleasant much longer!
- Change how you set goals
As well as shifting from a negative outlook to a positive one, you may need to review your system of goal setting. Piers Steel finds goal setting the best technique for tackling procrastination, as long as it’s done in the correct way.
Begin with “mini-goals”- especially when new to sales. Start small, look at the way you’ve blocked out each day and set goals closely related to those tasks. This is a huge help when someone is struggling to see how they contribute to the bigger picture - you can show them how these “mini-goals” build into the overall revenue made by the company.
Turn those “mini-goals” into “predictabilities” as comfort sets in - doing something at the same time every day allows it to become habit, and before you know it you’re more productive than ever! Once these “mini-goals” have become normalised, you can step up to bigger, monthly goals (with juicier rewards!).
For serious procrastinators, look to the “worst case scenario” when goal setting. If they spend 2 hours a day procrastinating, put that into a value they can see over a long period of time. If they left work 2 hours early, they would earn X amount less a month, or a year. If this was deducted from the sales they’ve closed this year, they would only have sold X amount. Procrastination can cost companies an average of $10,000 per employee, per year!
Help them see it in a new light, and then start setting goals based on erasing this possible scenario. Sometimes giving someone the end point can be as valuable as giving them a starting point.
- Productive Procrastination
This is a great way to get started on a backlog of saved tasks for a “rainy day”. Sometimes procrastination can be positive, as long as you’re working toward the greater goal. Productive procrastination is a trade-off for another task you’ve been avoiding - “I really don’t think I can tackle X today, but I’ve put X off for a while - so I’ll do that instead.”
Procrastination is not productive if you’re doing tasks you find great and easy - it’s got to be exchanged with another task you’ve tried to brush under the rug. This can be productive in two ways - not only are you still tackling tricky, unwanted tasks, but by trading and completing one task, you will feel more positive and possibly ready to take on the original task as well!
This can be especially effective when working with a team to build an environment they enjoy working in. Allow them 2 productive procrastination trade-offs per month. Ensure they remain doing tasks they find challenging and they might otherwise push aside, but it shows them you’re happy to negotiate - you want them to have positive power over the tasks they need to complete.
So now we know not only what procrastination is, but how we can wave it goodbye! It’s easy to put things off and not even know about it. Take the time to go through these steps - even if you don’t think you procrastinate - you may find better ways of boosting productivity throughout your day and throughout your team.