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To Stop Procrastinating Identify Root Causes

2012 February 27

It can be tricky at times to tell whether procrastination is the culprit or a symptom of legitimate reasons for delaying action.

To stop procrastinating identify the causeFirst of all, let’s be clear about one thing … we all procrastinate from time to time. It becomes a problem when the delays and excuses become chronic and we end up wasting hours and days before getting around to the important work.

There are many reasons for procrastination; obviously some are more evident than others, and they do not all have to do with being lazy or unfocused. In fact, we often assume that to cure ourselves of procrastination, all we really need to do is concentrate harder, focus ourselves better and become more self-disciplined.

But what if procrastination is a symptom rather than the actual disease?

Whatever label you choose to slap on the behavior, the bottom line is if you find yourself procrastinating you’re stuck and not making progress. The only way to stop the behavior once and for all is to identify the root causes.

The following list is designed to help you consider various behaviors and circumstances in order to identify potential underlying causes for procrastination as well as areas that may need additional work.

Potential causes for procrastination:

  • You’re already overextended: Feeling overwhelmed can stall even the most ambitious among us. Is it even possible to meet all the obligations you currently have on your plate? If not, can you omit, reschedule or delegate some of these obligations?
  • Inability to prioritize: Sometimes the real question is not what priority something is, but whether it should be done at all. Prioritizing is essentially a way of saying that some items aren’t going to get done. You might as well make this a conscious decision.
  • Low motivation: Is the task you keep putting off actually relevant to you personally? Is it another person’s goal rather than your own? Is it possible to find some personal reward or relevance for your completing the task? Are you really interested in the project? If not, can you find a way to make it interesting or let go of it all together?
  • Lack of training: Are you unprepared or incapable of completing the task with your current knowledge and range of skills? Is there an unknown element you’re afraid of? Are the expectations ambiguous? You may want to ask for guidance, support, or a new perspective from someone who is more familiar with the process or skilled in the area.
  • Faulty assumptions: Are you assuming (hoping) that if you ignore the task long enough it will disappear? Are you unclear about how much time and effort the job will take? Try sitting down and writing out a step by step plan of the job, how long each step will take, and then tackling the job one step at a time.
  • Perfectionism: Are fears of doing a less than perfect job interfering with your productivity? Remember that perfection is unobtainable. Often it will feel worse to not do a job at all instead of doing it in a less than perfect manner. Ask yourself “what level of performance on this task would I expect from a friend/co-worker?”
  • Fear of evaluation: Could you be overly concerned with another individual’s response to your performance? Try to assess how much total impact upon your life this one reaction will have. No one performs highly all the time, or in every area. Try to focus on completing the task with a goal of lessening your workload and anxiety, regardless of the evaluation.
  • Avoidance of negative experience: Do you just HATE DOING THIS TASK? Does it rate up there with painful dental visits or cleaning out the refrigerator? Is there any way to make it more pleasurable or enjoyable? If not, try doing the dreaded task first, while you still have energy.
  • Difficulty making decisions: Inability to make decisions can plague many areas of your life, and cause you to freeze … which looks an awful lot like procrastination. Effective decision making is like building muscle, it takes time and the more decisions you make, the more self-confidence you will gain.
  • Basically you are lazy: Yes, sometimes it really just comes down to this. There are two types of laziness.  1) A behavior pattern of wanting to do only what you want all the time, living in the present only for your pleasure, and 2) you just can’t seem to get started because you have not found your passion in life. Not much I can say about the first one except on some level it must be providing some level of personal satisfaction; but if it’s a case of feeling lost in life, it really is a matter of taking the time to do some serious self-evaluation and come up with meaningful goals. If this sounds just too overwhelming, then you may want to consider working with a life coach.

The greatest amount of wasted time is the time not getting started. ~Dawson Trotman

Once you’ve identified the root causes behind your procrastination, the simplest and most effective solution to moving forward is to just take action. Don’t get stuck in analysis, that’s just another form of procrastination. Start by taking small steps, but start anywhere in the task. Don’t think too far ahead. Just aim for a little progress to generate forward momentum.

