We are always reaching for more time, but we don't use the time we have ... Photo by Pat Whelen from Pexels

Why We Procrastinate

You wanted to file that paperwork in time, but it just felt, “heavy.” You couldn’t get it started, and now the deadline has passed.

There was something you needed at the store and you were going to go later but now it is closed and you’ll have to wait until Monday.

You’ve been meaning to have that challenging conversation with a coworker, but it is just not ever the right time.

There are lots of things that we choose not to do. And for each of them there are one or more reasons why we put them off. Procrastination is a common human trait. We’ve all done it, and we’ve almost all wanted to stop.

Before we end it, we must first learn why we do it.


You’ve got a procrastination situation

The primary reason we procrastinate is because we don’t really want to do the thing we are procrastinating.

That is, while we might want the thing to be over and done with, there is something about the process that we are avoiding.

In the case of filing important paperwork, there was a roadblock for you. Perhaps you didn’t want to spend the time locating all of the pieces that needed to be assembled to complete the work. Maybe filing the paperwork meant interacting with someone you prefer to avoid. Or maybe the paperwork meant the end of an important time.

We are always reaching for more time, but we don’t use the time we have. Photo by Pat Whelen from Pexels
One teacher never wanted to hand in her end-of-year checklist to her principal. After exploring her feelings, she realized that the last day of school was emotionally difficult for her. She loved her students and her co-workers, and turning that paper in meant that a lot of those interactions were over for the summer.


One-time delays for a specific reason are normal, and they are not examples of procrastination, as long as the work gets done when conditions change. – Sakina Issa


She was in a situation that she was trying to keep the same by not taking the last step.

Once she realized that the schedule didn’t change whether she completed the checklist or not, the task became a lot simpler.


Procrastinate to avoid being uncomfortable

In a lot of workplaces, employers and supervisors delay evaluations and corrective conversations because the situation is awkward or uncomfortable. Even when it is your job to evaluate the other person, actually doing it can be confrontational or feel judgy, which many people don’t like.

So we procrastinate.

One employer was so uncomfortable in those situations that he came to tolerate poor behavior rather than correct it. Specifically, his floor salespeople would congregate and talk to each other rather than circulate and engage with potential customers. When he saw that others were starting to imitate the poor behavior, and one of his oldest and most trusted employees called him on it that he was willing to have the conversation.

The conversation went far more smoothly than he expected.

“I was surprised at how well he took it. I thought I was essentially ‘yelling at him’ but he saw it as clarification of how to best spend his time at work,” the boss later reported. “When I went in, I was prepared for a conflict but instead he changed his behavior almost immediately.”

Of course, not every corrective conversation at work (or anywhere else) goes this easily. Sometimes there is conflict. Instead, be prepared for the conversation with information and supporting details to help make those conversations go smoothly.

And almost always, everyone involved feels better after it happens.


Procrastinate to be lazy

Of course, sometimes you’re just putting something off because it is hard and you don’t want to do it right now.

Maybe you don’t want to run errands in the rain. Or you don’t want to take down your Christmas lights because it is still cold.

One-time delays for a specific reason are normal, and they are not examples of procrastination, as long as the work gets done when conditions change. If the reasons keep piling up, though, it IS procrastination, and you need to stop the cycle quickly.

It is okay to put things off periodically. You are always making choices about what is important and urgent, and what can wait. It is an important part of being successful. In fact, you can’t do everything right when it needs to be done. You are not a machine. You can grow weary of always forcing yourself to do the right thing,

Charles Duhigg, author of the bestselling book on habits “The Power of Habit” explains it this way: “Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets more tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”

Like a muscle, it can get stronger with use, and weaker from overuse – or from not being used at all.

Are you looking to get things done and avoid procrastinating in the new year? You likely will benefit from talking to a licensed therapist like Sakina Issa.

Luckily, these conversations can happen discreetly and by appointment using the same tools you have grown comfortable using at work, like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Just click the button in the upper right hand corner.

Want to learn more about parenting or managing tricky sibling relations? Maybe you are working out a new set of goals for yourself?

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