Why We Procrastinate

And some ways to stop

Martin O'Toole
Know Thyself, Heal Thyself

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Image by shtonado, licensed via iStock

Here’s a fat, ironical truth.

I’ve been putting off writing a blog for ages.

Then I got to thinking why.

We all put ‘stuff’ off, don’t we?

We all find ourselves looking at a growing to-do list, feeling stuck, yet paradoxically and proactively going out of our way to find absolutely anything else to do instead.

If that’s you, then you’re not alone.

More than just a habit, procrastination is a psychological challenge that hampers us all.

So, why do we procrastinate?

There isn’t just one reason. Understanding the why behind this paralysing trait is the first step in arm-wrestling it.

Here are some common reasons:

Fear of failure

Often, procrastination stems from a fear of making a mess of the task at hand. Perfectionism can disable us, making avoiding the task feel safer than not doing it perfectly.

Instant gratification

Newsflash: our brains naturally seek immediate pleasure and avoid discomfort. This makes the lure of social media, TV, cake, rest, pornography — whatever your unhealthy distraction — more appealing than tackling a difficult task.

Overwhelm

When tasks seem too large or complex and stacked atop too many other tasks, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure where to start. So we don’t!

Lack of motivation

Tasks that don’t align with our interests or values can feel tedious. Without a clear connection to our goals, motivation can wane, and procrastination can set in. Especially if we’re physically or emotionally run down.

Poor time management

Without a structured plan or process, it’s easy to lose track of time and let tasks slip through the cracks, leading to last-minute scrambles and unnecessary stress. Overwhelm re-enters Stage Left.

How to overcome procrastination

Breaking the cycle of procrastination involves practical strategies and a compassionate mindset:

Set micro-goals

While it may seem obvious, breaking large tasks into smaller, manageable steps means each small accomplishment builds momentum and reduces overwhelming feelings. Celebrate these small wins to stay motivated.

The two-minute rule

If a task can be done in two minutes or less, do it immediately. This helps clear out minor tasks and makes larger ones feel more approachable. It also makes that to-do list a shit-load shorter.

Prioritise effectively

Use tools like the Eisenhower Matrix to differentiate between urgent and crucial tasks. Or, even more simply, every day, free-flow write a new list, then put priority numbers next to it, forcing yourself to follow the order. Focusing on high-priority items helps manage time better and reduces stress.

Time blocking

Schedule specific times for different tasks. This structure helps create a routine and minimises the temptation to procrastinate.

Create a distraction-free zone

Identify and eliminate common distractions. This might involve setting boundaries for social media, creating a dedicated workspace, or using apps that block distracting websites.

Practice self-compassion

Be kind to yourself when you slip up. Procrastination is a shared experience, and self-criticism only makes it worse. Acknowledge your feelings, forgive yourself, and refocus on your goals. And if you genuinely need to step away, then do it! Shake it off; move or rest (sans-screen). Sometimes, the best way to push on is to push back.

Accountability partners

Share your goals with someone who can hold you accountable. Regular check-ins with a friend, family member, or colleague can provide the motivation and support needed to stay on track.

Reflect and adjust

Regularly evaluate your progress and the effectiveness of your strategies.

Be flexible and willing to adjust your approach to find what works best.

By understanding the psychological roots of procrastination and adopting these strategies, you can build a more productive and fulfilling routine, safe in the knowledge that this trait of yours is not just yours; it grabs us all.

I hope you feel reading this was worth your time. I’m happy to finally scrub it from my (overwhelming) list!

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Martin O'Toole
Know Thyself, Heal Thyself

Psychedelic integration coach and counsellor, How To Die Happy author, podcaster, and mental health advocate writing about healing and the Anatomy of Happy.