The Procrastination Habit

Putting things off until later is sometimes needed. It’s ok to leave it for a bit, but only if it can be delayed without negative side-effects. It’s important to think about why you are delaying and what will happen if you delay completing on an action item. We all know that new opportunities and fun things can distract us, so once in a while it is ok to put things aside for a bit.

Procrastination Isn’t Always Bad …

Putting things off until later is sometimes needed.   It’s ok to leave it for a bit, but only if it can be delayed without negative side-effects. It’s important to think about why you are delaying and what will happen if you delay completing on an action item. We all know that new opportunities and fun things can distract us, so once in a while it is ok to put things aside for a bit.

This isn’t to say that you should procrastinate all the time. If you take the time to look at a decision or set of choices objectively and you are honest with yourself, you know when something can be put off until later and when you should handle a responsibility right now.

 For example, let’s say that today’s tasks were doing your grocery shopping, doing laundry and organizing your garage. Before you get started on this to-do list, a friend calls. 

She and her family are hosting a BBQ because the weather is perfect and so you are invited. Choosing the feel-good rewards of spending time with people you care about and watching your family enjoy the same experience is not necessarily the bad choice here.

If you don’t need anything at home, waiting to go for groceries; can save you time and energy.  During these unusual times, you want to incorporate fun, connection and lots of laughter into your days. The garage will still be there. Just make sure you add it to your to do list for another day. The only issue will be that when you start procrastinating, it can become a rollercoaster of tasks left unfinished.

When you leave things too long, chaos and disorganization can become the norm.  

It is so important to plan ahead a little, and to make sure that you complete action items that will help you to lessen your stress level, take less energy and help you to live a less chaotic life.  

Why Do We Procrastinate? What Procrastination Tells Us about Our Choices

Life is all about choices, isn’t it? 

If you choose “A” you might miss out on “B”. Every choice you make involves opportunity. The term opportunity cost is pretty self-explanatory. When you choose to go in one direction, you may miss out on opportunities that are in a different direction. When you really think about it though, most of the time the new direction can lead you to some of your very best decisions. One of the hallmark signs of maturity is the ability to focus on the task at hand so that you do what you have to do in order to do what you want to do. What if you were to choose to finish something you have been putting off, create a habit to help you to continue to pay attention to things and deal with them before they get out of hand? Would that not free you up mentally and physically to take time for you and enjoy yourself?

This is procrastination at its finest, and it all has to do with choices.

Your Choices Tell You a Lot about Your Values

A person with very strong values and goals doesn’t procrastinate as much as someone who isn’t as sure about what they want in life. If every action that you take or consider taking is guided by what is most important to you, then you will not put it off. You don’t mind delaying gratification for a few days, months or even years, because you are acting according to the values that are important to you. 

Simply put, your choices now, even though they may seem insignificant at the time, can have a profound impact on your life in the future.

Your values guide your choices, but only when you remind yourself of your most powerful belief systems. Making a list of your most important values and referring to it whenever you have a difficult decision to make can help you from procrastinating, and you might just end up with something to celebrate.

Overcoming Perfectionism Is Crucial to Stop Procrastinating

So far, I have discussed procrastination as a choice to put something off because of fear of the outcome. When you procrastinate, you often want the outcome to be perfect, and if it doesn’t turn out that way, you worry about how people will judge you but most importantly how you will judge yourself. Those are all common reasons why people procrastinate.

A very real driver of procrastination is perfectionism.

At all times and in any given situation, the picture-perfect outcome or reality is the goal. Not only is perfection the goal, but it absolutely must be obtained at all cost. This means nothing is ever out of place, financial, personal and career relationships must be delivering an enjoyable experience, and literally every aspect of life is constantly monitored and tweaked so that perfection is achieved.

Take a look around you. Think of You, your family, your friends, your coworkers and every stranger you come across. Life can be chaotic. How many times have you had everything figured out, your life was headed in the perfect direction, you could see all your dreams being realized, and then out of the blue life decides to test you?

Chaos can really take over your life, when you have a need for perfection.

What this tells us is that being a perfectionist can actually create more chaos in some peoples lives. Think about that for a moment.   The person seeking perfection believes it is achievable and that it can be maintained.  When chaos does hit though, a person who is a perfectionist will want to take action immediately.  And when you do take action immediately you might mess things up. It’s almost like anxiety or panic when it takes over.  Not exactly a win-win, is it?

 The trick is to learn how to confront chaos in a way that is solution focused.  

Most people want to move into action as soon as they see chaos coming.  And that is the very worst thing you can do. The first action is to step back, create solutions around the chaos, sit with it for a bit, and then move into action.   As you can see, this is very different from procrastinating. 

People procrastinate doing something because they can only see a level of success in their endeavour that is less than perfect. They put off taking their driving exam even though they know they would pass with flying colours, because they want to get the perfect score. This person may go decades without having a healthy, fulfilling relationship because he or she can’t find the “perfect partner”.

Countless athletes have literally exercised to death. These people were looking for perfection. They spend time every waking moment in the weight room or gymnasium, putting off personal and career-related tasks and responsibilities that cause financial, mental and emotional trauma. They are stressing their bodies to the point of failure in an attempt to seek the development of the perfect human form.

Perfection does not exist.  There is no perfect body, relationship, moment, career, timing, and so on.  

