Procrastination is a bad habit that many of us wish we could break. We’ve all said, “I’ll finish that task tomorrow,” but we find ourselves delaying the task more and more. This can lead to chronic procrastination in the long run, which leads to eventual burnout or getting fired.
The worst part is procrastination can become a vicious cycle. Trying to complete tasks or projects and failing to do them is frustrating and depressing, leading to even more procrastination. Research shows that it’s related to adverse outcomes – people who are inclined to procrastinate have lower job satisfaction, are less likely to meet goals, and have poorer health.
So what do you do? How can you get over wanting to procrastinate and get things done? This guide will explain why we procrastinate and the best methods for getting over it to meet your goals.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing something for any number of reasons. Procrastination can lead to lower work performance and lower satisfaction levels in all aspects of life.
Why we procrastinate
We’ve all procrastinated before. Whether it’s waiting until the last minute to finish a paper at 11:59 pm during your college days or holding off on submitting expense reports, procrastination is all too common. What are the reasons we procrastinate? Let’s find out.
No passion for our work
You might have gone to college with aspirations of being a video game developer, but you’re stuck working as a salesperson at a software company just to get by. Not working your dream job means you have less passion for your current job, so you view the tasks as meaningless. You’ll do just enough to avoid getting fired, but you won’t go out of your way to be a model employee.
Too many distractions
Many temptations distract you from working between social media, Slack & email notifications, Netflix, meetings, and more. Somehow, a Slack conversation with your colleagues can turn into a 15-minute discussion that completely distracts you from the code you’re supposed to write.
Poor time management and task scheduling
Our daily schedules have gotten busy these days, and it’s impossible to remember every task or project that needs to be worked on. You might find yourself needing to work on multiple tasks at once, but without scheduling the tasks, you’re not sure which tasks are a priority.
Fear of failure
The fear of failure is something we may not think about directly but affects us more than we might think. For example, have you ever delayed telling your boss about a completed task because you feel your work isn’t good enough? That’s the fear of failure kicking in. The thought of failing can paralyze our decision-making and make us feel unmotivated at getting more work done.
The types of procrastination
Psychologists have been studying procrastination for decades. Throughout their research, they’ve managed to categorize different types of procrastination and offered suggestions on how to overcome them.
Acute procrastination – you occasionally procrastinate
Acute procrastination is a rare form of procrastination, and it’s easier to identify than chronic procrastination. When acute procrastination kicks, you behave differently. The difference may be so apparent that you ask yourself, “Why am I so lazy?”
Even if you’re a super productive person, acute procrastination happens from time to time.
There can be many reasons for this:
- Low energy levels
- Being in an irritated emotional state or bad mood because of a personal issue
- Not taking frequent breaks
- You were delegated a task you think someone else should do
- You don’t enjoy the task at all
Identifying and understanding the cause of your procrastination is essential to solving it. Ask yourself what you’re doing and why then assess whether that behavior is productive or not.
If you want to stop acute procrastination, there are several things you can do:
Just start working
It sounds simple, but we know how hard it can be to take that first step. So, you can try to mobilize every single unit of discipline you possess and push yourself hard into making the first step. After the first step, you just forget about the procrastination and get the job done.
Manage your energy & time
The secret to success in time management is that you don’t manage only your time and energy levels. No matter how disciplined you are, you’ll have days where you’re more productive than others. This is the same for peak productive hours and less productive hours in the day.
Here are a few things you should consider:
- Push yourself to get things done when you’re feeling good, not when you’re feeling tired.
- If you’re feeling tired, take a short break and recharge your batteries.
- If you find yourself emotionally irritated, talk to other people and calm yourself down before you do anything else.
- Take a nap or a walk for 15 minutes and then start working.
- Sometimes you’re not in the state to be productive, which is okay.
You also need to be thoughtful about hard work. You can’t just work hard constantly; eventually, burnout happens. Life is a marathon, not a sprint; so, take regular breaks throughout the day and a long break when you’re feeling drained.
Work on more manageable tasks until your energy levels recover
How do you usually procrastinate on a task?
If you’re like us, you probably went from your desk to the office kitchen to grab a snack. And then you needed an excuse to use the bathroom. You then started browsing Reddit.
