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Last Updated on August 18, 2020

Why Do We Procrastinate? 9 Psychological Reasons Behind It

Why Do We Procrastinate? 9 Psychological Reasons Behind It

Everyone procrastinates, but why do we procrastinate? Since the dawn of time, people have been putting things off, and we still seem to have trouble figuring out what makes us avoid things we know we need to get done. Procrastination psychology can help us figure it out.

Sometimes, procrastinating is harmless. Take, for instance, the laundry. No one likes doing the laundry, and as long as you’re not starting to re-wear clothes that have started to get a bit stinky, you’ll still be a functioning member of society if you put off the laundry for a few hours (or days).

Research has done a lot to help us understand procrastination psychology and why we continuously engage in this annoying behavior. We are going to take a look at the top reasons here, but first, let’s talk a little about active vs. passive procrastination.

Active Vs. Passive Procrastination

Passive procrastination is the type of procrastination we all think of. Most people don’t even realize there’s such a thing as active procrastination. Let’s discuss this first.

Active procrastinators are a sort of “positive” type of procrastinator. They deliberately decide to procrastinate because they know they work better under pressure[1].

For example, an active procrastinator may see that they have five reports to write before Friday. Instead of doing one each day, they decide to do one on Monday, one on Wednesday, and leave three for Thursday because they’re brain produces better results when there is an element of pressure.

Passive procrastinators, on the other hand, are the “negative” procrastinators we generally think about. These types of procrastinators fall into traps of indecision or lack of confidence that cause them to wait until the last minute to do something[2].

For example, an active procrastinator may be presented with those same five reports, but instead of waiting in order to increase a positive sense of pressure for themselves, they put off writing all five reports until Thursday night because they simply don’t feel confident in their ability to do them correctly, or the prospect of writing them sends them into a tailspin of boredom.

As you can see, the psychology of procrastination is complex, but there are some basic answers to the question, “Why do we procrastinate.” In the list below, we will be focusing on passive procrastination.

1. Wanting to Control Everything

If you put things off, they can’t go wrong, right? Unfortunately, you can’t put things off forever.

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By procrastinating, you hold the most control over whatever task you’re working on. However, this also means, obviously, that that particular task isn’t being done.

While you may originally feel like you have more power through procrastination, this often dissolves into feeling a lack of control as your time constraints begin restricting your ability to make good decisions.

What to Try

If you feel like you need to control everything, it’s time to take a step back and examine why. What makes you feel the need to seek out control?

If this is a problem for you, try learning to trust yourself and others. Meditation can also be a great tool when it comes to releasing control and creating focus if you want to overcome procrastination. Start with just five minutes in the morning and work your way up.

You can also check out this article for more tips: How to Learn to Let Go of What You Can’t Control

2. Seeing a Task as One Big Project

Imagine your boss gives you the task of creating a two hour presentation for a new client. If you look at this as one large task, you’ll feel overwhelmed immediately, which will likely lead you to avoid the task altogether.

What to Try

Break down a large project into many small tasks.

For the example above, you may break down that large project into the following tasks:

  1. Research information to include in the presentation
  2. Decide on number of slides
  3. Create half of the slides
  4. Create other half of the slides
  5. Add graphics and pictures
  6. Proofread and polish

This is only one example, and this can apply to a number of situations. By breaking things down into parts, you’ll find the task much more doable. This will also produce less stress and aversion to the work.

3. Being a Perfectionist

Sometimes, being a perfectionist works in your favor. However, it can be tempting to put things off or delay completing tasks simply because you’re worried about the outcome being less than perfect.

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A 2017 study[3] confirmed that those with perfectionist tendencies were also more likely to engage in procrastination.

This TED Talk, featuring Charly Haversat, helps explain why perfectionism can do more harm than good:

What to Try

Altering the negative feelings that come when you feel something is less than perfect requires a simple change in perspective. If you continuously seek out perfection, you will constantly be disappointed. Understand that everyone makes mistakes and that no one realistically expects perfection from you. Simply do the best you can.

Remember, a completed, albeit imperfect, task is better than an uncompleted task.

4. Worrying About Failure

It can be tempting to procrastinate tasks because of a fear of failing. Of course, you cannot fail at something when you don’t do it at all.

Unfortunately, this is an unproductive way of thinking.

In a 2011 study based on student questionnaires, the researchers discovered the following:

“Most reasons [for procrastination] were related to fear of failure in relation to performance anxiety, perfectionism and lack of self confidence.”[4]

What to Try

Facing your fear of failure will help you overcome that fear in the long run, or at least learn to manage it. Next time you think about putting something off simply to avoid potential failure, tackle it head on. Once you get it done, even if the outcome is less than ideal, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to complete tasks. Take this a day at a time.

If you’re interested in learning more about the fear of failure, you may enjoy this article.

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5. Lacking Self-Control

There are definitely varying levels of self-control. Everyone is different. However, there is a point in which your self-control can get in the way of productivity.

Procrastinating comes easier to people who naturally do not have the discipline to complete tasks in a timely and organized manner.

