Procrastinator No More: New Habits that Lead to Success

In this issue:

Explore why we procrastinate and learn seven tips for breaking the habits that lead to unproductive behaviors. You’ll be encouraged to think about how putting something off might take longer than actually doing it, and get links to more than three resources to get you started with new habits.




Inspired Life: Why We Procrastinate and What to Do About It

I finished my taxes on Saturday. I hate doing them, so I put it off as long as I could. I tend to procrastinate big projects and things I hate.

What is procrastination? James Clear defines it this way:

Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing a task or set of tasks…it is the force that prevents you from following through on what you set out to do.

Procrastination is really an art when you think about it. There is a fine line between crashing and burning in glorious failure and getting something done just at the right time.

Right from the start, there are going to be some of you who say you do your best work under pressure. I used to think that too. But if you really come down to it, you and I both know that your best work is not when you’re under pressure. You get it done because you have to, but if you had to be brutally honest, you would have to admit that your quality could be better.

Having some time to plan ahead leaves room for creative solutions that are even better than the first thoughts. When you procrastinate, you always get your first thoughts. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but I think most people find true creativity to be a process. I have no science to prove that other than my observations of the work people do when under duress.

Why We Procrastinate

Let’s look at some of the reasons why we procrastinate:

  1. You’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin, so you avoid it altogether.
  2. You have too many other things going on and truly don’t have time.
  3. Perfectionism paralyzes.
  4. You’ve bought the lie that we work well under pressure.
  5. You’re waiting for the right mood to strike.
  6. You’re percolating. You’d rather think about it for a while and brew some ideas.
  7. You’re putting out fires all day because of what seems urgent, but you can’t get to what is important.

Why does this matter? If you don’t know why you do something you can’t figure out how to fix it.

Know the why to discover the how.

Those who never figure out how to set goals and achieve them will forever watch others pass them by. They start to think life is for everyone else. They wonder when it’s going to be their turn, but they don’t realize it already came and they were dawdling in the powder room checking their hair. Just kidding. But not kidding.

Life didn’t pass you by. It’s sitting there on your turn and it's waiting for you to make a move. You make a move and stuff will happen.

Let’s talk a little bit about guilt. I am sharing this info today because I have been in the procrastinator’s shoes, not because I want to shame anyone or make you feel guilty. Move past the guilt and forget trying to fix the past.

Procrastination Solutions

I am going to debunk every one of those reasons to show you that it’s part of a game we play in our minds.

  1. You’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin, so you avoid it altogether.

Even if you can’t do the whole project, survey it and break it into smaller tasks that you can assign to yourself. It will also help you to have a real picture of whether you can meet a deadline.

I will talk about him more in the resources section, but James Clear, an expert on productivity talks about planning the night before for what tasks you will do the next day.

This works for me. I decide when I close up my office for the night what I want to start on the next morning. If it’s really important, I start it before I ever check email or social media in the morning. I will talk about this in point number 7.

The other thing that works for me is using Trello, a free project management platform, and establishing the tasks that need to happen to complete a project. I can check off a punch list as I complete them. This preplanning takes overwhelming projects that loom on my to-do list and turns them into doable single tasks. Then, I block time on my calendar for those tasks. I often do this with client projects at the beginning of the month so that I know where I have room for play time—aka coffee with friends and getting my nails done. Don’t judge, please.

Michael Hyatt talks about having just three top items to accomplish each day. Like James Clear, he identifies this top three the night before so he knows what he will do the next day. I’ve mentioned Michael Hyatt’s books before on Life, Repurposed. I shared about his latest book here.

  1. You have too many other things going on and truly don’t have time.

This is a bigger problem. Something has to give. You know it. My pastor recently said in a sermon that we have to cut good stuff so the better stuff and the best stuff can grow. He gave an example of how he had to prune even good branches out of his orange tree to get the best oranges.

I struggle with this. There are so many opportunities. But I had to start to say no to some things or I was going to lose my mind. And having too many things in my free time means my work time is influenced by my stress too. You need down time, and if you don’t have it, you’re much more likely to be a procrastinator. Again, my opinion, and no scientific numbers to back that up.

Whatever you do, don’t suggest multitasking here. Yes. That's blunt. It doesn’t work. More and more studies are coming out to prove it. Having a focused task matters. So if you procrastinate, thinking you can write a grant application while you are on an airplane, think again. You have no control over the distractions in the seat next to you, your level of tiredness, etc.

  1. Perfectionism paralyzes.

I’m going to get real on this one, because it was me for a long time. When I’m forced to do something under pressure, I live on an adrenaline high. I’m all optimistic and pressing forward. I pretend I don’t know that the adrenaline crash is coming and my life is going to suck for a few days after. I’m not going to be loved by my family members when the crash comes either. But I got the job done!

