11 Good Reasons You Procrastinate (and How to Fix That)

15 min read

Every wonder why you procrastinate?

Oh, you thought it was just you? Nope, not at all!

The truth is, procrastination has been around for centuries. In fact, way back in 700 BC, the ancient Greek poet Hesiod put it this way: “The man who procrastinates struggles with ruin.”

His point, dramatic as it may be, was that those who procrastinate are in effect destroying themselves (and their lives) in the process. Whatever the reasons, the difference between “later” and “too late” can have a direct impact on your life.

Now, bringing this back to the 21st century, if you’ve ever delayed in getting anything done, you’ll probably agree that there is some truth in this statement even today.

Unfortunately, for a long-time procrastinator, pointing that out is not very helpful. And getting a few tips on how to stop putting things off is not going to make much of a difference, either.

If that were enough, there would be hardly any procrastinators left on the planet, and that clearly doesn’t seem to be the case — even if things seem to get better as we grow older

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In the first part of the Procrastination Survival Guide series, we talked about the nine ways you’re letting procrastination infiltrate your life and get the best of you.

Before we move on to what you can do to stop procrastinating, it’s important to address something that usually gets brushed off in light of the ultimate solution: the real reasons you procrastinate.

You see, unless you know why you put something off (even when you've got the best intention to actually see it through), you probably won’t get too far trying to figure out how to stop, no matter what you try.

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It’s like trying to take decent low-light photos and ending up with ugly shots every single time: unless you know exactly what’s making your photos look bad, you won’t know what to tweak to fix this. (Is it the aperture, the ISO, or your white balance settings?)

When you have a full understanding of the problem you’re dealing with, you’ll also have a better understanding of what you can to do to solve it.

Makes sense, right?

So, let’s take a look at some very good reasons why you procrastinate and see what you can do to fix that starting today.

1. You’re Afraid That You Don’t Know Enough

Imagine starting a new project, only to realize you need a significant amount of research done before you can get started. If you’re a writer, your research will probably be one of the first things you’ll need to take care of, so you know what you’re writing about and how you can back up your arguments, especially if it’s a niche where sources matter.

But this feeling of being prepared enough is not something only writers struggle with. If you’re an entrepreneur and you want to be sure your new product solves a major problem for your audience, you also need to know with certainty what that problem is and how you’re actually going to solve it, right?

Feeling in control of the situation and knowing that you’ve got the right answers will ultimately help you get started with creating your content. But if you’re not there yet and you feel like you’re underprepared, extending the deadline and waiting until you have all the pieces of the puzzle laid out before you would make much more sense, wouldn’t it?

What to do about it

Limit the time you spend on prepping to avoid postponing your tasks every week because you (still) feel unprepared. List what you need to brush up on and then categorize all items based on when you’ll need to use each.

Most of the time, we think we need ALL the information right from the start, but you’ll find that’s not always the case. Find out what’s the most important thing you need to get started, and just start. You can always fill in the gaps as you go.

2. You Get Distracted Too Often

Admit it. Just reading this post is challenging — your phone might start beeping, a desktop notification may pop up to alert you about a new email, or you may just remember it’s time to check on tonight’s dinner so it doesn’t get burned in the oven. So you do what any other normal adult in your place would do: you leave the reading for later.

Only thing is... later may actually never come. But since you’re still here reading this, I bet none of the above happened... or you’re simply enjoying this post a lot (in which case, I’m bringing the confetti).

The thing is, your life is full of small but significant enough distractions that make you put things off for later. It’s not easy juggling so many balls at once. In fact, trying to do too many things at once is not only counterproductive but perhaps even bad for you.

Your attention is not something you can split indefinitely without getting worn out in the process, so delaying things seems like the natural way out.

What to do about it

If creating a distraction-free environment sounds like a mission impossible, start with a distraction-free zone first. The rules are simple: set your phone on silent, fire up your favorite timer app, and set a time frame you’re comfortable with.

No matter what happens, though, you’re not allowed to postpone anything while the timer is ticking. That means you’ll need to actually do stuff and stay focused on the task at hand until the timer hits zero.

3. You Feel Like You Could Be Doing Something Else Instead

Let’s be honest here, shall we? A large part of what you need to get done on any given day is simply not interesting enough. Most of it is just stuff you need to get out of the way and, frankly, it’s far from glamorous, inspiring, or exciting. And that’s probably why you don’t quite feel like doing any of it in the first place, right?

You always have this feeling that you could be spending your time doing something else, something more fun. So, instead of thinking about that boring task, you decide to put it off for later when you feel more motivated, and you go for those tasks you find more enjoyable. At the same time, though, you can’t help but feel a little guilty about it.

