5 Reasons You May Be Procrastinating...and How to Stop
Procrastination is putting off tasks we want to do when we have time for them. It's not simply not having enough time to do things. It's also not laziness or inactivity, necessarily. Someone can do something that looks outwardly productive, like doing dishes, in order to put off doing something else. Procrastination then is avoiding a specific task. You have time for this task. You have energy. What's stopping you?
Here, I've narrowed down 5 main reasons you might be procrastinating on certain tasks.
1. You Need Better Planning
Has this ever happened to you? You set a weekly plan for yourself and schedule each minute of each day on Sunday night. You've planned to get up at 7am, do aerobics, do yoga, meditate, jog, then shower, then this, then that and then...
What happens? Well, inevitably, Monday morning rolls around and you don't actually have the time or energy required to do the things you planned to do.
Why? Because you're a human being, not a machine. You could tell a computer to do one task for one hour, and then move on to another task for another hour, and so on, and it wouldn't need rest or recovery between tasks. But you are not a computer, and pauses and breaks between tasks are essential for you.
A lot of times, procrastination is NOT a personal character defect. It is a sign, not that you're not working hard enough, but that you didn't plan correctly. You didn't take into account some needs you may have, including the need for mental breaks and pauses. You didn't add unstructured time to your schedule to deal with distracting, but necessary, "emergency" tasks - like when you suddenly have to drop everything to help your kid find their favorite stuffed animal. The best thing is to make sure you're planning for the time and energy you actually have, not the time and energy you'd have if you were some imaginary perfect superman/woman. Also, I know there are certain things that sound frivolous but are necessary to keep me from getting burned out throughout the day. They include listening to music and going for walks. Other people may need to journal, read a book, or browse the web during their workday. That's OK. But put it on your schedule. If you don't, the need to do it will come up, preventing you from doing the tasks you wanted to do.
Bookworm Betty knows she needs to pause during each day regularly to read her book. If she doesn't take specific breaks for it, she'll be distracted by thoughts about the book all day, and may simply take out her book and start reading, completely neglecting important work tasks. So she might come up with a schedule like this:
9:00 - 9:45 am Read work email, team meeting
9:45-10:00 am Read book
10:00-10:45 am Work on PowerPoint
10:45-11:00 am Read book
11:00-11:30 am Give presentation, take notes on others' presentations
And so on. The main thing is, if you have the freedom to do it, you should make time for what's likely to be your biggest source of distraction. It can be kids, pets, an activity you really enjoy, anything that is likely to take time and energy away from work no matter what. Therefore, if you plan for exactly when it will take that time away from work, you will be more organized and productive.
2. You Don't Know How to Handle Your Fear
More people fear public speaking than death. Isn't that surprising?
So if certain work tasks scare you more than you think they should, you're not crazy. Work tasks might involve a lot of fears. Fear of failure. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being responsible for problems. Fear of social judgment and ridicule. When I blog, I fear negative and bullying comments, for example. Someone may put off doing a spreadsheet, because they're afraid to look stupid if their numbers turn out to be incorrect.
Even fear of success might be an issue. People can worry that if they do too well, they'll look like a 'brown-noser' and alienate their friends. They might worry about becoming someone else or losing themselves to please their boss or the company's rules. Some people fear being promoted because they don't want to handle the pressure associated with greater responsibility.
The best way I deal with fear, since I'm a writer, is by journaling. You can use journaling as a tool for dealing with fear of all types. Getting your worst fears out on paper is a way of letting the fear go. You're not repressing it, you're acknowledging it in a healthy way, and then moving on.
For example, I was afraid the other day that a certain person was going to negatively judge certain habits I have. So I wrote a whole long defense of said habits, and why they're an important part of my personal philosophy, on my iPhone. I wrote a response to everything I was worried that this person would think or say about me. That way, I knew that if I were confronted by them, I would be able to defend myself. Then, I was able to work with this person calmly and free of fear. The confrontation I was worried about didn't even happen!
When journaling, just think, 'What's the worst-case scenario I'm afraid will happen?". Then, write it all down and then, write how you will handle or respond to that situation. That way, knowing you have a plan in your pocket for the worst thing you fear (which probably won't even happen!), you will be able to proceed with confidence.
3. You Get Overwhelmed
Fear is a big, obvious emotion. But sometimes, we put off a task we meant to do without any obvious fear attached to it. We just didn't get it done. What happened?
Maybe the problem was that the task was too big and complicated. When a task is like that, we don't know where to start, so part of the back of our brain says "f*ck it". So we don't do any part of the task.
