How to Stop Procrastinating Right Now

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How to Stop Procrastinating Right Now

Have you ever handed in a paper still warm from the printer, panting and sweaty from your sprint across campus? 

Or selected a gift from the aisles of a gas station, en route to the baby shower you’ve known about for months? 

Do you find that, no matter how much time you have to complete a project, you’re still working on it up until the deadline? Or maybe even past it? 

If so, you have my wholehearted empathy and understanding, because we are kindred spirits: We are procrastinators. 

A procrastinator is someone who habitually delays getting started on important tasks, and scrambles around to get things done at the last minute, often under a great deal of stress. If you have a tendency to procrastinate, you know it’s a habit that leaves you feeling harried, ineffective, and bad about yourself. You also know that not procrastinating is easier said than done. 

But, as someone who has gone to battle with her own procrastination demons, and helped many coaching and counseling clients do the same, I know you can build new skills that will help you become more productive, more effective, and to do it all in a timely manner, with serenity and grace… (ok, still working on that last part). 

That’s what we’re discussing on today’s episode of the podcast. I’m going to be exploring the real reasons you procrastinate, how procrastination affects your life, and the positive changes you can make today to overcome procrastination and start working toward your goals in a steady, intentional way. 

I hope you’ll join me, on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

All the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Grow, Together.

Our authentic relationship experts know how to help you learn, grow, and move forward into a bright new chapter.

How to Stop Procrastinating Right Now: Episode Highlights

There really are some people who glide through their to-do list, devoting a reasonable amount of time to each item, passing by black holes of distraction without a second glance, and routinely completing projects with plenty of time to spare. 

For the rest of us, procrastination is a real and ever-present threat. When procrastinating is a way of life for you, getting things done takes some thoughtful maneuvering. 

Effects of Procrastination 

Procrastination is a tough habit to break, despite its sometimes serious consequences. Here are just a few of the effects of procrastination, which I’m sure you’ve lived firsthand if you’re a real-deal procrastinator: 

Underachievement 

It’s incredible what a human being can do when the panic of an approaching deadline sets in. You might stay up until dawn writing a paper, or complete a project that was supposed to take months over the course of a long, terrible weekend. 

You may even feel a little swell of pride when these flurries of work generate halfway decent results — a B+ paper, a good-enough project review. “Imagine what I could do if I didn’t procrastinate,” you may think. 

But that’s the tragedy of chronic procrastination: You’ll never know what you’re capable of if you do everything at the last minute, in an adrenaline-fueled panic. To reach your full potential at school, at work, or in any area of life that calls for consistent effort over time, you’ll need to overcome procrastination.   

Unnecessary Stress

Stress is quite literally a killer, and nothing adds unnecessary stress to your life like a habit of procrastination. 

In fact, procrastinators need stress. It focuses the mind, making it possible to prioritize tasks and take action toward our goals. Without the looming threat of a missed deadline, a failed class, or letting down the people who are counting on us, it’s too easy to convince ourselves that watching TikTok dance routines or rearranging our bookshelves is the correct use of our time. 

So procrastinators learn to live with stress, and to leverage it to get things done. But that doesn’t stop stress from taking a toll on your mind and your body, putting you at greater risk of burnout, and generally making you feel crummy. 

Damaged Relationships

If you complete a large job in a few frenzied hours, the client isn’t getting your best work. If you end up at a burger joint because you put off making a reservation, your partner isn’t getting the “anniversary dinner” treatment. 

Procrastination can look to others like you just don’t care enough to try — when in fact you care so much that getting started feels overwhelming. But regardless of your true feelings, perceived apathy can feel insulting and hurtful to others, and can take a toll on your relationships. 

Feeling Bad About Yourself

Finally, procrastination makes you feel bad about yourself. 

You might recognize that you’re capable of more, and feel lazy when you reflect on your history of underachieving. You might feel less-than when you compare yourself to others who seem to manage their time more effectively. You might feel shame and guilt about letting down friends, partners, or coworkers because of procrastination. 

Worse, you may feel helpless to do anything about it. But luckily, procrastinating is entirely within your power to change, and understanding why you procrastinate is the first step in changing it. 

Why You Procrastinate

Every procrastinator has their own unique reasons for putting things off, but here are a few of the common culprits that may be behind your procrastination (and ideas for tackling each): 

You’re Doing Too Much

Sometimes we think we have a problem with procrastination, when in fact we have a problem with taking on too many tasks, particularly tasks that aren’t interesting to us, or necessary, or that someone else could do better (and be happy about it!). 

