Mention procrastination and you hear about time management or prioritizing and they are part of the behavior. But, deep down behind those two is a secret sense of fear.


Procrastination is a common trait that many of us share. It is based on what University of Calgary psychologist Piers Steel calls “temporal discounting,” meaning we give less importance to tackling tasks in the distant future than we do for what is demanding attention right now. Couple that with an avoidance of tasks you consider unpleasant, and the stage is set for you to wander off into the weeds.

Where our underlying fear comes into play is what Dr. Steel calls “self-handicapping” where you know the upcoming task is going to challenge you and secretly question your ability. Putting off tackling it and feeling rushed provides what could be considered an “excuse” that you didn’t have time to present your best work. Carol Dweck talks a lot about this effect in her ground breaking book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, where she highlights that how we think about something “our mindset” determines our success at it.

The key is to take away the fear portion that can help you develop a mindset that does not challenge your self-thinking, while helping you address the steps you need to take to get there. Below are a few steps I think will point you in the right direction:

Take a behavioral economics approach
If you are constantly late with reports consider what you stand to lose if the behavior continues. Build up a counter weight in terms of things your job allows you to see, do, or have as motivation to take into account the distant future as well as the present.

Small steps and timetables
Decide how the task can be broken down into small parts setting short term goals for completion. This moves the task, in part, from the distant future and into the here and now. Plus, successfully completing some of the simpler parts of the task builds your confidence that you can tackle the harder portions. You may still have to pull an “all nighter” but the saving grace is that a good portion of the project has already been completed.

Write it down
Now that you have the task broken down into manageable parts, write it down. And not just in your calendar but places where you will constantly be reminded that a smaller portion is coming due. This serves to disrupt the temporal distortion I mentioned earlier.

Understand how you function
Your personal biology is particularly important. if you are a morning or night person, try setting aside 30 minutes, at your best time for no phone calls or visitors. This gives the task at hand has your best attention.

Understand your triggers
We all have certain “go to” activities that pull us off into the weeds. It maybe online shopping, Facebook, or online videos. Knowing your avoiding behaviors allows you to recognize when you have hit a trigger so you can catch yourself and get back on track.

Evaluate each day
End your day by examining how much you have been able to do. This is your self pat on the back. Try to end on a positive note by taking a few moments to congratulate yourself on what you HAVE been able to do. This provides motivation to keep returning to the pattern.

Procrastination is so much a part of human behavior that no one can completely avoid it. You can however, tackle the underlying fears that feed it. Simply understanding more about how you approach each task and the minefields set up to trap you will certainly go a long way toward putting time on your side.

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