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37 Responses
  1. April 27, 2013

    I don’t just know how I allow procrastination to take larger portion of my time, I’ve tried many times to reduce it effect but not working for me the way I want it, but I think I found something in what you post here that can get me out of procrastinating important things in my life. I need to let the perfectionism in my way of thinking take back seat now because, it is the major influence on my lack of taking action. Thank you for giving me what to work on.
    Anthony recently posted..How Positive is Your Mental AttitudeMy Profile

    • April 27, 2013

      Welcome Anthony, so glad you found the article helpful, but please don’t be too hard on yourself. Most people deal with periods of procrastination – the fact that you are aware of it is definitely in your favor. As a recovering perfectionist myself I can appreciate how challenging that is, but you can learn to greatly minimize the affects. The catalyst for me was finishing my first book – I had to make myself let it go and hit that “publish” button or risk failing a major life goal. The more you work on it, the easier it becomes. Good luck!
      Marquita Herald recently posted..Do You Feel Like a Fake Even When You Succeed?My Profile

  2. May 23, 2012

    Can’t procrastinating simply have to do with one’s character? Some people just postpone doing things because are lazy or not enough motivated. And laziness is one of the most difficult “diseases” to treat :P

    • May 24, 2012

      Hey Michelle …you are so right, there is a certain ‘lazy’ factor for some people. In fact that’s the very last example on my list. Really appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts and contribute to the conversation!

  3. Lawrence Bergfeld permalink
    May 8, 2012

    You definitely have to stop procrastinating and learn the skills to move forward if you do not have it. Just put it into action immediately and you will be on your way!!

    Lawrence Bergfeld
    Lawrence Bergfeld recently posted..Top MLM Success Secret Exposed Is To Drop Your AgendaMy Profile

    • May 12, 2012

      Welcome Lawrence and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Glad you enjoyed the article and hope you’ll return soon :-)

  4. PigeonForgeCabins permalink
    March 7, 2012

    I am experiencing this problem right now. I have been procrastinating about work I have to get done all week, and reading your article has kinda helped me see why I have been doing so. Hopefully I will push through it and it will get easier. Thank you for the article.

  5. February 29, 2012

    Interestingly, I am the opposite of a procrastinator. Sometimes I try to do stuff too fast or too soon. Trying to teach other people how to do this is like rocket science. It has allowed me to be VERY successful though. Thanks for the great article.
    Walter Martin recently posted..Philippine Peso PHP to US Dollar USD Exchange Currency Conversion on March 1 – Current 2012 Rates Stable for TouristsMy Profile

  6. February 29, 2012

    Great post, Marty! I think that for me, it is more a matter of too much on my plate, because it seems like there are far too many times when I do the trivial when I have some down time, just because I am so exhausted from everything else. I think that it all comes down to balance, and hopefully I can start picking the things that I want to rather than end up with it picking me from indecision. (It is something that is far too easy when there are so many important things in this world.)
    Steve Nicholas recently posted..The Wisdom to Know the DifferenceMy Profile

  7. February 29, 2012

    Identifying out weak points is critical. We can feel so stuck, but when action is taken everything is feels so much better and it wasn’t as hard as it seemed.
    Jacob recently posted..Unbiased Furchange Review – Should You Join?My Profile

  8. February 29, 2012

    Great post. I think we all have areas of our life where we procrastinate. I agree there is an underlying cause for it. Thinking about that and getting to the root cause is a good start.
    Melodie Kantner recently posted..Have You Heard About The Home Business Radio Network?My Profile

  9. February 29, 2012

    For me it is almost always overwhelm when I haven’t broken the job down into doable chunks. I like you list. It is really important to be doing the job with an eye towards a goal. I know once in a while if I procrastinate its a warning for me that my heart is not in it, and I do take the time to evaluate and decide if it actually feels like its congruent.
    Lynda Cromar recently posted..I Used To Let Fear Of Failure Keep Me From Succeeding In My Online Network MarketingMy Profile

  10. February 28, 2012

    I had this problem in the past and once in a while it crops up when I am a bit overwhelmed with projects. I actually was advised by a higher up colleague at one point since I was in demand to raise my rates. I was charging less that I should have anyway, but that has helped weed out the clients that will not take me for a ride until the project is not worth the time.

    I think having a schedule with a to do list does help keep me on track from procrastinating.
    Nile recently posted..Why Anonymous Blogging Is Not for Serious BloggersMy Profile

  11. February 28, 2012

    Wow, great post, Marquita! A number of those you listed are true of me. It sure is good to know I’m not just lazy. I mean, I know I’m not, but it’s hard to convince myself of that sometimes when all I’ve got to go by is what didn’t get done. Thank you for giving me some clarity!

