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The Procrastinators Playbook: 3 Simple Strategies for Turning Delay into Drive

August 14, 2023

Reading Time: 8 minutes

The Procrastinator’s Playbook: 3 Simple Strategies for Turning Delay Into Drive

Picture this: you’re putting something off, and then you start feeling frustrated with yourself for procrastinating. Sound familiar? It’s a vicious cycle that often brings about negative self-talk and a truckload of guilt. You might even compare yourself to others, assuming they’ve got it all together while you’re stuck in the procrastination pit.

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Episode 187 is all about the fact that I didn’t turn in my tax paperwork to my CPA until about a week ago. 

If you’re listening in real time, it’s August…which is several months past the tax day deadline of April 15. I mean, thank goodness for extensions, right?

It’s fair to say that I procrastinated BIG TIME on my taxes this year. It’s something I put on my to-do list back in February, and then I pushed it to March… then asked for an extension in April… then came the busy end of school year – and now… here we are 4 whole months after the deadline. 

So let me get to the point, this week’s episode isn’t just about me being 4 months late filing my taxes. It’s about putting things off. Kicking the can down the road. Waiting until later.

It’s about procrastination. Something that we’ve all done at some point – although I’m sure you got your taxes in on time, 19 million other Americans also asked for an extension last year, so I know I’m not alone. 

As a time management coach, you can imagine that once I realized that I was procrastinating, HARD, I had some questions. Questions for myself, questions about why we put things off. And finally what we can do about it when we realize we’re procrastinating.

So today, we’re talking about

  • Why we procrastinate. Is it fear? Is it because we’re lazy? Let’s get to the bottom of it.
  • What exactly procrastination is and how to notice when you’re stuck in a procrastination pit
  • I’m sharing three simple strategies to stop procrastinating and making progress
  • How to stop the procrastination cycle and turn your delay into drive

Everyone procrastinates.

Remember when I said that if you procrastinate, you’re not alone? Well… that’s not quite accurate.

Studies show that 95% of us procrastinate to some degree. So that means that there is an elite 5% out there who has never, ever in the history of ever put anything off. 

I’m not going to call out that 5% as a bunch of big fat liars, but I DO want you to know that you’re not alone. It can be VERY easy, especially when we KNOW we’re procrastinating, to give in to a whole avalanche of negative self talk.

We might tell ourselves that we’re lazy… or that we’re not good enough.  That we’ll never make any progress, or that we’re just not disciplined enough, or that we’ll never figure out how to stop procrastinating.

You’re putting something off, and then you get irritated with yourself for putting something off. And then you get mad at yourself because you’re always putting things off even though you know better. You start to think that other people are better than you – better at their jobs, or better moms, or better friends or whatever – because obviously other people don’t procrastinate like you do. 

Yall – Basically everyone procrastinates, and you’re not alone. 

So now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about what procrastination actually is, and what it isn’t. 

I dive into procrastination as one of the three productivity pitfalls in Chapter 3 of Time Management Essentials.

What exactly IS procrastination?

So procrastination.. What exactly does it mean, and why does it matter. 

Procrastination is defined as the action of delaying or postponing something. 

Did you catch that? Procrastination is an action

A lot of times, procrastination is confused with laziness. We think that because we procrastinate that we are inherently lazy.

But let’s look at the definition of lazy. Lazy is an unwillingness to put in the effort to do something, whether that’s to achieve a goal or tackle something on your to-do list. And of course this is simplifying the concept of laziness, but you get what I mean. Laziness is more of a feeling.  

So procrastination is an action, and laziness is an unwillingness. 

Procrastination and laziness are not the same thing. Hopefully you feel a little relieved, and a little less lazy… 

Chances are there’s something else at play that’s holding you back from taking action besides just laziness. 

There are actually a lot of reasons WHY we procrastinate. Fear, overwhelm, and fatigue being a few of those of those reasons.

And it’s because, proc rastination is a delicate balance between negative factors like fear, overwhelm, and fatigue and our motivation to take action.  

I always like to think of procrastination as scale, like the scales of justice with two little buckets on either side. If your fear of the thing outweighs your motivation to do the thing, you’re going to drag your feet.

If you’re like me and you were overwhelmed at the thought of gathering all of the tax docs to send to your CPA, and that overwhelm outweighed getting in trouble with the IRS… then you might just file an extension and put off dealing with it. 

Stop Procrastinating Strategy 1: Ask Yourself Why

This brings us to our first strategy to turn your delay into drive. Ask Yourself Why

So many problems can be solved by turning inward and getting curious. Next time you’re ready to stop procrastinating, ask yourself why. Why am I putting this off? What am I afraid of? What is intimidating about this thing? Is it boring? Is it something I’ve never done before? Am I afraid it won’t be perfect? Am I worried my boss, spouse, children, whoever won’t be proud of me? Does it feel complicated?

For me, once I stopped and asked myself WHY I realized that gathering all of those tax docs felt like climbing a mountain and opening up a box I’d taped up and shoved at the back of a closet. 

You see, 2022 was an interesting year.  We bought a house and moved, the girls went to three different daycares. My husband quit his job. Then, I got laid off in August. There were a LOT of changes, and a lot of them had financial impacts. Plus, when we moved, most of my tax docs were mailed to a P.O. Box I no longer have access to. 