But there are things you probably did: you tidied up your desk, arranged all the sticky notes, stretched a little bit, talked with your colleagues about roadblocks on a specific project (or that one annoying coworker who keeps using your coffee creamer), and other semi-productive tasks. Do you see where this is going?
Anxious procrastination – you take on too much work and are now anxious to complete it
If you’re the type of worker who takes on a lot of work, chances are your coworkers might think you’re amazing. But the issue is that you now have so much work that you don’t know what to prioritize and get done. Your project management tool is cluttered with tasks, and most of them probably have due dates close to each other, which makes you anxious. So now you have to delay tasks, which could annoy your coworkers or bosses because it makes them question why you took on the work in the first place.
Yeah, anxiety isn’t fun.
To combat anxious procrastination, here’s what we recommend:
- Don’t take on too much work: We get that you want to be a model employee. But overworking yourself leads to burnout and low work performance. Take on work as needed and if you’re able to take on an extra task or two, go ahead.
- Delegate: If you have a team under you, give them some of your less important tasks. For example, if you’re a Founder of a 50-person startup, you don’t need to generate reports about your Google Ads. Let someone from the marketing team handle it.
- Collaborate with other team members: Finding yourself stuck on a specific task? Have a conversation with a coworker who you can shoot ideas off of. The conversation can help you new things in a new light which could help you get over the roadblock.
Perfectionist procrastinator – you won’t complete a task unless it meets your high requirements
Your focus on tasks or projects being done perfectly can burn you out quickly for all the perfectionists out there. Ensuring that every pixel is perfectly aligned on an image or that your new app is 100% bug-free is going to drain your energy.
While perfectionism is good, not everything has to be done perfectly. Mistakes are going to happen. It’s better to sometimes give up on something being done perfectly because it allows you to focus on other tasks and projects.
Chronic procrastination – you’re always procrastinating
Chronic procrastination is likely a sign of a deep and complex psychological issue. Chronic procrastination happens when you constantly procrastinate with specific tasks or with all of them.
Here are the most frequent reasons for chronic procrastination:
- Lack of assertiveness, fear, and self-sabotage
- Unrealistic high goals and expectations
- Unhealthy lifestyle
- A lack of skills or fake passion
- Perfectionism and other cognitive distortions
Here are some proven tips to overcome chronic procrastination:
Engage in assertiveness training
The number one reason people usually procrastinate is a lack of assertiveness. Assertiveness usually stems from the upbringing of an individual. The most common traits unassertive people develop are mistrust, shame, and guilt.
A lack of assertiveness usually happens only in a specific context. For example, an expert software engineer might be bad at managing money. Or a technical startup founder might lack the soft skills needed to be a successful salesperson.
Chances are there are some things where you know how to assert yourself and others where you don’t. When it comes to the latter, you procrastinate. So what to do? Here are some suggestions on fighting chronic procrastination.
Fight off the fear of failure
Procrastination can happen because of fear. The most common fear connected with procrastination is fear of failure.
Being hurt by failure, going through a recovery period, reflecting on what you learned and then trying again, and being paralyzed by fear are all different. However, failure is an integral part of success.
So, if you want to succeed faster, you have to fail more. You have to learn to love failing and constantly learn from it.
Make sure you don’t have unreasonably goals or expectations
Yes, we all have to dream big. But life has its limitations, so we must ensure we don’t get caught up in narcissistic grandiosity by expecting our dreams to come true too quickly.
When people fail to reach an expectation, they’re usually disappointed. If the disappointment is big enough, it may lead to procrastination or giving up.
When you realize that your goals are unrealistic after the first try, then you may start to procrastinate.
You may start to feel like you don’t have what it takes to achieve your goals and you may start to doubt yourself and ask if you even have the ability. So you decide to give up.
Here’s what you can do about it:
- Focus on improving the process so you know what can be done in a realistic timeframe
- Break your larger goals into smaller steps
If you believe you’re lazy, make an identity shift
If you want to deal with procrastination due to laziness, the first step is to see yourself as an ultra-productive person. The next step you take is exploring your underlying beliefs.
