time management

Why We Wait: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Feel Like Procrastinating

June 28, 2021

Reading Time: 12 minutes

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Episode 86 is the second part in a three part series all about putting things off, doing stuff later, and getting around to it at some point.

Procrastination.

Procrastination is one of the most frequently requested topics, and because I found so much while digging into the subject, I decided to split it up into 3 easily digestible parts.

Last week, in Episode 85, I shared 5 things you should know about procrastination. If you haven’t tuned into that one yet, you might want to stop reading, hop over to episode 85 and then come back.

Knowing those 5 things in episode 85 will set the stage for what we’re covering today in Episode 86 which is why. Why exactly do we procrastinate and what can we do about it?

So today – in part two, we’re talking about 

  • Self-control and motivation, and how they fit into the procrastination equation

  • I’ll share 5 questions you should ask yourself whenever you feel like putting something off

  • You’ll also learn 3 strategies for knocking something off your to-do list without even doing it – yes, that’s a real thing

  • And finally, I’ll walk you through the most common reasons why we procrastinate and what to do next


Why do we procrastinate?

Why do we procrastinate?

In a nutshell, we procrastinate when negative factors outweigh our self-control and motivation.


Image credit: Lovevery

Image credit: Lovevery

Ok, so Imagine a scale. Not the kind you step on in the bathroom, but a balance scale like the scales of justice, with a little basket situation on each side that tips based on which side is heavier. You know what I’m talking about, right?

My little girl Camilla actually got a really cute scale like this in a recent Lovevery Playkit. It’s a wooden balance scale with two little metal buckets on each side – we’ll put beans and rocks and other random things in the buckets and try to make the scale balance without tipping one way or the other.  I could go on and on about Lovevery Playkits – it’s a subscription service for age appropriate, Montessori style, learning based toys, but I won’t because we’ve got to get on with this episode.

Alright – so the scale.

So let’s call this the Getting Stuff Done scale. On one side is self-control and motivation.

And I know you know this, but just for the sake of being thorough, let’s run through a couple definitions. Just to make sure we’re on the same page.

Self-Control & Motivation

Self-control is the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behavior in the face of temptations and impulses. Your ability to control yourself. And motivation is the reason why we act or behave in a certain way.

Negative Factors

On the other side of the scale you’ll find negative factors like anxiety, fear of failure, unpleasantness of the task, exhaustion, boredom, etc. Negative factors are all the reason why we don’t want to do something.

If the negative factors outweigh the self-control and motivation, you’ll be more likely to procrastinate. But if self-control and motivation are stronger that the negative factors, you’ll be more likely to do what you need to do.

Example No. 1: Getting out of bed on time

Here’s an example: Your alarm goes off at 6AM. You use your self-control to get out of bed. Your motivation for getting out of bed is that if you don’t you might be late to work. If you’re late to work, you might get in trouble and lose your job. If you lose your job, you might experience a lot of other negative changes in your life. That’s a pretty serious motivation.

So on the other side of the scale are the negative factors – Getting out of bed sucks. Being in bed is more comfortable than being out of bed. You’re tired.

So let’s compare the two sides of the scale – getting in trouble for being late, possibly losing your job v. you’re tired.

You might want to procrastinate getting out of bed. Hit the snooze button, sleep in, but your self control and motivation are stronger than the negative factors.

In that case, your self-control and motivation win. Boom, you get out of bed.

Example No. 2: Updating your checking account info

But here’s another example:

You need to change your name on your checking account. You got married, and have a new last name and now the name on your debit card and your checks doesn’t match the name on your ID. But you don’t even use this checking account that often anymore, and you’re not exactly writing a ton of checks these days so it honestly doesn’t affect much. Your motivation is that it would be nice for everything to match just in case there’s ever an unexpected issue.

Now on the other side, the negative factors. It’s an unpleasant task. You have to actually go inside the bank and meet with someone to change your name. You’ve got to go during regular business hours which is when you have work to do. You have to take your wedding certificate, alternate forms of ID and fill out some forms. You’ll probably even have to wait in line. Ugh.

For me, the negative factors – in this case the unpleasantness of the task – outweighs my self control and motivation. Which is why Scott and I will be celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary in August and my checking account still has my maiden name on it. I just don’t feel like dealing with it.

There are exceptions to this equation – there are always exceptions – but for the most part, this is why we procrastinate. Because the negative factors outweigh our self-control and motivation.

But! The cool thing is that – just like Camilla and I can add more beans or toy cars to her little Lovevery buckets to tip the scale in the other direction – there are things that you can do to tip your scale in the direction of getting things done.