When I have a time crunch, I’m forced to accept good enough, because I will run out of time if I don’t.

In the twisted mind of a perfectionist, this provides an excuse. “If I had more time, I would have made it prettier.”  “It was the best I could do with the time I had…”

You see?

What if good enough worked for you when you started the project early, planned it out, and then came to a place where you said, this isn’t perfect, but it is excellent? AND I have energy left to love my family and be kind to them.

  1. You’ve bought the lie that we work well under pressure.

Set artificial deadlines. If you like the pressure, make a deadline that is before the real one. I know that in your mind you will know that, but if I put one on the calendar, I don’t always remember if it was the real deadline or my self-imposed one after a while. This makes me press toward finishing things.

It also helps me to reverse engineer my timeline in a more realistic manner and allows for acts of God that I can’t plan for. If I get sick, my early deadline gives me cushion. If a meeting comes up, I can take it. I start with the end in mind and back up, putting dates and blocks of time in my calendar until I have it all scheduled out.

  1. You’re waiting for the right mood to strike.

As a writer, I used to operate based on mood. I have learned that a book will never get written that way. So I build in some things that either set the mood ahead of time, or motivate me after.

For example, I could get caught up in binge watching a season of a new show I discovered and never get my work finished. But if I make it the reward for completing the work, I somehow magically have a mood for working that I didn’t have before.

If I’m setting the mood ahead of time, I might get the lighting right in my office, light a Woodwick candle (I’m obsessed), or brew a mocha espresso. [affiliate links] Or I might take myself to a coffee shop and set up my laptop. The environment can be inspiring.

Mostly, I want to say that mood is what you make it. The bigger you build up the qualifications of the mood you’re looking for, the longer you’ll wait to find it. 

You’re percolating. You’d rather think about it for a while and brew some ideas, but you don’t act.

This can be a good thing or a bad thing. First, percolating is good. A good coffee has to brew and a tea has to steep. But if you keep on brewing, eventually it gets past the best flavor. When percolating becomes inaction, you’ve brewed too long and you just wanted the “smell” of action without any action. You want to be able to say you're writing a book, or getting ready to launch a business.

But this can also be a good thing. Some writers call this intentional procrastination.  It's when you intentionally wait to begin a project while you organize your thoughts and your calendar.

  1. You’re putting out fires all day because of what seems urgent, but you can’t get to what is important.

This is so common! Here is a scenario. You have a big project that you need to do today. It’s at the top of your list. But you check your email quick before you start, and there is something someone needs right now. That turns into an hour of gathering info and replying. Then you get a phone call that derails the rest of your morning. Someone else needs something ASAP. You realize there urgency is because they dropped the ball on what they were supposed to do, but you want to be a nice person and be the hero that saves the day.

Now it’s lunchtime, so you grab a sandwich and surf Facebook for a few minutes while you eat. 1.5 hours later your realize that was a longer lunch break than you intended. Now it’s time to start that big project. But you’re SO tired. You have no inspiration or energy. You slog through it, but then think a cup of coffee might help. And on it goes…

Where did this day derail? With the email check in the morning. What would happen if you kept your email closed until noon? What if you let your phone go to voicemail?

A million little things have a way of becoming urgent, somehow.

Several of my followers on Facebook mentioned the book, Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy (see more in the resources below). It’s in its 3rd edition now. Eating a frog is a metaphor for tackling your most challenging task—but also the one that can have the greatest positive impact on your life. It focuses on critical tasks.

Who Cares, Anyway?

Why does this all matter? I want us to love life and get to do the things that bring satisfaction. James Clear says it’s because our present self and future self don’t align that we procrastinate. He means we don’t understand the benefits of completing a task now. He says:

The best way to understand this is by imagining that you have two selves: your Present Self and your Future Self. When you set goals for yourself — like losing weight or writing a book or learning a language — you are actually making plans for your Future Self. You are envisioning what you want your life to be like in the future. Researchers have found that when you think about your Future Self, it is quite easy for your brain to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits. The Future Self values long-term rewards.

However, while the Future Self can set goals, only the Present Self can take action. When the time comes to make a decision, you are no longer making a choice for your Future Self. Now you are in the present moment, and your brain is thinking about the Present Self. Researchers have discovered that the Present Self really likes instant gratification, not long-term payoff.

Ah, so we have to trick our brains into wanting to act now. We value the long-term results when they are in the future, but we value immediate gratification in the moment.