I don’t enjoy bookkeeping. I can do it, and as a small business owner, I used to: begrudgingly, and usually at the last minute. But when Growing Self grew to a certain point, I was more than happy to hand that task off to a professional, a magical unicorn who actually enjoys tracking expenses, creating financial statements, and submitting tax forms. 

These people exist — thank goodness! My bookkeeper frees me up to focus on tasks that I’m actually good at, and that I don’t feel like hiding from indefinitely. Before you beat yourself up about putting something off, ask yourself if the task really needs to be done, and if you’re the right person to do it. Your time and energy may be better spent elsewhere. 

You’re Dreading a Complex Process  

When I first brainstormed this episode, I imagined sharing what I know about procrastination with you, like I was having a chat with a friend. But actually making the episode was a lot more complicated than that. It required research, moving meetings around so I could record, messing with equipment I don’t entirely understand, sending audio back and forth with my podcast editor, choosing a song, changing the song, writing this post, and a hundred other tiny steps that I won’t bore you with here. 

You get the idea. The sheer number of steps involved in a complex task can be enough to paralyze you. You might anticipate getting stuck, or feeling overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, or any number of unpalatable feelings our brains would rather avoid.  

When you take the time to plan and visualize each step of a complex task — what they’ll entail, how exactly you’ll do them, when you will do them, where you will do them — the process feels a bit more manageable. And even better, mentalizing the task is step one, so once you do this, you’re already over the “getting started” hump! 

You’re Dreading a “Cognitively Heavy” Process

You might also be dreading the process because it is “cognitively heavy,” meaning it just takes a lot of brain power. I love to write, but it’s not something I can do while half paying attention, listening to a podcast, or keeping an eye on my kids. It requires my full brain, and an uninterrupted period of time. Afterwards, I feel a bit drained. 

For “heavy” tasks, give your brain what it needs to do its best work. When do you feel your sharpest? Whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or evening, dedicate that time to your heavy tasks. Make sure you give yourself a large chunk of uninterrupted time — you can’t do deep work in fifteen-minute fragments between Zoom meetings. It takes time to enter a “flow” state. 

When your brain gets to do its most demanding work under better conditions, you may not dread the process so much, and you may feel less inclined to procrastinate. 

You’re Getting Distracted

Distractions happen, and some of us are more distractible than others. I know I can sit down at my desk with an earnest intention to Get Stuff Done… and come to 20 minutes later on the Wikipedia page for El Chupacabra, wondering how I got there. 

To head off distractions, construct your work environment with intention. Would it help to leave your cellphone in your bag, rather than keeping it on your desk? A tiny keystone habit like that can make a big difference. How about adjusting your notification settings, so a little box doesn’t pop into your visual field every time you get an email or a text? If noise tends to pull you out of flow, how about some noise-canceling headphones? 

None of us are immune to distractions. But you can prevent many of them with some simple tweaks to your environment. 

Perfectionism and Procrastination

“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgment, and shame,” — Brené Brown

Striving to do your best is a good thing. But perfectionism is something else entirely, and can be a powerful form of procrastination that keeps you from actually getting things done. 

Perfectionism can show up as a tendency to “overdo” things. If a hardcore perfectionist is having a dinner party, they might feel unable to do the big stuff (shopping for and preparing the food, setting the table) until they figure out the little stuff (like making hand-lettered place cards for each guest). 

“And really I should take a calligraphy class first,” the perfectionist thinks, “so maybe it’s best to reschedule for next fall.” (Or, more likely, never). 

If perfectionism is at the root of your procrastination, watch out for “scope creep.” Don’t let simple tasks grow out of control, taking on unwieldy ambitions that require you to clear your schedule. Instead, practice aiming to do a good-enough job. You’ll get more done, and you’ll have a better time doing it. 

You Never Developed Certain Skills

Finally, you may procrastinate because you simply never developed certain skills, and it’s holding you back from success

We’re not born knowing how to create a reasonable schedule, devote an appropriate amount of time to a task, exercise self-control, or adapt to setbacks as they arise. All of these “executive functioning” skills take some practice, and once you develop them (something a good career coach can help you with), you’ll be able to work more effectively, and spend less time procrastinating. 

