“I have no idea why, but I just keep procrastinating! I know I need to get this done, but I keep putting it off!”
How many times have you uttered something like this?
How frustrating is it to promise yourself you’ll get to a task tomorrow, but tomorrow comes and goes, and it still isn’t done?
Many of my clients have shared this sentiment with me and I’ve been there too.
I’m not talking about the daily procrastination of putting off those mundane tasks and chores we have to do for our lives to run smoothly; like laundry, paying bills, grocery shopping, or even going to the gym,
When we keep pushing those things off, usually, it is because we would rather choose immediate fun and gratification—Netflix, talking on the phone, scrolling through social media—than do the work involved to get a delayed reward—food for dinner, and clean underwear tomorrow.
In this article, I am referring to the habit of procrastinating important endeavors—both professional and personal. Often, these tasks come with deadlines such as a work project or putting your financial info together in time to pay taxes. Other times it could be goals that we’ve been dreaming of but just can’t seem to make headway on.
In either case, procrastination is the enemy of success and happiness. It comes with some health hazards and negative consequences as well.
Procrastination increases our stress levels and causes anxiety. It drains our energy just thinking about all the unfinished projects and tasks we have on our list. Chronic procrastination can negatively impact our sleep, causing us to lie awake at night, disappointed in our lack of progress, worrying about all we need to get done, and promising ourselves tomorrow will be different.
When we are stuck in the constant pattern of pushing off doing things that need to get done, we end up disappointing others and ourselves. Chronic procrastination leads others to believe they can’t count on us. Our self-esteem and confidence plummet.
So, why do we procrastinate doing meaningful stuff that we know will make us happy when we can cross it off the “to-do” list. More importantly, how can we stop procrastinating?
There is a myriad of reasons we procrastinate. The first step in moving forward is to figure out what is causing you to delay action in a particular situation that has got you stuck.
In my experience coaching clients and exploring my own tendency to put off doing what needs to get done, there are nine reasons why we procrastinate. If you can identify which one is your roadblock you’ll know the next step to get you into motion.
1. The task feels completely overwhelming.
When overwhelm is holding you back, it is often because the “to-do” item on your list is actually a project, not a task.
Meaning, there are a ton of small steps that need to be attended to before you can cross the big item off your list.
For instance, putting your house on the market is a massive project that should never be listed on a daily “to-do” list. However, interview realtors, clean out the garage, or hire a carpenter to fix the loose staircase railing are all tasks that need to be completed before putting the house on the market. Those are the items for the list.
So, when feeling overwhelmed causes you to put off attending to something you genuinely want to do…
Ask yourself, “Is this a project or a task?”
Take ten minutes to do a brain dump of every small step that would need to be completed for the project to be done.
Next, determine your first step.
Now schedule it into your calendar.
In other words, break the project up into smaller, more manageable pieces and take it one step at a time.
2. You don’t really understand what it is you need to do to complete the job.
When confusion is causing you to procrastinate, it is time to get more information.
Clarify exactly what the outcome is you are looking for, and the purpose behind the job. You may need to ask your boss, supervisor, or anyone else who assigned this to you for help.
If it is something you want to do for your own personal or professional development, perhaps you need to learn a new skill first or hire someone to help you.
When feelings of confusion and uncertainty are holding you back, it is time to get help. Don’t try to accomplish this one alone.
3. When you lack confidence in your ability to get the job done, procrastination is easier to deal with than the chance of failure.
This happens when you understand precisely what you need to do, and what the outcome is supposed to be, but you don’t trust that you can do this job well. You are scared of screwing up!
Remind yourself that the more you do something, the better you will get at it. Your first outcome doesn’t need to be perfect.
Just start! Begin doing what needs to be done, and you can course-correct as you go along. It’s better to be done, albeit not perfectly, than to have not started at all!
4. You just don’t feel inspired.
If you find yourself saying, “I’m just not inspired to do this now,” it is time to say, “Too bad! Do it anyway.”
That may sound harsh, but this is a story we tell ourselves that is not helpful. I mainly hear this when it comes to creative endeavors, but it can creep up even when the task is cleaning out a closet.
