post written by: Marc Chernoff

7 Common Causes and Proven Cures for Procrastination


Stop Procrastinating

This is a guest post by Mike from Living Skillfully: Change Your Life.

Do you put off doing things that would bring you closer to your desired goals?  I know I do.  But why are we so foolish?

It has something to do with how our daily responsibilities overwhelm us.  In the midst of all the important things we know we need to do, we somehow convince ourselves that none of these things need to be done right now.  In other words, we decide that some peace and relaxation in the short term is what’s most important.

So we take another break, read another blog post, watch another TV show and just kick back and relax.  And life is blissfully dandy… for a little while.

But then suddenly the inevitable deadline has arrived.  Ahhh!  It’s panic time!

So here are 7 common causes and proven cures procrastination.  I’m hoping these tips help you avoid that insane moment of panic.

1. Fear of the outcome

Sometimes we’re afraid we’ll fail.  Sometimes we’re subconsciously afraid we’ll succeed and then we’d have to deal with all the disruption (growth) and change that follows success.  And other times it’s our fear of rejection or simply our fear of looking like a fool.

The best way I’ve found to defeat fear is to stare it down.  Connect to your fear, feel it in your body, realize it and steadily address it. Greet it by name if you have to: “Welcome, fear.”

If you are conscious of it, soon it becomes shy, hangs its head, and mooches off, scraping one shoe on the ground.

2. Helplessness in the face of complexity

We look at a task at hand and feel intensely un-resourceful.  It may remind us of something we had to do when we were younger, before we had the skills to conquer it (even though that’s no longer the case). Or it may actually be a daunting task at our current skill level.  Either way, the task seems far too complex, so we try to avoid it.

This time the solution is to break it down.  Take that complex task and break it down to its bare essential components and then tackle each one of those components one at a time.

Sometimes it’s also helpful to recall one of your previous successes with conquering a complex task just to get yourself in a positive mindset.  Think of a time you were really on top of things, achieving great results – when you were in the zone.  Close your eyes and place yourself in that memory with all your senses.

3. Rebellion and laziness

We resent the task in front of us.  We feel imposed upon.  “I have to do this,” we think to ourselves.  “But I don’t have to do it now.”

Rebellion is about control.  We assert our control by choosing when (or whether) to do the task.

A friend of mine whose home-schooled son is very rebellious came up with a clever hack.  She said, “We’re going to do what kids who are in school do.  You’re going to sit and do school work for 8 hours a day.”  Her son rebelled, naturally.  When the rebellion was in full effect, my friend offered an alternative.  “Or, we could do this home-school style.  If you finish early, we can go somewhere fun.”  And her son worked more productively than ever.

So when you notice yourself feeling rebellious and lazy about a task, think of a way to reward yourself for getting it done now.  Also, remind yourself of the consequences of not doing it.

4. Lack of motivation

I procrastinate doing my tax return.  It’s an administrative task and I don’t like it.  But it helps when I think about it this way:  “I’m due a refund this year.”  When I concentrate on the amount of money I get back versus the time it takes to do my taxes, it’s an excellent hourly rate.  And it motivates me to focus on getting it done.

That by itself wasn’t quite concrete enough, though.  So I promised myself a reward: out of the refund, I would buy myself a kayak – something I’d been thinking about for awhile to help me get back in shape.

The basic principle is reframing.  If you know the job has to be done but it’s not emotionally important to you, find a way to make it important.  (If I was going to be paying a penalty fee for turning my taxes in late, I could set aside the equivalent amount of the penalty for a reward, for example.)

What are you going to get by doing this that’s important enough to motivate you to do it now?

5. Lack of focus and fatigue

Distractions are everywhere.  You must learn to ignore them.

Minimize distractions by secluding yourself.  Disconnect the Internet and power off your cell phone if you have to.  Check e-mail and voicemail at set intervals instead of randomly every few minutes.  Find a quiet space where you can concentrate on the task at hand.  And only take breaks as a reward for accomplishing smaller sub-tasks.

Also, it’s hard to focus when you’re fatigued.  So get enough sleep, eat healthy and exercise regularly.