How to Stop Procrastinating: Get Connected to Your “Why”

You do a thousand little things every day. You feed the kids, floss your teeth, fill out the spreadsheet, send that “Thank You,” submit your invoice, return the call, pick up the prescription, fold the laundry. 

But why? How do the things you do connect to your values and the goals you have for your life? 

Ask yourself these questions about the items on your to-do list. If you can’t see the connection, cross it off. The items that will remain are the essential things that are actually serving your larger life’s purpose

Now you know what to focus on. For the rest, you have permission to procrastinate. 

Episode Show Notes:

[02:53] Effects of Procrastination

  • You might have to work during what should be your down time, or fail to meet deadlines. 
  • Procrastination can lead to issues in your personal relationships.
  • Your partner may feel hurt if you fail to follow through on things. 

[10:32] Strategies For Overcoming Procrastination

  • Outsource or delegate the job to other people who are better suited for the task.
  • Stipulate your most productive and high-energy time of day for completing your most important tasks.
  • Use a calendar to schedule your tasks.

[26:28] Perfectionism and Procrastination

  • Perfectionism is the tendency to base your self-worth around what other people think of your work.
  • Perfectionists tend to be overly detailed and to get attached to overly ambitious outcomes.
  • Set a timer for every task and establish a mental boundary to stop yourself from doing more than what needs to be done.

[35:45] Connecting With Your Values

  • Reflect on your “why”.
  • Cross out tasks, projects, or habits that aren’t serving your larger goals.
  • Release the idea that you can or should do everything.

Music in this episode is from The Wimps, with “Procrastination.”

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How to Stop Procrastinating Right Now

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

Subscribe To The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: That is, once again, the Wimps — one of my favorite bands — with a song, “Procrastination”, because that’s what we’re talking about today.

I’ve been meaning to make this podcast for you for about two years now. But yes, the struggle is real. I’m just kidding — not really. But I, too, have struggled with procrastination over the years. I know it’s a very real thing. A lot of you are struggling with this. I wanted to spend our time together today sharing the tips, and tricks, and tools, and ideas that I have learned over the years that have helped me, and that I routinely teach my clients so that you get control over your time and energy too.

If this is your first time listening, hello and welcome! I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I’m the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching. I’m a licensed psychologist, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a board-certified coach, and draw from all of these things to help you create love, happiness, and success. This podcast is just me tossing out bread crumbs and bottles into the ocean that are hopefully helpful to you on your journey. 

I always try to craft my topics about things that I’m hearing from you, my listeners, that would be helpful and important to you. So thank you, everyone, who has reached out through Instagram, or Facebook, or through our website growingself.com. Quick heads up to let you know — we’re going to be starting to experiment with something a little different that I think would be pretty interesting. In addition to the kind of informational format of the show or the interview format of the show, I’m also going to be answering some listener questions on the air. 

If you have something that is on your mind, and you would like to talk through it with me on a podcast sometime, I invite you to get in touch on Instagram, @drlisamariebobby, or hello@growingself.com are easy ways. Just raise your hand, let me know what’s on your mind, and perhaps you and I can talk things through. That is an exciting new thing and I’ll be interested to see what we can collectively create with that. 

But let’s just dive right in. Let’s not procrastinate, shall we? Let’s dive into our topic together today. Because procrastination is a very real issue for many people, and it doesn’t just lead to issues where you’re not getting things done or you look around your house, and you see the stuff or the unopened mail — those are minor annoyances. It, over time though, can lead to a lot of bigger problems — anxiety — when you start to feel really overwhelmed and stressed and anxious about all this stuff piling up that is starting to be important. Maybe, there’s a tax document and a pile of mail that you need to do something about. 

Effects of Procrastination

I can also, I think — lead to people feeling really badly about themselves after a while, almost a depression-ney kind of shame experience where you’re like, “What is wrong with me that I can’t get my act together and do these things?” Then, if that does spiral into a capital D depression, that leads to exhaustion and avoidance, and even less likely that you will get things done. 

It can also lead to real consequences either in your job if you’re not meeting deadlines or leaving things till the last minute. After a while, people will get annoyed with you. It can also lead to issues in your relationship, particularly if your partner is asking you to do things or follow through with things that are personally important to them. I think it’s easy to forget that actions, tasks that may seem small, simple things — unloading the dishwasher when you said you’re going to, running an errand, taking care of something around the house — over time, those things can become kind of heavy with meaning. 

