Procrastination - The Symptom not the Cause

Procrastination is one of those buzz phrases that people use often, sometimes with a negative connotation, other times with a shrug and a laugh like it’s just the way it is and they are powerless to change it. Procrastination, itself, is never the issue though. It’s just the symptom. So, I always help my clients figure out what’s underneath the procrastinating behavior. This is where the real opportunity for change exists.

Here are some of the main causes of procrastination along with some steps you can take to eliminate the behavior – if you choose!

Perfectionism: Nothing is ever good enough so it feels less stressful to leave projects pending. If you don’t finish you can’t be imperfect. Or, the goal of perfection just feels too overwhelming and leads to paralysis.

The Fix: Learn to let go! Perfection is not an achievable goal. Start with some smaller tasks and make them good enough. Practice being okay with good enough, a reasonable expectation. Notice how life does go on even if things aren’t perfect. Feel good about lowering your stress! Keep letting go of perfection for bigger and bigger projects. Continue to notice how life goes on, work goes on and relationships are still maintained.

Disorganization: The project isn’t even on the main radar screen. Or, there are too many others. Adequate time is not allotted for the project or task because there was no planning. It was not scheduled in with other priorities. Or, it just takes too much time to find all of the pieces needed to complete the project.

The Fix: Spend the time necessary to get organized. Implement a filing system for papers or digital files and track your tasks on a visual board or spreadsheet. Check out TheTimesUp for great resources to help you get more organized.

Loose Boundaries: If you say yes to everyone you become the go to person. At some point, even with the best intentions, it becomes impossible to keep up with the resulting work load.

The Fix: Learn to say no. Keep in mind, every time you say yes to one thing you are saying no to something else. Time is finite. You can not do EVERYTHING! Be realistic about what you can accomplish and practice some phrases that help you say no easily. An example is, “Sorry, I just can’t right now.” Or, “I’ve met my volunteer commitments for the month already. I am sorry.” Practice on some of the easier ones first.

Uncertainty: You just don’t know how to proceed. You don’t have the knowledge, skills or abilities necessary right now. Or, maybe the directions weren’t clear and you are afraid to ask for clarification.

The Fix: If you don’t have the knowledge, skills or abilities then you just need to start before the beginning. Figure out what you need to learn and where you’ll get the knowledge then schedule that in first. Once you have a better sense of how to do the job, get started! If you just need clarification but are afraid to ask, get over it. Avoiding the inevitable will just create more problems. At some point the person who delegated the project to you will know that you didn’t understand. If it’s after the deadline you’ll have double trouble!

Adrenalin Junkie: You thrive on adrenalin so you artificially create a scenario where you are bumping up against a deadline to create that rush. Some people actually function best under these circumstances.

The Fix: If this is you and you feel nothing but the rush. So, no stress or ulcers, and you still get your work done, then the only fix is to stop adding the negative connotation. Don’t beat yourself up about it or get frustrated. Stop telling people you are a procrastinator. Just accept that, “this is how I am; how I do my best work.” Own it, embrace it and move on – at your own pace!


Kirsten E. Ross brings a unique blend of energy and insight to her work with clients. Her clients efficiently gain self-awareness and create positive change that empowers leaders and improves communication and relationships. Her work creates productive, profitable workplaces. She is a Leadership & HR Coach with a Masters degree in Human Resource Management and a Senior Human Resource Certification. In addition, she brings more than 19 years of hands-on experience, has authored a varie...

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