Your best bet is to commit to a small time frame—maybe thirty minutes—and begin working on this task. Enforce a tight deadline for completion. If possible, share that with someone you can trust to keep you accountable.
Each week I send a Wednesday Wellness email to my loyal subscribers. I have been doing so for years. Truth be told, I don’t always feel inspired to write. But as soon as I set the thirty-minute timer and start, it flows. Add to that the fact that I’ve made a commitment to send it and know my readers are anticipating it in their inbox, no matter how uninspired I might feel, it will be done by Wednesday.
5. When the task is difficult, complicated, and/or time-consuming, it’s easy to procrastinate.
Working on this one actually is painful! It is a job that feels physically and mentally draining.
If at all possible, this might be a task worth delegating. Would you be able to hire someone to take this one off your plate?
If not, break it down into small chunks, and build in rewards for the completion of each. Knowing you can take a break to watch your favorite guilty pleasure may help power you through the drudgery.
6. It is soooooo tedious!
When the item on that to-do list is one you find incredibly tedious—you just hate doing it—but it has to be done, combine it with something fun.
If delegation is not an option, get creative around making this task more palatable.
Could you play your favorite music in the background while working? Ask a friend to keep you company while pushing through? Take your laptop to your favorite coffee shop and work there?
Remember, not every responsibility we have is pleasurable, but if it is meaningful and aligns with your values, it is worth getting done.
7. Your “to-do” list is enormous, and you just don’t know where to begin.
If every time you look at your project and daily to-do lists you become so overwhelmed by the sheer volume, there’s an excellent chance you are procrastinating because you just don’t know where to start.
This becomes a considerable problem because overwhelm causes us to freeze. You’ll find anything else in need of doing, even the laundry, before buckling down to tackle the items on your list.
It is time for some serious planning. Head to a spot you find comfortable and comforting—the local coffee shop, your favorite club chair, a park bench—and go through every item on your list.
Ask yourself, ”Why is this on my list, and does it need to be there? Is this a ‘should’ or a ‘want?’”
Move all the items to the top that are professionally necessary, income-producing, personally satisfying, and aligned with your values. Cross off the unnecessary and delegate what you can. Now pick the one item that you would be thrilled to finally complete. Open your calendar and schedule the time to take step one.
8. You fear the unknown outcome.
When you find yourself wondering whether completing this task will make things better, worse, or turn out to be a waste of time, procrastination is your safety net.
However, if tackling this item is on your mind a lot, the unknown becomes more stressful than taking the risk.
Think about the worst case scenario that might happen if things do not turn out the way you hope. Can you live with that? Keep in mind this outcome is usually unlikely.
What would be the best-case scenario if completing this project turns out perfectly? There’s an old saying, “Folks don’t regret what they do, they regret what they don’t do.”
Don’t let procrastination have you regretting your lack of action in the future.
9. When you ask yourself why you are procrastinating, your answer is, “Procrastination is my nature. It’s just who I am! I work better under pressure anyway.”
I cannot begin to tell you how often I have heard the above proclamation. Perhaps it is one you can relate to.
If this is the story you have been telling yourself, it is time for a new narrative! You are buying into what is called a limiting belief. Holding on to this identity will limit you from achieving greater goals.
When procrastinating all the time has become a problem, this story is no longer serving you; it is hindering you.
How often does your procrastinating result in uncomfortable negative consequences and stress? If you can honestly answer, not often, perhaps procrastination really is not your problem. In which case, you don’t need to change anything.
But I have a feeling if you have read this far, you do want to break this habit. When all is said and done, procrastination is a habit and habits can be changed with practice and repetition.
So shift your attitude. Write yourself a new story. One that empowers you to kick procrastination to the curb. And do it now!
Ellen, Totally excellent article! I have the habit of procrastination and need to apply the truth in this article in my professional and personal life! I feel that I am often in the “limited belief” mode or simply having too many non essentials on my task lists!
I am working to make those adjustments for greater peace, joy, and less stress.