Why Do We Procrastinate?

By Lindy Earl

It happens to all of us. We all do it.  We KNOW we should get up early. We KNOW we should start the project.  We acknowledge that getting a leg up on our work will only make life easier tomorrow . . . yet we don’t.

Okay, sometimes we do.  And we feel great!  Working ahead to not get behind is one of my favorite time management techniques!  But there are other times when we just can’t seem to motivate ourselves to begin.

I’ve tackled this subject before but put off (pun intended) discussing it again. It’s not a fun discussion.  I do have some theories that I’ll share.

One, people procrastinate out of fear.  First, they are fearful of looking foolish, so want to start when nobody else is around – but somebody is always around.  Or they are fearful of looking foolish, so they just don’t start at all.

Another fear is what others will think of their approach.  I remember having a person walk in to find me knee deep in research. When they asked what I was doing and why, I haltingly responded and was SHOCKED when the responded, “Cool,” and sauntered out.  Oh my gosh!  Was I doing it right?  When I didn’t even know for sure WHAT I was doing?  Cool – yep. Of course there’s no guarantee of that response.  I was expecting, and could have easily received, a question of “Why would you do that when there are 10,000 better, more intelligent, logical, not stupid ways to do it?” Of course it wouldn’t have been said like that, but it’s how I would have heard it.

I discerned years ago that people procrastinate because they simply do not know how to begin. I can’t tell you the number of times I asked for help, only to be embarrassed to find it was an amazingly easy task – once I was shown.

Nobody expects procrastination to stop.  It will continue for the reasons above as well as some others:  some people simply do not believe the project is that important. They will get around to it when there is nothing better to do.  Sometimes they see the job as very easy, so why work on it when they’ll be able to hammer it out in a short amount of time.  Oh, I know – what if they’re wrong and it is involved and clumsy and takes a huge amount of time?  There’s a reason right there to get to work!

So how to fix it? First, embrace it. Acknowledge that the job is new to you and you don’t know how to start or what to do. Then, google it.  Nobody needs to know what you don’t know.  If that fails, ask for help.  In truth, people love it when their knowledge is needed. That doesn’t mean they have time to help you, but people are flattered to be asked. Even complaining about being asked is a way of bragging about how important they are.

As a last step, make it up!  The worst that happens is you fail, but with more knowledge to try something else.  We’ve heard the jokes about it: Why didn’t you try A?” Response,” That won’t work.” How do you know? “Already tried it.”

At least you’re trying!  Trying and failing is better than doing nothing, and that’s what procrastinating is – doing nothing.  Let’s get past our fears of failure, of looking foolish, of not knowing how to begin, and get in there, determined to find a way to start . . . then finish the job.

Lindy is a Business Consultant and Speaker for companies of all sizes and individuals of all levels.  In addition, she is an author and columnist.  Contact her at LMEarl@EarlMarketing.com when you need a Consultant or to speak to your corporation or organization.

2 Comments

  1. I love this! There is so much truth in this article. I have always said that some of my best experiences have been a first thought and or reaction. I am usually the person that does things ahead of time so I have the opportunity to do it again if I fail, however when I do drag my feet I have found I work well under pressure. Thanks for sharing this, I enjoyed reading it.
    Melissa

    • Hi Melissa,
      Thank you so much for your reply. It’s great to hear from you. It’s great that you do things ahead of time but that you work well under pressure as well. You rock.

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