4 reasons people procrastinate…and how to fix them

21 February 2018

I’ve been meaning to get to one of Tech North’s Tech Founders events in Newcastle for quite some time – and today, I finally made it!

The topic was procrastination, and the below is based on the notes I took from our excellent speaker, Joshua Riffe. A lot of what Joshua said was common sense, but having someone else state them explicitly helped a lot of people in the room (myself included) be more aware of why we procrastinate, and what we can do to fix it.

So, here are his 4 reasons people procrastinate – and what to do to address them.

1. The wrong goals

Having the wrong goals for yourself can be a major reason to procrastinate. Typically, if your goals are wrong it means you’re pursuing something that doesn’t connect with you personally – and if that’s the case, you’re less inclined to apply the effort required to achieve that goal.

Joshua also discussed the idea that goals can be set too high, and too low, and that there is a “Goldilocks zone” for your goals. When you set your goals too high, you may be subconsciously aware you’re likely to fail, and so procrastinate to avoid failure. When your goals are too low, you may procrastinate simply because the tasks required to achieve your goal are “too easy”. Isn’t the human brain a funny thing?

Procrastination and the cycle of failure (by Joshua Riffe)Stretch goals (ie, goals that are very ambitious) can be useful, but if they regularly end in failure you may find yourself losing motivation and ending stuck in a cycle of failure (pictured). The cycle of failure follows this path:

  1. Initial excitement about an idea or goal
  2. Avoidance sets in once the excitement wears off: “I’ll do that tomorrow”
  3. Excuses begin; “I couldn’t do that task because I was busy”
  4. Blame – we tend to blame others: “I was busy because my kids were ill”

Take time to evaluate your goals carefully, and consider if they’re realistic and still in line with your aspirations. A mixture of short, mid and long term goals could be helpful in providing a range of challenges – and in creating an action plan (see #3) to help you break your procrastination habit.

2. Unclear focus

Joshua’s second cause of procrastination was having an unclear focus towards your goals. This is a situation in which you may have a powerful goal you are very driven towards, but you are simply overwhelmed by your current task list, or suffering from “too much background noise” from other tasks.

Being mindful, and sectioning of times of your week or day to focus solely on your goals may be a good solution here (albeit, easier said than done!).

3. No action plan

Not having an action plan towards achieving your goals is another cause of procrastination. If you have goals but no plan towards achieving them, how will you progress? Without an action plan, your goals are just ambition, rather than goals.

Breaking down a larger goal in to smaller, achievable tasks is key here, preferably with timescales and some degree of accountability for missing these built in (eg., “I will do task X by the 7th March 2018 or {a side effect}”). Having a weekly, or day-to-day, road-map of how to achieve your goals is key to achieving larger, long term goals: without a plan, it can be very easy to lose focus and simply procrastinate your time away.

4. Mental barriers

Joshua’s fourth reason for procrastination was mental barriers; that is, what we tell ourselves internally about our own abilities. This can often be heavily skewed from reality by our previous experiences and what others say to us and about us.

Joshua suggested that this is where personal and professional confidence is of great use – building confidence and redefining how you see yourself.

Thanks again to Joshua for a very enlightening – and enjoyable session!