If I ask you to paint a picture of laziness, how will your sketch look like? Try to think of an image in your mind.
Most people visualize a person watching TV holding a bag of chips in one hand and a can of soda in the other. The other common depiction of laziness involves sleeping.
Though these are the right pictures, you and I procrastinate in various other shapes and forms. We’re well aware of a few of them, but we choose to procrastinate anyway. But, the sneakiest ways of our laziness occur in ways which we ourselves don’t recognize.
You blame the circumstances as reasons for procrastination and convince yourself that it’s your reality. It’s like wearing sunglasses and assuming that the whole world around you has grown dim.
In this article, I will cover the methods we use for procrastination and ways to overcome them.
- 5 different ways we procrastinate
- Reasons for procrastination and how to overcome them
- 3. Trying too much too fast
5 different ways we procrastinate
1. I will start tomorrow/next week/next month
This is the most prevalent form of procrastination. Take any significant project you plan to start working on. For example:
- Starting your business
- Studying for an exam
- Working out
- Chasing your long term goal
- Avoiding laziness(yes, we also procrastinate our plans to stop procrastinating)
You vow to make a major change in yourself from a date X in the future. Depending on the goal you’re pursuing and your mindset, the starting point of your plan can vary anywhere from the next hour to the next year. You tell yourself, “From point X, I will no longer remain a shadow of my old self. I will surprise myself and others because of the changes I’ll make.”
But in reality, that’s your excuse to waste time today. To avoid the guilt of doing nothing at the moment, you fabricate a reason to make yourself feel better. The most natural shortcut you find is drafting an exceptional future plan to pursue the goal.
Your plan for starting on a future date looks like the diagram below. On any given day, your time of commencement lies in the future. Until then, you have licensed yourself to relax and waste time.
When the moment to execute your plan arrives, you find a reason to convince yourself why you cannot begin. You push the start time again, creating a never-ending vicious circle you cannot break out of.
2. Procrastination by chasing your side goals
Each of us has our real goals, for example:
- changing career
- starting a venture
- developing expertise in a specific area
On the other side are goals which are nice to have and enjoyable to spend time on. Some of these might even be your hobbies. For example:
- Learning a musical instrument
- Learning a new language
- Reading more about a topic you find interesting
Now, such goals are not harmful to have. The problem arises when you have the time to work on your real targets, but you choose to work on your side goals instead.
You make such decisions because your real goals take effort and are uncomfortable while your side goals are enjoyable.
For example, when you have 1 hour to spare, you can prepare a draft budget required to get your business started. But, you choose to open the book you recently purchased, which teaches you how to speak French.
You give yourself a false impression of performing a task, but what you’re really doing is wasting time in an intelligent way. Pursuing your side goals using the time available for your genuine goals is the sneakiest way of procrastinating by fooling ourselves.
I am not saying you should throw all your interests away. They provide contentment, and you should spend time on them. But be wary of using them as an excuse to postpone the actual work you need to begin.
3. Procrastination by planning/learning or striving for perfection
Let’s consider a goal which requires planning followed by execution. For example, starting a blog requires finding the right category, thinking of a name, finding an appealing design, and listing article ideas.
Without a plan, you might face unforeseen problems with your blog. But, planning can itself turn into a reason for procrastination. You start chalking out detailed plans as complicated as the one NASA uses to put a satellite into the earth’s orbit.
To make that worse, the delay does not stop at planning alone. When you run out of ideas, you refine what you already have, striving for perfection. Another version of the same procrastination is trying to learn a required skill endlessly. For example, to learn how to create a budget, you buy two 500 paged books on accounting or watch hours of Youtube videos.
You fail to realize that you’re finding methods to keep yourself comfortably occupied with the goal without doing any actual hard work. For example, watching a video on preparing a budget is far more comfortable than playing around with the real numbers for your business.
I am not trying to undermine the importance of a plan because every business needs one. Without a well-laid plan, we could have never constructed a 50 storeyed building or supplied millions of phones to consumers. But, to execute the plan, you have to get your butt off the seat and start doing.
I know bloggers who have taken 3 months to finalize the name for their blog. As important as the brand name is, those days could have been spent on more productive activities.
4. Procrastination by being busy
Being busy and procrastinating? That sounds surprising, doesn’t it? But it happens more often than you think. You might be a victim of such behavior yourself without your knowledge.
Let me explain with an example. Many employees are stuck at a job that sucks the life out of them every single day. If you are one of them, you have considered starting a side hustle or changing your career. But, you find yourself so occupied that you can never make time for your plan.
But is that the truth? Do you lack the time, or are you pretending you do? Most people can spare a few hours if they like, but they choose not to.
