How To Overcome Procrastination – Part 1

This is part 1 of a 5-part series on How to Overcome Procrastination.


Is there something you are procrastinating in your life now? What is it? Is it surrounding your work? Your relationship? Your family? Your health? What is the one thing which you should be working on in your life, but you are putting off for some reason or other?

Why Overcome Procrastination?

Some may not see procrastination as a real problem, because they receive benefits from procrastinating on something. For example, the relief you get when you successfully avoid something you don’t want to do. However, while these ‘benefits’ give you the impression you are in a better place, you aren’t. It’s just an illusion.

Let’s say it is Monday now and you have an important report you need to finish by Friday morning (a 20% high value task). This report is one of the most important tasks on your work list, but you decide to put off on it due to the large amount of research and analysis needed. Rather than work on it, you spend the next 3 days shuffling between the less important 80% tasks.

Then, Thursday arrives and you are trapped – you have to work on the report or it’s going to jeopardize your job. As you work on it, you find yourself in a hot soup, because there are so many things to be done. After all, that’s the very reason you put it off initially! In a last bid attempt to meet the deadline, you pull an all-nighter to do the report. After painfully sloughing through the night, you finally manage to finish it at 4am and meet the Friday deadline.

So net, the task gets done, it’s submitted in time, and everything turned out fine.

Did you realize what just happened here? The fact that everything turned out fine led to your subconscious belief that procrastinating on the task didn’t bring in any negative effects. In fact, as far as you are aware of, it has a series of supposed benefits:

  1. Leaving it to the last minute creates a high sense of urgency which appears to boost your productivity, giving you a higher value on time spent working.
  2. You experience short-term gratification from not having to deal with the report on Mon-Wed.
  3. Procrastinating didn’t jeopardize anything in reality.

Yet, if you look at it holistically, procrastination has created downsides which may not be immediately noticeable:

  1. Your time in Mon-Wed was not effectively spent. Ideally, you would want to spend your time in proportion to how important the task is. The more important a task, the more time you want to allocate to it to maximize the output on the task. Spending more time on less important work doesn’t give you significantly increased value, compared to spending more time on more important work. A ratio I use is 80-20 for the high value-low value tasks (aka my 20/80 to-do list –  Read Day 8 of Live a Better Life in 30 Days Program on 20/80 To-Do Lists).
  2. Unnecessary anguish and anxiety experienced (whether subconsciously or consciously) trying to avoid the task. The more you prolong the task, the more unnecessary anxiety you experience, compared to if you dealt with the task head-first. In addition, the continuous avoidance leads you to form a distorted mental image of how intimidating the task is vs. what it actually is. In the end you are left with an exaggerated but baseless fear of what you’re supposed to do.
  3. More often than not, the final output is short of what you are really capable of, as leaving it to the last minute left you with insufficient time to properly work on it.

The 3 downsides are actually corresponding counterpoints for the 3 illusionary benefits. If you compare the list and take a holistic view, the downsides far outweigh the supposed benefits of procrastination. Not only are you being less productive, you experience unnecessary anxiety, and you deliver an output that falls short of what you can really do. Procrastination leaves you in a worse position, compared to if you didn’t procrastinate. As I’ve written before in What Are You Running Away From?, avoidance isn’t going to bring you nearer to what you want.

Thus, if you are a procrastinator, whether chronic or not, it’s time to start resolving this issue of procrastination and stop deferring your life away. As long as you keep putting off what you should be doing, you are putting off living. That’s no better than being a sleepwalker.

Continue reading part-2, where I will share why mainstream ways of dealing with procrastination don’t work and share the two root causes of procrastination.

This is part 1 of a 5-part series on How to Overcome Procrastination.

  • Rob

    My tips are:

    1. Pause: Avoid focusing on only the urgent, think about the important too. To do this requires a few minutes of quiet reflection to form at least an outline of a plan. This may seem like you’re wasting time but in fact some up front planning will mean less problems in the long run.
    2. Just do it: Once you have a plan in place don’t procrastinate. One of the main causes of procrastination is perfectionism, a tendency to negatively evaluate outcomes and one’s own performance. Don’t worry about making a mistake, just do the next action!
    3. Understand your natural cycles: Just as nature is governed by cycles, so is the human body. Most people are generally aware of the 24-hour cycles of sleeping and waking that are the major components of our circadian rhythm (circa dies means “around a day”). Less commonly known, however, are the body’s ultradian rhythms (ultra dies means “many times a day”) that occur in cycles throughout each day. Eye blinks, heart rate, hormone regulation, thermal regulation, breathing … the list is almost endless, and some of these activities help account for the energy cycles we feel throughout the day.
    4. Focus: The vast majority of people focus too much time and energy outside of their Circle of Influence, in their Circle of Concern. Such people typically worry about things they cannot control. Preoccupying yourself with issues like that is a huge waste of time and energy. Covey notes that highly effective people think and act primarily within their Circle of Influence. They forget about the things over which they have no control, preferring to focus their time and energy on issues where they can actually make a difference. By doing this, they gradually expand their Circle of Influence as they earn more power and respect.
    5. Let go. Nobody can achieve everything, so don’t try: delegate
    6. Say NO!
    7. Revive dead time. Stuck in traffic? Flight delayed? Transform productivity blackspots by keeping a list of ongoing projects with you at all times. It’s surprising what will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes.

    • Kiki Maria Valera

      I know this was written three years ago, but this awesome advice.

  • Kiki Maria Valera

    This is so true. I often try to rationalize procrastinating– which many people do–I am very guilty of this. However, I agree the “pros” outweigh the cons, yet we continue, and I include myself, continue to procrastinate anyway. I look forward to reading this series. Thank you for sending the links to me; I appreciate it.

  • Tharindu

    this is very good read. for coming days, I will be reading your articles related to this before I start work. thank you for taking time to write such helpful stuff.