We have all been there. Big projects to start, deadlines looming, to-do lists lengthening, colleagues asking you for status updates. You feel stressed because you’d rather go crawl under a rock than to do whatever “it” is. You probably already know that all of that resistance has a name and its name is procrastination—the evil nemesis of productivity. Procrastination tends to be the result of when we put things off and it sometimes results in waiting until the eleventh hour to do them. Procrastination is kind of like eating doughnuts: you know you shouldn’t do it, you do it anyway and it’s amazing at first, but then you crash and burn and subsequently wish you never did it.
We know this is not a great way to live, but we do it anyway. In my opinion, this is because we often don’t know the cause of our procrastination. We write it off as laziness, maybe give ourselves a dose of negative self-talk, and move on to the next thing to procrastinate about. Procrastination is not just caused by someone being lazy; it has many faces. Once we know the reason why we are procrastinating, it’s much easier for us to stop and become more productive.
Read on to find out eight reasons you could be procrastinating that aren’t about being lazy.
1. Perfectionism – Are you waiting for the perfect circumstances?
People tend to have this general belief that perfectionists never procrastinate and are always productive. As a perfectionist myself, I can say that is a myth. I would argue that perfectionism is a form of procrastination. Oftentimes if I need to get something done and the time, environment, or circumstance is not “right” (i.e., perfect), I cannot get going. Perfectionists often have an “all or nothing” mindset and succumbing to this mindset often ends in procrastination.
If I get home late, I feel like my “workout window” has passed and I do not exercise. If my desk is messy, I cannot concentrate and therefore I don’t start working. If I know I won’t finish a chapter of a book in one sitting, I don’t even start. This even shows up when we feel our skills are too imperfect to do something, so we don’t do anything. My advice here is to do what you can with what you have. If you wait around for the perfect circumstances, you’ll never get anything done.
2. Paralysis – Are you scared or intimidated?
Project paralysis is real. Project paralysis is a feeling of being stuck behind an entire task. This task is probably something that is big, new, daunting, or all three. I get project paralysis all the time. Planning my wedding has been where paralysis has flourished. Weddings are huge projects, and if you’ve never had one before, it can feel like a mountain of a task, so you just put the planning off until you really have to do it. Paralysis comes from fear of failure, not knowing where to start, intimidation, unfamiliar territory, and impostor syndrome. When you feel intimidated by a task, chances are you aren’t jumping to do it.
To get over project paralysis, the key is to start small—to warm up. Small tasks add up to big tasks and before you know it, the “thing” is done. Often when we start with small/simple tasks, the bigger tasks down the line start to materialize. As usual, objects in motion stay in motion. For example, if you’re wanting to get a workout session in before work, throwing yourself into squatting 100kg right off the bat may seem like a lot. If you start with some dynamic stretching instead, you’ll probably find that the transition to squatting (and then finishing the workout) is much easier. Using my wedding example, before we went out and chose a venue, we first figured out the type of venue and the location. Start small, gain momentum, and keep building.
3. Basic needs are not met – Did you take care of YOU?
Maslow was really onto something here. Sometimes when I’m at work, I’ll be sitting there staring at my computer screen wondering why I cannot get going (or I’m stuck) on even a simple task. And then I realize that it’s 2:00pm, I haven’t eaten lunch yet, and holy crap do I have to pee. If you don’t give your mind and body what they need, your mind and body won’t give you what you need. Sometimes, it’s as simple as getting up and going for a short walk to reset. Maybe you take really good care of yourself during the day but you’re only averaging 4 hours of sleep at night, so you’re moving slower than usual.
A lot of people use this as a form of procrastination and don’t even realize it. The solution is simple. Ask yourself: “did I eat, sleep, use the restroom (nope, not kidding), go for a short walk, drink water, etc.?” If the answer is no to even one of those, you may want to take care of it and see how it affects your productivity. Make sure your cup is full and don’t skimp on taking care of yourself.
4. Lack of clarity and connection – Do you understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it?
This is arguably the least obvious, but once revealed it’s a game changer. This makes me think of the elementary school kid that didn’t do their math homework. The teacher/parents call the kid lazy and irresponsible without even questioning the extent to which the kid understood what they learned, or further, if they feel connected to it. When you don’t know the “why” you can forget about getting to the “how.”
When I first started this blog, I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. As a result, I felt disconnected and I left it on the backburner. I would get frustrated because I knew I wanted to post on this blog, but I didn’t and I could not figure out what was causing my lack of execution. Once I got clear on my “why” and what my specific goals were for this site, I began to feel really connected to it and was able to hit the ground running. Now, all I want to do is write.