You hide behind the curtain of your so-called busy daily routine to avoid stepping outside your comfort zone. You convince yourself that you have enough and more to work on each day, and you postpone your plans forever.
5. Procrastination by illogical blaming
You find a reason for procrastination in many of the circumstances you cannot control. You use these factors as a justification for your laziness. Here are two examples from the most recent times:
One person I was speaking to was thinking of a career change into a completely different domain early this year. A few months later, the global pandemic created chaos for most job openings. As a result, this person stopped preparing altogether.
Though he was far from prepared to crack any interview, he stopped trying to learn because the market had no vacancies. Now when a few companies have resumed hiring, but he isn’t knowledgable enough to make the switch.
In a similar example, a person was keen on starting a blog in January. After the virus outbreak, she postponed her plans because the new routine had apparently “affected her schedule”. If anything, the work from home scenario had provided more free time, but she had turned it into an excuse for procrastination.
Often, you and I come up with stupid reasons to explain why we cannot pursue our goal. We use those excuses to cover up our laziness both to ourselves and the others around us.
Reasons for procrastination and how to overcome them
Why do we procrastinate our goals in the first place when we want to chase them so badly? The answer is tricky because everyone has a different reason to choose current comfort over future rewards. I present the most common ones, of which some might apply to you and some may not.
1. Not knowing “why”
If you chase a goal without knowing why, you run often lose the motivation to put continued effort. For example, millions of people have the goal of becoming rich or famous. As a target, there’s nothing wrong with aiming for wealth or fame.
But you must know why do you want it so badly. If you have no idea what you will do once you achieve the target, you will fail to put in the effort to get there.
If you have a particular goal at the moment, ask yourself, “why do you want it?” If you have no clear answer, you haven’t found a goal you genuinely care about. These 3 questions might help you identify what resonates with your heart.
2. A particular gap
Even if you have a clear goal with a purpose, you might still find a reason to procrastinate. This can stem due to 3 different gaps, one or more of which might apply to you.
You have a fear which prevents you from taking the risk. For example, starting a venture induces a fear of losing a stable job. Stepping into the gym invokes fear of ridicule because you’re overweight. The same goal can generate a different fear in different people. Your mindset and personality influence what you’re scared of.
b. Lack of skillset
Your lack of expertise might prevent you from taking the first step. For example, you want to start a business, but you are unsure if you have the entrepreneurial skills to make your venture successful.
c. Lack of motivation
Sometimes, you have a goal in mind and the necessary skills, but you never muster the energy to put in the effort. Such problems occur when you’re chasing a target only for the result without enjoying the journey. Most probably, you are pursuing a goal that you think you genuinely care about, but deep down in your heart, you don’t.
Knowing the barrier between your current situation and your target will help you develop solutions to your problem.
Once you know your reason for fear, you can find a solution that makes you feel safer.
- If you fear to start a venture because you’re worried about losing a stable job, save enough to manage your expenses for a year.
- If you lack the skill set required for an entrepreneur, spend the next 6 months learning and practicing them.
- If you have chosen a goal solely for the result, re-align your vision and pick the right one for you.
No one can provide you with step-by-step guidelines to overcome the gap you’re facing because various random factors play a part. But, once you identify the reason for the gap, you can figure out an answer yourself.
3. Trying too much too fast
If you were struck with the overnight motivation to chase a goal, you make a plan to start moving from a lazy to a crazy schedule. But, such massive sudden changes are a recipe for failure.
If you have never thought about learning the stock market, you cannot read one article after another for 8 hours on the first day. Even if somehow manage to gather the patience, you will lack the motivation the next time simply because of the discomfort you experienced previously.
A better approach is to introduce small changes in your schedule. You can take it one step at a time by using either a time based or a task-based approach.
Allocate a small time window when you begin. Aim to spend 30 min or 1 hour every day to get started. Persist for a few days before you start adding more time daily. In the stock market knowledge example, you can stop after studying the marker for 1 hour for the first week, even if you have the energy and interest.
Break your goal into as simple tasks as possible. Each day, aim to finish a few simple tasks to take one step towards your goal. In the stock market knowledge example, you can set a simple task of finding the best material to read on the first day. The next day, aim to read a couple of chapters.
When you introduce a drastic change, your mind cannot cope up with the discomfort. Allow your body and brain to adapt to the new routine by taking it easy when you begin. As you gain momentum, you’ll find yourself pumped up to spend more time on the goal you’re chasing.
The most common forms of procrastination are invisible to the naked eye because you’re the one fabricating the reasons for them. Unless you know how you exhibit laziness, your habits will slip right under your nose.
Procrastination has killed more dreams than circumstances ever have. Today, you have a choice to make a change in yourself. The question is, will you take the first step to change or procrastinate your decision to change itself?
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.