Why You Procrastinate

If there is one thing we can beat ourselves up about over and over and over again it’s not doing the things we know we need to be doing.

Take this article for example…

I’ve been meaning to write it for a few weeks but opted to write other articles that grabbed my attention first.

Why is that?  Why do we procrastinate?

Well…it turns out that there is a lot of great research on this topic that people just don’t know about.  You are going to be relieved as you read this because you’ll finally know why you’re putting things off.

So it turns out that there are seven main “triggers” for procrastination.  

Yep.  That thing or things you’ve been putting off?  It falls into one of these categories so don’t beat yourself up about it.  Figure out which trigger is pushing you off the rails and make a plan.

Ready?  Here we go.  You procrastinate because:

  1. You’re bored.  (e.g. it’s something you’re not really interested in)
  2. You’re frustrated. (You don’t have a clear path to learn something that is new or complicated.
  3. It’s too difficult.  (When something is above our skill-grade we naturally resist doing it.)
  4. It’s foggy.  (When things are unclear or not really exact we hesitate. This is where the saying, “a confused mind says no” is appropriate.)
  5. It’s big to get your head around. (Like, where do you start!?)
  6. No built in reward. (If you’re not getting positive feedback along the way you’ll bail on it)
  7. No meaning. (Like…just, why?)

So what do you do in these situations?  Let’s figure it out.

In David Allen’s fantastic book Getting Things Done he talks about what to do when you come across an action item on your list.  You can either: do it, delegate it, or delete it.

So before you actually DO that thing you’ve been avoiding ask yourself if you could delegate it to someone else to do.  Or maybe you don’t have to do it at all?

But if you are in fact stuck doing that thing you are dreading, here’s how to get it done:

Tasks that are Boring

When you’ve got a boring task that you absolutely need to do, the best way to get it done is to entertain/distract yourself while doing it. Maybe it’s listening to an audiobook while you’re mowing the lawn or vacuuming.  Just be sure that whatever it is you are using to make the task more fun doesn’t drag out the task all together.  My kids like to watch cartoons while they empty the dishwasher which makes a three minute task take about…thirty minutes!

Tasks that are Frustrating

One of the best ways to tackle frustrating tasks is to make a game of it.  For example, I just moved and all the files from my filing cabinet are in two big boxes.  Hundreds of files.  I’ve been putting this off for weeks.

When I tackle this file folder mess I’m going to time myself for two minutes and see how many files I get done.  Then I’m going to try and get the rest of them in an overall time faster than that two-minute average.

Turning anything into a competition makes it fun and a bit more intriguing.

Tasks that are Difficult

If you’ve got a difficult task, see if you can bring a teammate in on it.  Or maybe a coach.  Having that extra set of eyes will help to break it down and keep you positive, OR if they are actually helping it will halve the time it takes to get it done.

Tasks that are Foggy

When tasks just seem really hard to grasp and a little overwhelming (like you’re trying to grab jello) take fifteen minutes to map it out.

Set the timer on your phone for fifteen minutes and just gameplan. What is the next action on it?  Can you break it down into like chunks?  Will something you decide to do create a domino effect and make other tasks easier?

If you jump into a task that’s really foggy you’ll work but not very effectively.  You’ll be “busy” but not getting much done or at least not feeling like you’re getting anything done.

Map out a plan in fifteen minutes and then set your timer for 45 minutes and get after it. At the end of that 45 minutes take a few minutes to reassess and see what you’ve gotten done.  You’ll be surprised that the foggy task now seems pretty doable.

Tasks that are Not Rewarding

Some things we do just need to be done.  There’s no reward as part of it.  No satisfaction.

If the task is unrewarding build in your own reward.

Maybe you’re going to read fifty pages of that new diet book and treat yourself with a chocolate chip cookie. (Kidding!) Or after you do the taxes you’re going to go to the movies or treat yourself to a massage.

Tasks that Have No Meaning

Here’s where you have to get creative.

If you’re doing something that has no meaning you have to create some.  Have some fun with it.  

Say you’re going to purge your closet of old clothes…take some time to think of the increase in energy you will feel when it’s finally done AND WHAT THAT INCREASE IN ENERGY WILL DO FOR YOU.

When you procrastinate you need to know that the world is full of procrastinators. (Remember I procrastinated writing this article on procrastination.)  It’s just part of the human experience.

Whatever happens, when you are aware that you are procrastinating take a moment and see which one of these categories your task falls in. It may even fall into more than one, that’s ok.

Just apply some of the techniques to bring some clarity to the moment and I guarantee you you’ll tackle the task and get it done.

And let me leave you with this…often we don’t take on a task because we just don’t know how long something is going to take.  We tend to overestimate how long something will take and replace it with something that takes less time but also feels better.

The truth is we tend not to pay attention just how long things actually take. Don’t let that deter you from tackling something.  And this time, make a note just how long it took so that if you have to do it again you know exactly how long that it will take. 🙂


Olympian - Jonathan Edwards

Olympian - Jonathan Edwards

Challenge Master

Olympian Jonathan Edwards is the Chief Challenge Master and Performance Coach at OvercomeAnyChallenge.com.  An author, Olympic Speaker, blogger, podcaster and more he's been dedicating his life to helping people overcome any challenge using the power of games and sport.  He looks forward to hearing your story and the challenges you are planning to overcome.  


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