When you’re tasked with a project of sorts—whether it’s at work, school, or your personal life, ask yourself if you really understand what it is you’re trying to accomplish and why. If you don’t, go do some research to gain clarity. You can even go a little further and ask yourself: “is this something I actually want to be doing?” We will all find ourselves in a rut of procrastination at some point. The key is to question what’s going on beneath the resistance.
5. False starting – Are you spinning your wheels?
I also like to call this one the research vortex. An example of a research vortex is wanting to start a blog so you talk to a bunch of people about it and watch endless Youtube videos on how to start a blog for months or years instead of actually starting the blog. Research and talking to people is super important before starting a large project or venture. You should do it. What you should not do is spend too much time researching a thing and too little time actually doing the thing. Being in a research vortex is means you’re just spinning your wheels and not moving forward. It feels like you’re moving because you’re doing something but you just end up in the same spot: nowhere.
This can parallel with perfectionism because we want to have all of the answers before we get moving. The big newsflash here is you’ll never have all of the answers. The research vortex is a slippery slope, so you’ve got to know when to end your research phase and move on to execution. For me, this is when I’m starting to read or hear the same things over and over. If you want to start a blog or website and you’ve read enough times that starting a blog/website is a good idea, you should go ahead and start one.
6. Overload – Are you at or over capacity?
This form of procrastination happens when you’ve been inundated with so many tasks or so much information that you find yourself stuck from overwhelm. The former is pretty obvious, the latter, not so much. In today’s world, we have so many different things going on, it’s difficult to prioritize them in the space and time we have. I’ve been in many situations in grad school where too long of a to-do list landed me in bed, watching Netflix.
Overload is where learning when to say no comes in handy. You are only one person who can do but so many things. Find what’s most important to you and whatever business you’re in and prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Don’t fall into a situation where you don’t make a move because you’re too overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. It also helps to ask for help and delegate where you can. If you absolutely cannot offload some of your tasks, start by doing tasks that are easier first to build momentum.
7. Disorganization – Are you trying to operate in chaos?
Whether it be your immediate environment, your mind, or your team, being disorganized makes it hard to get things done. Disorganization can show it’s ugly face at your job, when no one on the team knows who’s responsible for what, so no one does anything. If you’re on a project team, asking questions about roles and responsibilities can prevent procrastination (and distress) in the long run.
Not organizing your thoughts regarding your own personal projects also leads to non-movement. There have been many instances when I’ve been stuck on something and was able to get out of my rut immediately by simply making a list or writing an outline. As much as we rely on our brains to hold onto information and create categories, if you have a lot going on up there, they might not be the best at storing information and laying it out for you right when you need it. This is why things like work plans, project charters, outlines, lists, and organizational charts exist. Use them.
And finally, what about your environment? Trying to work on a project amidst clutter is like trying to drive home in traffic: it’s possible but it’s more difficult and takes longer than it should. Next time you’re procrastinating, take a look around you. Do you need to tidy up? Are there dishes piled up in the sink? Should you fold the laundry that has been sitting in the basket for days? Are there papers scattered everywhere? Take care of your unfinished tasks, tidy up a bit, and get back to work—chances are, you’ve freed your mind and can now concentrate on the task at hand.
8. Distraction – Are you letting other things/people get in your way?
I’ve got four, four-word phrases for you: get off social media, close the YouTube video, put your phone down, and get to work. There are distractions coming from every direction that make procrastination an absolute breeze. If you allow them to get in the way of doing the things you need/want to do, you’ve lost. Social media is a big distraction for many of us, but there are so many others. We can also get distracted by the people around us. If you’re trying to start your own business but you keep going out with your friends every weekend during the only time you have to work on it, guess what? You’ve lost, friend.
From Netflix to your friends/family, the key to overcoming distractions is focus and a little bit of strategy. If you know you get distracted easily by the notifications on your smartphone, either turn them off or utilize the power of the do not disturb setting while you’re working. Log off of Instagram, LinkedIn, Netflix, YouTube, and whatever else. Let your friends and colleagues know that you cannot make it out with them because you have prior engagements. Learn to say no. Ask for help with the kids, if possible, while you get some work done. Take control of each situation and curb distractions before they can even happen. Remember, it’s your life and YOU own it.
Are there other reasons for your procrastination that are not mentioned here? How do you overcome? Remember, don’t write yourself off as lazy before your consider the other, insidious reasons for your procrastination.