But first you’ve gotta get to the bottom of WHY the scales are uneven to begin with.

five questions you should ask yourself when you want to procrastinate

So – here are five questions that you should ask yourself when you want to procrastinate. Asking yourself these five questions will help you figure out which side of the scale needs a boost so you can move forward and get stuff done.

And while I’m walking you through each of the 5 questions, I want you to think about something that you’re currently procrastinating. Whether it’s going to the dentist, finishing a project, cleaning out the garage, or something else that’s sitting on your list.


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First off, and this one might surprise you  – Ask yourself –

01. Do I even need to do this thing at all? 

Whenever I work with Time management coaching clients to pare down their overwhelming to-do lists, I like to start by having them do a total brain dump. Getting everything out of their heads and on paper. Then after everything is on paper, we go through the list and slash 10%. Seriously – once you really start thinking about what you could do or want to do vs. what you should do or must do – you start to realize that there are things on your to do list, and in your brain space that are taking up precious real estate.

So really – this thing that you’re procrastinating, is it really necessary? Or is it necessary that YOU are the one to do it?

ELIMINATE. AUTOMATE. DELEGATE.

Is it something that you could eliminate, automate or delegate.

Can You Eliminate It?

Can you eliminate it altogether by completely removing it from your list, never to worry about it again.  It’s possible that this thing that you’re procrastinating, isn’t something that needs to be done at all.

Example No. 1: Organizing user manuals

Maybe you’ve been procrastinating organizing all of your appliance user manuals. You know – those little booklets that come with your stand mixer, your washing machine, your vacuum cleaner whatever. You have this idea that you’re going to put them in a binder, in clear sleeve protectors in alphabetical order.

How about this instead. Just don’t. In fact – throw them all away! Or recycle them. You know what I mean. It’s not uncommon for us to feel bad about putting off something that doesn’t even really need to be done at all. These days nearly all users manuals can be found on the manufacturer’s website in PDF form. Toss the paper manuals and your dreams of organizing them. It’s just not necessary.

And I know that this is kind of a specific example, but you catch my drift. If it doesn’t need to be done, just don’t do it – there’s enough on our plates that actually HAS to be done.

Can You Automate It?

So if you can’t eliminate it altogether, can you automate it?

Automate by putting it into a system, template or checklist. And automation doesn’t have to be complicated.

If you find yourself procrastinating paying bills because it’s boring and you hate looking at your bank account balance, can you set yourself up for autodraft?

If you procrastinate adding to your emergency savings fund, can you automate a bank transfer?

If you’re procrastinating creating a proposal for a potential client, could you create a template for your proposal so in the future all you have to do is copy/paste and customize?

If you’re procrastinating finding flights for an upcoming trip because you hate comparing flights – can you set up a search and get email alerts on price changes through a booking website?

There might be a way that you can take this thing you frequently procrastinate, set it and forget it.

Can You Delegate It?

And if you can’t automate it, can you delegate it?

Instead of procrastinating organizing your playroom or cleaning out the garage, could you hire someone to help you or completely do it for you? If we hadn’t hired Sara West from South Coast Organizers to help us unpack and organize after our move in February, my family would probably still be living out of boxes.

These days you can hire someone to help with just about anything – from writing your website to cleaning out your closet to assembling an impossible piece of furniture from Ikea. And hiring someone doesn’t even have to be complicated.

Basically – When you start off by asking yourself, is this thing I’m procrastinating even necessary, you start to think critically about just how important it is, and whether you can get it off your plate by eliminating it, automating it or delegating it.

So if you can’t eliminate, automate or delegate it – let’s move on to Question Number 2.

02. What’s my motivation here?

And of course that always makes me think of overly dramatic actors yelling at a director between takes – What’s my motivation here?!

Since we know that on one side of the scale is motivation and self control, and the other side is the negative factors associated with doing the thing… let’s start with Why.

Why do I need to do this thing that I’m procrastinating? Why is it important? What will happen if I don’t do this thing?

Sticking with our getting out of bed example from earlier – if you don’t get out of bed when your alarm goes off at 6AM, you might be late for work.

You don’t want to be late for work, so you get out of bed. Boom.

Sometimes jogging your memory about why it’s important is exactly the boost you need to get started and make it happen. So – when you find that you’re procrastinating, ask yourself WHY you need to do this thing that you’re procrastinating.


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But sometimes your motivation at face value just isn’t enough to get yourself to take action. Which brings us to question number 3.

03. How can I amplify my motivation to take action?

We amplify that motivation by digging a little deeper. And that looks like asking why just a few more times.

