You’ve got big dreams, but somehow the steps to get from Point A to Point B never seem quite urgent enough to demand your time.
Are you lazy? Unmotivated? Too busy?
No. Nope. And hell no.
You’ve got the drive, and you’ve got the time — but you are p r o c r a s t i n a t i n g.
Procrastination is one of those nasty little critters we all deal with. Yes, even the world’s most successful people struggle with procrastination. But thankfully, there are a ton of strategies to avoid it.
Keep reading to learn the biological, psychological, and emotional reasons humans want to procrastinate — and the tactics to overcome those impulses.
Ready to learn how to stop procrastinating and start getting things done? Let’s do this.
Why You’re Procrastinating
Procrastination doesn’t mean you’re lazy, disorganized, or bad at time management. Getting organized might help you be more productive, but ending chronic procrastination is a whole different beast.
Psychologists at the University of Vermont found that procrastination stems from our beliefs and emotions as much as from our actions.
According to the researchers, we procrastinate because of:
- Fear of failure
- Difficulty making decisions
- Rebellion against control
- Lack of self-confidence
- Trouble being assertive
- Fear of success
- Dislike for the task
- Anxiety about being judged
Time management skills, while important, aren’t THE most important factor in whether or not you’ll procrastinate.
The overarching indicator? Fear.
We procrastinate because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of what will happen when we actually get up and do something. We could fail or be judged. We could succeed and face consequences like more responsibility and higher expectations.
Procrastination feels safe. But it also keeps you from doing… anything.
Who’s Most Likely to Procrastinate?
Procrastination is universal, but some people are more prone to it than others.
Based on the UV study, you might be more likely to put things off if you struggle with self-esteem, assertion, confidence, decision-making, or perfectionism.
Another study at Columbia University discovered a tie between procrastination and impatience. If you have trouble waiting for gratification, you might also be prone to procrastination.
Ironic, huh? But think about it: Both impatience and procrastination are about self-control. It takes willpower to delay gratification and stick to your goals. That means overcoming procrastination is more about mental fitness than time management. And we can work with that!
While procrastination itself isn’t a mental illness (yes, this is a real fear many people have!), research says you might procrastinate more often if you live with mental health issues like:
- Depression, which makes you likely to put off even simple tasks.
- Anxiety, which could increase your fear of failure, judgment, or making the wrong decision.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder, because compulsive activities can distract you from things you want or need to get done.
- ADD and ADHD, which are connected to distraction and poor organization.
You may need to work with a doctor or therapist to address underlying mental health issues before you can tackle procrastination. But for those of us who are just putting off an important task? It’s time to kick your tush into gear.
How to Overcome Procrastination
If fear and uncertainty keep you from taking the first step, know this:
Fear is not the enemy. Waiting to stop feeling afraid is.
Try these strategies to break through procrastination habits and get started.
1. Name It: How to Recognize Procrastination
Procrastination is a dangerous habit, especially when you don’t realize you’re doing it.
You might think you’re totally on top of that novel, business idea, or pitch prep — you’re just waiting for the right time to start. Or there’s something “more important” to do. But while those stories might make you feel better, let’s call it what it is: plain ol’ procrastination.
Check yourself to make sure you’re not filling your day with busywork to avoid the tasks that really matter.
2. Kill Time Vampires*: Know What’s Worth It
Life will always hand you a million ways to waste time. Unfortunately, a lot of these distractions disguise themselves as opportunities to learn, grow your business, or explore new passions.
To make real progress, you have to learn to recognize the difference between good opportunities and time wasters.
That means getting clear on your short- and long-term goals so they can guide your choices. Anytime you’re faced with a potential opportunity, ask yourself, “How will this help me achieve my goal?”
Got an invitation to be a guest on a podcast? Discount on an online course? Stack of recommended books on your nightstand?
Those could be solid opportunities for growth.
Or they could mean hours of wasted prep time to appear on a podcast that reaches the wrong audience. Weeks of completing a course to learn a skill you’ll never need. Or a weekend spent reading a book you’ll never put into action.
Beware of procrastination disguised as “research and planning.”
Saying “yes” to everything is a sneaky way to procrastinate, because it keeps you busy without ever letting you get anything done.
If you want to move your life and business forward, accept opportunities with intention. And don’t be afraid to say “no.”
*Time Vampires = Something that sucks your time like a vampire sucks blood.
3. Do What Matters: The Difference Between Urgent and Important
Are you procrastinating on big, important moves by filling your days with unimportant, seemingly urgent tasks like responding to emails and tweets? You need to learn how to prioritize!
The important things — writing, contacting clients, going for a run — are the tasks that support your dreams, so do those first. Then get to the “urgent” stuff. The urgent stuff often relates to other people’s goals, not our own.
The great thing about putting your important work first is it guarantees you’ll get everything done.
Now, you have to remember, the urgent stuff is always going to get done because it has to. But if you prioritize the urgent things it’s easy to blow off your important work at the end of the day since the important work isn’t usually attached to deadlines, paychecks, or other people’s expectations.
Do the important tasks first, and watch just how easy it is to “find time” for the urgent stuff later. (And if any task on your list is not important or urgent, drop it or delegate it.)
4. Screw the “Right Time”: Start Before You’re Ready
Too many creative and ambitious people believe that there’s some mystical “right time” to do everything.
You’ll start exercising after the holiday parties. You’ll launch your business when your kids are older. You’ll write a novel once you get the outline juuuust right.
Then, guess what happens? While you’re waiting for the right time something else comes along, and the right time suddenly isn’t so right anymore.
Stop with all the brainstorming, planning, waiting, and strategizing! These. Are. Distractions.
Get out there, and start the work — before you’re ready. You don’t need to know everything about your dream, nor do you need to map out every step in advance. Stop hiding behind books and websites. Instead develop a bias for action. Make appointments. Have real-life conversations. You’ll learn more and make faster progress.
5. Know Your Why: Bring on the Rewards
When you commit to doing something — whether it’s brushing your teeth twice a day or publishing a bestseller — make sure you know why you want to do it.
Does your to-do list help you achieve what you want to do with your life? If not, remember this mantra:
Purpose fuels persistence.
The quickest way to overcome procrastination is to revisit your goal and ask yourself, "What’s the reason I want to _________ [start this business/run a marathon/apply to grad school]?" Many people set goals for the wrong reasons, so when it comes time to actually make progress on their dreams, they procrastinate.
To accomplish anything big, you have to believe in it 10,000%. The more heart and emotion that you have in your why, the better. It will be easier for you to stay committed and stay passionate about getting what you want.
6. Baby Steps: Aim for Progress, Not Perfection
If you’re putting a task off because you’re afraid of judgment or failure, you might suffer from perfectionism — the ultimate dream killer.