The Real Reason You’re Procrastinating


Laura Vanderkam

September 24, 2014

Over the years, I have become quite a student of anti-procrastination techniques. There’s the work-on-something else method (I’m writing this article because I don’t feel like editing a different project). There’s bribery (I can read a magazine afterwards!) Then there’s my favorite method: starting in the middle. I write an easy paragraph, then write a little bit above, and a little bit below, and so on, until, miraculously, I have a draft.

Sometimes these work. But sometimes, there’s a deeper message in procrastination. If you pay attention, these lessons can not only advance your career, they can help you finish the task that’s stymying you right now.

A key insight is that most of us don’t procrastinate everything. Much of the stuff we grumble about we get to eventually. So if you find yourself resisting something again and again, step back from your usual crutches (email, web surfing) and spend some time asking why.

Why We Procrastinate

One possible reason is that you really do want to do the project, but you feel you just can’t do it justice yet. You haven’t done enough research, or the answer you have isn’t right. Done is better than perfect, but sometimes procrastination can be about maintaining your standards. Not all hard deadlines are helpful. So back up, and see what else you can do.

If that’s not the case, then consider this: The reason why you don’t want to do something might mean it’s not right for you. You know it is not the right direction for your career. You know you agreed to a lower rate than you deserve. You know that this activity is grabbing mental space that would be better used to dream up new projects, find a new job, or even a new profession.

If you look hard at the situation and realize that’s what’s going on, this can be liberating–and ultimately help you break away from procrastination’s clutches. You can spend what would be web surfing time making a plan to ensure you don’t wind up in this situation again. You call a coach who will help you learn to negotiate. You call up colleagues you’ve worked with in the past and see if you can get staffed on different teams. You pitch different projects to prospective clients you’d truly like to work with.

Once you’ve got a plan, you can treat the thing you’re currently avoiding as what it is: Just a little thing standing between you and more meaningful, enjoyable work.

Why spend more time on it than necessary? You can deal with it and move on.

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