Kill procrastination by taking the first step of a big task

Do you have a big task looming over you? Maybe you need to update your pricing model, but it feels like it’ll take forever. Perhaps you really need to hire a new employee, but the whole process is so long and slow. It might be that you’ve got to complete your annual accounts, but can’t face starting. Overcome procrastination before it’s too late.

While business owners procrastinate less than most people, it’s still pretty common to put off big tasks – especially when the only person pushing you is yourself. If you find yourself putting off things on your to do list, it can eventually damage your business. However, scientific research shows that there’s a powerful way of getting around this problem.

The Zeigarnik effect

The Zeigarnik effect is a phycological phenomenon named after Bluma Zeigarnick, a Lithuanian psychologist who first observed it in 1927. Her research was sparked from the observation that waiters in cafes could remember all the details of a customer’s order before it had been paid for. However, the moment the order had been ‘closed’, the waiters could remember almost nothing about what customer had paid for.

She then carried out numerous experiments which seemed to confirm the theory: people are much better at remembering things before they are ‘complete’.

Zeigarnik conducted a study where she asked people to carry out certain tasks. With some of the participants, she stopped them mid-task, while others were left to finish the activity. A little while later, she asked all the participants what their tasks involved – the people who had been interrupted had a much better memory of what they had been doing, while those who finished the activity could remember much less.

The Zeigarnick effect suggests that once someone begins a task, they tend to have a sense of anxiety and focus until they have completed the task. They can remember all the details involved, they can plan and calculate, and they can motivate themselves to continue. Only on finishing the task can you get that sense of closure – a sort of mental sigh of relief – where you can then basically forget all about it.

How to use the Zeigarnik effect to motivate yourself

Now, how does this apply to that big or boring job you’ve been putting off?

The Zeigarnik effect suggests that when people start a task, they tend to feel a strong sense of urgency until they have completed it. Once you actually begin a piece of work, however tedious, it’s much more likely that you’ll see it through to the end.

So, when you’re faced with a huge task which you don’t really want to do, the Zeigarnik effect says you should just start the first step – however small. Whether it’s a case of logging into your accounting software, starting to brainstorm the job ad or reviewing your current pricing structure, the simple act of doing the most basic part of the task means the rest will almost inevitably follow.

For more tips on running your business like a boss, read our 10 Survival Tips For Entrepreneurs.

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Len is a tech and business writer who covers small business and startup advice and has appeared in many print and digital publications. He lives in London, UK, where he's also a sub editor on a national newspaper. He loves to travel and has lived in France, Spain, Senegal and Rwanda.

5 Online Service Businesses you can start on $1,000 or less

Starting an online service business doesn’t need to cost the earth. With some dedication and a little bit of luck, you can start an online services business for as little as $1,000. Let’s look at five popular kinds of online service businesses you can launch with limited capital.

1. Event Planning

To become an event planner, you need little more than a website where people can book your time and a knowledge of your niche. It’s a wise idea to choose a specific kind of event that you help plan for, as this will allow you to differentiate yourself in the market. Whether it’s kids’ parties, weddings or business networking events, you need to make a name for yourself in one specific sector.

You’ll need to be able to source entertainment, refreshments and space for your events, but once this is organized, you’ll be able to include these in your prices and start turning a profit fast.

2. Online Tutoring

Got a college degree in Physics? Know a language that people the other side of the world want to learn? Have years of experience in a sector and can provide guidance and mentoring? Online tutoring is a great, low cost way of selling your expertise in a specific area. You need little more than a laptop and some lesson plans to get started and making money!

3. Copy Editing and Proof Reading

Whether it’s reports, brochures, whitepapers or guide books, there’s ever more companies producing ever more content. To make sure that content is well written and free of grammatical mistakes, many companies turn to copy editors and proof readers. If you can spot a spelling mistake a mile off – and proof copy fast and efficiently, your services will be in high demand. And, because you need nothing more than a computer (and maybe a printer) to get started, this is one of the cheapest businesses to start around.

4. IT Consulting

As businesses use technology more and more, the demand for friendly, efficient and knowledgeable IT consultants keeps on growing. Whether you’ve got experience installing hardware or are more comfortable migrating databases or coding applications, there’s an almost limitless number of companies who will need your help.

5. Virtual Assistant

Many companies have a range of jobs and pieces of work that their own employees don’t have the time or skills to do. Whether it’s chasing customers about invoices, managing their social media or data entry, if you have versatile office skills you can offer your customers a huge help – all you need is a website to get started.

Whatever your business idea, you need to make it easy for customers to book your services. Learn how you can do that in just seven minutes here!

5 trends for entrepreneurs in 2018

All too often, small business owners are so focused on the present that they fail to see big changes which could have a huge impact on their business. Being aware of what’s around the corner can help you adapt your business model and strategy for the coming evolutions.
Here are five entrepreneur trends which will likely affect your small business in 2018.

1. Massive growth in freelancing and self-employment

According to this Nasdaq article,

43% of the US workforce will be freelance or self-employed by 2020 – compared to 34% in 2017.

That’s a big leap, and so we can expect 2018 to be a major year for people starting their own businesses.

2. Growth in remote teams

As a corollary of the expansion in freelancing, we can also expect a huge growth in remote teams working for established companies. As an entrepreneur, you may well employ a number of full time staff in-house, yet the expansion in freelancers means you can also build remote teams of less permanent employees anywhere in the world, supported by cloud apps and email.

Read our review of Asana, one of the new generation of online task management tools for remote teams

3. Ever more workspace options

We’ve written before about the places freelancers can run their businesses outside of the home. However, in 2018, we expect the range and diversity of workspaces specifically designed for the needs of entrepreneurs to keep on growing. You can expect to find more offices with better deals as the market adapts to growth in demand from solopreneurs and start-ups for low cost and social workspaces.

4. LinkedIn up, Twitter down

It’s no secret that Twitter has struggled to monetize the platform for a long time, and we can expect the number of new users to continue its long term decline. On the other hand, after a massive injection of cash following Microsoft’s buyout, we can expect LinkedIn to keep on growing and become an ever more powerful platform for entrepreneurs and freelancers to find jobs.

5. Regulation of the freelance economy

From Uber to Upwork, we expect 2018 to be the year that regulators begin to play catch up with the gig economy. While for many freelancers, the opportunity to find work online is hugely beneficial, offering a tonne of flexibility and great work, it needs to be acknowledged that it does open some freelancers up to exploitation, poor working conditions and instability. So, we expect more regulations to emerge around the sector next year.

Reckon we’ve missed a major 2018 trend for small businesses? Leave your comments in the section below!