Just like our example from earlier about getting up when your alarm goes off – you’re motivated to get out of bed so you’re not late for work.

But… meh – it’s not that big of a deal if I’m late for work just this once, right? It’ll be fine.

Well – being late for work has some pretty dire consequences when you dig a little deeper.

Get to work late once. Get a warning. Get to work late again. Get in trouble. Get in trouble, lose your job. Lose your job, lose your income. Lose your income, lose your ability to provide food, shelter and clothing for yourself or your family. Not to mention the stress, anxiety, health issues and more that come from loss of income and the inability to provide. Total disaster.

So at the root of it, your motivation for getting out of bed when your alarm goes off is much more than just getting to work on time. It’s to provide for yourself, or your family.

Sometimes digging a little deeper and amplifying your motivation is the key to taking action and tipping the Getting Things Done scale in the direction of taking action.

But let’s look at the other side of the scale for question number 04.

04. What are the negative factors holding you back from taking action?

A lot of time when we’re in procrastination mode, we know we don’t want to do something – but we don’t take the time to really think about why we don’t want to do it. We’ll call ourselves lazy and get down on ourselves for not doing the thing that we need to do. Instead of jumping to lazy – ask yourself – Ok what’s really holding me back here? What am I avoiding?

FEAR

Fear, fear of failure, fear of success and anxiety are all common reasons why we put things off. Maybe you’ll finally make that doctor’s appointment and get the bad news that you were afraid of. You haven’t submitted your grad school application because you’re afraid you’ll get rejected, or you’re afraid you’ll be accepted and then you won’t be able to handle school on top of your existing responsibilities.

OVERWHELM

Maybe it’s overwhelm – which can come in different forms. Sometimes it’s the task itself that feels totally overwhelming and you don’t know where to start. Or you’re so overwhelmed with everything on your plate and filling the pages of your calendar that you feel frozen – like a deer in headlights.

CONFUSION

Or it could be that you don’t know how to start because you don’t really understand the project – maybe you’ve been given vague instructions, or you haven’t clearly defined the end result you’re seeking. Without knowing what “done” looks like, it’s hard to define the first step, much less the milestones along the path to success.

EXHAUSTION

You could be really tired and when you get to the end of the day you just don’t have the energy left to finish that last thing on your to-do list – so you put it off. And then the same exact thing happens the next day and this item on your list starts collecting dust.

BOREDOM

Could be that you’re procrastinating something that’s totally boring or annoying to deal with – like how I’m putting off changing my name on my checking account. Or the task feels unfulfilling – it’s something you don’t really care about but you’ve got to get it done to fulfill a work responsibility or a promise you made to someone.

Being honest with yourself and getting crystal clear about WHY you’re procrastinating – aka identifying those negative factors – that’s going to get you closer to figuring out a solution and taking action.

Which brings us to question number 05. Once you know WHY you’re procrastinating, once you’ve identified the negative factors or factors, ask yourself:

05. How can I adjust those negative factors?

Yep – What can we do to make those negative factors just a little less negative.

Maybe we can’t eliminate them all together, but how can we make this a little less scary, a little more enjoyable, a little more understandable, a little easier, a little more fun, a little less boring, or a little less overwhelming.

When amplifying your motivation – like we did with Question number 3 isn’t enough to push us forward, making some adjustments to those negative factors is the key to unlocking action.

Now – I would love to spend the rest of this episode diving into all of the different ways that you can make things that you’re procrastinating less scary, more enjoyable, more understanding, a little easier, more fun, less boring and less overwhelming… but it would take me another 30 minutes to share strategies in a meaningful and actionable way.

STAY TUNED FOR PART THREE!

But – have no fear, my procrastinating friends, because that’s exactly what you’ll find in Episode 87.

Now that we understand the procrastination equation, and we know that we’ve got to tip the scale toward self-control and motivation, in episode 87 I’m covering exactly how you can blast through the most common reasons why we procrastinate, specifically – 5 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Start Getting Things Done

From overwhelming to manageable. From boring to fun. From scary to no big deal. From To-do to DONE. Make sure you tune in to Episode 87 for Part 3, the last episode in our 3 part series on procrastination.


RECAP

And before I go I’m going to run through those 5 questions you can ask yourself one last time.

01. Do I even need to do this thing at all?

02. What’s my motivation here?

03. How can I amplify my motivation?

04. What is the negative factor or factors holding me back?

05. How can I adjust those negative factors?


LINKS & RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

Episode 85: Now, Not Later: 5 Things You Need to Know About Procrastination


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