Why We Procrastinate and What We Can Do About it

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I’m a serious, lifelong, card-carrying procrastinator.

But here it is 2 days before the deadline for this post and I’m starting it already. That’s unheard of. What’s going on?

To investigate, let’s look at the reasons why we delay.

Reason #1: We don’t know how to do what needs to be done

Last summer my electric bill tripled for no explicable reason. I should have called an electrician to figure out the problem. I didn’t know one. I just kept turning off appliances I thought were the culprit and waiting to see if the bill went down. Eight months and $1600 extra dollars later I finally got someone in to solve it. Ouch.

Reason #2: We really don’t want to do it and hope it will go away

Partners with “Honey Do” lists can appreciate this. If I just wait long enough someone may come along and do it for me. For a long time I’ve lived by the maxim, “Always put off ‘til tomorrow what you could do today, because by tomorrow it might not be necessary.”

As if to underscore this point, while I was writing this I got an email asking me to do something for a client. I didn’t jump on it immediately. I decided to wait and keep writing. 30 minutes later I receive the following, “Sooooo, if you haven’t already, don’t do [that thing I asked you to do]. She has changed her mind.”

We procrastinators have been rewarded often enough for waiting until the last minute (or past it) that we come to believe it’s acceptable to be late.

Reason #3: No Consequences, (or we’ve learned to live with them)

After years of getting away with it we hardly notice the downside. We pay the fines. We apologize. We accept the reputation as someone who can’t be counted on. Ouch again.

Reason #4: We like the adrenaline rush

Some of us have come to believe that we need the extra push of a killer deadline, e.g. pulling the all nighter to write that paper in college. I’ve come through often enough and gotten by to have kept up the behavior into adulthood.

I’m pretty good at first drafts, and when you’re a procrastinator you don’t get to experience the improvements of later versions. You never know how good it could have been, or what another set of eyes might have seen. When you’re a procrastinator the best you can hope for is good enough.

So what do we do about it?

For the amorphous things that appear on the To Do list that you avoid because you don’t know how to approach them, take a few minutes to think it through enough to give it one of these 3 designations: Find out; Decide; or Do.

What is the next action needed to move it forward?

  • Do you need to find out the name of a recommended electrician?
  • Do you need to make a decision about which one to hire?
  • Or do you need to actually make the phone call.

Most tasks start with one of those 3 actions. Once you determine which one is needed the next steps become clearer.

The most effective solution for me has been to turn up my sensitivity to the consequences, and turn down my appreciation of adrenaline. I want to be someone who strives for excellence. I want to be dependable. I want the reputation of someone who delivers high quality product.

Pride in my work is a more subtle pleasure then the relief of pulling something off at the eleventh hour. But it’s one I value more highly.

It comes down to importance. Do you buy into the importance of this item being completed by this deadline? Does it matter to you?

Or do you think of it as someone else’s priority? Your spouse wants it done. Your colleague wants the report. The government wants the payment.  Until you own the commitment it will always be arbitrary. Never a sure thing.

So here we are, two days in advance of my deadline. It was important to me that I do a good job for this guest post. I wanted to come through for HGC so that there would be further opportunity, and I wanted to have enough time to polish and refine. I probably could have gotten away with something slapdash and last minute, but I wanted the personal satisfaction of doing my best.

It was a high priority to me.


For more on Priorities, check out First Things First: 6 Keys to Prioritize with Power + 6 Methods to Manage & Master Your Inbox.


Liz Sumner, Productivity Coach, offers a free one-on-one Make Me More Productive Session. In this 30-minute conversation, you will:

  • Understand clearly what productivity means to you
  • Uncover the #1 thing that’s keeping you from feeling productive
  • Explore new perspectives to reframe your roadblocks to productivity
  • Determine the next steps to achieve the results you truly want

For more information click here.

4 thoughts on “Why We Procrastinate and What We Can Do About it

  1. Beautifully written, fun, engaging, and informative. I was going to put off commenting till another day, but after reading this post, I decided to do it now… : )

    Excellent post– thank you, Ms. Sumner.

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