Break Procrastination Down By Asking Why

Procrastination is an age-old issue that has been often reduced to simple laziness, but given our insatiable human curiosity, scientists and researchers have been studying the phenomenon for a long time now, mainly attempting to fix it, and when that didn’t work, trying to understand it.

The thing is, procrastination is a fairly common trait in a lot of people who have issues with anxiety and perfectionism– long before the concepts of anxiety and perfectionism even got their names. Procrastination is actually a self-protective action; it’s a defense mechanism.

  • We procrastinate because we’re don’t feel good about the thing we’re supposed to do, so we keep pushing and putting things off.
  • We hem and haw. We do other things.
  • We do anything else except the thing, because it makes us uncomfortable to even think about it –and for the most part, we don’t even think to delve deeper into why that’s so.

Perhaps these situations seem familiar?

  • You can’t decide which task goes first, because all of these things are important and urgent.
  • You want to do the best job you can, and you know you only have so much time before the project is due.
  • You’re going to disappoint the people counting on you, you know it, and you’re avoiding the blowout for as long as you can.
  • You don’t have enough data to make a good decision, and you want to make sure it’s the best one you can make.
  • It’s been a while since you received that email, voicemail, message, etc. and you feel it’s embarrassing to only respond now.

And if that wasn’t enough, beating yourself up about putting things off only makes you feel worse. You lose you stomach for taking action, you’re downbeat because you haven’t taken action, and you have no energy to take action.

Oddly enough, procrastinators usually finish with all the easy stuff early. Like cake and frosting, we go for the surface stuff because it’s a sweet deal, so we polish it off quickly. And faced with the things that make us step back, we don’t even think to see that these things aren’t as emotionally neutral for us as the easy things are.  Thinking of  unfinished, important business things makes us feel tired. We feel ashamed of taking so long to to do or to respond to them.

We dread them.


An effective way to get up and act is to ask why that’s so, and keep on asking why.
Honestly reason out why it’s uncomfortable to start by look head on at what’s stopping you from acting. It’s a process of elimination. “I don’t want to do ____ because ____.” You deal with the reason why not, it can clear your mind enough so you can finally move.

Identify the ‘seeds of doom’ for these things you’re putting off.
What ticks you off about them? The  more you find out about what you don’t like about a particular task, the more information you get about how you can deal with it. It’s defining by negatives. “This” is what you haven’t done yet to make this Dread Thing a Done Thing, so you go about fixing the requirements of those unfinished steps…and you Do The Thing!

You can’t make a decision yet?  Ask for help. Ask a friend. They can have a more detached  approach and help you see things you’re too  close to see clearly.  Don’t push immediately for a “Yes” or “No’ answer,  get more feedback on  how much saying “Yes”  or “No” will benefit you can help you decide.


Circling the issue.

  • It’s the emails you’ve open and closed a dozen times, and yet never even drafted replies for-you can’t settle on a damn thing to say.
  • It’s the last things on the To-Do list that don’t have a check-mark, no matter how many times you refer to the list.

Circling around an unfinished tasks makes it a problem because it wastes time, attention and energy, and makes task mutate and loom even bigger and more monstrous in your head.

Go Straight to The Point. Ask why. (And keep asking why.)

  • “I don’t want to do this because it’s hard.” Why? Why, why, why?
  • “Because I have identify the resources and resource personnel that can help me get this done, and I don’t personally know all of the people who are in a good position to help me…hmm. Let me just get the names down.”
  • “Because I have to ask for help from a complete stranger though email and I want to come across as pleasant and professional…wait. That’s not so bad.”
  • “Because if my top choices refuse I have to have back up choices ready. …Oh.”

Sometimes, merely addressing the discomfort, the dread, or the anxiety is enough to break apart the log-jam in your head and get you unstuck.  Often, the ‘negatives’ you identify can define the steps you take to resolve the issue already.

We all have important tasks and things that we balk at completing. The internal discomfort is often the blockage that keeps us from moving on. When you face the roots of this discomfort, you can unravel them and remove the bottlenecks that’s been holding you up for so long.

Bonus link: How To Get Yourself to Do things (Raptitude)
This is a great read with graphics that can show you how anxiety keeps you stuck in the procrastination zone.

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