6. Not knowing where or how to start

Or maybe the task just looms in front of you as a big block, like a building with no doors.  You walk around its perimeter and you don’t immediately see a way in.  How do you get in?  Where do you begin?  You can’t figure it out, so you set the task aside.

I’m creating a course on procrastination.  It started out as one of those buildings with no doors.  “How do I even start designing a course like that?” I thought.

Well, I wrote down a few reasons why people procrastinate (the starting point).  I thought about reasons why you’d want to stop (the end point or goal).  Once something has a beginning and an end, it’s a lot easier to start seeing the middle.  And usually you can work from both ends until you meet in the middle.  Each of those reasons is a topic.  And each of those topics has a start and an end, and so on and so forth.

So don’t give up.  Uncover the starting and ending points and start filling in the blanks one at a time.

7. Perfectionism

One of the best bits of advice ever about perfectionism comes from Melody Beattie’s book Codependent No More. “It just doesn’t matter,” she says. “IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!”

But that’s hard advice to put into practice sometimes.  I’ve often put off implementing ideas by using the excuse that I’m not yet prepared to do the idea justice.  Some part of me thinks I’ll end up wasting the idea by implementing it poorly at my current level of skill.

But guess what?  My current level of skill isn’t going to increase unless I practice.  And I can’t practice until I implement.  And that means I have to implement with my current level of skill, make mistakes, learn from them and press on.

So in reality, not implementing that idea right now is the only true way to waste it.

And guess what else?  There are plenty of additional ideas and variations I haven’t thought of yet, and most of them won’t come to me until I’ve started implementing and making mistakes.  It’s impossible to steer a parked car.

Conclusion

By taking the time and initiative to understand your own reasons for procrastinating, and devoting a little energy to take the necessary steps to move forward, you can beat procrastination.  We all can.

In fact, simply writing this article was a testament to this.  I kept procrastinating on writing it because I lacked focus.  So I locked myself in my den, eliminated all distractions, kept the end in mind and started writing.  And as usual, starting was the hardest part.  Now I’m done.

For additional guidance on beating procrastination, I highly recommend The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination.

Mike Reeves-McMillan blogs at Living Skillfully: Change Your Life.  His upcoming procrastination course is Stop Procrastinating, Start Succeeding.

Photo by: Maya

Download the ebook If you enjoyed this article, check out our new best-selling book.
Marc and Angel Subscription via Email And get inspiring life tips and quotes in your inbox (it's free)...

Enter your email address to get new articles delivered for free:



33 Comments

  • yes that’s so true
    the only way to get over procrastination is to understand its underlying causes

  • Perfectionism is a big one for me. I feel if I can’t do something perfectly, then I have to wait until I can. Which means then it gets put off forever, since I’ll never be perfect!
    I am working really hard to overcome this as I feel it is a great burden we place on ourselves and the others around us.
    Bernice
    http://livingthebalancedlife.com/2010/focus-on-be-ing/

  • Thank you very much :)

    I`m a student in my last year at college and next week my midterm exams will began !

    I was feel sad , lack of time … But now after reading your article I`m so excited to start to study and focus in it

    I believe in my self and my ability to get high marks :)

  • thank you so so much for this! you couldn’t have written it at a better time! I had a paper to submit at 10 am today and I finished it at 9 am o_O After having procrastinated I seriously never understand why I did it in the first place. It doesn’t make any sense, as you’ll have to do your task anyway. And I also find myself just doing useless stuff whilst procrastinating, instead of getting every thing done at once so that I can move on to better things. Your article helped me to understand a lot of things and I’m definitely trying to put your tips into practice… starting NOW.

  • Hi Mike

    Wow, I think you pretty much covered every possible reason on procrastination, where were you when I was playing world of warcraft three years ago :P

    Thanks for sharing Mike!

    –Parker

  • From personal experience, if you really want to make sure you’re consistently on track, create a system for yourself. Often times we forget all the things we have to keep track of so using some sort of program to organize will be optimal such as Outlook or Google Calender. When we do this, we can plan ahead days in advance when we want to do what and when deadlines are.

