There are lots of reasons why people procrastinate, but YOU’LL only be able to overcome YOUR procrastination when you discover what your OWN reasons are – and they can run a lot deeper than you think! But, when you discover those reasons, you can learn how to resolve them, move forward, take rapid action, and get the job done!
It’s easy to think that you’re putting off doing something because you don’t enjoy it, it’s “boring”, you don’t have time, you couldn’t be bothered, or a million other reasons. But if you look beneath the surface, you might just find some surprising reasons that aren’t immediately obvious.
The first step in learning what your reasons for procrastinating are is to get in touch with how you really feel about the things you tend to put off doing. Take a deeper look at those tasks – what do they mean or represent to you? In the larger scheme of things, how vital are they to you, and your personal or professional success?
For example, if you always put off doing grocery shopping, maybe you are resentful that you don’t get any help, and you might feel as if you have to do everything around the house without help from the rest of your family. In other words, procrastinating about going grocery shopping is mainly a reflection of your underlying feelings. This is a common theme – people usually don’t put off doing something because they’re lazy or couldn’t be bothered. Rather, they put things off because the activity symbolises something bigger, or evokes feelings that they find uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking.
There are lots of reasons why people procrastinate, but YOU’LL only be able to overcome YOUR procrastination when you discover what your OWN reasons are – and they can run a lot deeper than you think!
Or maybe your procrastination issues are only present at work. If we accept that procrastination is often symbolic of the feelings that the activity represents, then perhaps you’re delaying or avoiding work tasks because your job makes you feel uncomfortable or anxious – maybe so much that subconsciously you are trying to get yourself fired!
From the point of view of achievement and fulfillment, there is no positive side to procrastination. And if we continue to give ourselves shallow excuses for delaying our actions, we get nowhere. Instead, we need to take action to figure out why we delay in the first place. That is the focus of the rest of this article – and if you follow the process, you can go a long way towards freeing yourself from the procrastination trap forever.
Let me give you an example of a shallow excuse, and what it really represents. Perhaps you need to write and deliver a speech – maybe at school or work, maybe even at your wedding – and just thinking about it makes you break out in a cold sweat and want to vomit. So, you delay writing it. You avoid it. You don’t think about it. You even avoid thinking about thinking about it! But the big day gets closer. And closer. And finally, it’s here. The problem is, you’re not ready. Nowhere near ready. You haven’t even started!!! And you tell yourself that you just haven’t had time to do it; that you’re too busy with more important things (spoiler alert – that was the shallow excuse!).
And as a result, people take pity on you – someone does it for you. Or you get an extension at school. Or your speech gets cancelled. And so on. You have been rewarded, in a way, for avoiding something that scares you. And you just learnt that procrastination works. And while procrastinating may not be a good way to get things done, it sure is a good way not to get them done!
We’ve just looked at one of the causes of procrastination – how people who feel anxious about an event or situation have learnt to procrastinate to reduce those feelings, and often to avoid things that scare them altogether. But that is not the only reason why people put things off. Surprisingly, another is perhaps just the opposite of what you might think – some high achievers, who usually roll their sleeves up and get things done, have learnt to procrastinate about tasks because they can’t do them perfectly.
Procrastination and Perfection
Many people have some measure of perfectionism within them. You set high goals for yourself, and then you push yourself to achieve them. You have high personal standards and integrity, and that makes you want to do your best at all times. But if you take things too far, searching for perfection at all costs, it can waste a lot of your time, energy and productivity.
This particular dedication for perfection helps us get the results we want and enjoy the success that comes with achieving our goals. But too much perfectionism has negative repercussions, rather than positive ones. Some effects of too much perfectionism include:
- Less Efficiency
Sometimes good enough really is good enough. When you’ve adequately completed a given task, but then continue working on it to make it “perfect”, you just start wasting time. In other words, you overthink and tweak things to a point where very little gets accomplished.
- Less Effectiveness
When you overthink things, you add small details without stopping to think about whether you need them or not. The project you’re working on may not receive any additional value from your additions, and in fact, may wreck the project altogether. We’ve all experienced a too-cluttered website or a presentation with too much random information packed into a slide. A good rule of thumb is: Simple is better.
