How To Cure Procrastination
Procrastination is something that has held me back in life in both big ways and small.
BIG: Procrastinating for TWO DECADES before doing something about the fact that the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do for a living was write.
SMALL: Procrastinating to this day about teaching my kids to clean up after themselves, and hence, having to spend an unreasonable chunk of my life picking up broken crayons and slimy chewed up apple cores.
The key to overcoming procrastination is realizing that it’s always a symptom of some larger disease. Procrastination is kinda like headaches.
Headaches can be traced back to a gazillion different factors gone wonky. They can be caused by tension, clogged up sinuses, chemicals, lack of sleep, dehydration, or out-of-control blood sugars just to name a few. Preventing headaches requires figuring out the cause and then addressing it.
And so it goes with procrastination. If you want to learn how to cure procrastination, you need to first identify what is causing your procrastination. Once you have the cause (or causes) figured out, you can prevent procrastination by removing or addressing the cause.
So with this post, I’m going to play doctor and help you diagnose the cause of your procrastination and then I’m going to direct you to the cure for that particular “disease”. 🙂
How To Cure Procrastination By Diagnosing The Underlying Disease
1. You Are Living Someone Else’s Life
The first potential diagnosis is “living someone else’s life”. When you are on a life path that is not the right one for you, your life is mostly filled with things that you don’t feel like doing. And you don’t feel like doing those things, because they don’t give you the kind of reward that motivates you. So you procrastinate.
Maybe you procrastinate at work, because the tasks you are supposed to perform are rarely rewarding. Maybe you procrastinate about getting in touch with your friends, because hanging out with that particular group of people is rarely rewarding.
Now, we all have some things we don’t feel like doing (laundry and dishes, anyone?), but if “not feeling like it” seems to be the overarching theme of your day-to-day existence, then it’s likely you are on the wrong path.
The cure for “living someone else’s life” is to engage in some serious self exploration and then course correct – ie. get on the right path. Here are some posts of mine to help you get started with this process:
- How To Find Out Your Personality Type
- How To Make Your Brain Happy Based On Your Personality Type
- How To Protect Yourself From Your Greatest Weakness Based On Your Personality Type
- Ask These 10 Questions To Find Your Passion
- How To Figure Out What To Be When You Grow Up – As A Grown Up
- How To Find Your Authentic Self When You’ve Lost Yourself In Pleasing Others
2. You Are Not Taking Care Of Yourself
The second potential diagnosis is lack of self care. When you don’t take care of your physical needs, you are going to wind up low energy, unmotivated, and maybe even brain foggy. So you procrastinate.
You procrastinate, because you are simply too tired and worn out to take on the world.
The obvious cure for self neglect is to take better care of yourself, but you might need to dig a little deeper to figure out what exactly is blocking you.
It could be that you simply have not placed much importance on meeting your physical needs, thinking that you can just get away with sleep deprivation, a sedentary lifestyle, or a processed food diet. Although some people may be able to get away with that stuff for a while, most of us can’t escape the consequences indefinitely. Sooner or later, your ability to function will suffer.
Or it could be that you agree (at least in theory) that self care is important, but you are a people pleaser who always feels compelled to put other people’s needs before your own. You are so busy tending to other people’s needs that you never get around to your own. If that is the case, check out my list of people pleasing articles.
Or maybe “not taking care of yourself” is both a symptom and a cause of your procrastination. Maybe procrastination is preventing you from taking care of yourself. Maybe you procrastinate about going to bed at a decent time, starting an exercise program, or setting up a healthy meal plan. If so, keep reading…
3. You Lack Focus
The third potential diagnosis is lack of focus. You are just kind of floating along without clear goals that you are working toward. So you spend the day lounging on the couch watching Netflix and eating cold pizza out of the box.
Now, sometimes an entire day lounging on the couch may be absolutely necessary and advisable (see diagnosis #2), but if that’s you more often than not, it qualifies as procrastination. I like to call this generalized procrastination. You are not even procrastinating about anything in particular – you are just avoiding life in general.
The cure for lack of focus is clarity. You need to figure out what you want.
And “the what” needs to be something you can get excited about. Excited enough to get you off the couch and go after it.
This is another one where the self awareness articles I listed for diagnosis #1 might come in handy. And also check out Top 2 Ways To Get Motivated To Change Your Life.
4. You Are Overwhelmed
The fourth potential diagnosis is overwhelm. You have so much on your plate that it renders you overwhelmed. So much that you feel like you can’t possibly tackle it all. And you don’t even know where to start. So you do nothing. You procrastinate.
I’m slowly starting to get this under control, but one area where overwhelm procrastination has struck me hard in the past is keeping the house clean. With three kids, things can get out of control really fast. And the more tasks that pile up, the harder it becomes to get started. So I would do nothing. I would just put blinders on and ignore the mess.
Here’s a step-by-step for curing overwhelm:
- Do a brain dump. Write down everything that you need to do. The more detail the better. All giant undertakings should be broken down into itty bitty tasks.
- Put all the tasks in priority order.
- Assign a time when you will complete each task.
5. You Lack Time Management Skills
Speaking of time… The fifth potential diagnosis is lack of time management skills. Despite your best intentions “you just never get around to it”.
This is an easy cure, because time management skills can be learned. For starters, see my article on the Best Time Management Strategies.