He goes on to say:

“You cannot rely on long-term consequences and rewards to motivate the Present Self. Instead, you have to find a way to move future rewards and punishments into the present moment. You have to make the future consequences become present consequences.”

A Psychology Today article says:

“Procrastinators focus more on short-term gains (avoiding the distress associated with the task), as opposed to long-term results (the stress of not doing it, as well as the consequences of avoiding this task). Instead, try focusing on why you are doing this task: What are the benefits of completing it?”

That’s exactly what happens. The pain of procrastination starts to become more stressful than just getting the thing done.

I can’t take the time to give all of the info, but James Clear’s article is fantastic! Check it out.


Life, Repurposed: Does Waiting Really Matter? 

Does it really matter if someone waits to do something until later? After all, it's their own stress, right?

I am sharing this not for an organizing tip, but for an example of how silly procrastination can be. I keep all of my bottles of seasonings and spices in a drawer in my kitchen. Each time I needed to get something out of there, I had to lift up eight, or twenty, different bottles with similar lids while looking for the right one.

For a long time, I kept saying, “One of these days I am going to organize this drawer.”

I said it as if it would take a whole weekend or something.

One day, I was fed up enough to get out a sharpie and write on the tops of the bottles. Do you know how long it took me? Maybe 30 minutes.

I had spent way longer talking about organizing it than it actually took. Plus the time spent searching for the right seasoning for two years, however many times per week I cooked.

Action Saves Stress!

The point is that sometimes the act itself isn’t even that big. What do you keep saying you’re going to do someday? If you can do it tonight, or this weekend….Get. It. Done.

Some of what you’re procrastinating is a convenience thing, or a task. But for some of you it has a deeper significance—a spiritual significance. If you’ve put of making a decision to make changes that would align your actions with God’s Word, or on taking action on studying the Bible. Maybe you think you’ll make a change if you find out you have a life-threatening illness, but you’re okay with things as they are for now.

This isn’t about doing a lot of stuff, but about paying attention to the important stuff. Changing the stuff that is spiritually damaging or damaging to your health or mental state.

Life is short, and how we use our time on earth matters!

Recommended Resources 

I have been adding resources to the books / resources tab in the right side column of the blog page. Some of these have been featured there. Others are new and contributed by my readers.  I will be sharing more on social media, so be sure to follow my Twitter page or Facebook for more links to come.

Set Good Habits

One of the best books I have read recently is  Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones. [Affiliate link]. Habits really have a lot to do with procrastination. Whether your goals are professional, personal or health related, this book covers how to attach new actions to current habits that are already working for you. Read more of my thoughts about the book.

One way to overcome procrastination, as I mentioned above, is to help your present self capture current rewards from the future benefits of good choices. James Clear is an expert on productivity. But remember productivity doesn’t have to mean getting a lot done. It has to do with getting done what matters.

Tackle the Worst First

Another resource that I mentioned above is Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy. [affiliate link]

Brian talks about eating your “ugliest” frog first. He means, tackle the hardest thing on your to-do-list, or the thing that is hanging over your head, and get it done. He says, sometimes you have to ignore how you feel, and just get started. The book is a good place to start if you want to understand how to prioritize.

Work Simply

The last resource I want to share is one that I read a few years ago and want to read again. Carson Tate wrote Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style. This book is a good resource because it helps you understand how you operate so you can get to the root of what might lead to procrastination. [affiliate link]

On her website, Carson says:

“When you check your inbox too much, it’s a form of productive procrastination. You do it because you’re avoiding accomplishing items on your task list. Checking your inbox makes you feel good. Each time you get a new email, it’s like you’re getting something new and exciting. It gives you the illusion of accomplishing work, but the reality is, you’re not. Your emails are inhibiting you from truly being productive.”


Please connect on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Let me know you found me through the blog or the podcast when you connect with me! I’d love to follow you back!

(Please note: books posted here on my blog are purely because I want to share them. Sometimes I receive free copies for review, and other times I purchase the books. Some I get from the library. Either way, any endorsement I offer here on the blog is simply because I want to talk about the book. ) *This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, if you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. I sell my ebook via Amazon but I’m also a part of their “Associates” (i.e. affiliate) program which pays a commission on books and any other Amazon products people purchase via my links.

Michelle Rayburn is the author of The Repurposed and Upcycled Life: When God Turns Trash to Treasure, as well as a small group Bible study to accompany the book. Learn more about these and her other books here. A sample chapter of the book and Bible study are available for free download.

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This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, if you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. I sell my ebook via Amazon but I’m also a part of their “Associates” (i.e. affiliate) program which pays a commission on books and any other Amazon products people purchase via my links.

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