We all procrastinate from time to time. Maybe it’s putting off an important task to scroll through social media or watching that youtube video of puppies that seems pretty important right now. Maybe it’s pushing a task from one day to the other or needing to be “in the right mood” to do it…
Procrastination is a trap that many of us fall into. In fact, according to researcher and speaker Piers Steel, 95 percent of us procrastinate to some degree. While it may be comforting to know that we’re not alone, we need to understand just how much it can hold us back from reaching our goals and what we can do about it. But before we get into the HOW, let’s understand what procrastination is by looking at what it’s not.
Lazy people don’t do anything and are just fine with it – being lazy is very passive. Procrastinators, on the other hand, have the DESIRE to accomplish something and the GUILT that follows putting things off but are actively choosing to do something else.
Resting recharges us with energy, allowing us to get more things done after we rest. Procrastination, on the other hand, drains us of energy. We might not be doing the thing we said we would but we constantly think of it and the anxiety of having to deal with it later will not allow us to be at ease.
A lot of the times my clients proclaim “I’m a procrastinator” as if it was a given trait, like I’m tall. But procrastination is a habit, a deeply ingrained, not so positive habit, but none the less it’s something you do and not who you are. The minute we realize it’s a form of behavior, we accept and understand it’s something we CAN change. Also, affirming procrastination using an “I AM” statement will only attract more of it into our experience.
Many studies suggest that procrastination is not a time-management problem, it’s an emotion-management problem. Julia Baum, a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) in private practice in Brooklyn, New York, adds: “Poor time management is a symptom of the emotional problem. It’s not the problem itself”. So, we can apply all the time management techniques or use fancy time management apps, but if we don’t address the emotional issue, we’re not going to stop procrastinating.
As humans, we try to avoid negative feelings – so we put off anything that might cause us to feel this way. And instead, we are drawn to things that increase positive feelings – like watching Netflix instead of going to the gym, scrolling through social media instead of making a sales call, or doing small busywork that gives us a hit of dopamine instead of needle-moving activities.
We all have different reasons for why and how procrastination shows up for us but if we look at the core, we can roughly define 5 different types of procrastinators. Understanding the core root of procrastination will help find the right internal strategy to deal with it (full disclosure – I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all strategies – I believe, especially when it comes to productivity, you need to find what works best for YOU)
Signature phrase: “I work best under pressure”/ “ I’m most productive last minute”
This procrastinator type forces themselves to focus by shrinking the time they have to tackle a task. They believe they do their best, most productive work under pressure but scientific studies show that the opposite is true. Putting things off until the very last moment breeds stress, guilt, and ineffectiveness and isn’t very sustainable or healthy.
This may come from a difficulty to start a project when you know the deadline is a long way off. This may also be a result of an underlying fear of failure sprinkled with a dash of perfectionism. If you leave things to the last minute, you have a wonderful excuse on why the task can’t be done to your unreasonably high standards anyway (but we have a separate type for that).
Biggest challenge: Getting started.
How to overcome it: we tend to push things to the last minute usually because doing the task will bring up negative feelings like fear, anxiety, or stress. And the bigger the project/goal is, the more we’ll procrastinate starting it because we’ll don’t know where to start from. So break down the task into smaller ones – the smallest you can think of to get you started. Just make sure that the smaller tasks are actually needle-moving tasks and not “just” planning that can be procrastination in disguise.
Not only do these small steps give me a clear path forward, but, as Consultant and author John Brubaker say, these “baby steps” help build our self-efficacy—our confidence in our own abilities. And every time your brain crosses something off a list you get a hit of dopamine.
Another great way to cross the procrastination threshold is using the “5-minute” rule. Instagram founder Kevin Systrom says it comes down to making a bargain with your brain: “If you don’t want to do something, make a deal with yourself to do at least five minutes of it. After five minutes, you’ll end up doing the whole thing.” Five minutes is easy. Five minutes isn’t “write a novel” time. But it’s enough time to get you past the procrastination threshold.
Suggest mantra: “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today”
Signature phrase: “I have to get things just right” / “let me just go over the details ONE MORE time….”
This procrastinator type always strives for the best and, as such, is constantly criticizing their own work. Most perfectionists wear it as a badge of honor as it’s perceived as a good quality BUT there is a difference between doing quality work and wasting time on meaningless details. This is very common among designers and creatives (that’s me, raising both hands in the air right now).
