Why We Procrastinate, How to Overcome Procrastination

In this article i will address the art of wasting time or better known as procrastination.
Procrastination refers to the tendency to postpone the initiation and completion of a given course of action. Approximately one-fifth of the adult population and half of the student population perceive themselves as being severe and chronic procrastinators. (source)

The main questions that i am looking to answer are :
Why We Procrastinate? and How to Overcome Procrastination?
I will also assume procrastination as a habit that exhibits itself frequently in a person’s behavior. Not the occasional distraction a person could have.

7 reasons why we Procrastinate

Why We Procrastinate?

Let us first start by understanding why we procrastinate, or at least why many of us do. Understanding the reason is the first step to overcome procrastination.
Here’s a list of most common reasons for chronic procrastination.

I- Lack of interest in what you are doing. Lack of motivation.
Whether it is school or work, a work project or your own project, if you really are not interested, you would get bored and waste time doing useless things. Being motivated can help even if you are not interested in what you are doing.
An example of motivation with lack of interests : doing a boring work related task, but knowing that if you do it right, you’ll get a bonus.
Reward can be discounted if it is far in the future, thus motivation might be affected (hyperbolic discounting). Reference articles: 1,2,3,4,5.

Procrastination : lack of motivation

II- Medical reason like ADHD or depression.
For people with ADHD it is very difficult to concentrate on a single task for a long time. (positive correlation between ADHD and procrastination). Depression leads to lack of motivation and interest, thus refers us to point 1.
Burnout, can be added maybe as a medical reason.

Procrastination : ADHD depression burnout

III- Lack of self discipline.
Laziness, short term mood prioritizing , no self control (dopamine shot), lack of perseverance, impulsivity, distractibility, addictive escapism … many terms that describe the same problem, lack of self discipline.
When you are disciplined, you try to get things done, but if you are not, you will have a hundred excuse for not to.

Procrastination : lack of discipline

IV- Anxious about the specific task. (not chronic procrastination but rather task specific)
Sometimes procrastination affect only certain tasks, tasks that you do not want to do. Deep inside some tasks make you anxious. Like paying bills, calling a girl you like. These are the tasks that you keep postponing because you are simply avoiding.

Procrastination anxious about specific task

V- Fear of failure.
The fear of failure, or being successful to a point, can be found among people that set high standards, like those that were top students in school. The constant fear of not being able to meet the standards set to themselves, cripple own effort to succeed. As they put work to last minute, thus working less than their capacity. This allows them to use the excuse of didn’t have enough time, instead of wasn’t good enough. Basically developing the attitude of brinkmanship towards work or any task.

Procrastination : fear of failure

VI- Fear of success.
This is a weird reason, but it is among the main ones talked about by specialists. This is usually found among those with docile personality, and extra emphatic. They fear to stand out of the crowd. They fear that success will change their life, and thus outgrow their spouse or friends. (something similar to the iconic movie Good Will Hunting).

Procrastination : fear of success

VII- Rebelling against authority.
This is a funny one, but i assure you it is among the main reasons talked about by specialists. For some, they feel the ones in power when they delay doing a work task. It gives them control over their boss by not working as they should.

Procrastinate : rebel against authority

Summary of the first section in this video:

How to Overcome Procrastination?

First we need to determine whether it is a habit or not. If, indeed it is a habit, here’s some techniques to use.

I- Do it Now.
This is probably the best technique. Just do it, start it and it will just flow. If you want to overcome procrastination as a habit, try everyday, do something that you are procrastinating about. (do it now in entrepreneurship: taking the plunge)

II- Have a goal that motivates you.
This applies mostly to the self employed, or people looking for a career change, it might be a bit different to apply to an existing job or personal project. In case no such change in mind, maybe try to set goals within the context of what you are doing.
example 1: Being a blogger is leading to too much procrastination, maybe launch a monthly online magazine instead.
example 2: Being a blogger is leading to too much procrastination, maybe put a goal of writing 100 articles.

