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Why do we procrastinate?

Elissa Farrow
April 17, 2013

Procrastination is when we postpone or put off something for a reason that to others may not make sense, for example, needlessly.

I have worked with many people who have procrastination as something they wish they could overcome. They procrastinate about pretty much anything, but not all the time. They are pretty much still functioning people, but just not as functioning as they could be if procrastination wasn’t something blocking them from achievement.

Examples from my change clients include:

  • Housework
  • Study and finishing off that assignment
  • Starting that new business
  • Going to a networking function
  • Setting up a mentoring relationship
  • Catching the bus rather than driving
  • Getting fitter
  • Painting the bathroom room
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Applying for a new job
  • Asking that person out on a date

We procrastinate for a range of reasons and they all seem totally reasonable to us at the time.

We procrastinate when the task is perceived to be too big. The size and scale of the task is overwhelming. You don’t know where to start, or feel that if you do start, you’ll barely get through much, so you don’t start.

We procrastinate because of a degree of performance anxiety. The specific task may appear intimidating. You’re worried about making a mistake, and lacking confidence in your ability to get the job done well. So you don’t start at all.

Sometimes people procrastinate because of the fear of what might come next. Sometimes, we have no problem with the task we’re facing; it’s the implication of what comes after it’s done that we find daunting.

Occasionally we procrastinate because we’ve been given too much time to do a task. Some people work better under pressure and thrive on the adrenaline rush that comes from rescuing themselves from a crisis. Perfectionists often leave things to the last minute because it lets them off the hook; subconsciously, they feel that if the work isn’t perfect, they have a built-in excuse. It’s not a reflection on their abilities, they reason; they just didn’t have enough time.

What we want to do is to lessen the hold procrastination has on our lives so that we can change and improve without as much discomfort.

(Elissa’s next blog will look at ways to stop procrastinating.)

Elissa Farrow
Elissa is a founder and lead consultant for About Your Transition and has extensive experience in strategic organisational adaptation design, facilitation and delivery. Elissa has supported organisations to define positive futures and then successfully transform to bring lasting benefits. She has proven adaptative capacity and can successfully transfer her skills to different contexts. In 2018, Elissa commenced her doctoral studies through the University of the Sunshine Coast. Her published research is exploring organisational adaptation to the evolving field of artificial intelligence using qualitative and participatory research methodologies. Elissa is an experienced board director and considered a thought leader in her field having won a number of national and local awards for contributing to Women in Project Management and for Change Management Research.
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