3 Reasons Why We Procrastinate and How to Work Through It

THREE REASONS WHY WE PROCRASTINATE AND HOW TO WORK THROUGH IT | NICOLE REAVES

As memory keepers, we hear the term “catching up” quite often. When I was more active with Project Life, people talked about it all the time.

I’m so behind.
I need to get current.
I’m working on catching up.
How do you stay caught up?

These days it’s common to feel behind in pretty much anything. The growing stack of books on our nightstand, the household chores, the craft projects, the laundry – it’s never-ending. We have so many ideas and projects and habits and goals we want to work on, and never enough (fill in the blank here with your favorite excuse) to do it. It happens to everyone, myself included.

Earlier this year I wrote a list of the projects I wanted to finish and realized my procrastination is often caused by a variety of factors.

I don’t have enough time.
I don’t feel like it.
I don’t have all of the supplies yet.
It’s too overwhelming.
I lost interest.
I am afraid it isn’t going to look how I envisioned it, aka "perfect."
I don’t know where to start.

Before even obsessing about my procrastination, I took a hard look at that list and crossed out what wasn't important to me anymore. I think it's okay to put something on hold, to take a break from it for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes. As long as no one is relying on you to complete it and / or the end result is in your control.

I like Sean McCabe’s take on doing what you deem as important. In a recent podcast about writing his first book in a month, he said,

You’ll never finish something you don’t set aside time for.
And you won’t make time for something unless it’s important to you.

Not everything can be important. Not everything can be a priority. In fact, a very wise internet friend recently reminded me that "priority" is singular. Yup, so true.

So back to that list. When I think about any of the projects I’ve started and finished, or haven’t finished, or haven’t started, I can narrow down what typically holds me back into one (or more) of these three excuses : 

TIME

Between work, family, taking care of the house and the necessities of life like eating and sleeping, it often feels like there isn’t enough time to do what I really want to do. But, like most of us, I tend to have moments when I'm wasting time, a lot of time, on things that really don't deserve my attention.

I'm not always spending my time on the right things.

Can you relate? I've seen great improvement over the last year but I still have those days when I crash after the kids are tucked into bed and think,

What did I even do today?
When am I ever going to get to that one thing I keep putting off?

When I find myself procrastinating because I feel like I don’t have time, I ask myself these questions :

  • What can I remove from my schedule or to-do list to make time for this project? There’s almost always something that can be put on hold so I can make progress on a project that needs my attention.
  • Can I find a couple of hours next week to work on this project? Yes? Add it to the calendar along with an alert to remind you. Treat that time like an appointment.
  • Is there a passive activity you enjoy, like watching a favorite TV show or listening to music, that you can tie in to what you’ve been putting off and make it fun? For example, I’ve heard of people who only listen to podcasts when they go for their daily walk. If they want to listen to an episode, they know they have to tie up their shoes and head outside to do so.

HOW TO WORK THROUGH IT // Consider tracking your time for one week and see how you spend your time. Laura Vanderkam has a great tracker on her website that I've used several times over the past couple years. Even though it may vary from week to week, it’ll give you a really good idea on how you spend your time, what really isn’t that important, what you could delegate, what you could remove temporarily or permanently, and replace with those things you’ve been putting off.

MOTIVATION

To me, motivation means there is some driving force that is encouraging you to get something done. A deadline can be motivating. Envisioning the end result of a project can be motivating. Keeping track of your progress and seeing how far you’ve come can be motivating.

Related side note : Seeing and hearing other people’s success in a particular area of their life can be motivating too. There is a fine line here, as I know first hand that it can also lead to discouragement, guilt and shame because you aren’t in the same place. I know I can only take so many makeovers, before and afters, etc. If you are stuck in the comparison trap, definitely step back from looking at what everyone else is doing and focus on yourself.

I don’t believe you can find motivation. You can’t wait for motivation to show up. You either have it or you don’t. And when you don’t, that’s when you need to push through it - usually. Every day there are things I don’t feel like doing, but I know they are important to my personal growth and success, to my health, to my family and to running a smooth household.

Here are some questions I like to ask myself when I’m just not feeling it :

  • Why am I doing this?
  • Is it going to move me forward?
  • Is it important to my goals and values?

HOW TO WORK THROUGH IT // If you answered yes to the last two questions and you feel like this project or task is keeping you on the right track, then just start. It's so simple and yet so hard.

Put on those running shoes and head outside.
Sit at your computer and open your photo editing software.
Grab a piece of paper and brain dump every little task related to the project.

Often I find it much more helpful to focus on what I’m working on at this moment rather than on the end goal. Making progress on anything, a little bit each day, will certainly help you build momentum and excitement around that project (or habit or goal for that matter).

FEAR

This one might sound a bit dramatic but I’ve felt it myself. Fear is there for anything - from finishing a creative project to changing my eating habits to starting a new hobby. My inner dialogue is feisty when it comes to fear. She sounds a bit like this :

This is going to take forever.
You're going to screw it up.
It's not going to work.
No one cares.
You're going to get hurt.
It's not going to look like so-and-so.
People are going to think you are weird / lame / boring.
You're going to leave something out.
It's not going to be perfect.

HOW TO WORK THROUGH IT // Like motivation, I don’t know that you can ‘beat’ fear, but with regular intentional practice, you can get used to the discomfort that comes with doing something new. Or something with an uncertain outcome. Have you heard the saying that if you feel uncomfortable, you are doing something right? It's crazy hard, but I’ve grown to realize that when I feel afraid or uneasy about doing something, that probably means I’m on the right track and to keep going.

LET'S TAKE ACTION

Do you have a project in mind that you want to start or finish? Do you have many? I often find it helpful to write them all down. Then add notes about why you've been putting it off. Maybe time, motivation and fear are excuses for you. Maybe there are other factors you are dealing with. Write them all down and get it out of your head.

Next, whether you are starting a new project or figuring out how to finish one - start by writing down every single step needed to complete the project. Make the steps as small as necessary to make it easy on yourself to get going.

Then schedule when you are going to do it. Put it on your to-do list. Schedule it in your calendar. Make it a recurring task in your favorite app. Set alerts and reminders. Whatever it takes.

Seriously, starting is the hardest part.

When the time comes, start with the first action step. Have more time and want to keep going? Do what’s next! When your time is up, it should be a no-brainer on where you need to start next time. Here’s an example of how I did that on a recent project.

Do any of these procrastination excuses strike a chord with you? Tell me in the comments what is holding you back from finishing an important project.

Want more? Check out these other resources :
TO LISTEN TO : How To Be Remarkable Podcast Episode 6 : Procrastination 101
TO PLAN IT OUT : Get To Work Book Project Breakdown Notepad
TO READ : Big Magic : Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
TO THINK ON : How You Know You're on the Right Track

Want to check out the project I was procrastinating on and finally powered through? I was three years behind on Morgan's school album and devoted the time to get it done this past spring. The process turned into a course and I want to show you how you can get current on your child's school album too. Catching Up with School Days is now live at Big Picture Classes!

Now that it’s the end of the school year, my kids have been coming home with a ton of papers! Artwork, tests, worksheets. Plus all of the photos we've taken and collected. It’s overwhelming but I’m relieved to know I have a step-by-step process to handling it now. If you are in a similar boat - unsure of what to keep and how to get it all into an album, I hope you'll check it out.