How Do I Procrastinate? Let Me Count the Ways

Procrastinating when overcommitted

Not everyone who procrastinates does so in the same way.  Some people delay getting started on a project or task; others begin eagerly and with enthusiasm, but somewhere in the process, they stall.  Perhaps they face a problem they struggle to solve but can’t seem to (or at least not soon enough for their liking).  Still others dabble, doing a little now and then (e.g. some more this week or month or even a year from now), sandwiching their efforts between dawdling on all sorts of other goals.  And then there are those who get going right away, maintain a steady pace, make progress by taking constructive action consistently…until they near the finish line or the due date.  Suddenly, the wheels grind to a halt.  For no apparent reason.  They just don’t finish the job.

There are many types of behavior that essentially involve or lead to procrastination. Here are some of them:

Second-guessing yourself after deciding to take on an aspiration is another way that procrastination occurs: “Do I really want to become an Olympic gymnast? Am I really willing to put in the long hours in the gym, sacrificing time hanging out with my friends? Maybe I don’t have what it takes–mentally, physically, and emotionally–I could teach gymnastics or coach a high school team. And if I don’t have what it takes, isn’t better to give up now than to keep pursuing a dream that won’t come true, wasting my time, energy, and money? (For gymnasts such as Simone Biles, it costs at least $15,000 a year to train and compete.)

Dwelling on the past (your failures or your triumphs or both) can prolong the process of moving forward and keep you from taking calculated risks and trying new techniques. You waste so much time reliving what you did (or failed to do), how others reacted, and how you felt, that you lose focus and squander the opportunities available in each present moment.

Negative self-talk certainly undermines your motivation and determination to take constructive action.  Beating yourself up verbally rarely gets you into gear.   Instead, you drain your confidence and trigger limiting beliefs that make you feel anxious, incompetent, and exhausted.

Overcommitting can get you in a heap of trouble with yourself and others who depend on you to do what you promise.  While your intentions are good, your execution likely falls short.  Trying to juggle  all the responsibilities and obligations you took on can feel overwhelming, if not impossible.  Bowing out of some is embarrassing and reflects poorly on your ability to make accurate assessments of what’s involved in a project.  It also calls into question your time management skills.  And even if you do accomplish what you promised, the quality of the work is likely to fall short of others’ expectations, disappointing them, and damaging your reputation.

Excessive worry about what could happen to throw a monkey wrench into the works is futile.  Yes, you do want to consider back up plans if you’re sent the wrong widget or a delivery gets delayed, but dwelling on these possibilities doesn’t make them any less likely.  I really like this saying: “Worrying is like a rocking chair.  It will give you something to do but won’t get you anywhere.”

Striving for perfection may sound lofty and admirable.  Getting the perfect score (100) on a math test, finding shoes that fit perfectly, or making a perfectly round pancake can be done, but most things, experiences, endeavors in life can’t be perfect because there is no well-defined notion of the “perfect x”.  What you consider the “perfect date” may be what I consider the “perfect bore”.  Too often, the perfectionist is anxious, insecure, moody, and fearful of making a mistake.  His or her pursuit of perfection (everything needing to be the best all the time) is often paralyzing and the reason why they procrastinate.  Oh yes, perfectionists are some of the worst procrastinators.  Take Leonardo da Vinci, for example. He was a perfectionist and a procrastinator who had trouble starting and finishing his work. It is said that on his deathbed, he took out the Mona Lisa to add a few more strokes. According to Leonardo, “a work of art is never finished, it is only abandoned.”

By figuring out the ways that you procrastinate, you are one step closer to understanding why you procrastinate; i.e. what motivates you to procrastinate.  In the next two posts, entitled “Why Do I Procrastinate? Let Me Count the Whys -Part 1 and Part 2,” I discuss the different motivations people have for procrastinating.