Why do I procrastinate so much?
Whatever you procrastinate over, it can feel demoralising to wake up in the morning and notice that nothing has changed.
Why do you procrastinate?
I bet you’ve been here before.
“Why, oh, why? Why can’t I do it? What is wrong with me? Am I just lazy? Yep, that must be it. I am just not that type of person, but I want to be. How the heck do I stop procrastinating?”
Wouldn’t it be great to get it done?
The opposite of procrastination is implementation. If you want to get s*** done, then you have to do it. When you ask ‘why’, it doesn’t work. When you know why it doesn’t do much to help you get s*** done.
Why ‘why’ questions don’t work
Why questions often lead you down rabbit holes of reasoning and explanations. We can see this above with the question: why do I procrastinate? You don’t know why, but your mind tells you it’s because you are lazy and that is who you are. The trouble with that is it quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy too: I am, and therefore that is who I will be. You live up to the story of who you are by acting in ways that fit with that story.
You are more than one story
After all, it would seem strange to do stuff that goes against the grain of who you think you are. When your mind convinces you that you’re lazy, it would seem odd to spend your day getting lots of stuff done. Similarly, if your thoughts tell you that you’re not confident, then you’d probably stay inside your comfort zone.
Self-stories give you an idea of who you are, but they also keep you stuck. It works better to hold your stories lightly, seeing yourself as many things that change day-by-day, moment-by-moment.
You can become whatever you choose
If you run once, then you can add ‘runner’ to your list of qualities. If you clean a part of the house, you can call yourself a ‘domestic power-ranger’; or not, the choice is yours! If you start to get busier finding a new job, then you can add ‘ambition’ to your identity. Similarly, if you begin to make moves to end that ‘bad’ relationship, then add courage and compassion to the stories of who you are.
I am not suggesting that if you call yourself a bad-ass, then you become one. I am not saying that at all. I am saying that when you start to implement, then you become the completer-finisher. Implement first and praise second.
How do you get stuff done?
It is the better question and the one that you should be asking. Reframe your ‘why’ questions into ‘how’ questions. ‘Why’ often keeps you stuck in your head instead of acting now. ‘How’ questions point in you in a different direction and get you to start looking at the steps you need to take to stop procrastinating.
One common mistake people make when trying to get s*** done is that they work forwards rather than backwards. Treat your tasks as part of a more significant purposeful project which has a deadline. Set the completion date and then work back.
If you want to get a new job, then set a completion date and work backwards filling in the steps and the times, so it looks something like this:
- When would you like to be in the post?
- When would you like to have accepted the position?
- To make that happen, when would you have needed to go for a job interview?
- To get a job interview, when would you have needed to apply for a job?
- To apply for a job, what would you have needed to do first?
Create a timeline similar to this list, and you’ll then see the big picture. When you have a plan, it helps you to implement it in an organised and consistent manner.
Do you put stuff off until the last minute?
Many people have got by leaving things until the last minute. Although you get it done and do a good job, it can leave you feeling exhausted and stressed out. Instead of feeling pleased about it, you wonder what it would have been like if you’d started it sooner.
When there isn’t much time left to implement, then the lack of time creates urgency. It gives you discomfort, and you are more motivated to get it done.
Procrastination often happens because there is a lack of urgency. You can put-up with leaving it until tomorrow because it doesn’t matter too much. A useful way around this issue is to alter the context so that you create that urgency. For example, if you’ve been struggling to complete your CV, then start applying for jobs first. Then when an employer on LinkedIn asks for your CV, you’ll be more motivated to get in done within 24 hours so you can send it over to them in a timely and professional manner.
Procrastination could be a powerful distraction
When I attempt to explore why people do things, I put the action or habit into a context. I look at what thoughts and feelings come before or lead to the pattern. And then I look at the consequences of the practice. By looking at any behaviour you want to change in this way, it helps you to understand its function or purpose.
Sometimes, we put off doing something useful or relevant because it helps us to avoid other unwanted emotions. For example, you might put off getting a new job because you fear failure. Or you might stay in a bad relationship because you fear to feel lonely or guilty that the other person is hurt.
Procrastination can be a tactic for avoiding feelings, but it has a high price. You miss out on the career or relationship that you hold in your dreams.
When we get caught up like this trying to prevent you from feeling something painful, in among all the worry and rumination, you forget something vital. You only get one shot at life, and this is it, so what are you waiting for?
I know I’ve got regrets that I didn’t take the plunge sooner. I wish I had been braver and more direct at times in my past. But, I cannot do anything about that now. I cannot get that time back, but what I can do is make the most of now. I can change my future by getting s*** done today.
Implementation is the key to overcoming procrastination. It can be that simple, and other times it is harder. You don’t necessarily need to know why you put stuff off. Just do it. Get it done. Start small and work backwards from the ultimate goal. Create some urgency by taking a risk. Please don’t wait to run out of time, because it might be too late.
Here are some useful resources from around the world to help you work, love, play and feel better.
Openforwards Weekly Round-Up
- Why procrastination has nothing to do with self-control – New York Times article
- Eat the Frog – Youtube animation talking about how to stop procrastinating
- Five ways to end a bad relationship for good. Article by Juliana Breines
- Killing Procrastination: How to stop putting things off once and for all. Article on Upwork
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