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Last Updated on November 27, 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 April 8, 2021

9 Strategies To Stop Putting Things Off And Start Getting Things Done

9 Strategies To Stop Putting Things Off And Start Getting Things Done

Life is exciting, and it offers many opportunities to experience moments of pure exhilaration. You’ve no doubt experienced that feeling of being in the clouds as you think about all the good things happening in your life. It’s also frustrating when things don’t work out as planned. It’s common for unexpected challenges to send our minds into a dark spiral. It feels like nothing is going right in moments of challenge, and everything around you is falling apart.

We all start each day, week, month, and year with good intentions. We know that to experience the benefits of accomplishing our goals, we have to stop putting things off. However, the daily work that it takes to achieve our major life goals is not always straightforward. It’s hard work, and for that reason, too many people settle for a “good enough” life.

The good news is that there are definite strategies you can use and mindset shifts you can make to stop putting things off, accomplish every goal you have, and live a life most people will only dream of creating.

Here are nine essential ways to accomplish your goals and stop putting off the work it takes to create a life of success and accomplishment.

1. Start With a Vision for What Accomplishment Looks Like

People often don’t accomplish their goals because they don’t have a clear picture of what success and accomplishment would mean to them. Successful goal setting starts with clarity on what you want to accomplish. Putting things off can be traced back to a lack of clear goals.

Your vision fuels your purpose and the action you take each day. To stop putting off working on your goals, take some time to get very specific about all the things you’d like to accomplish in your relationships, work, business, finances, friendships, health, and social impact.

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Creating a vision board can help because we as humans are visual by nature. That can be as simple as changing your phone screen saver to an image of what success and accomplishment mean to you. You have to know where you’re going if you hope to get there.

2. Set a Realistic Plan and Stick to It No Matter What Is Thrown at You

Being organized can be your best strategy to put off procrastination. Along with being clear about your vision for accomplishment, you should have a realistic and specific plan for how you’ll spend each day and take action. Whether it’s a once-a-week planning session or spending some time each night planning out the next day, have a roadmap that takes the stress out of what action to take and how to take it.

When you plan, you wake up with a purpose, which helps you avoid endlessly wandering through your days not knowing what you should be doing. When you have a plan, don’t let the unexpected challenges of life throw you off. Commit to following your plan and not putting things off.

3. Start Each Day With Things That Are Just for You

The needs and desires of others tend to dominate our priorities. We start our days with urgent requests and the things other people want from us. Starting your day with other people’s tasks is the quickest way to put off working on your goals.

To accomplish your goals and stop putting things off, start every day with tasks, goals, and moments that are just for you. Spend the first part of your day doing what you want to do and on the things that move you closer to your goals.

As you start your day by prioritizing yourself, you’ll accomplish more of your goals and then be able to give to others from a place of strength. Don’t put others first and end up with not enough left for yourself—that’s when you’ll put things off because you won’t have the necessary energy.

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Make yourself and your goals a priority. Your dreams, desires, and goals should have the primary position in your decision-making. What you want to accomplish is important and deserves your full attention.

4. Commit to Making Consistency Your Only Option

The best way to accomplish your goals is by embracing and committing to consistency. As you do the daily work over a period of time, you’ll take a step back and realize you’re closer than you think to accomplish your goals.

Consistency has to be your only option if you want to stop putting off all the things you know you want to accomplish. Stop looking at the complete picture of what you want to achieve because that will overwhelm you. Focus on breaking your goals into bite-sized chunks that are digestible and lead to quick wins.

5. Stabilize, Optimize, and Expand

You create success when you use the “stabilize, optimize, and expand” growth strategy.

  • “Stabilize” means you get consistent with taking action on your goals each day. You get to a place where the resistance and struggle don’t keep you from putting in the work. You build healthy habits and make this work a lifestyle shift.
  • “Optimize” means you look at your planning, daily action, your goals and see where you can optimize each part of your process. Optimization helps expedite growth as you tweak what’s working and eliminate what needs to go.
  • “Expand” means you set bigger goals and commit to accomplishing the things that feel impossible. The expand phase is when you experience exponential growth because you’re moving beyond what’s comfortable.

This simple but effective framework can give you a roadmap to accomplish more of your goals and stay off from putting off the things you want to achieve. Your goals are complex and should be treated as such. You need to evaluate and adjust.

6. Celebrate Your Progress

One of the reasons people put off working on their goals is because they never celebrate their process. You’re not a robot.

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As you experience each win—no matter the size of that win—you should celebrate the progress as if you won the Olympics. You have to be your biggest cheerleader in the journey to becoming your best you.

While most people think accomplishing their goals is the key to growth and consistency, experiencing progress is the real driver. When you make progress, you’re motivated and hungry for more. Amplify that feeling by celebrating each moment of accomplishment.

7. Add More Fun Into Your Goal-Setting

“All work and no play” makes the work feel like work. It would help if you worked hard on your goals, but hard work can be sustained for more extended periods of time when you mix fun into your schedule. You put things off when you’re not excited about what you’re doing.

To accomplish your goals, you should add hobbies and activities you enjoy into your planning. It breaks up the pressure and helps you genuinely appreciate life and its experiences. Tapping into fun is a great way to build a successful life with balance.

You can also make fun a reward for not putting things off. When you make progress, you reward yourself with pleasurable experiences. It can be a motivating prize and the inspiration you need to stop putting things off.

8. Be Intentional About Living Your Best Life

You’ll accomplish your goals and stop putting things off when you’re intentional about your decisions and are committed to living your best life. Only you know what your best life looks like and what you want to accomplish, but intentional action to get there is how you’ll make a life of accomplishment your reality.

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Putting things off happens when your plan is not built with intention. You accomplish your goals when every action you take is aligned with your values and purpose. You create a remarkable life when you make progress and consistently pursue your goals.

9. Purge Negativity in All Its Forms

One of the most commons ways people sabotage their goal accomplishment is by letting negativity creep in. This can be:[1]

  • negative people trying to convince you that your goals are impossible because those people have already settled in their lives;
  • experiences you know will frustrate you, but you do them anyway because of pressure or a sense of obligation;
  • unhealthy relationships that don’t support your efforts to create a better life and are codependent.

No matter the negativity, purging it is the best way to stay focused and motivated to continue accomplishing your goals. It can hurt to purge things and people, but it’s the best strategy to stop putting things off and achieve your goals.

Final Thoughts

Nothing stops you from setting and accomplishing your life, work, career, relationship, or business goals. It’s not easy, but it is possible with a plan and commitment to doing the work to become the strongest version of you.

The question you have to ask yourself is, what happens if you decide to keep putting things off and neglect the goals you want to accomplish?

Don’t be the person that finds out the answer to that question. Work hard and refuse to settle for a good enough life.

No matter what you’ve been through, what happened in your past, or any setbacks you’re experiencing, you can accomplish your goals and live a life full of incredible experiences. It starts right now and when you stop putting things off.

More Tips on How to Stop Putting Things Off

Featured photo credit: Magnet.me via unsplash.com

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