What to Try

One study[5] found that people were more likely to overcome issues with self-control and complete their tasks if they imposed deadlines for themselves. So, next time you have a big project to get done, break it down into smaller tasks and assign a time and date for each. This should help you stay focused and get more done.

6. Not Making Lists

Procrastination can come as a result of something falling through the cracks. If you put something off and then forget to write down that you need to do it later, it’s possible that you could completely forget about the first task.

What to Try

If you’re a forgetful person, make a to-do list with all your tasks on it, and only cross them off when they’re 100% complete. For an important task, put it at the top. This can work especially well in the short term.

For more information on how to make a good to-do list, check out this article: The Right Way to Make a To Do List and Get Things Done.

7. Underestimating Time Commitments

It can be discouraging when a project takes you two weeks to complete when you thought it would take one. This is also related to time management skills. The amount of time you set aside for a task doesn’t seem to be working well for you.

If you consistently estimate time commitments incorrectly, it might be causing you to procrastinate more than you would otherwise.

It’s tempting to put things off if you think you have the time, but realizing you don’t have as much time as you thought can cause serious scrambling to get things done.

What to Try

When you’re faced with a new task or project, it may help to talk with friends or coworkers who have been faced with similar tasks in the past. They will likely be able to give you some insight on how long you should expect the project to take.

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If you don’t know anyone who can help in this area, always overestimate. If you get it done faster than expected, you’ll be left with free time, which is always a good thing!

8. Relying on Pressure to Finish Work

Procrastinating a task does not always equate to worse work. Some people work very well under pressure and can produce very good work, while others are simply lucky. This relates to the idea of active procrastination discussed above.

However, some people don’t do this on purpose, even when procrastination does generally go well for them. Eventually, there will come a time when procrastinating doesn’t work if it isn’t being done on purpose. Be mindful of the quality of your work and make sure your last-minute rush doesn’t show.

What to Try

If you find you work better under pressure, try moving into the realm of active procrastination. Plan to put things off, but give yourself enough time to do it well. If you know a project will take at least an hour, don’t give yourself 30 minutes to complete it.

A 2016 study[6] suggested that this method could work particularly well for those with a high working memory capacity. If you fall into that group, added pressure may help you come out with a better product.

9. Being Lazy

This is a common reason that most of us procrastinate. We just don’t feel like doing whatever it is we’re putting off. This could also be translated as a lack of motivation

Being lazy doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. It’s totally okay for you to lounge around and watch TV rather than mow the lawn sometimes. Just don’t let that behavior become habitual.

What to Try

If you know you need to get something done but just simply feel lazy, try doing light exercise to get your brain working. This may stimulate the energy you need to tackle a task. This can be as easy as taking a walk around the block or doing ten jumping jacks. Find what works for you.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to passive procrastination, there are many reasons it can happen, but there are also things you can do to tackle those problems and start finishing tasks. If you can relate yourself to one of these reasons, it’s time to take action and stop procrastinating.

More on Why We Procrastinate

Featured photo credit: Kaylah Matthews via unsplash.com

Reference

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Maggie Heath

Maggie is a passionate writer who blogs about communication and lifestyle on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on September 28, 2020

How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals

How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals

There’s no denying that goals are necessary. After all, they give life meaning and purpose. However, goals don’t simply achieve themselves—you need to write an action plan to help you reach your goals.

With an action plan, you’ll have a clear idea of how to get where you want to go, what it will take to get there, and how you’ll find the motivation to keep driving forward. Without creating a plan, things have a way of not working out as you waver and get distracted.

With that in mind, here’s how you can set goals and action plans that will help you achieve any personal goal you’ve set.

1. Determine Your “Why”

Here’s a quick experiment for you to try right now: Reflect on the goals you’ve set before. Now, think about the goals you reached and those you didn’t. Hopefully, you’ll notice a common theme here.

The goals you were successful in achieving had a purpose. Those goals you failed to accomplish did not. In other words, you knew why you put these goals in place, which motivated you to follow through.

Simon Sinek, author of Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Finding Purpose for You and Your Team, explains:

“Once you understand your WHY, you’ll be able to clearly articulate what makes you feel fulfilled and to better understand what drives your behavior when you’re at your natural best. When you can do that, you’ll have a point of reference for everything you do going forward.”

That, in turn, enables better decision-making and clearer choices.

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I’ll share with you a recent example of this in my life. Earlier this year, I decided to make my health a bigger priority, specifically losing weight. I set this goal because it gave me more energy at work, improved my sleep, and helped me be a better father—I really didn’t care for all that wheezing every time I played with my kids.

Those factors all gave me a long-term purpose, not a superficial short-term goal like wanting to look good for an event.

Before you start creating an action plan, think about why you’re setting a new goal. Doing so will guide you forward on this journey and give you a North Star to point to when things get hard (and they inevitably will).

2. Write Down Your Goal

If you really want to know how to create an action plan for goals, it’s time to get your goals out of your head and onto a piece of paper. While you can also do this electronically through an app, research has found that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goal if it’s written down[1].

This is especially true for business owners. If they don’t schedule their time, it’ll be scheduled for them.[2]

When you physically write down a goal, you’re accessing the left side of the brain, which is the literal, logical side. As a result, this communicates to your brain that this is something you seriously want to do.

