The Real Reason You’re Procrastinating, and How to Fix It

We all procrastinate every now and then. Whether it’s putting off a simple task like organizing files or a bigger project like writing a business plan, it’s something we are all guilty of. The excuses vary from “too busy” to “not the right time” and so on, particularly with the more important, time-consuming projects. We continue to rationalize delays to the point where we start to believe just about any excuse we give ourselves.

So what’s really holding you back from being productive and accomplishing what you set out to do? The answer is simple: fear–the fear of taking a risk and failing, the fear of looking foolish and wounding your pride.

“Procrastinators actively look for distractions, particularly ones that don’t take a lot of commitment on their part,” according to Psychology Today contributor Hara Estroff Marano. “Checking e-mail is almost perfect for this purpose. They distract themselves as a way of regulating their emotions such as fear of failure.”

The problem is that as time passes, our fear often grows and can become so overwhelming that we may give up entirely.

Here are four steps to loosen the grip of procrastination and encourage productivity:

  1. Give yourself a deadline. Write down what you want to achieve and set a date by which it must be completed. Another useful tip is to place this written goal somewhere where you can always see it; both tangible (e.g., a Post-it) and intangible digital reminders are helpful. I use Asana to schedule tasks and sync them to my Google Calendar, so I’ll have reminders of upcoming tasks wherever I go digitally.
  1. Start small. It’s normal to get swept up in the overwhelming feelings that come along with a big project or goal. The most effective way to combat this is to break your goal down into small steps. When you’re trying to be productive, don’t think in terms of projects; think in terms of specific tasks. This will keep you on track and help you stay positive in the process.
  1. Don’t just focus on the easy tasks. This is a very seductive distraction, as many of us open our inboxes and look for easy, unimportant tasks rather than focusing on big projects. Rely on Step  No. 2 above to focus on smaller, crucial steps of key projects, rather than simple tasks that give you a false sense of true accomplishment.
  1. Create consequences for success and failure. As you complete each step, reward yourself: positive reinforcement provides incentive and will make you feel good about yourself. Likewise, don’t reward yourself for not following through. If you are looking forward to checking out that new burger joint, make visiting it conditional on completing an important task. If you don’t finish the task, you don’t get the burger. Be a fair but stern boss to yourself.

Soon enough you’ll be building so much momentum that you’ll become eager to accomplish your goals and excited to see the outcome. Today is a perfect day to start cutting down on procrastination. Take five minutes now to think of a few tasks you’ve been putting off and make a plan for tackling them. Do it now. Don’t procrastinate.

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