    Willena Flewelling
    Willena Flewelling recently posted..From Head to Heart – Making it PersonalMy Profile

  12. February 28, 2012

    Hi Marty, Procrastination is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to achieving your dreams. If you do any of the items that you listed above it will stop you from being successful. It is important to try to set goals and do what you can to achieve them without feeling so much pressure that it stops you in your tracks. Thanks for another insightful post!
    Shelley Alexander recently posted..Why Cabbage Is A Superstar Leafy VegetableMy Profile

  13. February 28, 2012

    Hi Marty:

    This is such an awesome post!! I can totally relate to these different causes of procrastination. It is good to do some self evaluation from time to time.

    I expecially loved the quote from Dawson Trotman. :)

    Kevin Martineau recently posted..The power of communityMy Profile

  14. February 28, 2012


    I build WordPress websites for a living and I see perfectionism as one of the reasons people never get started. They are waiting till everything is “done” before they start the site. I say start the site because “anything is better than nothing.” The same thing with writing a blog post. Anything is better than nothing and it’s easier to edit than it is to write, so write something, ANYTHING!

    Thanks for this post!

    – Jupiter Jim
    Jupiter Jim recently posted..WordPress Tutorial: Add “Facebook Fan Page LIKE Box” to your WordPress Blog or WebsiteMy Profile

  15. February 28, 2012

    Great article Marty,

    All of us can relate to at least one of these points. For me it is low motivation. When I start something my heart really isn’t into, I tend to procrastinate and then beat myself up for not doing anything! When I take action, I quit easily.

    You are right that taking action is the key. It will flush out your true feelings, and help eliminate what you really don’t want to do. I find sometimes, during times of direction shift, nothing works for a while. In that case procrastination can be an indication to chill out for a while.

    My one piece of advice is not to procrastinate because there are so many reasons to do it! Life is for living.
    John Gaydon recently posted..I Never Knew I Had So Many FriendsMy Profile

  16. Steve Borgman
    February 28, 2012

    Marty, great job! I don’t know how you isolated all those causes. But in doing so, you point us to solutions! I’ve found that, once I get started on a dreaded task, I feel so much better once it’s done. In fact, I made scooped the cat litter tonight, so my week is already feeling more energetic :)
    Steve Borgman recently posted..Little Known Ways to Live Life Beyond SuccessMy Profile

  17. February 28, 2012

    Amazing post Marquita, It’s so important to identify the root cause of the problems we encounter daily. As you so well mentioned…there can be so many different ones and it’s truly crucial to stop and think about these things. Along with the existing causes, if we don’t take a look inside ourselves, we will develop more barrier that will eventually grow the problem. Thanks Marquita ~ Nathalie
    Nathalie Villeneuve recently posted..Embrace Your LeadershipMy Profile

  18. February 28, 2012

    My biggest procrastination issue at one time was when tackling a large project. It was easy to get overwhelmed, stuck in paralysis, and begin to procrastinate. I always felt busy but I was not always productive. If I do not do the important things first and leave them hanging around on my to-do list, every time I look at them I am actually draining my energy.
    Rachel Lavern recently posted..Are You Intentional?My Profile

  19. February 28, 2012

    What a timely article:) I am actually swapped with things to do today because I have been putting them off the whole last week.

    Thanks for sharing how we can identify the root problems. This will help me big time Marquita.

  20. February 28, 2012

    Hello Marty,

    Outstanding post! There was a time when procrastination was a HUGE problem for me. And it had a lot to do with your first cause, “Being over extended”. I felt like I had so much going on and that I was being pulled in hundred different directions.

    For me I had to just bring everything to a halt, step back and reevaluate what I was doing. From there it was a matter of prioritizing and just letting some things go.

    Great job as usual!


    • February 28, 2012

      Hi Anthony, great advice! I think we tend to greatly underestimate the power of stopping long enough to take stock and refocus – often that can really get us back on track. Thanks so much for sharing :-)

  21. February 28, 2012

    I can honestly say that I am not one for procrastinating.. That would be such a waste of my time.

    I reflect on unrelated topics, jumping from subject to subject without direction rather than working which I am sure you will agree is anything but procrastination.
    Stevie recently posted..Ladies, When It Comes To Flirting, Mom Is Always RightMy Profile

  22. February 28, 2012

    Hi Marty, good post – I think we all avoid talking about procrastination at times as if by speaking it’s name we unleash it!

