Copyright 2000 W. Jan Austin, Corporate Coach and President of Potential At Work, Inc. All rights reserved.

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A Common Problem

We’ve all procrastinated on something at one time or another.  We’ve put off starting a project, dealing with an unresolved conflict, fulfilling an obligation, improving our health, or taking a class to improve our job skills.  Fundamentally, procrastination is a decision one makes, consciously or unconsciously, to delay getting into action due to some underlying fear or concern. 


For most people it’s not a serious problem; however, persistent procrastination can drain one’s energy and result in nagging feelings of guilt, diminished self-confidence, missed opportunities and anxiety. Procrastination is a common reason for performance problems in the workplace, and persistent procrastination can restrict one’s career progression or even pay raises.  Moreover, the cumulative effect of procrastination on an organization can negatively impact the bottom line, considering today’s fast paced business climate and the need to continually improve the organization’s products and services.


So Why Do People Procrastinate?

There are a number of reasons people procrastinate, and a person who procrastinates may do so for more than one reason.  A few of the most common reasons are:


The Stories We Tell Ourselves

It’s easy to convince one’s self that procrastination is justified or that it’s not really a problem.  Stories which might be created to mask the underlying procrastination include things like:

·        “I always do better when I’m down to the wire”

·        “There’s always tomorrow”

·        “I’m not ready yet”

·        “Life is meant to be enjoyed”

·        “They are really unfair to put those demands on me”

·        “It’s just too hard”

·        “I’ve got to wait until I can do it perfectly—when I have the right energy level”

·        “Things aren’t that bad”

·        “If I don’t think about it, maybe it will go away”


Taking Control:  Strategies that Work

Procrastination, like most behavior, is learned and is reinforced by our environment.  The good news is that it can be unlearned, and unlearning it is also reinforced by our environment as well as by the good feeling we get from having accomplished something. 


  1. Stop telling yourself stories and identify the real reason for your procrastination—identifying the real reason for your procrastination can help you get you out of denial and into action.
  2. Recruit an accountability partner.  Ask someone you know and trust to be your partner in success.  Have the person help you establish reasonable timeframes and parcel the work into manageable chunks—then hold you to your commitments to yourself.
  3. Reframe limiting attitudes.  Identify what YOU want to accomplish and why you want to accomplish it instead of focusing on the “shoulds” and agendas imposed by others.
  4. Prioritize what needs to be done—when you have a clear road map of what needs to be done first, and get organized around that, the total task doesn’t seem so daunting.
  5. Eliminate distractions and diversions—eliminate these from your work environment so you can focus.
  6. Include distractions and diversions--#4 says to eliminate these from your work environment, not from your life.  When you’ve reached a milestone you’ve set for yourself, by all means, give yourself a break.  Get distracted and diverted—for the fun of it.  Rewarding yourself in this way can make the task easier to return to later.
  7. Adjust your standards—does the task really have to be done perfectly or simply to a level of excellence you’d be proud of?  There’s quite a difference here.  The latter is stimulating and highly attainable; the former is not. 
  8. Play to your strengths—it’s hard to do anything that requires one to play to one’s weaknesses. Figure out how you can bring your strengths to the task, and you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll be able to accomplish.  Manage your weaknesses by delegating those task components to someone else, re-negotiating so that they are removed altogether, or installing a support system (daily reminders, affirmations, etc.), which will help you complete those task components.
  9. Don’t make the task larger than life—look at what the task is really asking of you in terms of time commitment, knowledge and skill.  A more realistic appraisal of the task requirements can often take the edge off of it and help you get started.
  10. Recognize that taking on something may mean giving up something else—over-commitment is the nemesis of real accomplishment.  Unload your agenda so you can focus on the really important things, and enjoy the rest of your life!