It feels to us like it’s just about the task or the thing, but it can start to feel to your partner like it is a symbolic representation of your feelings towards them, often interpreted as that you don’t care about them. It can lead to a lot of negativity and bad feelings in relationships. For all of these reasons, and in addition, of course, to you just feeling happy and content to kind of in control of yourself in your life, it is important that we talk together about procrastination.

In looking around, there are sort of standard-issue pieces of advice about how to deal with procrastination. I think that they do all have some validity. But I want to take it a little bit deeper today because in my experience — and I am saying this as somebody who, especially when I was younger, really did struggle with this. I would try all of these organizational systems — I read the books, and the whatever — I tried all the things, and they never worked for me. 

I interpreted this, in my 20s, it’s just another side of my personal failings. But I think as I’ve gotten older and done more work on myself, I’ve come to realize that there is a reason why people tend to procrastinate, and often it goes a little bit deeper than one would think. I think we can assume that it’s about strategies and habits, and so on and so forth. I do think to a degree that that can be true. 

But without really opening the door — the basement, walking into the basement, and understanding really why, in a compassionate and fully aware sort of way, it can be difficult to use the tools and incorporate the habits. That’s where I would like us to go today. I wanted to start this conversation, though, with just a compassion-building exercise. If this is the thing for you, I’m sure you’re well aware of the emotional toll that it takes. 

Also, if you are listening to this because you are partnered with somebody whose procrastination is driving you insane, it is also, I think, important for you to have some understanding and compassion for their emotional experience because the struggle is real, and it can be easy to get mad at yourself or get mad at your partner when they’re doing these things, “Like what’s the big deal? Just do the thing, and you won’t feel bad anymore.” 

But it tends to sort of snowball. The very best and most hilarious description of the procrastination cycle that I came across was from a really cool blog post, actually — by a civilian. He was not a licensed mental health professional, but he’s still incredibly insightful and very funny. His name is Tim Urban. A while back, he did a piece called The Dark Playground on his blog called Wait But Why. I will link to it somewhere in the post to this podcast. 

But anyway — I’ll just read you a little snippet from his work. Here, he’s talking about the emotional depths of what happens with somebody who is in a habit of procrastinating, has put things off, and that they eventually will enter the dark playground. It is a place every procrastinator knows well. It’s a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the dark playground isn’t actually fun because it’s completely unearned, rather, and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread. 

Sometimes, the rational decision-making part of you puts his foot down and refuses to let you waste time doing normal leisure things. Since the other side of this — he’s calling the “Instant Gratification Monkey” — wants to keep distracting you and won’t let you work. You find yourself in a bizarre purgatory of weird activities where everyone loses. If you are a habitual procrastinator, I’m sure you can relate to that. 

It’s like there’s these two sides of you — there’s this part of you that is screaming at you, “Just do the things, you know what you have to do. What’s wrong with you?” But there’s this other part that’s like that, “I’m going to do this, I want to do that, I want to…”, something else… Then, he has a third character in this narrative called the “Panic Monster” which emerges as you get closer and closer to a deadline, or begin experiencing real or threatened consequences of procrastination. 

Then, that sort of motivates you into this big flurry of action where you wind up — yes — doing some things usually in a half-assed manner. You kind of get it done, but it wasn’t really good enough, and it was incredibly stressful, and people are still annoyed with you anyway. For a full description of The Dark Playground and the emotional toll that procrastination can take, I would encourage you to visit Wait But Why. It’s worth your time. 

This is a difficult place to be in. I think one of the big well — there are many, I think, deeper reasons why people can’t do this. But I think in my experience, I have isolated it to a few. I’m just going to talk through these one at a time. As I do, I would like for you to just kind of listen and think about which of these might fit best for you. It may be that there are a few of these that fit well for you. The answer is often multidimensional and complex. 