What to do about it

The more you postpone things, the less you’ll feel like getting started with any of it. So instead of focusing on all the alternatives you have (and which sound a lot more fun to you), think about how much better it will be once you get all the boring stuff out of the way first.

That way, you’ll be able to enjoy what you do a lot more and without the slightest sign of guilt. You can also alternate between boring and exciting tasks to keep things balanced, while still maintaining your momentum.

4. You’re Waiting for the Perfect Time to Start

Now, this is definitely not something you want to do when it comes to client work because unless you hit that deadline and deliver on time, chances are your client’s not going to be happy and you risk being seen as unprofessional.

At the same time, you can’t deny how many times you’ve waited for that special moment when everything would simply be... perfect. That moment when everything seems perfectly aligned and you can just feel it in the air that it’s finally time to start writing that book you’ve been putting off for so long or to get started on that free ecourse you promised you’d launch (6 months ago).

It’s simple, really: unless all the elements are in place and the timing feels absolutely right, you just can’t seem to get started. In a way, you need that *special sign*. But if waiting for when “it feels right” is no excuse for a client, why should it be for you?

What to do about it

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” - Chinese Proverb

If you think about it, there never really is a perfect time for anything. There’s only right now. What you can do is commit to not waiting for things to be perfect. Nothing ever will be exactly as you want it, and that’s the beauty of it. But if you insist on waiting for perfect, let now be that perfect moment. Not after an hour or a week, but right now, this exact moment.

5. You Think That You’re Going to Fail

Here’s an interesting difference between a child and an adult: While the child keeps trying to get up every time it falls, an adult will usually take each blow as a sign of weakness and an even clearer sign for failure (mixed with a generous amount of embarrassment).

For some mysterious reason, as we grow, we start losing this natural stubbornness to get up after every fall. We start accepting failure as a part of who we are when it is simply an indication that there’s more need for practice (and a whole lot more of determination). Instead of seeing it as a drill to build some mental muscle, we dread even the mere thought of it.

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And when suddenly this fear becomes so big that you can’t see any other outcome than failure, just the thought of starting seems completely pointless. Simply put it off until you can’t ignore it anymore. Why bother when you’re going to fail anyway, right?

What to do about it

This is not one of those quick fixes. In fact, it’s something you’ll need to keep working on every day, one step at a time. Changing the way you think about failure is not going to be easy, but if you want to feel and be in control of your time (and your life), you need to start seeing failure as a way to get better, not a way to criticize and feel bad about yourself.

Embrace failing by putting yourself in unfamiliar situations, where you’d normally expect to fail. And if you do fail at it, consider it a lesson learned. (What will you do differently next time?) Then try again!

6. You Have a Humongous To-Do List

The list is never-ending. Task after task it just keeps growing and growing. Everything you can’t manage today gets moved to tomorrow’s list. But the more you keep at this, the less you’ll ever get anything done.

Not because it’s physically impossible (although at some stage that IS a valid point) but because you simply won’t know where to start. And that is just going to overwhelm you even more, making you want to avoid that huge list of tasks as long as humanly possible. Just like that, leaving things for tomorrow suddenly has this wonderful new appeal you can’t ignore (or resist).

What to do about it

Something I talk a lot about in the Productivity Superhero Challenge is that you need to set your mind on a few tasks every day and focus only on those. Learning what to prioritize and what to drop, will help you keep realistic expectations that you’re actually able to live up to.

So instead of making a huge list of *everything* you’ve suddenly remembered you need to do, limit yourself to 1-3 items you can fully focus on and complete throughout a normal workday.

7. You Feel Stressed and Overwhelmed 93.9% of the Time

Having too many things going on every day makes the sheer load of it impossible to carry. Do this for a while and you’ll soon start feeling drained, exhausted, and completely stuck. With every new thing that pops up and requires your (almost) immediate attention, your stress starts piling up and you start feeling like you’re losing control.

You push everything you can’t deal with right now for later, hoping that it will give you a short moment to catch your breath. But for the most part, it doesn’t work that well, does it? You still obsess about all that needs to be done, yet you can’t bring yourself to find that starting point so you can make sense of things. At this point, there’s simply no other way than to delay things just a little bit longer.

What to do about it

Consider saying “no” to any new projects or assignments until you get finished with what you’ve already started. This two-letter word can become your secret weapon when you use it right.

It can even give you a sense of freedom when you most need it, so you don’t keep on adding to that pile of unfinished projects and constantly put your limits to the test. When you no longer have a thousand things to think about, you’ll worry and stress a lot less.