    Establish a habit, and then, while it may be tiring at first and hard to keep, your brain will adjust to the changes and what wer your lazy sleep-in mornings will become when you’re done with half of what you need to do!

    Good work, Mike, and good pick Marc!

    - Kevin

  • Great post!
    I am the queen of procrastinating, it runs in my family. This post was awesome, helped me look some of my excuses in the face, not pleasant but helpful. And gave me some great ideas for fighting the urge to let things go.

    Thanks!
    Amber

  • This is a neat post Mike. I guess I have the problem of being a perfectionist which is often the cause of my procrastination. However, I agree with what you say…”My current level of skill isn’t going to increase unless I practice. And I can’t practice until I implement.” I need to remember this every time perfectionism holds me back from doing something.

    Thanks! :)

  • @Farouk, yes, exactly my point - find the cause and then address it.
    @Bernice, me too - perfectionism is a curse. I just had to learn to let go a bit and acknowledge that things can be good and useful without being perfect.
    @Lua, that’s great, so happy to have helped.
    @MissTyrious, understanding does help, doesn’t it? Because it helps us take the right action.
    @Parker, my pleasure, thanks.

  • 8. The Internet

  • Great list. #2 and #7 are key for me. Little tiny steps and total permission to screw it up help me just move forward and build confidence as I go. :)

  • uhh… yeah ill get to reading this later…

  • I love this: “You can’t steer a parked car.”
    Next time I put something off, I will remind myself that it’s up to me to move the damned car :)

  • Procrastination is the art of good timing. :)

  • As a few others have mentioned perfectionism was/is a big one for me. Then I thought about Microsoft.

    Windows isn’t perfect but it is always released before every possible bug is worked out. And Mr. Gates is one of the most financially successful people on the planet!

  • Hi Marc,

    This is an excellent post on procrastination my friend. It is crucial that we undersand the causes, so we can overcome procrastination. Thanks for sharing

  • @Isaac, very true.
    @Ande, that’s the way to make amazing progress. Do just that for a year and you’ll be astonished where you get to.
    @Smitherine, yep, you can’t improve if you aren’t practicing.
    @Randy, that’s a good analogy (one I use in the course, actually). The whole software industry is based around creating something that’s imperfect but useful, and then improving it after it’s been in the real world for a while and you know how people are responding to it.

  • Thanks Marc.

    Procrastination is the killer of future dreams. Initiative is the creator of today’s greatest experiences and yesterday’s greatest memories. We must seize today with all that it has to offer us and make it the greatest day we have ever lived.

    We must grab opportunity. Experience experiences. Love lots. Forgive heaps. Dare to try, test and experiment. For the present moment is our gift to unwrap and explore.

    Why wait?

  • I was like nodding in agreement to all the ideas here. These are the topmost reasons why people procrastinate or have very little motivation in life, in career as well. The pointed cures are presented simply so readers here get it right away. Then I came to the conclusion part that mentioned “understanding the reasons”. Now this is very important for the effort to overcome procrastination. It’s noticeable how many people we know would say, “I’m going to do things on time, as they should be done. Starting now.” The next thing to do does get done, even the next few ones. But after that, regression takes place. It’s due to lack of deeper understanding of the causes, knowing how the attitude came about. But if we only give ample amount of time to really look into why we procrastinate, chances are the answers and solutions are most fitted. Then finally cutting off that habit is much easier.

    And hey, Mike? Don’t wait longer to write some more OK? Don’t procrastinate with pushing me to increased wisdom. LOL!

  • Hi,

    Thanks for sharing and i totally agreed with all the points. Just to add in some more, i think poor time management, no prioritize of task also add in to the factors of procrastination. Cheerse

  • Nice post. Here is another thought on procrastination: Understand the real time it takes to do tasks

    We often put things off because we think something will take longer than it really will. “I just don’t have time!”

    Try These Instead:
    Play Procrastination Attack! Beat the Clock.Pick a time frame – let’s say 15 minutes – where you know you can focus on a task and get as much done as you can in that time frame. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish!

