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Why Do People Procrastinate?

Procrastinate: Every time I think of procrastination, I’m reminded of the famous procrastinator. The one immortalized forever on the big silver screen, Ms. Scarlet O’Hara.

Can’t you just see her as she places the back of her hand to her forehead as she says that famous line: "I’ll think about it tomorrow!"

I confess that, since my days of high school Latin, I like to discover things about the origins of words. Bear with me here, this will make sense.

The word procrastination comes from two words in Latin:

  1. Pro means forward, and
  2. Crastinus means of tomorrow.

Scarlett was right.  Every procrastinator puts things off until tomorrow.  I told you it would make sense!

We all procrastinate at some point in our lives.  It's called being human. But procrastination tends to become a vicious cycle.

  • Procrastinate
  • Feel Guilty
  • Procrastinate Some More
  •  Feel Even More Guilty

And on and on it goes!

One of my favorite sayings to help me get out of the procrastination cycle is the decision not to me a decision is still a decision.

The Decision Not to Make a
Decision is Still a Decision

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For some people, it never seems to bother them. They go merrily along putting things off until they get slapped in the face with reality.  For example, those people that wind up being arrested for procrastinating about paying their speeding ticket.

Some eventually make a choice to do something about it. Sadly, some people spend their lives stuck in that procrastination whirlpool.

For other folks, believe it or not, actually seem to enjoy it! Some make it a game and brag about how much stuff they put off which usually someone else has had to pick it up and do it.  Urrrggggghhhh!

Most of us, however, find this cycle very stressful.

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The point of this article is to give you some useful and hopefully helpful information on why it happens and what can be done about it.

Why do we procrastinate?

I’m not a psychiatrist or mental health professional. Even among the professionals, there are a lot of theories about why we procrastinate.

Some professionals say it has to do with our family of origin (dealing with a totalitarian authority figure). Some say it’s just old-fashioned laziness. Other theories abound, take your pick!

Some Basic Reasons

The majority of people I talk to procrastinate for some very basic reasons:

  • Fear of failure (and it’s opposite),
  • Fear of success,
  • Pride (confused about what to do, but won’t admit it),
  • Impatience (frustrated with the process of learning something new),
  • Responsibility avoidance,
  • Aversion to the risk,
  • It’s not important,
  • Frustration (getting bogged down in details).

Most of us experience one or more of these symptoms in our lifetime either singly or sometimes, in combinations.  Most of us, however, manage to work through it and come out on the other side. Other people seem to flounder.

For those who are experiencing typical procrastination, here are some tips that might be useful:

  • Acknowledge you have a problem,
  • Identify the reason(s) you’re procrastinating (see list above),
  • Think about the flip side (identify the negative results of not completing the task),
  • Visualize yourself completing the task successfully,
  • Break down the task into Baby Steps (see Baby Steps tips),
  • Research what you don’t know,
  • Delegate it to someone who can help you (get some coaching),
  • Motivate yourself with a reward for completing the task (make it exciting; something you wouldn’t ordinarily give yourself).

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For those who are experiencing something much more than typical procrastination and may need more specialized help or for those who want more in-depth information about the subject, I highly recommend the book by Linda Sapadin, PhD, It’s About Time: The 6 Styles of Procrastination.

Here’s an idea on what the book covers:

Chapter 1: Takes a look at the different ways people procrastinate (6 styles of procrastination). Characteristics everyone has in common. How you can unlearn those habits. There’s a self-assessment quiz to help you discover your personality style.

Chapter 2: Takes a look at the Perfectionist Procrastinator. Deals with getting bogged down in details nobody else cares about. Problems starting or completing a project because it doesn’t (or won’t) meet your high standards. Reluctance to delegate because people won’t do it your way. When is good enough good enough?

Chapter 3: Takes a look at the Dreamer Procrastinator. Deals with spending too much time in thought about something instead of doing it. Waiting for opportunities instead of being proactive. Wanting to go from “A” to “Z” without doing the realistic stuff in between. Differentiate between dreams and goals.

Chapter 4: Takes a look at the Worrier Procrastinator. Why focusing too much on what can go wrong keeps you from moving forward. Difficulty making decisions. Hating to leave your comfort zone. Avoidance of stressful situations. Not making a decision is a decision. Mental catastrophizing.

Chapter 5: Takes a look at the Defier Procrastinator. Rebellion. Digging in your heels keeps you stuck in procrastination cycle. Sulking or becoming irritable when asked to do something you don’t want to. Deliberately working slowly to sabotage a task you don’t enjoy. Avoiding obligations by claiming you forgot or it’s not important. Passive-aggressive tendencies.

Chapter 6: Takes a look at the Crisis-maker Procrastinator. Turning every situation into a drama keeps you stuck in procrastination. Ignoring tasks until the last minute then working frantically to get them done. Living on the edge and risk taking. Is being an adrenaline junky holding you back? You are not a victim.

Chapter 7: Takes a look at the Overdoer Procrastinator. Piling too much on your plate can cause you to procrastinate on all projects. Running around and not accomplishing much. Having trouble saying “no” to people. Not prioritizing properly. Stop thinking you are powerless and/or overwhelmed.

Chapter 8: Deals with process of change. Going from denial to awareness. Going from awareness to commitment. Going from commitment to making it happen. Ways to overcome and stay motivated.

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I know this was a heavy subject. Hopefully I made it a little lighter.  But, more importantly, I hope you found this overview article was informative and helpful.

For something fun that's on topic, you might also enjoy the Procrastinators Creed.

Links to Other Information

Here are links to other special issues:


Go to: ADD & Organizing

Go to: Causes of Stress

Go to: Clutter Help

Go to: Compulsive Hoarder

Go to: Helpful Articles

Go to: Procrastinate

Go to: What is S.A.D.

Here are links to help you get started with your next organizing project:

Go to:  Step #1 Start Here

Go to: Step #2 Organized Mindset

Go to: Step #3 Questions to Ask Yourself

Go to Step #4 Start Somewhere

Go to: Step #5 Baby Steps

Go to: Step #6 Basic Principles

Go to: Step #7 Other Things

Go to: Step #8 Last Things

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