Benchmark your work output with three other people who share the same job title as you. Ask your colleagues and friends if they view you as a lazy person.
If you have low levels of energy, it’s normal to procrastinate. Low energy may be caused by overworking, burnout, and temporary exhaustion, or an unhealthy lifestyle. Considering being more active with a daily bike ride or exercise to keep your energy up. And trade in the soda can for a glass of water.
We’re not trying to be motivational speakers. Just sleep early, eat veggies, buy healthy snacks, go for a run or exercise a few times a week, drink water, etc.
Develop a new skillset to help with demanding tasks
If you have a high level of skills in a task and the task is not challenging, you will become bored and may procrastinate. Likewise, if a task is too demanding for your skill level, you’d be hindered by anxiety.
In psychology, there are the comfort zone, learning zone, and the panic zone. If you don’t have the skills required for a task, it’ll be complicated and overwhelming, leading to the panic zone. In the panic zone, you may face severe negative emotions that make it harder to go out of your comfort zone for the next attempt, resulting in chronic procrastination.
One thing you can do is to develop new skills. You can take an online course, join a coding boot camp, go back to school, etc. We all usually want to show the world the new skills we’ve acquired, and that can be a great motivator to overcome procrastination.
Quick facts about procrastination
There are lots of questions about procrastination being asked every day. Here are some of the most common questions people ask about procrastination.
Is procrastination a mental illness?
Procrastination itself is not a mental illness. According to psychologists, some people may have a strong urge to procrastinate, but it’s not due to mental illness.
How do I stop the urge to procrastinate?
There are many ways to stop procrastination. One suggestion is to use the snowball effect. Work on smaller tasks first so you can build up the motivation to work on more significant and time-consuming tasks.
What is the root cause of procrastination?
I think procrastination is caused by fear of failure. We procrastinate because we are dealing with perfectionism, low self-esteem, or negative self-belief. Therefore, we procrastinate to protect ourselves. … The reward of procrastination is often relieving stress.
What is procrastination a symptom of?
Procrastination can be associated with ADHD. Many people with ADHD have the tendency to focus on multiple things at once. Or it can be associated with depression. A person with depression is usually not motivated or energized enough to complete any task, no matter what it is.
How to stop procrastinating and be more productive
Sometimes, it’s hard to stop procrastinating. But you have to fight the urge to procrastinate so you can get important tasks done. Your future self will thank you. Here are some ways to stop procrastinating so you can get more done and reach long-term goals.
Don’t set yourself up for failure & set reasonable goals
The first step to overcoming your procrastination is to set your goals. When you set goals, it’s important to make sure they’re well-defined so you’re less likely to procrastinate.
For example, “write more blog articles” is a vague goal. You’re more likely to procrastinate when it comes to pursuing it compared to pursuing a more concrete goal such, as “write 3 blog posts per week.”
Setting achievable and meaningful goals is crucial to setting up a correct plan:
- Achievable goals can be considered realistic and reasonably doable in a set timeframe.
- Meaningful means that your goal should be significant enough that it leads to noticeable progress.
For example, the goal of fixing 300 bugs in your app in one week is meaningful but not realistically achievable. Most people can’t fix that much code in 7 days. On the other hand, a goal of fixing 1 bug a month is achievable but really has no meaning, since it’ll take too long to fix all 300 bugs.
So a goal of fixing 10 bugs a week is both achievable and meaningful, which is why it’s a good goal to set for yourself.
Granted, everyone has different rates of progress, and there isn’t a single rate of progress that works for everyone. The most important thing is to find how much work you can get done in a realistic timeline while making meaningful progress.
Once you set your goals, you can identify the nature of your procrastination problem.
You can be lazy and productive
“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” -Bill Gates
The above quote by Bill Gates sums up what we mean. Sometimes, finding a creative solution to routine tasks can help prevent procrastination. Or you can use automation. For example, if you find yourself copying data from your CRM tools to create reports in Google Sheets, then why not leverage Zapier to transfer data in real-time automatically? Solutions like these can free up time and allow you to focus on more meaningful tasks.