III- Test your productivity.
Do some testing to find your optimal productivity. Finding optimal productivity will lead to more tasks done and less procrastination and time waste. Find when and how you should work to achieve this optimal productivity.
Some people prefer to work early in the morning (early birds), others prefer to do it later, some even prefer in the evening (night owls).
For some finishing big / longest tasks first (aim to eat an elephant beetle first) help them get in the productive mindset, others like to see progress in their to do list and thus prefer to start with small tasks.
Some prefer to have power hours, others prefer to have a few minutes break every 30 minutes or so.

IV- Plan your day/work schedule.
Use an agenda with a to-do list of your tasks and approximate required time.
Also, based on the nature of work (employee/self employed), you will need to test what amount of tasks you can handle daily. And decide on a general strategy, whether to postpone to the next day what you can not do, or push by few days, or other.
A weekly or monthly separate to do list, would also be of much help, as it helps you with setting a mini goal to seek.

V- Set rewards for days with minimal/no procrastination.
Give yourself a reward, something that you should not have on other days. This will help you avoid procrastinating, whenever you are about to waste time, think about the reward. This Pavlovian technique can also work on a smaller scale task by task if you want and for smaller rewards like treats.
For example: Take a decision that you will no longer have a soft-drink/beer/fast-food burger, unless you have a day with 0 procrastination.

VI- Have a healthy balance between work & recreation.
This concerns mostly entrepreneurs or business owners, as we tend to put a lot more hours than the standard 9 to 5 jobs. Entrepreneurs should factor entertainment and recreation in their daily hectic schedule, or at least consecrate some in the weekend.
People working multiple jobs, most also take this factor into consideration, and reserve some recreation time weekly.
Failure to reach a work-life balance could lead easily to burnout.

VII- Devote uninterrupted time to your work.
You do not want to be interrupted while in full productivity. Each interruption costs you few minutes to get back in game, and can even escalate to task postponing. Thus your objective is to avoid being interrupted, this can be done through few simple actions: For example,by closing the office door, putting a don’t disturb sign on your cubicle, or even putting big headphones over your head to avoid being disturbed by none important issues.
Also you can use this strategy partially, for example set from 9 to 11 for an important task, and put an info that during this time you do not wish to be disturbed.

VIII- Forgive yourself ?
Apparently, researchers have founds that if you forgive past procrastination, you are likely to do less in the future … Source

IX- Peer Pressure used to your advantage.
You can do this technique in a workplace, where you can tell a colleague about your plan for the day, and ask them to check on you around noon to help you put some pressure on yourself. This might work if you have some nice colleagues, but also it might not last long, as the pressure might no longer be pressure if it becomes a habit.

X- Use better time management techniques:
A- Swiss cheesing: Split big tasks into smaller ones. For example if you have a 2h task, split it into 4x 30 minute ones or even 8x 15 minutes ones.
B- Unscheduling: Basically you schedule recreation, fun and eating/ sleeping, while you leave the work time slot empty. (might work for some, i am not convinced that this is a professional approach though)

XI- Use The Seinfeld Method.
This would work if you have a specific task you a procrastinating about, for example writing a book or learning a new language or something specific.
It is the technique that Jerry Seinfeld used to consistently produce new material for his comedy act and tv show year after year. Here’s how he described it to an interviewer:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.

Summary of this second section in a video:

If unable to stop procrastinating, limit the ways.

In the above sections i proposed the ways to help you get rid of the procrastination habit. But, it is a habit, meaning that it is possible that you will not be able to be strong enough to overcome it. If it is the case, instead of getting rid of procrastination, just limit the damage done. How ?

Limit the distractions. check the article about it here. Here’s some points:

  • Limit the phone interactions.
  • Remove any social media notification on your mobile phone.
  • Block access to social media on your work station (check here to learn how).
  • If you work from home, block movie streaming services (Netflix and co.)

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Abdallah Alaili

I'm a serial entrepreneur (mostly tech) and micro-investor (tiny), this is a blog to learn from other entrepreneurs and spread the wisdom to many more. You can find me on: Instagram - Twitter - Linkedin - more about me