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7 Reasons Why You Procrastinate and What You Can Do to Overcome Them (Even if You Think It’s Totally Hopeless!)
Ah, procrastination. The bane of my existence.
Yes, being a productivity coach does not make me immune to the occasional procrastination. In fact, I used to be pretty bad (good?) at it. But that’s a story for another day.
The point is that all of us procrastinate.
So how do we move past that and fix the problem?
To answer that, I want to walk you through a chapter of Chris Bailey’s amazing book, The Productivity Project.
To give you a little background: Bailey was your above average student, which he primarily attributed to his near obsession with being as productive as he possibly could. Any challenge he faced he saw as an opportunity to test a theory or try out a system.
So, after graduation, he decided to take a year off and dedicate every second of it to studying productivity. His book documents this experience.
Now, this book is jam packed full of awesome material, but there is just one tiny sliver of it that I want to focus on today.
During his year of productivity, Bailey found that there are seven reasons why we procrastinate completing certain tasks.
I’m going to walk you through each of these seven reasons, and then leave you with some pro-tips on how to work around them. And the next time you catch yourself procrastinating, take a second to pinpoint which of these reasons is the catalyst, and take action!
The Task is Boring
First of all, if a task is boring, you have very little motivation to keep going.
For example, if I’m writing something that I have absolutely no interest in (I’m looking at you theology class) it’s like pulling teeth getting words onto the page. I will find absolutely anything else to do other than write.
Whereas if I’m writing about something I love, something I’m passionate about, I can write for hours on end.
So how can you overcome this?
Look, there is no getting around doing stuff that isn’t particularly interesting. Or stuff that you just don’t want to do. Life’s fun like that.
But you can find ways to make boring work more interesting. You can incorporate your interests into it. Or give it a fun twist. Or daydream that you are doing something else entirely if that’s what it takes (and no one will get hurt..).
The most important thing you can do, though, is recognize beforehand that this task is going to bore the crap out of you and plan accordingly.
Maybe schedule in short bursts of work on it. Or reward yourself for just busting through it in one sitting.
But by acknowledging beforehand that you aren’t going to enjoy the work and having a plan in place, you will prevent yourself from procrastinating.
The Task is Frustrating
Additionally, if a task is frustrating, you will also want to procrastinate doing it.
For example, I can’t stand doing small, tedious tasks. Like getting the stickers lined up perfectly on my son’s Little Tikes car. I will give myself an anxiety attack trying to get it perfect, and it frustrates the crap out of me!
If that task were left to me, none of his toys would have the sticker decals.
But I know that I hate doing it and push daddy to do it instead.
The key here is to recognize why a task frustrates you.
Why do small tedious tasks frustrate me? Because I’m a perfectionist. If I have to do something like this, I force myself to accept the fact from the start that it won’t be perfect and just wing it. It’s not the end of the world.
Another common reason that tasks are frustrating can be overwhelm. Think of a massive project or a crazy calculus question.
In order to solve them, you have to break them down into their most basic components. Then, look at each little piece of it by itself. This will get rid of the overwhelming magnitude of the problem and make it a more appealing task.
The Task is Difficult
Another reason tasks will be procrastinated is if they’re difficult. This goes hand in hand with them being frustrating because difficult tasks are usually pretty frustrating.
But what if you can’t break a task down into its most basic components? It’s just too tough to figure out what those parts may be.
Rather than throwing in the towel, try looking at the problem from a different angle. Or asking someone who might know more about the topic. Or Google it. That may sound like extremely condescending advice, but I can’t tell you how often I’ve found the answer to something online that I just couldn’t figure out (like that damn Little Tikes car).
This quality isn’t always something that you can identify from the beginning, though.
So if you find yourself in the middle of a project and it gets ridiculously difficult, acknowledge that this may make you want to procrastinate the task and then don’t let it. Mindset, people.
The Task Lacks Personal Meaning
Another reason for procrastinating tasks is if they lack personal meaning.
As a freelancer, I totally get this. I don’t always work on projects that hold any significant meaning for me. And because of this, I may want to procrastinate completing them.
What I do to overcome this is I make it personal. I add my own significance to it. Whether it’s adding a new twist to an old story, considering how the task fits into a larger goal, or merely the paycheck at the end of the day, the trick is to focus on why it matters.
On why you’re doing the task.
Keeping this in the front of your mind will help you fend off the procrastination bug.
The Task Lacks Intrinsic Rewards
Not only do a lot of tasks lack personal meaning, but they can also lack intrinsic rewards. And if you don’t feel personally satisfied at the end of the day, it can be pretty hard to keep going.
Personal satisfaction is highly subjective—what makes me happy may not make you happy. And what makes me happy now would not have made me happy ten years ago.
Because my priorities have changed. My goals and motivators have changed.
So if things like my priorities, goals, and motivators determine whether something is intrinsically rewarding for me, then that is a great place to start when trying to figure out why something doesn’t give me that same satisfaction.
If a task I have to do leaves me no satisfaction in completing it (or doing the work), is there some way I can tie it in with my big picture goals? Or find a way to relate it to my motivators?
And if not, maybe this task isn’t something that I need to be working on.
Unless it is absolutely necessary that I complete this task, I would probably just drop it from my to-do list. My time is valuable, and if something isn’t contributing to what I’m doing in my life, then I really shouldn’t be expending my energy on it.
On the flip side, though, if something is intrinsically rewarding, and there is another reason you are procrastinating, then a quick reminder of the satisfaction you will get from doing the work may be all you need to keep going!
Want some help working out what your motivators and values are? Get my free worksheet, and I’ll walk you through the process!
Where should we send the worksheet?
The Task is Ambiguous
Another reason that tasks tend to be procrastinated is if they’re ambiguous.
And this makes sense—if you don’t understand exactly what it is that you need to do, then you probably don’t want to do it.
So how do you fix this?
Well, if someone else gave you the task, then I would ask them to clarify. And if they don’t, then I would be asking myself if this is someone I want to be working with in the first place.
If it were my own task, I would identify what’s unclear.
Are there too many possible ways to complete the task? If so, which way is best?
Did I not set the parameters of the task up well enough? How can I make the task more specific?
Basically, rather than procrastinating the task because I’m not entirely sure what I need to be doing, I would take action and figure it out.
The Task is Unstructured
The final reason that tasks have which makes us more likely to procrastinate is if they’re unstructured.
And I’m sure if you’ve been reading my blog for a while that you know that I am all about the systems.
I have systems for everything. Even mundane tasks like grocery shopping!
So the thought of trying to do something with no structure not only makes me want to procrastinate doing it, it makes me feel panicky!
And while I may just be batshit crazy a little too organized, there is a lot to say about having a well laid out plan of action.
So if the task is unstructured, what can you do about it?
The first thing I would suggest is to either outline or mind-map the different possible steps you need to take to complete the task. Then I would group the like tasks together and organize them into a logical order. This gives you a clear action plan and gets rid of your chance of procrastination!
Here you have it: the 7 reason why you procrastinate. Now, I know that some of the things on this list may have been a little obvious, but thinking about them regarding why they make you procrastinate will hopefully give you the ammunition you need to stop procrastinating and start getting more done!
I’d love to know if any of these happen to you! And what you do to get through it! Let me know in the comments!
Source: Bailey, Chris. The productivity project: accomplishing more by managing your time, attention, and energy better. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2016.
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