Strategies For Overcoming Procrastination

But one of the biggest lessons for me, and something that I have actually since coached many clients through is the discovery that these things that I was procrastinating and putting off and feeling badly about were actually things that I wasn’t good at, that I didn’t enjoy, and I really was trying to make myself do things that I shouldn’t have been trying to do in the first place many times. This would be related to different aspects of work, oftentimes, or even stuff around the house, or in my personal life

I just want to invite you to consider if the things that you have on this giant list that you’re telling yourself you should be doing, could potentially be things that you don’t enjoy, that you don’t value, that you don’t really have an interest in. Maybe, you’re getting societal messages that are telling you that you should be valuing or doing these things, but then you actually, legitimately, do not care and that you don’t feel like completing these tasks is going to be particularly meaningful or helpful in your life, and you’re not good at them, you don’t really know how to do them, it’s not stuff that you enjoy, and perhaps to give yourself permission to not do them. 

I just want you to consider what could change about your life and your relationship to these tasks, and also your relationship to yourself. If instead of kind of beating yourself up and trying to make yourself do things that you don’t want to do, and that you probably shouldn’t be doing — and accept that. What doors could potentially open up for you? If you’re like, “Yeah, I’m actually not going to do that.” 

Let’s just pause here for a second. Let that sink in. You may be feeling a surge of anxiety around like, “But these things need to get done!” Maybe, they do need to get done. But maybe you should not be the one to do them. It could turn into a very different exercise in problem-solving if you just kind of shifted into this mindset around, “I am not going to do these things. How could they potentially get done anyway?” 

This could turn into all kinds of creative new possibilities for you. For example, maybe you have strengths in an area. There are things that you are good at and that you do enjoy. When you do them, it feels like flow. It is like, “This is why I am here, and I’m having the best time right now.” And you don’t procrastinate with those things. They’re like fun — you move towards them instead of away from them. 

As you get clearer about what those things are, and how those things would bring value into the lives of other people, you, now, have a poker chip that you could potentially trade with somebody else. There are people — and I’m just going to use this as a quick example — there are magical creatures in the world that I sort of view as this semi-unicorn, pegasus creature, sparkles, that enjoys things like administrative tasks, bills, opening mail, organizing things. They exist, they exist. You might be one of those people. 

Perhaps, as you’re listening to this, many procrastinators tend to be on the more creative side of the spectrum. Maybe, you are really good at painting things, making music, coming up with new ideas, rearranging furniture. It’s possible to develop relationships with other people where they can have a good time coming into your life and helping you do things that you can’t really do that well. In exchange, of course for your energy, and talent, and abilities, and the value that you can bring to their life doing the things that would help them. 

That may not be intrinsically part of their kind of skill set and value set. It could be even simple swaps with your partner. If you’re getting into power struggles around certain tasks at home, seeing, “Okay, I don’t procrastinate around these things. These are things I can get done. I can be in charge of XYZ. You do that over there.” 

I think the central point is that not everyone is good at everything. Actually, nobody is good at everything. The sooner that we can move into a state of acceptance around that, and spend your time and energy really identifying your strengths, the things you do enjoy, and figuring out how to do more of those — a lot of this is instantly going to get easier for you. That would be strategy number one, is to swap or even outsource if you have the means to do it. 

I felt terribly guilty for years and years about the idea of having a house cleaner come in periodically. I had all these mental narratives around that “I can’t, that feelings around it. I tell you what — I am not a fabulous housekeeper. I aspire to be. I look at things and I’m like, “Man, someone will need to clean that.” I see it, but in terms of my time, and I’m going 900 miles an hour, and not really good at it anyway. 

To have a support in that area has been incredibly helpful for me. I had to work through a lot of guilt. And yes, of course, there’s the money component. I understand that not everybody can do that. But if there are things that you can just cross off your list and get some help with, do it. 

Another piece of this that is very, very common for many people… Maybe, it is something that you need to do. It is actually your job to do. Generally speaking — like big picture — it is stuff that you’re good at, it is stuff that you enjoy doing, it is within your kind of sphere of talent, and value, and ability, and it’s also difficult to do. 

I know that many of my clients who are in creative positions or positions where their role is, even if it’s not an artistic kind of creative position — I’m thinking of a developer, marketing people, project managers, product managers… In my group, we honestly work with a lot of people in the tech industries. Their role is really to come up with ideas and be solving complex problems with lots of different moving parts that might involve a lot of different people. 

Or even I know for myself, sometimes, I love to write. I enjoy it, I think that I can do it somewhat well when I put in the time. Cognitively though, any of these activities are very cognitively demanding. They are cognitively heavy work. It takes a lot of mental effort to do these things. It may surprise you to know that your body, your physical body — okay, we all know we have physical bodies, and they burn calories. You have energy that powers your body. 

