• There are no suggestions because the search field is empty.

Procrastination Is Not a Time Management Problem!

Recently, I watched a video on procrastination, and memories flooded back on my own personal struggles with this beast. Years ago, I was a chronic procrastinator, with tons of guilt and self-condemnation that often accompany this habit. I used to berate myself every time I didn't accomplish my goals or if I procrastinated on an important project or an unpleasant task. It was brutal.

Estimated reading time: 4.5 minutes 

Procrastination is not a time management problem

Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done!

Do you ever feel like you've entered a time warp or some vortex that sucks you in and devours your time without accomplishing anything significant?

That's the way I felt most of the time. No matter the focus or how many different ways I tried to manage my time more efficiently—my procrastination would not budge. I read every book on the subject... lol... part of my strategy to avoid was "researching" or "learning." I even delved into the whole work-life balance theme that's so popular!

So how did I overcome my procrastination habit?

I got curious.

What was really going on that caused this inner battle? The more I investigated my own truth, the more my self-criticism was replaced with self-compassion.

Seem impossible? It sure didn't seem likely to me!

How I Overcame Procrastination

To explore my procrastination, I made a simple chart and tracked my behavior for one month without judgment. I required myself to observe and log as if I was doing a study on dog behavior or why it windy in Livingston where I live.

I diligently logged every day. Yes, I'm going to repeat it again: without judgment! Accomplishing a nonjudgmental stance is a major practice in and of itself—and well worth the effort! These two words are SO important because often procrastinators are so ruthless with their negative self-talk, which is commonly referred to as the inner critic.

Here's what I logged:

  • when I was putting things off (time of day and day of the week)
  • exactly what I was avoiding
  • the emotion(s) I was feeling at the time
  • what was triggering my emotion(s).
Every time negative self-talk popped up, I assured myself that I was taking action to change. After keeping this log for an entire month, I reviewed the information—and some repetitive patterns jumped off the page. With these realizations and insights came some major aha moments and life changes.

I discovered and came to the same conclusion as Dr. Tim Pychyl:
"Procrastination is an emotion-focused coping response. It's not a problem with your time management."

Discover More

Woman procrastinating an important report.What Curiosity Taught Me About My Procrastination 

Documenting my procrastination proved very revealing. Sometimes I REALLY didn't want to do what I thought I should do or what I had agreed to do. I uncovered multiple nonproductive patterns that were driving my life—and my procrastination.

INSIGHT 1:  I regularly agreed to do things to please someone else, not myself. Bingo! My biggest error was committing before I knew what was right for me. Even if it was a fit for me, did I have sufficient time and energy for the commitment?

INSIGHT 2:  No matter how hard I tried to force myself and motivate or trick myself to get something done, I resisted. Fascinating how autonomy works—even if it's hidden in unconscious patterns. What I discovered was that when I wasn't 100% on board with a decision, my procrastination was a way of communicating to myself that I wasn't in agreement and the decision wasn't good for me. There are many indirect ways to say no; procrastination is one of them.

INSIGHT 3:  I was making other people's dreams and goals more important than my own. As an unconscious pattern, this habit of putting others first was rooted in outdated conditioning.

  Whenever I was trying to make myself do what I thought
I should do, I wasn't listening to my intuition. I was going upstream, paddling against my own truth. My intuition was trying to tell me, "Back away from this opportunity!"

An employee frustrated with his progress on a project

INSIGHT 5:  There were typically three obstacles that repeated whenever I procrastinated:

Obstacle #1 - I viewed myself as having insufficient skill or knowledge to feel confident and successful.

Obstacle #2 - By making procrastination and myself wrong, I always experienced negative emotional static: guilt because I wasn't acting; regret that I had committed prematurely; anger toward myself because "I should have known better"; resentment toward the person(s) who made the request I agreed to; a sense of feeling used because I was giving up myself; frustration from spinning my wheels and wasting time. And amid the clamor was a minuscule glimmer of excitement whenever I allowed myself to entertain thoughts of what I'd like to do instead.

Obstacle #3 - Before I could actually do the task or decline the commitment altogether, I had to resolve a conflict with the person who asked me to do it or someone else, like my husband.

There was so much richness in these insights that it started to dawn on me that procrastination had gotten a bad name.

My procrastination was actually acting in my own best interest and toward my highest good!