Get active to build up energy
You might roll your eyes at us, suggesting you should take a 5-minute walk every hour, but it works. Keeping your body somewhat active counteracts the harmful effects of sitting all day in an office. Find some time every hour to walk around or stretch a bit to keep the blood flowing.
Find something you’re passionate about
Not everyone is passionate about their work. And it’s ok. If you’re not passionate about the work you do but know that you need to do it to make a living, consider starting a hobby that you’re passionate about. For example, if you want to be a writer but work as a software engineer, consider creating a blog chronicling your day, which your company can use for recruiting. This way, you have an excuse to write every day while getting paid to do it.
Use task manager software
There are so many apps today that help you get your work-life organized. Gone are the days of physical planners. Leverage tools like Motion that help you organize your day to know which tasks are a priority and which ones aren’t. By using software, you can track your day in one location to free up time and keep you productive.
Break large tasks into smaller ones
Getting started with a large task or project can be daunting. For example, if you’re working on a hiring plan for your startup, you can start by breaking the hiring tasks into determining what to hire for, writing the job descriptions, interviewing, and making offers.
Identify when you’re most productive
Use a timer to track your work and see how long it usually takes you to complete routine tasks. By tracking and leveraging this data, you can identify your peak productive times and periods of low productivity to help with task planning.
Start a routine
A daily routine can work wonders and improve self-control and has beneficial effects on your long-term productivity. If you work a typical 9-5 job, you should be able to set up a routine in the morning, afternoon, and post-work hours. By following this routine, you’ll know what to expect every day.
Leverage proven productivity techniques
There are dozens of productivity techniques designed to help you stay productive. Here are some of the most common ones.
The Eisenhower Matrix was a technique used by Dwight D. Eisenhower to manage his tasks. He used it to determine which tasks were important and needed to be worked on and which tasks he could delegate.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system that helps people to work with the time they have. It uses a timer to break work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.
Time blocking is a time management method that organizes your day into blocks of time to work on specific tasks. Each block of time is only used for the specific task it was assigned.
Gamify your behavior & reward yourself
Gamification is an interesting phenomenon. Have you ever played a video game where you feel a dopamine hit by beating a tough boss or getting a specific item? The same works for gamifying your task completion. By rewarding yourself for completing a task, you find yourself “leveling up” every time you get something done. The rewards can be as simple as a 20-minute Netflix break, or you could even reward yourself with food that goes against the current diet you’re following.
Change where you work
Do you dread going to your job? Chances are you’re procrastinating because you don’t like the job at all or the people around you. In that case, it might be time to hunt for a new job.
Improve your work environment
With remote working becoming so popular these days, the urge to work in your bed is all too tempting. While it’s ok to work from your bed if you’re productive, spending time to set up a home office desk can help out as well. Plus, it’ll look better on video calls as you probably don’t want people seeing you in your bed.
If you work in an office, you can modify your workspace as needed. Add some pictures, posters, or brighten it up so you can stay more productive.
Delegate tasks as needed
As we mentioned with the Eisenhower Matrix earlier, delegating unimportant tasks can make you more productive. If you trust your team, you should have no issues letting them work on the tasks they probably should’ve been working on in the first place. You can guide the team as needed and use it as an opportunity to train them if you’re wanting them to take on a more senior role in the future.
Set deadlines for decision-making
Sometimes, procrastination happens because we have many tasks but don’t know which ones to prioritize. By setting a deadline to make a decision, it forces you to hold yourself accountable.
Find someone who can hold you accountable
However, if you do find it hard to hold yourself accountable, consider asking someone else to hold you accountable. This can be a colleague or boss that can track your work in a project management tool. They can follow up with you as needed to get updates or to ensure you’re not falling behind on the work you said you’d get done.
It’s ok to take a break (aka productive procrastination)
Most people believe taking a break means productivity is going to take a hit. But the opposite happens. If you take the occasional 15-minute break to go on a walk, make some coffee, or cook a short meal, you can find the momentum to finish the work you’ve been delaying.
Procrastination might feel good in the short term, but it can have lots of negative effects on your work and life in the long term. By overcoming procrastination, you can set yourself up for success.
That’s why we built Motion. Motion is designed to make you more productive so you can fight off procrastination.
Get started with Motion today by clicking the button below.
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