Your brain, particularly when it is working hard, consumes more calories and more energy than anything else in your body which might surprise you because we think about all these moving parts, right? But it’s actually your brain. I bring that up to reinforce and validate the fact that, sometimes, when we have these big complicated things to create or problems to solve, we can feel the enormity of that load in our brains, and it’s like anticipating lifting something extremely heavy — just this like, “Ugh!” 

I think what also goes along with that is that some things, whether they are cognitive in nature or even physical projects, can be quite complex. They have many different aspects of them. It looks like, on the surface, a fairly simple task like, “Okay, I’m going to paint the wall in the bedroom.” Something like that. It’s like a 97-step process. 

You have to get to the paint store to look at colors, and then bring the colors home, and then take them to the wall, and then look at them, and then argue about them, and then take half of them down — that. Then, you have to get the paint, and then you have to get the stuff, and then when… When are you going to do that? Anyway, it’s just like everything is complicated. 

What happens is that we begin to feel the bigness of the project, either the all of the physical steps, and it starts to feel overwhelming, or the cognitive load of it. It turns into a situation where we can begin subliminally, subconsciously dreading the process. This sort of anticipatory dread about how hard it’s going to be — even though intellectually, you want to do it, you enjoy doing it, and maybe, you want the outcome of having done it. 

When it comes to — if you’re feeling like, “Yes, this is what I do.” When it comes to the cognitive pieces of this, what I learned is that with the cognitive work, it is extremely important to do a few things. First of all, get really clear about your natural energy cycles. For example, I tend to do my best work. If I’m going to do something very cognitively heavy, I need to do it in the morning. For some people, their brains are not working at full capacity at five o’clock in the morning when I’m ready to write stuff and think about stuff. 

They are at like five o’clock at night is when they turn on. But I think gaining that awareness about yourself, “Is it the middle of the day? Is it late at night? Is it in the morning?” Then, planning your cognitively heavy work during those times. That is one really important strategy right there. In addition to that, to have a dedicated chunk, big chunk of time to do deep work, particularly if it is cognitive in nature. 

I work with so many people who are in roles where they’re managing people, or they’re guiding teams, or they’re part of a team. I’ve had clients show me their work calendars before because they’re telling me that they’re procrastinating and have this big project to do. Then, they show me their work calendar and their fragmented days. They’ll have 10 meetings in a day, and they’re like, “I just can’t make myself do this thing.” I’m thinking, “You might need an hour to settle in to even getting mentally prepared to doing this work.” 

I think that people tend to underestimate the amount of time that they need to enter into this — I think it’s almost like an altered state of consciousness in some ways to do really deep, creative work, or intellectually demanding work — but like a three-hour chunk, a five-hour chunk. I don’t know what that might look like in your life. But if you’re struggling to get those big things done, I would honestly recommend that you look at your calendar and see what you can do to move things around so that you have time and space that is protected and dedicated to those very heavy cognitive tasks. 

That’s what I began doing — blocking my calendar. I have different kinds of activities on different days. I do have days where I have meetings from morning to night — and it’s fine. I have to do it, and I enjoy talking to people and having meetings, and having sessions. But I can’t do that on days that I have to do things like make podcasts for you. I can’t focus deeply enough to be able to create that for you, so I have to have days that are like my days to do creative work. I wonder what might happen for you if you tried that strategy. 

Also, you’re responsible for setting boundaries. People aren’t going to set boundaries for you. But to be able to communicate those needs to your team, to your boss, say, “Hey, I have this big project to do, so I am going to be unavailable for the next four hours. I’m going to produce great results for you in the meantime.” Also, it’s important that when you do have this protected time to be setting boundaries with yourself, and right now, I’m thinking of the notifications that come in or you see something on your phone, and 20 minutes later… 

The protecting yourself from those intrusive kinds of notifications or interruptions that can shift you out of that deep work. In addition, though, and this is where we have to get very serious, is to identify the usual suspects that are — in Tim Urban’s words, “part of The Dark Playground”, and knowing yourself well enough to know that you cannot actually look at YouTube or whatever for five minutes even though that’s what the little voice in your mind is telling you. 

I had to implement a new rule with myself that when I go into the office, first thing in the morning, I go in with my coffee. I had to start bringing my phone in with me because I would easily spend an hour just scrolling through crap on my phone during the most productive, high-energy time of day that I had. If I was going to get something done, it was going to be at that time — just noticing that pattern and being so annoyed with myself. 

