It’s simply smart business as solopreneurs to devote our most productive hours to client projects. That’s why we don’t book appointments during our A-time. However, sometimes we watch our non-billable hours evaporate as the time we spend on client work extends into nights and weekends.
So, between exhaustion and the other showstoppers in our lives, when are we supposed to find time to complete our lingering business to-dos? Organize the office? Get the branding audit done? Revamp the website? Write the business summary? Blog? Finish the book?
If procrastination is the culprit holding your business hostage, business coach Sherry Lowry suggests you reframe your “when” time as “win” time. Thinking about producing a specific win can help you get motivated and back in action.
“Guard against committing all of your creative time to other things,” advises Lowry, who discovered eight repeating patterns of procrastination (see accompanying graphic) when she and a colleague began peer mentoring each other. “One of my best friends is a PhD linguist in Canada—a fabulous trainer-teacher and prolific writer of everyone else’s curricula and training manuals. She had always wanted to write her own book on her area of expertise in our field but never got around to it.
“I thought writing came easily to her since she did so well at it. But she claimed that every time she produced a major document, she felt as if she were giving birth. Everything she delivered had to be A plus-plus-plus because that’s what she expected of herself. She was very committed to perfectionism. Her clients and students were knocked out by it. She was the only one benefitting from the pluses she added on to everything.
“I knew that if she could stop over-delivering to everyone else, she could find time to get her book done. So, one day I called and asked, ‘Would you like to talk about the factors that most frequently get in the way of highly qualified professionals starting on their own personal goals and aspirations?’”
Lowry doesn’t believe the main issue with most producers is procrastination. “There are usually one or more culprits in the mix that we call procrastination but are not procrastination at all. Once people hear that, they are very interested in exploring what the showstoppers are for them.” Lowry’s clients begin by answering:
- Do I want to get this agenda item done?
- Is this item mine to do?
- Do I have the time to do it?
“Before I read the checklist of book-writing obstacles, I told my friend to address the factors that related to her. The showstopper came right at the beginning when I asked, ‘Where are you on your calendar?’
“There was dead silence on the phone. She didn’t own her own calendar. Instead, she said, ‘I don’t have time!’ I said, ‘Who handles your calendar?’ She said, ‘I do.’ I said, ‘You don’t have permission to get on your own calendar?’ We both died laughing.
“She said, ‘It never occurred to me. I get everything scheduled and done that I commit to on my calendar, but I’ve never committed time to this, have I?’”
Lowry’s training as a psychologist and her deft humor helped the exercise become an impactful experience.
“I asked her if she ever had a corporate client who was disappointed or gave her a bad review. She said, ‘No. Of course not.’ So I asked, “Who the heck is the plus-plus-plus for? What else do you have to prove?’ She gave up at that point and said, ‘OK. You win. I get it.’ That was it. She found a writing partner the next week and wrote the book that is now out and a bestseller.”
Lowry’s questions provide a springboard to help shift people from feeling victimized, from feeling that procrastination is the menacing problem. Getting clients into a state of mind in which they can consider what else may be blocking their time is part of Lowry’s first steps.
- Where on your calendar are you and your to-dos each week?
- How much time are you dedicating to your business agenda?
- Who keeps your feet to the fire?
Good intentions aside, if you are not using the right physical space to tackle your business agenda beyond your client work, you may quickly notice the distractions that support procrastination begin to grow.
Lowry notes how organizations use what she coins “disguised brilliance” as a practical strategy to support their members. “Writers’ leagues are a prime example of organizations that understand the importance of time and space in the creative process. And they know that every once in a while, a good swift kick in the pants can reenergize their biggest procrastinators.”
Lowry describes how during National Novel Writing Month, the Austin-based Writers’ League of Texas offers members 15 different 3-hour silent writing sessions at convenient locations around town. Writers bring nothing but their materials and have no access to Wi-Fi. The disguised brilliance within concepts like this is that potential authors get intense blocks of focused time offsite. They finish their manuscripts, attend group meetings, and feel productive.
The shift from procrastination to productivity begins first by focusing on a personalized version of agenda, time and space. Having a personal sense of balance can help a business professional impact their unaccomplished goal. “Some people have the time, talent, and physical space, but they don’t have the emotional or psychic space based on the stage of life or drama they’re in,” Lowry says.
“I may have plenty of time to offer one of my services to more people, but I may not have the psychic space to add more people in a particular category. For example, almost all of my clients are extroverts because I tend to work with founders and owners who have high energy. If I carry twelve clients overall, then I only have the bandwidth for two or three introverted clients. Introverts tend to listen and observe before they launch into action, so I know that I will be initiating more and interacting with them at a different pace.
“As a result, the brand of balance I choose, to some degree, has to do with the spaciousness of my client base—not to mention Austin traffic. I may have extra hours on the clock, but I may be better served by having more extroverted clients, who are doing stuff, while my introverted clients are still thinking about it.”
In addition to revealing the what (Agenda) and when (Timing) that hold productivity back, Lowry encourages solopreneurs to question the intangibles surrounding their spaciousness:
- How much creative energy do you have for a particular project or client?
- How much calendar time does each current client take?
- How much drama is going on in your personal life?
- How much more do you want to add to your professional life?
- What is the temperament of your and their work culture?
As you grow your business, how will you keep your business to-dos in the mix of your client work? How often will you revisit your agenda? How ever you approach the factors holding you back, begin by opening your calendar to improve the time and space you give yourself.
This is the second post in our series on procrastination, check out part one here.
About Sherry Lowry:
Seven times entrepreneur, Sherry is a strategist and specialist in identifying career next steps and a business coach serving freelance and entrepreneur founders. Sherry’s core expertise is catalyzing others to put their best self and capability forward.
Credentials include the International Coach Federation’s highest certification, that of Master Certified Coach. She has earned two mainstream Master’s degrees and created three coach-specific training programs, plus helped train over 3,700 business mentors and coaches.
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