    I find your first reason the biggest reason I procrastinate. I am focused and disciplined a lot of the time but every now an then the overwhelm gets me and I just stop and waste time!
    I need to learn to delegate more and say no.
    Sarah Arrow recently posted..Storytelling and emotional connections in blog postsMy Profile

    • February 28, 2012

      Yep Sarah, I suffer that overwhelm problem myself – our eyes get so big with all that we want to accomplish we pile on way too much stuff. There is another issue that I plan to write about soon, and that is the ability to accurately figure out how long it will take to complete a task. This is something that hangs us up time and again, but it’s really challenging to forecast how long it will take to complete something you are doing for the first time!

  23. February 28, 2012

    Hi Marquita,
    Procrastination is one of the biggest obstacles to success. The best weapon to fight procrastination is to actually take action. By taking action and having small goals to achieve all the time you stay motivated and actually when you reach each goal it helps you move on to the next one…
    Kostas recently posted..Use Social Media to Get in Front of Your Target AudiencesMy Profile

    • February 28, 2012

      Yes of course Kostas, which is why taking action was the point I made in the article. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  24. Ayie permalink
    February 27, 2012

    Procrastinating should really be stopped because you cant be productive if you continue it…This post can definitely be a big help to all the people…
    Ayie recently posted..How To Deal With Panic AttacksMy Profile

  25. February 27, 2012

    Sometimes there’s a connection with issues of anxiety, low sense of self-worth, and a self-defeating mentality or disliking the task with lack of self-confidence. But you are right, don’t stay stuck in analysis, start making small steps! Thanks for sharing this wonderful article!
    Candice Michelle recently posted..Glock SightsMy Profile

  26. February 27, 2012

    I think this post will help everyone, Marty.

    I know it helps me. It’s funny, this procrastination thing.

    Some days I don’t even think about all the things I have to do (and it’s ALWAYS A LOT!).
    I just jump in and get it done.

    Other days, I feel like I’m running in thigh-high mud.

    Who can figure why some days are so fluid and others so sluggish.

    For me, I usually get stopped in my progress because of overwhelm.

    I just have SO many things to do, I do none of them.

    But you’re right. Just Taking Action is what best cures this dreaded ill. And for the most part, that’s what keeps the little engine chugging along the tracks.
    David Merrill recently posted..YouTube Video Strategy | Leverage High Ranking VideoMy Profile

    • February 28, 2012

      I hear you David, that’s precisely why I started out by mentioning that we “all” procrastinate from time to time – I know I do. I actually didn’t even mentioned the circumstances that throw me into procrastination – I tend to work day after day until I hit the wall. I should take more breaks but I get so driven I just keep going. Then my brain just takes over and goes on a break without me and I’m stalled. It usually only lasts for a day – but I’ve learned it’s hopeless to attempt to do anything meaningful and to just go with the flow and take a break when that happens. Thanks so much for sharing – always appreciated!

  27. February 27, 2012

    Hey Marquita. These are excellent points! I especially appreciate the one on prioritizing and lack of training. A lot of people venture to complete a task without really evaluating if that task is worth undertaking in the first place. Individuals should stick with the most important work that will bring them closer to their desired result. I also believe that in any venture, one must always look for opportunities to increase their skill set. Increased skill set = more confidence in completing a particular task. There are a few other points I really like in this post, but I’ll get to those tomorrow… ;)
    Anthony Hutcherson recently posted..In a commonplace environment at an inappropriate time, do we perceive beauty?My Profile

  28. February 27, 2012

    Hi Marquita,

    What a great article! Procrastination is one of the demons that has hurt the time management of most unsuccessful ventures, and you really did a great job getting at the root causes! It is so true that we have to look at WHY we keep putting things off, at least we can move forward. You are right that it does absolutely no good to stay stuck in analysis. You can even fall in the trap of letting the analysis ITSELF becoming a reason to stay stuck!! Confusion is a very good self-justification to not take action.
    We don’t have to get it right-We just have to get it going!! Taking some form of action, ANY form of action is better than allowing procrastination to paralyze our lives!!
    I really liked this one Marty..
    Laura Morris recently posted..How The TRUE Meaning of Passion Can Change Your LifeMy Profile

    • February 28, 2012

      Hi Laura, so glad you enjoyed the article and thanks so much for contributing to the conversation!

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