There is only the perfectly perfect imperfection of life, and how we respond to it. 

Good enough is good enough in most cases. If you are a perfectionist, learn to appreciate the gifts you have been given. Other people would love to have the abilities you have. I used to want things to be absolutely perfect, and if they weren’t I would throw it all away, and start again.  Or I would find something different to focus my energies and attention on with the same outcome.   And eventually, it did feel like I was procrastinating.  Nothing was ever completed, there was no attention to detail, and the perfection I thought I was striving for, never arrived.

My message here is that maybe it’s time to put away thoughts of perfection in all things and instead think of how perfectly imperfect you actually are. The more perfect try to be, the more difficult it becomes to create and nurture deep, loving relationships that stand the test of time. Yes, you may climb the success ladder but what about the rest of your life? How perfect are your relationships, your self care and so on?

The following 7-step system has been proven time and again to crush procrastination and time-wasting, productivity-killing behaviours.

1 – Discover (and Embrace) Your Values

You must know what you stand for. What beliefs do you have that you will defend in the face of serious challenges? Where do see yourself in a year, in 5 years and 10 years? What things are important to you? What does your dream world look like? Answering these questions will help you discover your true values.

Think about these values all the time. Eat, breathe and sleep them. Write them down and keep them with you. When you know what drives you and you always have these powerful beliefs front of mind, you will always guide your outcomes. These values define your goals, your actions and your decision-making process.

2 – Write Stuff Down

Neuroscientists study the human brain and nervous system. They study  how memory works, what we can do to retain more knowledge, and how the brain and nervous system influence your behaviour. Thanks to experiments conducted to see how writing down goals can improve the likelihood of achieving them, neuroscientists have discovered something remarkable.

You will be more likely to reach your goals if they are written down. Putting pen to paper is more effective than any other method.

When you use vivid words to describe your goals and explain them in great detail, your chance for success is even greater. This is important for beating chronic procrastination because it engages your brain. You think more frequently about your goals and values when you write them down and review them regularly. This explains the power of to-do lists. The science has to do with encoding your goals onto your brain’s hard drive. When you write something down, your brain views it as important. Since written communication is seen as a way to convey your beliefs (to yourself and others), this reinforces your values. Encoding has been shown to strengthen when you write something down, as opposed to just trying to remember it.

There is an extra layer of encoding that happens because of the external storage of your goals, values and beliefs. Externally storing your written goals on your office cubicle wall, your home calendar or in your wallet means seeing them frequently. This tells your brain these are important, and should be encoded in your long-term memory as well as for the short-term.

This makes your brain remind you what your core beliefs and goals are every time you are thinking about procrastinating.

3 – Ask Yourself What Happens “If”

Ask yourself these 2 questions when you are deciding whether or not something can be delayed. What happens if you delay action? What happens if you don’t procrastinate? Be honest with yourself . What happens if you do procrastinate in a certain situation, and what happens if you don’t?

 If you have followed the this system up to this point, you will have identified your values. You have written down these values and any goals you have. This keeps procrastination at bay, and though you may still put things off from time to time (everyone does), procrastinating will not happen as a chronic, regular occurrence.

5 – Practice The Two-Minute Rule

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits, a New York Times best-selling book on time management and enhancing productivity. He says he employs a 2-minute rule that has helped him stop procrastinating as much. . This rule if practiced, can help you to stop the procrastinating, adopt better habit systems,

Here is how it works. Let’s say you have been putting off exercising. You open up your day planner or online calendar and see that today you have scheduled 30 minutes of strength training. Don’t think, “I can never last for 30 minutes.” Tell yourself instead that you are going to spend 2 minutes doing biceps curls. You break any large task or responsibility down into a 2-minute sessions and keep adding 2 minutes until you have reached the 30 minute goal.

You can see how this mindset grows.. A couple of minutes turns into 10 and 20 and 30. Once you get started, it is very unlikely you are going to stop what you are doing and choose some procrastinating behaviour instead.

6 – Speaking of Habits…

Some research shows it takes the average person about 21 days to develop a new habit. Other studies indicate doing something until it becomes an automatic habit may take between 21 or 45 days.

Make sure every day of your week includes values-based habits or you may find too much free time on your hands. Free time is a wonderful thing, and you certainly should reward yourself with downtime on a regular basis. However, too much free time that doesn’t support positive, rewarding habits means more of a chance to procrastinate.

7 – Believe in What You Do

Believe in this system, because it has been proven to work. You must also believe in yourself. Believe in your values, your habits and your ability to make this work. As you begin to work through this process, you will see yourself procrastinating less and getting more done. Your productivity, efficiency and time management skills all improve.

As this begins to happen, give yourself a reward of some kind, because positive reinforcement can help you develop the belief that you can beat your chronic procrastination. If you stumble and fall, and you will because you are only human, simply pick yourself up, dust yourself off and begin again. When you do this, look in the mirror and say to yourself that your values and belief systems are more important than procrastinating behaviour. Then watch how your life changes.

It is not an overstatement to say that you can impact just about any area of your life in a significant way by avoiding chronic procrastination. Value yourself, embrace and honour your values, understand the many rewards of delayed gratification, and share your thoughts and challenges with your friends. They are human just like you. That means they may also be challenged by procrastination, and you can form a support network of like-minded friends that helps you get a handle on your procrastination habit.


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