6. You Are Not Sure What The Next Step Is
The sixth potential diagnosis is closely related to overwhelm. This diagnosis comes into play when you don’t know what exactly you should do next or how to go about it. So you do nothing. You procrastinate.
The trick for this one is to make “figuring out what to do” the first item on your to-do list. Instead of trying to will yourself into doing something vague, turn that vague into something specific.
Let me give you an example. Whenever I procrastinate about writing, it’s usually because I’m not exactly sure what I want to say. I have some vague idea, but I haven’t really worked out the specifics. In order to get myself going, I need to think through the specifics of what I actually want to say and write a detailed outline.
7. You Live In The Present
The seventh potential diagnosis is too much living in the present. This one is a bit tricky, because living in the present is not an entirely bad thing. One of my daughters is very “in the moment” and she is wonderfully carefree, always the life of the party, and super flexible when it comes to adjusting to changes in plans.
But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Like I can chop up half of an apple and it’s going to make my chicken salad tasty and give me some nutrients, but if I were to eat three apples by themselves, it would give me a blood sugar spike and a headache. Too much of a good thing!
Same with living in the present. If you always let yourself be led by the moment’s whims, you will suffer consequences in the future. My carefree daughter happens to be very easily distracted and completely oblivious to the passage of time. Left to her own devices, she would rarely finish homework, for example, because one of her siblings or a toy or an art project would catch her interest and she would feel compelled to shift her attention immediately – prioritize present over future.
Here is the three-part cure to procrastination caused by too much living in the present:
- Self awareness. Knowing that you have this tendency is important so that you can take it into account. According to the Myers-Briggs personality type theory, sensing perceivers are most likely to have a “present” time orientation. Sensing judgers tend to be past oriented, while intuitives pay more attention to the future.
- Identifying the ways in which living in the present is helping you and the ways in which it’s hurting you.
- Overcompensating in the areas where living in the present is hurting you. For example, if you are easily distracted, turn off notifications on your phone. Or set up a system where half an hour of focus is rewarded with a half hour of doing whatever you happen to feel like in the moment.
8. You Want To Keep Your Options Open
The eighth potential diagnosis is also related to personality type. Some people have a relatively strong need to gather information and to keep their options open as long as possible. Just like living in the present, this is a good quality in moderation, but if it’s left unchecked, it can lead to some seriously out-of-control procrastination.
I run into this issue all the time with my business endeavors. Like let’s say I want to start creating online courses. I could easily spend two years reading books and taking courses about creating courses. And never actually get started.
Sure, it’s good to do some preparing and learning, but for some of us this can get way out of hand.
The cure for #8 looks very similar to #7:
- Self awareness. If you know that it’s difficult for you to make decisions and take action, you can take it into account.
- Most at risk: Personality types whose primary function is extraverted and perceiving: ESTP, ESFP, ENTPs, ENFP.
- Medium risk: All introverts.
- Least risk: Personality types whose primary function is extraverted and judging: ESTJ, ENTJ, ESFJ, ENFJ.
- Identifying in which ways information gathering and keeping your options open is helping you and in which ways it’s hurting you.
- Overcompensating in the areas in which it’s hurting you. For example, I set deadlines for myself in order to limit how much time I’m “allowed to” spend information gathering and to get me to actually take action every now and then.
9. You Are A Perfectionist
Another thing that helps with #8 is addressing potential diagnosis #9: perfectionism. Perfectionism can be seriously debilitating. If you suffer from perfectionism, you will avoid taking action unless you are certain that you can accomplish the task perfectly.
A silly example of this is my house cleaning efforts. (Again! This is an area where I used to procrastinate the most. 🙂 ) My house would be such a disaster that there was no way any one cleaning session was going to get me to a perfectly clean casa. So I would do nothing.
Fortunately, perfectionism is a highly treatable disease.
For starters, you could check out my article 7 Things I Had To Learn In Order To Stop Being A Perfectionist.
Or if you want to go all out, there is an entire chapter devoted to perfectionism in my Conquer Your Anxiety eBook Bundle.
10. You Fear Failure
The last potential diagnosis is fear of failure. Here you are so scared of failing that it’s easier to not even try. So you procrastinate.
In simple terms, the cure for fear of failure is remembering that non-action is also failure.
However, fears can be complicated beasts and sometimes overcoming them requires more than “remembering”. If you would like to learn the processes I use for working through fears and worries, I will again point you to the Conquer Your Anxiety eBook Bundle.
Procrastination-Causing Diseases Travel In Groups
One thing that’s important to realize is that at any one time, you could be suffering from more than one underlying disease.
You might be procrastinating for more than one reason. Perhaps you procrastinate about taking action regarding the job you hate, because you are overwhelmed, don’t know where to start, lack time management skills, and fear failure.
You might also be procrastinating in different areas of life for different reasons. Perhaps you procrastinate about cleaning your house because you are a perfectionist, but you procrastinate about starting an exercise program because you are overwhelmed and lacking time management skills.
In these cases, curing procrastination requires addressing ALL the relevant causes.
What Do You Think?
In what area of life do you procrastinate the most? What do you think is causing it? Can you think of any other potential diagnoses to add to my list?
I would love to hear from you in the comments below! 🙂