Procrastination: How to Understand It and Beat It

Some of us are right-handed and some of us are left-handed. Some of us love cilantro and some of us think it tastes like soap (seriously…fuck cilantro). And some of us are Type-A and some of us are Type-B — or natural procrastinators. You may not think that procrastination is genetic, that it’s more a learned behavior, or just the product of laziness, but there is some scientific evidence that the tendency to procrastinate is at least somewhat heritable.

The good news is, even if you did inherit the procrastination gene, there is still hope. You’re not destined to be an unproductive lump, half-assing your way through life, and probably getting there late.  The most important thing to do is to recognize and understand why you’re procrastinating, because there are different reasons depending on the task: Fear of failure, fear of an uncomfortable situation, boredom, the list goes on.

Here are some ways in which you probably procrastinate, the reasons you’re doing them, and what you can do to combat those feelings that lead to putting things off until the last possible minute.

1. You put off responding to that uncomfortable email.

We’ve all received those emails, either from someone who is unhappy with us (or the company), or they’re asking a question that you don’t know how to answer. You put off responding because you either think the perfect response will come to you at some later point or you simply don’t want to reply because it will make you uncomfortable. But if you put it off too long, the most likely scenario is that they will send a follow-up that is even angrier, making the situation even worse.

These emails, especially the ones from unhappy clients are best to knock off your plate as soon as you can. There are lots of tips on how to handle unhappy clients, so make sure you have some tools at hand before you respond. If it’s a question you don’t know how to answer, forward it to someone who might be able to better assist. Mention that you’re happy to be the one to reply back, you just need some guidance with how to reply. Once these emails are in the “sent” folder, you will feel the weight lifted.

2. You’re feeling overwhelmed by a big task with a tight timeline.

Every time you sit down to start this task you find yourself immediately getting up to make a cup of coffee, checking Facebook, or mindlessly scrolling through your email. Just the thought of doing everything required for this task puts a lump in your throat. You feel like you don’t have enough time to complete the task, let alone properly plan out the task to make it less stressful.

The best thing to do in these situations is break it down. Break the task into smaller subtasks, estimate how long each step should take, delegate what you can (if that’s an option), and schedule each step out so that you can visually see how you can fit it in and get it completed by the deadline. This is also the time to really look at your other priorities and see what can be shuffled around, if this task is urgent.

3. You need to have a talk with a team member who is not pulling his/her weight.

You procrastinate on this because, let’s face it, it sucks. You need to tell someone, and it may very well be someone you like, that they are not doing their job well. You may not be sure if this person knows it, or if it will come as a complete surprise. You don’t know how they’ll react, and you don’t know how this might further affect the company if this person needs to be let go (because then you have to go through the process of hiring someone new, which can be stressful in its own right).

Before you even make the appointment with this person, make sure you have a plan of how you’d like the conversation to go. This will help you maintain control of the conversation and leave less things up in the air. If the conversation is going to end in a termination, consider several reactions this person might have and have a plan for how you will respond.

4. Your [fill in the blank] is completely disorganized and cluttered and it’s really affecting your productivity.

If your anything like me, you seemingly lack the ability to put things away when you’re done with them. What if you need it again soon? Or maybe the item’s home is in an inconvenient spot. There are millions of excuses for having a cluttered desk/office/home/life. And cleaning these spaces may never seem to be high on the priority list. Or, if you’ve reached borderline hoarder status,  it may seem completely overwhelming.

This is one of those tasks where it helps to set aside a dedicated time, whether it be daily, weekly, or monthly, to stay ahead of the clutter and disorganization so that you can be your most productive. Maybe at 4pm every Friday afternoon you clean up your workspace so that you don’t come in to chaos on Monday morning. Or maybe you take an hour on Saturday mornings going through one drawer, closet, or whatever it is that needs to be organized in your home. A more organized space is a less stressful and more productive space, which could lead to less procrastination in other areas.

Of course there are a million things that people procrastinate on and a million reasons why. These are just a few examples of areas where you can cut down on the procrastination and be more productive and efficient.


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Written by:
Kristin is an aspiring entrepreneur who is enthusiastically navigating her way through the DC startup space. She has an unending passion for learning and is never satisfied with the status quo. During the day she is an ops, biz dev, and marketing maven for Fission Strategy
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