8. You Believe You Don’t Have What It Takes

Let me guess... You doubt yourself every time you’re facing a new challenge and you question your abilities and whether you can *really* do this. Even when it comes to things you’ve already committed to, all you can suddenly think of is how it’s not going to work out after all. So you make up all sorts of excuses, convincing yourself it’s better to leave it all for later.

Everyone out there is doing outstanding things and seems to be thriving in their life, their biz, their everything. But for some reason, no matter what you do, you always feel as if you’re not cut out for this. And that’s why it’s so much easier to close your eyes and put it off for as long as you can. “It’s all good”, you tell yourself, “it won’t be the end of the world anyway.” But a little later suddenly becomes a LOT later, and you still don’t feel any better or more confident.

What to do about it

To help yourself out of a demoralizing state of mind and a crushing low self-esteem, try practicing a very simple and short gratitude ritual. Grab a pocket-size journal and every morning, before you start your day, note down the three things you’re thankful for.

Repeat before going to bed, only this time focus on the three things that happened during the day and which you’re grateful for. Do this for two weeks and make sure you pay attention to how you perceive yourself — do you notice any changes?

9. You Put Yourself Down Too Often

If there’s one little voice in the entire universe that can shake you up in a matter of seconds, it’s your ruthless inner critic. Absolutely obnoxious and always uninvited, she takes over and fills your head with baseless claims, convincing you that you can’t do a single thing right, no matter how hard you try.

She’s the Negativity Whisperer and she never fails her mission. In fact, every time she talks you out of doing something, it ends up like this: your impostor syndrome kicks in and all you see are your flaws and weaknesses. What else is there for you to do other than do nothing at all? If she says you’re not good enough (and she knows you pretty well) it’s probably true. Besides, better to put things off for later than risk screwing it all up, right?

What to do about it

Whenever your inner critic starts getting in the way, acknowledge her comments and recall a clear example of when you did something successfully or had a major breakthrough in a similar situation.

Don’t try to shut her up or ignore her, but confront her like you would do a real person and prove her wrong. She doesn’t like feeling uncomfortable or being doubted because she’ll lose her influence over you. But the more you talk back, the less power she’ll have over you.

10. You’re Waiting to Feel Motivated

How many times have you spent waiting for motivation to strike? That divine moment when you feel the urge to get started with your tasks for the day and gleefully see to it that this boring assignment sitting on your desk is about to get completed (like a boss)?

And when there’s no sign of motivation anyway on the horizon, you just sit patiently there waiting for it to show up. Soon. Maybe tomorrow. Definitely next week. But then next week becomes a month, and you know how the rest goes. The fact is, you’re not making any progress and unless you feel motivated to pick up some of those tasks you’ve been avoiding for so long, they’ll just go down in history as another pile of Unfinished Business.

What to do about it

When you rely on motivation, you’re relying on something external that you have no control over. You don’t know when it’ll show up, how long it will last, or when you should be expecting it to strike again. It’s kind of like relying on that one untrustworthy friend who always promises that she’ll show up but never does.

And just like you could use better friends than that, you owe it to yourself not to rely on motivation to get things done. Stop waiting for it. Find it by doing.

11. You Expect Everything You Do to Be Perfect

High standards and big expectations are great to have, but if it gets to the point where you expect absolute perfection out of each and every project you’re involved with, you may find it even more challenging to take that first plunge.

Being fixated on outstanding and perfect results makes it extremely easy to find an excuse to not start at all and delay... indefinitely. Keeping up with your own expectations puts enough stress on you to perform, which in turn makes avoiding that particular task much easier (and a lot less stressful).

What to do about it

Stop expecting absolute perfection every time and learn to treat every task or project as an opportunity to grow. Keep your eyes on your mileage and don’t obsess about the end result. Instead of aiming for perfect, aim for small daily steps. Aim for progress.

Focusing on the final outcome before you even get your feet wet will only lead to one thing: zero results. And that’s something you can’t improve on, celebrate, or learn from. Everything else? It can always be improved.

Wrapping Up

Despite your best intentions, there will be times you put off the things you need to be doing. And that’s okay. There’s always a reason for everything, your procrastination tendencies included.

But the sooner you realize what your reason may be, the easier it will be for you to do something about it. Once you get to the bottom of your procrastination, you’ll be able to gain control of the situation much more quickly, because you’ll know what you should do to get past it. And the tips above will be a great starting point for you.

What’s do you think? Is there something missing from this list? Let me know in the comments below!

Blog post image: kaboompics

Check out the rest of the Procrastination Survival Guide Series:
Part 1: 9 Ways You Let Procrastination Get the Best of You Every Day