The thought of diving back into old employee accounts, searching for login info, resetting passwords, finding tax docs from three different daycares, and revisiting all of those feelings from the layoff…. Well I didn’t want to face it. Even though I know that being impacted by a layoff wasn’t my fault, it still feels icky. 

And when I decided I was ready to stop procrastinating, I asked myself why, and I confronted the reason why i’d been putting it off, I was able to put into words the feelings behind the procrastination. And when you can point to why, coming up with your next step – taking action, is a lot easier. 

So – if you’re putting something off and you’re ready to stop procrocrastinating. Your first strategy is to ask yourself why.

So once you’ve got an idea of why you’re procrastinating, our second strategy steps up to the plate. 

Stop Procrastinating Strategy 2: Make It Tiny

The second strategy is Make it Tiny. 

Whether you’re procrastinating due to fear, overwhelm, perfectionism, you’re exhausted – one of the simplest ways to take action is to find one teeny tiny, small action to take. 

It’s that first step that’s always the hardest, so let’s make the first step as easy as possible.

Sometimes, if you give yourself permission to just take the first tiny step, you’ll find that you want to keep going, that your one tiny step turns into two, or three and then it snowballs into some pretty major progress. 

Here are a few ways stop procrastinating and make it tiny. Instead of telling yourself you have to write an entire 12 page term paper, tell yourself you have to write the outline. Or you just have to write one page. Or you just have to write for 5 minutes. 

You can break whatever you’re putting off into smaller steps, or a shorter time frame. 

If you’re putting off having a tough conversation with your boss, instead of going straight to the conversation, your tiny first step can be jotting down a few notes or writing out the points you want to make. 

If you’re putting off weekly meal planning because it feels overwhelming, instead of telling yourself you have to sit down and plan the whole week, your tiny first step could be finding ONE recipe to add to your recipe list. 

Basically take whatever it is you’re putting off and break off a tiny piece of it. And do that piece. See how you feel. 

A lot of times the way we write something on our to-do list can actually cause us to procrastinate. Words matter! Seriously! 

Tasks v. Projects

 I’ve talked about this in the past, but our to-do list should be filled with tasks, not projects if want to stop procrastinating. Tasks take one step to complete. Projects require multiple steps to complete.

A project would be “buy a new car.” or even worse just “new car” There a LOT of steps involved with buying a new car. You might want to do some research, visit some dealerships, test drive, read reviews. And so “new car” sits on our to-do list for weeks and we feel paralyzed from taking action. 

A task would be research cars with a third row that are good for families. Even that could be broken down further, narrowing it down to specific websites like The Car Mom or Consumer Reports. 

Here’s what I did with my tax procrastination. I told myself “all you have to do is find the login for Tax Dome.” That’s the secure portal my CPA uses to organize all of the paperwork. 

That’s it. That’s all I put on my to-do list. And then, after I found the login, I logged in. Then I looked at my documents checklist, read the instructions, and before I knew it – I was done. Boom Submit. 

When the thing sitting on our to-do list feels big or confusing, we procrastinate. So break it down. Make it tiny, and take the tiny first step and stop procrastinating.

Now sometimes asking ourselves why and breaking it down and figuring out the tiny first still STILL isn’t enough to beat procrastination, and that’s where our third simple strategy really shines. 

Stop Procrastinating Strategy 3: Pick a Prize

Strategy number 3 is Pick a Prize. 

Oh yes – sometimes we’ve just got to bring out the big guns and bribe ourselves with a little treat. Promising yourself a reward on the other side of tackling something you’ve been putting off can be amazingly effective. 

This is especially helpful for mundane, boring tasks like folding and putting away laundry, or getting a flu shot or whatever random mundane thing you’re avoiding. 

Strategy 1 – Ask Yourself Why doesn’t necessarily work, because somethings are just boring. Bleh. There’s not always  fear or overwhelm involved. They’re just boring.

Strategy 2 – Make it tiny doesn’t always work either, because sometimes the thing we’re procrastinating is already tiny. Either because we’ve already broken something bigger into smaller steps, or because the thing we need to do doesn’t make sense to break into tiny tasks. Like telling yourself you’ll fold one single shirt. Sure, it could start a snowball, but you’re better off using Strategy 3. 

But here’s the trick to making it work. You’ve got to pick your prize, and be specific. Don’t just tell yourself, Oh once I do the thing, I’ll get myself a treat, or I’ll go do something fun. Instead, get specific – name the treat. That way you have given yourself something specific and concrete to look forward to on the other side of doing the thing.

After I fold the laundry, I can have a bowl of ice cream. After I finish this report I can rewatch an episode of Bridgerton. After I get my oil changed I can get a cake pop from Starbucks. 

Pick your prize and be specific if you want to stop procrastinating. 

Get Unstuck and Get Moving

I can’t promise that after listening to this episode that you’ll stop procrastinating altogether, but I am excited that you’re now equipped with three strategies that will help you get unstuck and moving again. You absolutely can turn your delay into drive by Asking yourself why, Making it tiny, and picking a prize. 

Resources mentioned: 

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