    Sit in a chair and do nothing. Sit still —- very still! Do not read. Do not listen to music. Do not watch T.V. Do not talk to anyone. Do not do anything! Just sit very still and do nothing. After about 10 or 15 minutes, you will get very uneasy. You will start to be aware of each precious minute passing you by while your goals are not being accomplished. Before you know it, your motivation will be reactivated and you’ll be off and running!
    To your success!
    Stephanie

  • I’m going to read this website tomorrow ;-)

    Happy 2011, everyone!

  • I love articles that covers about procrastination but this one pretty much encompasses everything. I see myself nodding in almost all the reasons listed.

  • I love this because all of these reasons are so obvious. I’ve procrastinated in every way you mentioned, and the whole time I knew I was in the wrong. It’s all about holding myself accountable.
    This article is especially good when I consider the fact that I am currently sitting at work, eating Wheat Thins, and putting off doing a four-page thesis paper over “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” as well as a college application…
    I guess I have to do them now!
    Thanks, Mike :3

  • I find somehow everything about life is procrastination when you are not following your dreams, and you can’t WAIT to do things when you are really on the right path in your life - procrastination is a sign and symptom that you need to think hard about what you are doing and your goals. Eustress is great! I have a million things to do as I gear up for my next long -term trip abroad - (will be telling all about it) and I LOVE the stressful feeling of it!

  • Oh my god! I read the first 3 on this list and LOVED it, they hit the nail on the head, and then i thought “i need to save this to read later cause its important”, CTRL D, and then, *stumble*. I PROCRASTINATED READING ABOUT A PROCRASTINATION ARTICLE CAUSE IT BECAME SUDDENLY IMPORTANT TO HELP MY PROCRASTINATION!!!….. help…..

  • A very interesting post, I also wrote an article about this very hot subject here: http://martingysler.com/2012/03/08/procrastination-or-the-pleasure-to-do-it-tomorrow/. I’ll add your link in my post. Thank you!

  • Great procrastination causes and tips. I like the perfectionism tip the best. A great mentor of mine says “become perfect as you go” If you wait till all the lights are green you will never get going.
    Thanks
    Sam

  • This is an excellent list, and in my experience, an important one to keep in mind. There’s a lot of unconscious feelings and thoughts that have to go with procrastination, and naming them and being able to sort through them is probably the best long-term solution to overcoming this habit (at least it has been for me!).

  • A great and focused article. I think for me and likely many others it is a combination of factors that lead to procrastination. Once you have the tools to overcome them (like those in this article) it becomes quite empowering since it allows you to accomplish you goals. Procrastination seems to always get in the way of getting something done when you want or need it to get done.

    Procrastination is like accepting a dull pain in exchange for avoiding a more intense pain. However, if you don’t procrastinate you can avoid having both the dull pain while procrastinating.

    So the best advice (now I will use your article as the best advice) but it you used to be.

    Put off Procrastination until later. Do it now and then you can procrastinate later. It also can become a habit or pattern.

  • Hi Mike,
    Thank you for this constructive information. This is something that would really help me. As the proud owner of Asperger’s syndrome, I have difficulty with the numbers 1,2,5,6 and 7. I never looked at it this way, although I have read a lot of books on how to ‘cope’ with Asperger’s. For me, I think in terms of ‘black and white’, ‘good or bad’ there is little ‘grey’ or a’ 90% good and 10% bad’
    I will print out your article and keep it with me, so I can read it over and over. That’s how it works for me best. It will also help my family, when I (try to) change my point of view towards them.
    Thank you, Marc.

  • Procrastination begins in a child’s development stage between the age of 18 months and 3 years. During this development stage we test our mother (caregiver) to see if she will be there for us constantly, we wander off and test her to find us. If this development stage is fractured and she is not able to respond to us 100% of the time then we learn to develop fear. Procrastination stems from this learned fear. Once we begin to alter outdated messages that we planted in our subconscious at this development stage then we can learn to overcome procrastination. Simple, not easy:)

  • Great post! I relate to most of these unfortunately! Thanks for the great solutions!

Leave a Reply