It’s like these small habits that you can develop. I think you’ve heard on previous podcasts that I did about this idea of a keystone habit, which is the one little thing that you can implement that can lead to a chain reaction of other positive habits. For me, that is not bringing my phone into my office early in the morning. It sounds like the silliest little thing, but it’s really that one keystone habit. I don’t have my phone, so I sit down and I think about what I should actually be doing, and I’m much more likely to do it. 

Perfectionism and Procrastination

I would encourage you to reflect on what your kryptonite is and find some keystone habits that will help you set some boundaries around it. Some of the other usual suspects when it comes to reasons for procrastination and things that you can do to manage them. I know we talk about perfectionism sometimes. I’m sure that that’s a word that everybody is familiar with. I sort of take perfectionism to mean other things as a — one of the many disciples of Brené Brown. I loved her concept of perfectionism, and I want to share it with you. 

She sort of referred to perfectionism as being a tendency to base your self-worth on what other people think of your work. So that when we are being perfectionistic, we are really working to get approval and recognition from others. We should probably talk about that in-depth on another podcast at some point, but that’s kind of my working model of perfectionism right now. That is different than the concept of excellence of doing a good job, of striving to do something well. 

I think that that is okay if we get feelings of satisfaction from that — to be able to think, “I did a good job, I did that well.” I certainly don’t want to take that away from you, and I don’t want you to think that if you are trying really hard to do a good job, you’re being perfectionistic because that might not be true. I respect people that do excellent work. I’m sure that you do too, and probably aspire to be one of those people. 

Where this begins to cause problems and lead to procrastination is when you, I, we tend to become so over-detailed and start broadening the scope of the project, and incorporating all kinds of things that maybe don’t need to be part of the project or the thing we have to do, and begin to become attached to very specific and possibly over-ambitious outcomes that lead us to feel that overwhelmed feeling and dread the process of something as simple as reorganizing the kitchen like, “Man, my drawers are a mess. I need to reorganize this kitchen.” 

If you’re not careful, can turn into a full day of tearing everything out of the cabinets, and having to take a bunch of stuff to Goodwill, and re-papering all of the drawers, and, “We should probably get new organizers.” “While we’re here, why don’t we just repaint the place, and I should probably get new dishes.” I mean, it just explodes into all of these different things. I think that a real helpful goal here is can be to narrow our focus and notice when we’re doing scope creep in any of the things that we undertake. 

I know that I have a tendency to do this, and I know many of my clients have too. I do think it’s attached to that noble intention of wanting to do a really good and thorough job — and that’s great, but not if it prevents you from actually doing anything. If it sort of snowballs into many other ideas, and you can’t plant flowers in the front yard before you figure out your whole concept for landscaping. We’re probably going to put a new addition on the house at some point, so you have to figure out what we’re doing that first when you could have just gone out and spent approximately 20 minutes planting some Iris bulbs, and it would have been fine. 

To kind of have this mental jujitsu where you can help yourself stay focused on the one small task that would bring some value in the short term, and it would make things better than they currently are. Your life might be incrementally better if you literally spent 20 minutes just reorganizing your silverware drawer. But you have to have a mental boundary that stops you from going further than that. That is just another cognitive strategy that I’ve noticed can be really helpful for people — is actually making the bar lower, and much more narrow and focused.

Another neat trick is that if you have something that you need to do, and it is one of those smaller projects — ones that are easy to put off, but that probably should be done every once in a while — is to set a timer. “I am going to rearrange some of the silverware drawers to the best of my ability for the next 10 minutes. Siri, set a timer for 10 minutes.” Do your thing, and when the timer goes off, you stop. Your silverware drawer is halfway better, and it’s still better than it was, and you have done something. 

I think setting almost those little challenges with yourself is a way to gamify procrastination, and actually get yourself to do some of the things that you have been putting off in addition to finding a place and time to do them. That is kind of flowing us into another reason why people often procrastinate is because they have not developed what we clinically call “executive functioning skills”. This could be for a variety of reasons. 

Many of us were never specifically taught “executive functioning skills”. We are sent to school, and given assignments, and do these things. But I never had a teacher show me, “Okay, here’s a planner; here’s how to use a calendar; here is how to manage your time in such a way that you can actually get these things done.” We’re just given a syllabus, and like, “Good luck with that.” 