I refer to myself as a recovering perfectionist after realizing that for years I used to connect my self-worth to the quality of my work. For some perfectionists, the fear of failing, or producing low-quality work, can be so scary they never actually start anything or do anything to avoid finishing it (again, raising my hands here)
Biggest challenge: Losing track of the big picture and having an “All or Nothing” mentality
How to overcome it: Instead of letting your obsession with details take up all your time, be clear about the BIGGER meaning of your tasks and what is truly important. Ask yourself: “What is the main purpose of the work you’re doing?” and then, try applying the 80/20 rule.
The 80/20 rule, also known as, The Pareto principle states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes. So try to set aside all the details that bring just 20% of the results. Focus on the tasks that will get you the 80% outcome you want. Look back at past projects and identify times when you didn’t do the perfect job (probably never if you’re a perfectionist lol), but the consequences were the same as if you did, right?
If you’re focused only on the perfect result, you lose track of the progress you’re making every day, and reaching our goals is more about the journey and the person we become than the actual perfect result we had in mind.
Suggest mantra: “done is better than perfect” (say it loud and say it proud!)
Signature phrase: “I’ll just to this tomorrow”/ “I don’t *feel* like doing this now”
This procrastinator type, also known sometimes as the Fun procrastinator, would rather be doing ANYTHING except that one dreaded task. As humans we are wired to avoid doing what we anticipate will be unpleasant, and procrastinating provides us a sense of relief from what we don’t want to experience. And that’s ok, but the problem starts when we fall into the procrastination loop:
Biggest challenge: doing something unpleasant.
How to overcome it: first, be gentle with yourself and practice self-compassion. Bringing in more guilt and anxiety to the equation won’t help. Second – practice self-awareness and try to understand WHAT is it you’re trying to avoid and WHY.
Try using the “DUST“ method (Created by Graham Allcott, the author of “A Practical Guide to Productivity”) to identify whether you’re procrastinating because the task is Difficult, Unclear, Scary, or Tedious.
Ask yourself – with the task I’m putting off what EMOTION am I trying to avoid:
Suggest mantra: I can do this.
Signature phrase: “I just had the best idea!”/”What if I try THIS now?”
This procrastinator type is constantly coming up with new ideas to take on — and then getting bored with them or finds an even better idea before completing this one. I see this all the time with entrepreneurs because they tend to be highly motivated, constantly craving for innovation, and aren’t afraid to start new projects and create new things. Useally, these are great characteristics, but when you suffer from a case of Shiny object syndrome, you’ll keep chasing project after project, change after change, and never sticking with one option.
The problem with constantly getting excited about a new project is that you’ll probably shift strategies BEFORE you can see any meaningful results. Scattered energy will bring scattered results and if you don’t take consistent action in one direction long enough to see results, you’ll probably end up losing a lot of time and burning out.
Biggest challenge: consistency and following through.
How to overcome it: next time you have the “BEST idea ever” – write it down and then PAUSE. Just pause, take a moment, and three (or ten) big breaths before you go off, get all excited, and start doing all the things. Not every idea should be acted upon (shocking… I KNOW!), and pausing before will allow you to respond to your thoughts intentionally instead of being very reactionary.
Suggest mantra: action not reaction.
Signature phrase: “I’m so busy”
This procrastinator type tends to fill up their calendar and often finds themselves overwhelmed. It’s ok to be busy BUT when we start using busy-ness as an excuse for not doing something (probably important), it’s usually a sign of avoidance. We place the blame on having other important things to do, rather than facing something we don’t want to do or setting clear priorities.
Biggest challenge: setting priorities and boundaries.
How to overcome it: You only have so much time and energy, so you don’t want to waste that on things that move the needle. Reflect on every item on your to-do list, and consider the long-term outcomes of each task. Important tasks should take priority over urgent ones because ‘urgent’ doesn’t always mean important.
Suggest mantra: keep your eyes on the prize.
The difficult thing about procrastination is that it’s caused by many different aspects, not all visible to us at first glance. I’m sure you found yourself nodding more than once reading this post, maybe not even realizing that what you’re doing is procrastination. I know – it’s hard to see the forest thru the trees.
I truly believe that awareness is the first step toward a solution. Now that you know you’re procrastinating and even why – you can focus on overcoming it.
If you find yourself aware of the problem but not sure how to overcome it and create a positive change, please sign up for a free call with me, so we can unpack this together and find the right strategy for you to implement.
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