So I made a decision: I decided to respect what was important to me and to choose freely how to spend my time and energy.

Related reading: "How to Stop Procrastinating in 4 Simple Steps"
A young woman holding a cup of coffee contemplating

Strategies to Support Change and Break the Procrastination Habit!

To support myself in this big behavioral change, I put several practices in place that may be helpful to you:

• I gave myself adequate time and space to contemplate a decision.
Once I walked away from the person or hung up the phone, it was much easier to check in to see what I really wanted. (Pleasers, take note, and read:  "People-Pleasing Compliance: a Felony Against Self")

Many times once I thought more seriously about the request, my answer was no. Whenever someone made a request of me (review an article or book; take care of their children; volunteer for a committee; etc.), I would give myself 24-48 hours before responding. I'd tell the person that I'd look at my priorities and schedule and would get back to them within a reasonable time. I'd also ask them what was the ideal date to get back to them and the latest date by which they needed an answer.

• The opportunity had to make me happy and be congruent with my values. Not that I stopped doing favors that weren't top on my fun list, but when I did commit, I really wanted to do it. And I scheduled the commitment so that it didn't conflict with other important goals and people in my life. The more important the relationship, the more I was willing to stretch.

• I checked in with myself and asked: "Is this relationship reciprocal?"
Keep in mind that due to my well-developed identity as a people pleaser, in the past I had set up a lot of relationships that needed me regularly but rarely gave back.

RESULT: When I did say yes and commit to something or someone, I showed up 100% and took effective action, while moving with ease, flow, and joy.

TIP: When changing a very entrenched and long-standing pattern, we often default to our old ways before the change is integrated. So sometimes I'd forget and say "Sure, I'd be happy to do that for you!" Those words would slip out before I realized it.

Yes, teach me the art of saying no!

A woman leaving procrastination behind!

How to Handle When You Default to an Old Habit

To help me succeed in making this change, I made a commitment to myself that I'd be compassionate with myself while transforming this habit, especially if I committed too fast. Then, I'd decide either to keep my word and fulfill the commitment or to revisit it with the person and renegotiate.

If I decided that I definitely didn't have the bandwidth for the new commitment, I would go back and tell the person that I spoke too soon. I'd level with them that I was working on being more in integrity with myself by only committing to things I could dedicate myself to wholeheartedly. Much to my surprise, people were very grateful and relieved by my honesty. In fact, occasionally they had even found someone else who was a better fit, but they were afraid to tell me because it might hurt my feelings.

This experience taught me that if it's not right for me, it's not right for other people either.

Relatetd reading: "Being a People-Pleaser Does Not Make You Kind."

The more I practiced this new way of being, the less I procrastinated.

Now I passionately do what I love. I support people guilt-free, and my life is overflowing with joy and fulfillment. Giving myself permission to say no was a very important ingredient in loving myself.

From this solid place, now I actually serve and help far more people and accomplish tons more. Now that I have very little internal resistance or push-pull and rarely feel conflicting feelings, my enthusiastic commitment makes things happen faster and more efficiently.

Procrastination can be a good thing. It's our compass pointing us to our true north.

Our internal compass helps us find our way

As Marie Forleo says, "Sometimes putting it off is a sign you need to call it off."

What are you doing that might not be what you really want to be doing? 

Where are you procrastinating, and is it time to reassess why?

If you want a daily practice in how to be true to yourself and an effective way to find emotional balance, start by observing the times you are procrastinating. And remember, all strategies for change begin with self-compassion and acceptance of yourself and where you are on the journey.

For more personalized support and proven tools for change, contact us at jennifer@heartmanity.com.

Like the article? Help us spread the word and share it!

Jennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence CoachJennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence Coach
Jennifer is the Heartmanity founder and an emotional intelligence expert. She has two decades of EQ experience and is the author of emotional intelligence training and courses. As an emotional fitness coach, Jennifer teaches EQ skills, brain science hacks, and a comprehensive approach that gets results. She is happily married and the mother of three incredible grown children.

Posted in Brain Fitness, Mindfulness and Perspective, Emotional Intelligence & Fitness

Free Newsletter!

Featured Online Courses

Online Course - Emotional Fitness for the 21st Century 4 Keys to Unlocking the Power of Empathy