I think that there’s this assumption in the educational system, but also in many occupational environments that we know how to do that. For many people, that is simply not true. They weren’t taught it or  — this is also a very real thing — they may struggle with ADHD as adults. That can really mean that they have to work even harder to develop very robust executive functioning skills and systems in order to be able to manage themselves. 

It can be simple things — like we all have that to-do list of the things. Unless you have good executive functioning skills, your to-do list will never work because you don’t have a system for saying, “Okay, this is how long this task is going to take, and this is where and when I am going to do this task.” Just like we’re told that things that, in order to have like an organized environment, we have to find a place to put our stuff, and that’s like where its home is. 

You also have to have a place in time to put the things that need to be done in, or they will just stay on that to-do list and your life will flow by, and you’ll become increasingly annoyed with yourself that you haven’t updated your budget or opened the mail in two months because you haven’t identified when are you going to do that activity. There are all kinds of books on these sorts of skills. 

If you, in listening to this podcast, become aware that, “Yeah, you know what? I never did learn how to do that. It could be super helpful just to look through some of those.” There are also such things as productivity coaches who can help teach you how to do that. But those are learnable skills. If you didn’t learn them overtly somewhere along the way, you might want to consider doing that. 

Those are some of the deeper things that I have found to be at the core of perfectionism. Some of the strategies that I’ve worked with clients around implementing — there are certainly others. Of course, like any of the podcasts that I create — this podcast is in no way intended to be an answer to the whole thing. For many people, it was certainly for myself. It took a long time. I had to work at this for years in order to figure out what was leading to procrastination, and also to develop the skills, and strategies, and practices that helped me move past it. 

Connecting With Your Values

Before we end, I do want to share one other strategy that has really helped me and helped a lot of my clients. Again, this is a deeper thing. It’s not something that you can just start doing right away, but it is very much worth doing. It’s sitting down and spending some time reflecting on your values — like what feels genuinely meaningful and important to you? Like getting connected to your “why”. Why do you do anything? Why do you want this job anyway?

Is it your family? Is your art? Is it other things in your life that are super important to you? Really get clear about those. Then, start to figure out which tasks, or projects, or habits, things that you may have been putting off — how they connect to these larger values. I tell you what, if they don’t connect to the larger values, I would like to give you permission to just cross them off your list. 

Unless, of course, they are extremely important values to somebody that you are partnered with, and crossing them off your list could lead to the detriment of your relationship. You certainly don’t want to do that. But if you do this for yourself, what you will have left is a collection of things that are actually meaningful and important to you. Then, you can begin to create sort of goals around these. 

When we can get clear about our values and the goals that kind of flow off of those, and then the tasks or the projects that we need to do in order to accomplish these goals that are a manifestation of our values, then there becomes much more meaning in our daily tasks. We also have a lot more clarity about what is important and why. That in itself can be quite motivating. 

Something I’ve gotten in the habit of doing is every week, we’ll think about my values, my long-term goals, and then, “What are just the three most important things I could do this week that would move me towards those?” Then, from those weekly goals, what are the three most important small things I could do today that would carry me towards that, and do those first. Do those during your most high-energy days, and respecting the fact that those times of day are very special times of day that not just anything should wander into your energy field at those times of the day. 

That time is reserved for special and important things that are connected to your highest meaning and value, and getting in the habit of doing those things first. When you do that, every day will be incredibly productive because you’ll be doing the most important things. Even if you don’t do all of the things, you can feel good and confident that you are living in alignment with your values, and you’re making the most important things happen because that’s where it’s at. 

We all need to release this idea that we can do all of the “everything” — that’s not possible. But we should strive to be doing the things that are important to us. That’s one last tip. I hope it’s helpful. But again, I don’t want you to hear this podcast and think that you should be able to do all of these things that I’ve advised. Then, that just turns into another thing to feel bad about yourself around if you can’t. That is not the way that people work. 

These are growth experiences. This is a process, and getting information like this is a part of the process. But true growth — it’s never informational, it is experiential, it occurs over time. I just wanted to remind you of that before we end so that you can be gentle with yourself as you are working on this. Anyway, thank you so much for spending this time with me today. I do hope this was helpful, and I will see you next time, next week. In the meantime, here is more Wimps.


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