- Waiting for the “Perfect” Moment
Here’s a tip: There is no perfect moment. It’s never going to be the exactly perfect time to start something, or to make a change in your life – the perfect moment is never going to come, so the best you can do is get to work on your tasks RIGHT NOW! You can’t afford to wait until you feel like it, or until all the planets align… just do it! This is a big way that procrastination and perfectionism work against you in tandem.
- Missing the Forest for the Trees
Some people tend to only focus on the small details, and miss the impact of the larger picture and eventual completion of the task – they work on smaller details at the expense of the whole project. And when nothing gets done, even though you’ve been “busy”, you wonder what went wrong. Try looking at the overall bigger picture, and achieve a balance between the big picture and the small details.
- Creating Nonexistent Problems
Worrying about things that really aren’t problems at all is a great way to waste your valuable mental energy. And, it can create an unhealthy diversion away from the real tasks at hand. It’s a typical procrastination problem and an unhealthy one!
So should you stop being a perfectionist? The best answer is that you could acknowledge your perfectionist tendencies – for many people it’s how they’ve achieved so much in their lives – but be aware when you go overboard. Keeping a healthy balance between perfectionism and chaos probably gives you the maximum productivity.
Procrastination is the Ultimate Form of Self-Sabotage
We’ve discussed that procrastination is a waste of your time, energy, and resources. We’ve seen how it serves no good purpose in your life, and why it can be extremely damaging to personal and professional relationships, and overall achievement.
While there might be a lot of reasons we give ourselves to justify our procrastination, the reality is that very often, it’s a form of self-sabotage.
And while there might be a lot of reasons we give ourselves to justify our procrastination, the reality is that very often, it’s a form of self-sabotage. And while self-sabotage is ultimately unhelpful, and even destructive, there are at least three possible reasons that people do it:
- You’re afraid of failure.
Especially if you have perfectionist traits, sometimes you feel that it’s better not to start at all than to try and fail, or to only do a mediocre job that isn’t up to your high standards. Funnily enough, the need for perfectionism sometimes reflects a deeper problem – low self-worth. People with this issue have learnt somewhere during their life that they’re not good enough, but by excelling at a skill – typically a sport or intellectually – they get external reinforcement from their significant others, and so feel better about themselves. They then link doing a good job to feeling good about themselves – and if you’re not sure you can do a good job, why try at all and risk disappointment?
- You’re afraid of success.
The media talks about the price of success – intrusion into your personal life, substance abuse, lawsuits – so some people feel that maybe it’s better not to be successful. They think that maybe it’s better to stay where they are, and not try to escape. Their life might not be what they want, but maybe it’s better than the possible unknowns of success. There is an old saying – “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” – which means that it’s hard to escape your upbringing. As a result, many people feel increasing discomfort as they attempt to move further out of their comfort zone.
- You don’t feel worthy of success.
The final cause of procrastination we’ll consider is not feeling that you deserve success. When you do find success, it could go against what you’ve been told (or subconsciously learned) about yourself from your siblings, parents, past partners, toxic relationships, or any number of similar situations. For some of us, believing in yourself doesn’t come naturally, nor does seeing yourself in a place of success. So, attempting to achieve that success feels very unnatural, fills you with fear, and leads to self-sabotage- because you’ve been programmed so that failure feels natural to you.
Breaking the chains that bind you
What emerges from looking more deeply into these three reasons is that they are anchored in your past – often in your childhood. It reminds me of the story of how circuses used to train elephants. They would get a baby elephant and put a large chain around their leg. No matter how hard the baby elephant tried to escape, to break that chain, they couldn’t. Fast forward a few years, and that baby elephant is now fully-grown. But they patiently stay at the circus, with that same chain around their leg – the chain that they could now easily break if they wanted to. Yet they don’t try – because they’ve learnt that they can’t. These three reasons are like that chain – you’ve learnt to be imprisoned by them, but you can break them now if you want to!
How To Stop Procrastinating
The biggest secret to stopping the procrastination habit is to find your why. Firstly, ask yourself why do I procrastinate? Then ask yourself why could I stop? Finally, ask yourself why do I deserve success? Then take action!
While you’re figure out which issues might be holding you back from living the life of your dreams, many people need some smaller steps to focus on while they’re working through some of their deeper issues. After all, if procrastination has become a habit for you, you can choose to replace it with the opposite – action.