3. Set a SMART Goal

A SMART goal pulls on a popular system in business management[3]. That’s because it ensures the goal you’ve set is both realistic and achievable. It can also be used as a reference to guide you through your action plan.

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Use SMART goals to create a goal action plan.

     

    By establishing a SMART goal, you can begin to brainstorm the steps, tasks, and tools you’ll need to make your actions effective.

    • Specific: You need to have specific ideas about what you want to accomplish. To get started, answer the “W” questions: who, what, where, when, and why.
    • Measurable: To make sure you’re meeting the goal, establish tangible metrics to measure your progress. Identify how you’ll collect the data.
    • Attainable: Think about the tools or skills needed to reach your goal. If you don’t possess them, figure out how you can attain them.
    • Relevant: Why does the goal matter to you? Does it align with other goals? These types of questions can help you determine the goal’s true objective — and whether it’s worth pursuing.
    • Time-bound: Whether it’s a daily, weekly, or monthly target, deadlines can motivate us to take action sooner than later.

    Learn more about setting a SMRT goal here: How to Set SMART Goal to Make Lasting Changes in Life

    4. Take One Step at a Time

    Have you ever taken a road trip? You most likely had to use a map to navigate from Point A to Point B. The same idea can be applied to an action plan.

    Like a map, your action plan needs to include step-by-step instructions on how you’ll reach your goal. In other words, these are mini goals that help you get where you need to go.

    For example, if you wanted to lose weight, you’d consider smaller factors like calories consumed and burned, minutes exercised, number of steps walked, and quality of sleep. Each plays a role in weight loss.

    This may seem like a lot of work upfront, but it makes your action plan seem less overwhelming and more manageable. Most importantly, it helps you determine the specific actions you need to take at each stage.

    5. Order Your Tasks by Priority

    With your action steps figured out, you’ll next want to review your list and place your tasks in the order that makes the most sense. This way, you’re kicking things off with the most important step to make the biggest impact, which will ultimately save time.

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    For example, if you have a sedentary job and want to lose weight, the first step should be becoming even a little more active. From there, you can add more time to your workout plan.

    The next step could be changing your diet, like having a salad before dinner to avoid overeating, or replacing soda with sparkling water.

    Learn these tips to prioritize better: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    6. Schedule Your Tasks

    Setting a deadline for your goal is a must; it prevents you from delaying the start of your action plan. The key, however, is to be realistic. It’s highly unlikely, for example, that you’ll lose 20 pounds within two weeks. It’s even less likely that you’ll keep it off.

    What’s more, you should also assign tasks a start and end date for each action step you’ve created, as well as a timeline for when you’ll complete specific tasks. Adding them to your schedule ensures that you stay focused on these tasks when they need to happen, not letting anything else distract you.

    For example, if you schedule gym time, you won’t plan anything else during that time frame.

    Beware the temptation to double-book yourself—some activities truly can be combined, like a run while talking to a friend, but some can’t. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you can both write and catch up on Netflix simultaneously.

    While you can use a paper calendar or planner, an online calendar may be a better option. You can use it to set deadlines or reminders for when each step needs to be taken, and it can be shared with other people who need to be in the know (like your running buddy or your mentor).

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    7. Stay on Track With Healthy Habits

    Without healthy habits, it’s going to be even more challenging to reach your goal. You could hit the gym five days a week, but if you’re grabbing burgers for lunch every day, you’re undoing all your hard work.

    Let’s say your goal is more career-oriented, like becoming a better public speaker. If you practice your speeches at Toastmasters meetings but avoid situations where you’ll need to be unrehearsed—like networking gatherings or community meetings—you’re not helping yourself.

    You have to think about what will help transform you into the person you want to be, not just what’s easiest or most comfortable.

    8. Check off Items as You Go

    You may think you’ve spent a lot of time creating lists. Not only do they help make your goals a reality, but lists also keep your action plan organized, create urgency, and help track your progress. Because lists provide structure, they reduce anxiety.

    There’s something else special about lists of tasks completed. When you cross off a task in your action plan, your brain releases dopamine[4]. This reward makes you feel good, and you’ll want to repeat this feeling.

    If you crossed out on your calendar the days you went to the gym, you’d want to keep experiencing the satisfaction of each bold “X.” That means more motivation to go the gym consistently.

    9. Review and Reset as Necessary

    Achieving any personal goal is a process. Although it would be great if you could reach a goal overnight, it takes time. Along the way, you may experience setbacks. Instead of getting frustrated and giving up, schedule frequent reviews—daily, weekly, or monthly—to see how you’re progressing.

    If you aren’t where you’d hoped to be, you may need to alter your action plan. Rework it so you’re able to reach the goal you’ve set.

    The Bottom Line

    When you want to learn how to set goals and action plans—whether you want to lose weight, learn a new skill, or make more money—you need to create a realistic plan to get you there. It will guide you in establishing realistic steps and time frames to achieve your goal. Best of all, it will keep you on track when you stumble, and we all do.

    More on Goal Action Plans

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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