The 8 Reasons We Procrastinate and How to Stop
I am the Queen of Procrastination. Do you know how I know? Because I left my Monday blog writing for so long that I couldn’t come up with a topic and am now reworking a Masters presentation into a blog post. I procrastinate. It’s a dirty little secret but it’s out there now. From a fellow-procrastinator, I hope you find this helpful.
Here are 8 things that may be behind your procrastination:
1. I don’t know how to do it!
There are people who procrastinate because they don’t know how to complete the task(s) at hand. This often occurs for those doing something for the first time or something very difficult. Part of the issue is that they may not even know where to start! So they delay starting it and leave it until the last moment.
If you are this type of procrastinator one strategy is to have a plan. Break the task into chunks. If you don’t know how to do one of the chunks, determine what information, skills, or knowledge you need to complete it. If you aren’t able to learn what you need to prior to completing the task, look and ask for help, delegate part of it to a friend/partner/co-worker, or hire someone who can do it.
2. It bores me
This can be a common excuse for procrastination when the task is menial, monotonous or repetitive. Some of us find it hard to get to tasks when we find them boring. Again, this is something you might be able to delegate or pay another to do. However, there are ways to liven a boring task up. You can make it tolerable by listening to music, having a friend join you, or promise yourself a little reward following its completion. Painting a house for example may seem boring but we can have a friend over and paint together with the offer of pizza and beer. You can throw on the music and spend the time talking and painting. It’s not so bad that way.
3. I don’t feel like doing it
There are always tasks we don’t like to do. We end up leaving the undesired tasks to the end while we do preferred tasks. It’s amazing how many things I get done when I have a big paper to write. It’s like you remember all those friends you’ve been neglecting. Or maybe, you even decide a 5k run would be more preferential. For others, they clean their entire house before sitting down to the task.
All the tasks we leave undone and procrastinate on, build up. This build up of unfinished business impacts the level of stress we experience. If we can commit to doing one task we don’t like before we do a task that we do like, over time we can reduce the amount of stress in our lives. The less we have hanging over our heads, the better.
4. What if I don’t do well?
Fear of failure disguises itself as procrastination and is one of the most common forms of procrastination. The fear of failure is more bothersome than not completing the task. For these people it’s easier to say, “I didn’t get it done,” rather than, “I did it and did a bad job.” This type of procrastination also provides an excuse. Instead of failing at a task the person can say, “I got to it at the very end and didn’t have time to do a good job,” as opposed to, “I tried it and I did a poor job.”
If you fall into this group remember that fear is based on something that hasn’t happened and might not happen. What if you do it and do a great job? You might surprise yourself. Also, we all can’t be good at everything. Failing at something might lead to new knowledge, skills or opportunity.
One way to combat fear of failure is to do a small testrun. Try it, test how you do and take in the information. The information may indicate you are good at said task. If it comes back that you are struggle with it, assess what you need to get better at it: more information, skills, assistance?
Ultimately, all fears, including the fear of failure do well in the dark recesses of our mind. To combat the dark you need light. You can shed light on the situation by the attention you pay to the fear. By contemplating your fear of failure and looking at it in more depth, you can determine whether there is any truth to the fear. Is it a rational fear or not?
5. What if I do well and they want me to do it again?
This is based out of a fear of success. Unlike other fears, this one may not be as easy to identify but it’s not unusual. Success might bring with it change including a busier schedule, becoming a person you don’t identify with or more tasks like the one you just completed (and you may not have liked).
Fear of failure can also be masked as a fear of failure. By that I mean, some are afraid that if they succeed, they will later not be able to provide as promised. For others, they fear achieving and getting to the top of the ladder only to slide back down. For these people, it’s easier to maintain a middle ground than to rise and subsequently fall.
Identifying the fear is important here. If the underlying fear is actually failure, pop up to #4. If it’s a fear of success, remember, you make the choices. You can be successful and get offered more work or a busy schedule and decline it. You can say no and set boundaries. You don’t have to become or do something you don’t want.