Start with Small Tasks
One way to build up the action habit is to focus on getting small tasks done. Another way to look at this is to imagine that willpower and taking action are like muscles – the more you exercise them, the stronger they become, and the easier it is to swing into action!
Because it’s much easier to break smaller habits and do that consistently, you get practice at being effective and facing your (smaller) fears, rather than avoiding them. Remember one of my favourite sayings that asks “How does an ant eat an elephant – One bite at a time!”
One way to get this done is to set up a system that dedicates part of each day to a specific activity that gives you practice at getting into action and overcoming your fears. Here’s an example – you could dedicate part of each Monday to clearing out unwanted or unread emails. Then you could maybe allocate some time on Tuesdays to catch up on your industry news. Wednesday could be used to tackle smaller parts of longer-term tasks. And so on.
A related idea is to break larger tasks down into smaller sections, then break each of those sections into smaller parts, then break those down into even smaller parts, and so on until you get to a whole lot of small steps that, when completed, form a bigger picture – like completing a jigsaw one piece at a time. When you make things this granular, you get them done.
Because procrastination is a habit, you have to commit to breaking it. This means you need to be consistent with your actions until the point where you aren’t procrastinating anymore. The first few days or weeks are the toughest, but it does get easier, as long as you take action and keep going.
A smorgasbord of strategies to overcome procrastination:
- Think about what motivates you
Create rewards based around those motivations. If you know there’s something you have to do but don’t want to do, give yourself a great reward after you’ve completed it. For instance, if watching three episodes of Grey’s Anatomy would be something you’d seriously enjoy, then use that as your reward for completing a task. You just need to decide what will motivate you enough to get the job done!
- Get an accountability partner
Your ego is a powerful motivator, and having an accountability partner that you check in with will put your ego into motion. Do you want to have to talk to your accountability partner on Monday and admit that you’ve gotten nothing done, and have to listen to how much they got accomplished? Of course not – that is why accountability partners work.
- Consider the consequences if you don’t complete the task
What are those consequences? Will you look bad at work? Will you lose a client? Let those thoughts propel you into action.
- Consider the benefits of completing the task
Will you finally be able to put a project to bed? Will you get a raise? Will you be able to gain another client? Will you just be able to move on to something else? Focus on how you’ll feel once you get the job finished, and allow that to motivate you.
- Keep a short and realistic to-do list
Short because by doing a few small tasks, you’ll gain momentum to work on bigger tasks, and realistic because you can easily set yourself up for failure by expecting too much of yourself. Gain momentum by checking things off.
- Schedule your time
Some people work better if every minute of their day is scheduled and not left to chance. If that’s the case for you, schedule each day into blocks of time that you can devote to various tasks, with short breaks in-between.
Wrapping it all up – Remember the benefits of breaking the habit
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article – the reasons people procrastinate, the role of perfectionism, finding your why, and more. And let’s not pretend that it’s easy to break a habit that you’ve refined and “perfected” over the years – it’s not! But liking any opportunity for growth and advancement, the benefits are worth it. So if you’re running out of steam, or not fully convinced, let’s finish with five reasons why stopping procrastination is well worth it:
- Finishing things on time feels good
Procrastinating means you know you could be working on something, but you’re not. And when you consciously know that you should be doing that something else – and you’re not – it can lead to feelings of guilt. Finally, you become so overwhelmed with the tasks that need to be done that you become paralyzed into inaction. It is a negative downward spiral that is self-perpetuating.
- You’ll just get more done
When you do things rather than put them off, it means that we have more time to do other tasks. It means that your to-do list gets more things checked off. It means that you’re that much closer to the success you want.
- You learn to use your time more wisely
When you eliminate procrastination, you utilise more of your time in ways that increase productivity, and you stop wasting your energy on things that won’t get you closer to your goals.
- You learn to spend your mental energy on things that matter
Rather than spending your time feeling guilty, overwhelmed, out of control, or paralysed, swinging into action helps you to accomplish things that are important to you.
We all know what it’s like to put things off. You know you should be doing it, but you just couldn’t be bothered. So, you feel guilty. What would happen if you did the thing that you’re putting off? You’d feel great! Accomplished! Confident! This is what it feels like to be someone who gets things done. When you begin to feel these things on a regular basis, it paves the way for overcoming procrastination – for good!
Featured Image: Unsplash.