Talking Business

Marvin Carolina Jr.: What you avoid can put you out of business

When I was a small-business owner in Atlanta, I could hardly believe how successful my business was. I was making lots of money. But I couldn’t understand why, even though I was making lots of money, I didn’t get to keep much of it.

I told myself that having high revenue with low profit was probably normal in business and that if I kept making lots of sales, my profit would increase. This is what I told myself, but since I hadn’t convinced myself, I considered talking to someone about it. But I kept putting it off.

What I eventually learned was having high revenue with low profit indicated my costs were too high, and if I was going to remain in business I’d have to reduce those costs. Had I taken time to talk with someone that adviser would have surely told me this. I learned the lesson, but I didn’t learn it in time to save my business.

As a small-business owner, you have lots to do just to keep your business running. When you try to make changes that will make your business run more effectively and more efficiently — such as installing a new accounting system — your heavy workload only gets heavier. It’s easy to put off doing things that are not part of your daily routine because your routine keeps you busy enough.

Or perhaps you’re like I was: You need to have an important meeting, but you keep putting it off. Convincing yourself it can wait. Either way, when you consider everything you have to do, you can feel overwhelmed, and while you know you need to make changes — and you want to make them — where will you find time?

It isn’t so bad

Tim Pychyl, a researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, who wrote “Solving the Procrastination Puzzle,” said when you put pressure on yourself to accomplish a task you develop a “strong reaction to the task at hand, and so the story of procrastination begins there” with what psychologists call task aversion. In other words, the more you don’t want to do something, the more you’ll avoid doing it.

Think about the tasks you’re avoiding. Are you telling yourself you have to complete them? Are you telling yourself you really don’t want to do them? Stop it. By thinking like that, according to Pychyl, you’ll continue putting these important tasks off.

Step one: Organize

You undoubtedly have tasks you don’t have to complete immediately, so arrange them in chronological order, and focus on the tasks you need to complete first. After all: Why work on a task that can wait two or three months when you could — and should — be working on one that needs to be completed by the end of the month?

Next, roughly estimate how much time you expect to spend on each task. Then begin with the task that will take the least amount of time.

Should you start with the most important task? Not necessarily. The most important task may be the most difficult, most time-consuming task, so if putting it off won’t jeopardize your business, put it off.

Step two: Jump in

People tend to overestimate how much motivation they need to do something, which means they look at a task and doubt they have the desire or the energy to complete it. Or they think they’ll get started and get stuck.

You only need enough motivation to get started, and once you start and begin making progress — gaining confidence and momentum — you’ll want to continue. This is another reason you should start with the task that will require the least amount of time: It’ll require relatively little time and effort.

Step three: Reward yourself

Psychological studies have shown that using rewards is an excellent form of motivation, so use them. You’ve finally made time to complete a task you’ve been putting off, and what you accomplished will certainly improve your business, so reward your effort by doing something nice for yourself.

Easy does it

We live in the Age of Multi-Tasking, which says if you’re not working on several tasks simultaneously, you’re not working. I’ll let you decide how you work best, but when you’re tackling tasks you’ve been putting off, work on one at a time. You risk overwhelming yourself — or not completing the task at all — when you try to do too much too quickly.

Gets easier

You may be surprised to find that after you’ve finished the first task you’ve been putting off, you’re eager to begin working on the second. While I’m certainly no scientist, I remember one thing from my science classes: Newton’s First Law, which says an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion.

The beauty of this law is, it’s not limited to objects. If you’ve been putting off going to the gym, for example, when you finally go, you’ll find it’s easier to go the second time and even easier the third time.

Stop procrastinating and stop making excuses. In today’s ultra-competitive, ever-changing marketplace, your business cannot stagnate. It has to adapt. Make time for those tasks you’ve been avoiding so you don’t learn what I learned the hard way.

Marvin Carolina Jr. is a vice president for JE Dunn Construction. He can be reached at