For example, my blog is about anime. For a lot of them, I review anime and manga based on the first 20% of the content. Since anime typically have around 25 episodes, this comes out to about 5 episodes most of the time. But sometimes, I'll get a huge anime to deal with. For example, if an anime is 200 episodes long, 20% of it is 40 episodes! These are harder mentally to deal with, and it's more likely that I'll procrastinate on watching them.
What I do for that is work it out on my calendar. It's not as overwhelming to watch 40 episodes if you spread them out across 4 episodes a day for 10 days, for example. You can stretch a large task across time if you plan for it in advance, and then you only have to do a little bit each day to keep the ball rolling.
Another important thing to do is to break any large, overwhelming task into many smaller tasks. For example, the task "market my book on social media" is a large, broad task that requires several smaller steps. So instead, planning to market a book on social media might look like this:
- Research social media channels for marketing my book: 10 am Tuesday
- Choose which of these social media channels to use: after Step 1
- Plan strategy for promoting my book on FaceBook
- Buy FaceBook advertising (decide on the amount, write copy for the ad, launch ad campaign)
- Plan and buy Google ad for my book
- Figure out how to get more Amazon reviews for my book - Research: Thursday, 2pm
- Create a Patreon video to promote my book - Friday, 9am
And so on. Maybe you don't have a single task. Maybe your 'task' is a week's or even a month's worth of smaller tasks. So chop that task up, and it will be less daunting. We tell students to do that with college and high school papers.
4. You Try to Do Too Many Things at Once
"If you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both." is a saying that captures the importance of narrowing down one's focus. When we set goals, a lot of people talk about the need for SMART goals. The first of these is 'S' for 'Specific'. We are only human. Since what we can do is limited, we have to learn to say "no" to some things in order to spend our energy and talent pursuing what's really important.
One reason you might feel overwhelmed or stressed by a task is that you're simply adding too much to your plate, trying to do too much, and not focusing your efforts on one specific goal. For example, as an anime blogger, if I tried to write about every new episode of anime that came out, as it came out, I'd never get it done. You have to be able to set limitations.
Further reading on the power of "no": https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/240878
5. You Need More Social Support
This is mostly advice for people working from home, but it can affect anyone, working in any kind of environment. Since humans are social creatures, other people are going to influence our work. For example, would you get more done with a chatty coworker next to you, or a coworker who, while friendly, only talked business and that was it?
When you work from home, any people you live with are going to impact your work.
Obviously, some people are disruptive, rude, and not good work companions. Sometimes, you might be stuck with people, kids, or pets that are a distraction.
But another problem is that you need positive accountability partners if you're going to work remotely or alone. A 'ding' from Alexa just isn't the same as a text from a real person. You also need a coach or mentor. If you're stuck here, look for "free webinar + [whatever field you're in]", or look for courses related to what you do on sites like Skillshare, Coursera, and Udemy. Or search for "free workshop + [field]". A lot of experts offer free courses, webinars, workshops, ebooks, and so on. Sure, they're often there to direct you from their free content to some type of paid content. But take advantage of the free content! It's usually valuable enough by itself. If you pay for a course, that usually means you can get feedback on your work directly from the leader of the course. You may want that so that you know if you're heading in the right direction or need to change something you're doing.
Ask yourself: Who am I accountable to if I procrastinate? Can I get anyone to remind me to do things? Is there anyone I know whom I could ask to be my accountability partner? For example, if you want to exercise more, you might try to find a friend who is also trying to exercise more, and you can keep each other on track. When you have a supportive person helping you remember, it becomes much more likely that you're going to do what you intended to do.
Sometimes, when we procrastinate, we can end up feeling bad about ourselves. And, sometimes we don't know why we procrastinated. Why did I spend an hour on FaceBook instead of doing my laundry? Why did I read that book instead of going to the gym? Why did I just stare at the wall instead of doing my work?
If you explore the possible reasons why you might be procrastinating on certain tasks, you are more likely to come up with a solution, so that you are more productive in the future.
- Problem: I played Tetris instead of mowing my lawn yesterday.
- Reason: I don't have anyone living with me to remind me to mow the lawn.
- Solution: I could ask my coworker friend to ask me if I mowed the lawn over the weekend, on Mondays.
- Problem: I do everything else at work, but am almost never prepared for my presentations on time.
- Reason: I fear public speaking. Subconsciously, I avoid thinking about presentations because they scare me.
- Solution: I'm going to work on my fear of public speaking. I'm going to try writing about my worst-case scenario fears. This will help me be more confident, and procrastinate less.
When you know why, you'll know what you need to change.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.