How to Identify and Overcome Your Reasons for Procrastinating

Key to overcoming procrastination is the understanding that we tend to put off things that are emotionally / psychologically painful to us. Overgeneralizing and using the 80/20 rule, these things that cause us pain fall into 4 main buckets — they cause us pain because (a) they involve or may cause conflict, (b) they force us to interact with lots of unfamiliar people, © they require us to follow a process, or (d) they involve dealing with a lot of details.

Another way to look at it is that most of us fall into one of these categories more than the others — we’re either:

1. Conflict-averse

2. People-averse

3. Process-averse

4. Detail-averse.

For example, as a relatively strong introvert, I tend to put off tasks that require me to interact with lots of people with whom I’m not familiar. If I have something to do that involves dealing with new peoplestrangers — I will put that thing off until I absolutely, positively have to do it. At work, this might be gathering requirements by interviewing customers in a panel-style discussion, or presenting my proposed solution to a group of managers from another department.

Identify the thing that you’re procrastinating, and try to determine why you’re putting it off.

  • Is it because there’s conflict associated with it?
  • Is it because it will push you into a social situation that you’re not comfortable with?
  • Is it because completing the task involves following some sort of process?
  • Or is it because doing the work will involve diving into an excruciating amount of detail?

Once you understand why you’re procrastinating the thing, figure out how to accomplish the task while removing the pain point. In the example above where I need to gather customer requirements via large group discussions, perhaps I could accomplish the same objective through an electronic survey. Or perhaps I could find someone on the team who actually gains energy from this kind of activity, and see if I can take on another part of the project so she/he can do the requirements gathering.

1. If you’re procrastinating because you’re avoiding conflict, can you re-frame the issue so that there isn’t as much conflict involved? Try focusing on common goals that you have with the other person, and the things that you both want, rather than areas of disagreement.

2. If you’re procrastinating because you’re avoiding groups of people, can you redefine the task so that there isn’t as much people interaction involved? Can you get a colleague or friend involved who likes this sort of interaction?

3. If you’re procrastinating because you’re avoiding following the process, try looking at the work as an opportunity to make improvements to the process along the way. Look for opportunities to skip unnecessary steps or otherwise complete the process more quickly.

4. If you’re procrastinating because you’re avoiding the details, look at it as an opportunity to prove to others that you can indeed handle this kind of detail-oriented work. Set a goal to identify a big overarching lesson or story that the details are telling, and continually challenge yourself to be on the lookout for that bigger picture.

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