6. Nobody tells me what to do!
Here’s where resistance comes into play. I can identify with this one for sure. For those of us who get our hackles up when pressured, bullied, micromanaged, ordered, tricked or coerced, we may procrastinate as a form of resistance. We are resistant to being told what to do. Resistance is a way we stand up for ourselves. The thing is, we may be doing these things to ourselves! Sometimes the pressure or standard set for a project or task is set by oneself. Resistance can occur when we are pressured by others or ourselves. Resistance is a response to pressure or a pushing toward something we don’t want to do or we don’t feel ready to do.
When there is external pressure, perhaps a discussion with the person(s) providing that pressure is warranted. You can have a similar discussion with yourself. Negotiating with someone or yourself regarding the timing, information needed or a redesign of the task, can all help to alleviate resistance. If you are pressuring yourself, avoid “just do it” language and use question asking like, “Can I do a part of this today?” It may seem odd but asking yourself to do something works better than forcing yourself to do something. Especially when resistance leads to your procrastination.
7. I have to finish what I start…in one sitting.
If you say, “I work well under pressure,” or “I get my best work done at the last minute,” you might fall into this category. Again, totally me. I have this idea that I want to finish a task in one go. Have you ever written a 25 page paper in one sitting? I have! Well minus pee breaks. It can be hard to find the time to do a large task at one time. There are a few issues with this type of procrastination. Leaving a large project to the end and then sitting down to complete it creates stress because there is the fear you won't finish it in time. It also means you have to do your very best work because there is no time for changes. Plus, if something goes wrong, there is typically no time to add extra work or fix issues while completing the task or project in time.
Unfortunately, for many of us, this type of procrastination can be rewarding. For example, that 25 page paper I wrote, I got the highest mark in the class which is positive reinforcement for a poor habit. I was left thinking, I spent far less time than my peers and got to do other things I enjoyed and I still got the best mark! Another reward is that I typically have laser point focus and implement skills that allow me to be successful when faced with time constraints. I work more efficiently, avoid distractions and make decisions without second guessing myself.
So if we get rewarded for procrastinating, how do we avoid it? I found a few things that work.
A. I set an earlier deadline date. I procrastinate on this too (shocker, hey?) but if I can finish it a week earlier I can avoid incomplete assignments or being stalled by unforeseen barriers. If those things happen, I still have time to adjust.
This isn’t tricking myself which may cause resistance because I reward myself. I negotiate with myself on this new timeframe and when I get it done, I reward myself with a coffee date with a friend.
B. I break the larger task into smaller chunks and give them deadlines. That way I can complete the smaller chunks in one sitting as opposed to an entire large project.
C. Early in the project I remind myself of the times when the all-in-one strategy did not work to my advantage like when I missed deadlines or had subpar results due to tight time constraints. This might be pressuring to some but I find it motivating.
8. I have so much on my mind.
It’s not uncommon to get busy and have many projects on the go. When our minds are busy, we may procrastinate. In the end we use a hierarchy to do some tasks first and leave the others behind. When our minds are busy, we avoid stress or discomfort which can accompany projects or tasks.
We can work out this type of procrastination by clearing our minds. Relaxation, deep breathing, or downtime can be helpful. Once relaxed, make a list of things to get done. Prioritize them by deadline and importance. Notice I didn’t say by preference. When things are cleared off our plate, stress levels are reduced.
If personal issues are interfering with your productivity, deal with them so you can focus on the work or tasks you need to complete. You don’t have to spend a whole lot of time sorting things out. Make an appointment or table the topic until you have time to address it later.
Communicate with others and let them know you’re busy or overwhelmed so they don’t add more to your plate.
Avoid multitasking. When we try to complete a lot of things at once, we become less capable of our best work. Social media and phone use can be a distraction and/or overly stimulating. Focus on one thing and be be
tter prepared to do it at a high level.
I would like to make a note about delegation. Delegation should be an exception to the rule. If you are constantly that employer/boss/friend/partner who is delegating tasks to others at the last minute because of procrastination, you are going to have a group of unhappy people around you. Don’t make your procrastination someone else’s problem. If it’s something you legitimately don’t know how to do or you are in over your head, asking for help is a good thing. If you are regularly bailing yourself out of situations by delegating, you are misusing the power you have and people will become resentful. Delegating should be done early in any process so others have the ability to do the work the best they know how.
Unlike all my other posts, please don’t like or share this one. I don’t want any positive reinforcement for my poor time management.