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Laziness Doesn’t Exist: Getting to the Root Cause of Procrastination

A man, looking at his phone, next to a window. He is procrastinating.

Contribution By: Brad Wayland

You keep putting off things you know are urgent to focus on busywork or doing nothing at all. As a result, you’re in a constant state of catch-up. The good news is the reason you procrastinate is not that you’re lazy. Instead, putting things off to the last second has more to do with internal fear.

“Never leave that ‘till tomorrow which you can do today.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin had the right idea when he wrote that. After all, it’s always better to get things done quickly.  It’s always better to turn in a project early than it is to scramble desperately towards completion minutes before the due date.

That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? But if you were the kind of person who could easily do that, you wouldn’t be here right now. Procrastination, I imagine, is a demon you’ve wrestled with on more than one occasion. You know you need to get stuff done, however, you can’t push yourself to do it. Instead, you just waste time. The good news is that you aren’t lazy! Not really. It’s likely a deeper reason is behind your inability to get things done. Social psychologist, Devon Price, says “I don’t believe laziness exists…Situational constraints typically predict behavior far better than personality, intelligence, or other individual-level traits…There are always barriers.” They continue to say that “Recognizing those barriers – and viewing them as legitimate – is often the first step to breaking ‘lazy’ behavior patterns.”

Why You Can’t Get Anything Done On Time

Answer this question: What sort of association do you make between your workplace performance and your value as a person? For example, if you make a mistake in the office, do you treat it as a personal failure?

Perfectionism

According to the Australian Institute of Business, perfectionism can actually play a significant role in procrastination. To summarize, high achievers can fall into a toxic mindset where anything less than perfection is a failure. Generally, they may suffer from low self-esteem that prevents them from effectively starting on tasks, or have such a paralyzing fear of failure that they can’t even motivate themselves to start. Chances are, you aren’t even consciously aware of the fears described above – and they can manifest in a wide number of ways:

They could manifest as a lack of motivation to start on something you don’t fully understand, or as an aversion to criticism and scrutiny. It could manifest as a tendency to view even simple tasks as impossible. Or it could manifest as a tendency to seek distraction the moment things get even somewhat difficult.

Burnt Out at Work and Depression

Perfectionism isn’t the only reason one might procrastinate, mind you. Burnout – and its close cousin depression – is an equally prevalent, equally destructive cause. You want to work, but you simply can’t muster the energy to do so. You’re drained, and even the smallest tasks seem to demand a herculean degree of effort.

Heather Ashman, an author with a Master’s in Human Behavior, notes that this form of procrastination can manifest in several ways:

  • Difficulty prioritizing.Your brain is too overwhelmed to focus on getting anything done.
  • Putting off even simple, basic tasks. Again, you’re too drained to do anything.
  • Actively seeking distraction. Anything to avoid confronting your lack of motivation.

Defeating The Dragon Of Procrastination

Whether due to perfectionism or fatigue, the solution to procrastination starts with admitting you have a problem. From there, I strongly recommend seeking therapy for your underlying issues. There’s no shame in it, and it’s not a display of weakness or some sort of personal failure. The fact is, everyone can benefit from a trip to the therapist’s office. A lot of people go to therapy, particularly successful people who need to work things out. Consequently, talking to a trained professional can help more than you know.

Beyond that, there are little things you can do to motivate yourself between meetings.

Ways to Improve Your Focus

  • Learn to recognize when you’re procrastinating. Take action and refocus your attention when you do.
  • Find a routine. This doesn’t need to be anything complicated or even related to work. It could be as simple as going to a particular coffee shop for lunch every Wednesday. You can gradually make this routine more intricate and complex as you move forward.
  • Break big tasks up into smaller, bite-sized, actionable chunks. Commit to each small task, and don’t focus on anything else until it’s done.
  • Work in small spurts of 15 minutes or less. Take a break every now and then.
  • Minimize distractions when you’re working, as much as possible.
  • Focus on the tasks that you find the least palatable first.
  • Reward yourself for completing difficult tasks.
  • Don’t blame yourself for procrastinating. You’re working to overcome it now.

We all procrastinate every now and then. But if that behavior is starting to negatively impact your personal and professional life, you need to address it. Follow the advice above, and you can do just that.

About the Author

Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.

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