Jim Duffy: Suffering from a mild dose of procrastination

George Osborne is taxing sugary soft drinks, so you may wish to put off buying one. Picture: SWNS
George Osborne is taxing sugary soft drinks, so you may wish to put off buying one. Picture: SWNS
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A modern ailment highlighted by this week’s Budget is diagnosed by self-confessed sufferer Jim Duffy

So much of what will affect us from Wednesday’s Budget will take place in the future. It’s a future-state taxation world that the financial advisors and accountants are already writing about today. I’ve just had five such info-mails in my inbox… and of course, they are offering products and services to “help” me out in this future state. I almost feel like Elton John’s Rocket Man – getting ready for the trip of a lifetime, but it all feels surreal.

The self-help gurus keep telling us we have to live in the now and be in the moment. We must be mindful and not live in the future, in touch with ourselves now. So, I’m getting mixed signals here – static in my earpiece. Do I plan, plan plan or chill, chill, chill? In war and business, to fail to make a plan is to plan to fail, but if I am living today for today, should I just have another Americano and a wee think about it? Should I just check Twitter and try and get a retweet? Which for so many of us works just fine. We love to procrastinate.

I’m not sure if I go to the doctor and tell her my symptoms, she will diagnose me with an acute and debilitating case of procrastination. I guess we just have to be thankful that our doctors are trained to make quick decisions on what is presented to them in a three-minute window – definitely not procrastinators. I’m pretty sure that procrastination is not worthy of an NHS sick line just yet. However, so many of us go through our lives constantly struggling with this ailment. There you go: I’ve now christened it an ailment. Maybe it’s time we took it that seriously. It has such a negative affect on so much that goes on in people’s lives at home and at work.

In short, procrastination is the habit of putting things off. It undermines the self-confidence of many smart and otherwise self-confident people. It can indeed be debilitating and prevent so many of us from reaching our goals and potential.

I am prone every now and then to a mild dose of procrastination. If I have a presentation or paper to write that has a deadline, I’ll play with that deadline in my mind. Rather than simply write the piece, I’ll wrestle with the deadline in my head, make a coffee and send a text to someone. The coffee is supposed to make me more alert, but somehow just sharpens up the poignancy of the deadline and not the matter in hand – but now the Chancellor is going to help me with that as he is taxing sugar, of which I take two in each mugful (I’ll have to budget that down to a single now). So, it would appear sugary coffee is not a great enabler to the procrastinating mind.

Unfortunately, in the word we live in today, the procrastinator has so many wonderful vices to prevent progress. A smartphone is an ideal toy for boosting procrastination. I can text, surf and WhatsApp and spend hours on nothing of importance. I can sit for ages and trivially work out how many funny emojis I can use to make people give me a lol back. What value does that add to my life?

I work with entrepreneurs all over the country and have done for four years now. It is here that procrastination can be crippling to the success of an individual or a team. I hear the term “wantrapreneur” used a great deal. It’s a pejorative term and it can be hurtful and damaging if used at the wrong time. I understand this term, though. It has meaning for me as I see so many wantrapreneurs out there. The wantrapreneur usually has a decent idea – they are positive and ordinary folks just like you and me. They want to build a business, create something special or stimulate interest in a social purpose. Ordinarily they would do just fine and progress well. But alas, they have the procrastination condition – a classic symptom of the wantrapreneur. In other contexts they may be classed as dreamers. They simply are inept at taking action, getting stuff done, thinking in outcomes and executing on tasks to get there. That doesn’t mean they cannot function in life. Far from it. It just doesn’t work in the world of entrepreneurship when decision-making, working at pace, ambiguity and volatility are rife, with uncertainty around every corner. This cripples the procrastinator.

I’m guessing you will all know someone who suffers from procrastination. You may recognise the symptoms in yourself. Mild forms are okay, every now and then, but if persistent – go see a doctor. Oh no…. you can’t! So, how can we overcome periods of procrastination? I’m not sure and I’m certainly not going to suggest I’m an expert on prevention. As I struggle with it myself, I’ve worked out how to self diagnose. Then I put in place my own prescription, which is not pharmacological. I usually have another coffee….

I don’t have an MBChB degree, so I can’t prescribe a cure. But, recognising when your procrastination head is in play, and giving it time to go away, is a good start. So, I’m living today for today with the small outcomes I want to achieve and planning the Chancellor’s future state at the same time, by putting an appointment with my financial advisor in the diary.

Jim Duffy is chief executive optimist of Entrepreneurial Spark