How To Be Productive: 7 Steps To Getting Things Done Sooner

The 7 Keys to Defeating Chronic Procrastination

If you ever thought of yourself as a chronic procrastinator, think again.

A lot of theories exist to explain procrastination.  Some of them focus on personality.  They claim that certain personality traits distinguish those who put off doing from those who get things done.  People who are less disciplined, who deliberate more, and who are not achieving much tend to procrastinate more.

Other theories focus on the task.  Tasks that you find unpleasant, confusing, and stressful, you will avoid.  It makes sense that you would avoid tasks that seem painful.  But not all tasks you avoid and delay are necessarily painful.  Some of them are not painful at all, and some are actually enjoyable.

The fact of the matter is that the cause of procrastination cannot be placed on personality alone or on task alone.  Here’s why:

a) Procrastination is selective.

Sometimes you procrastinate, sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes you keep tasks on your to-do list for a really long time and other times you get them done right away.  Some days you breeze through a project and other days you find yourself dangerously close to missing a deadline.

b) Procrastination is unpredictable.

Even on the same task, sometimes you will procrastinate, sometimes you will not.  For example, one year you may do your taxes on time and get your refund way before the April 15 deadline.Another year, you may be calling the IRS on April 14 to ask for an extension.

c) Procrastination is unique.

Two people will procrastinate on the same task for entirely different reasons.  For example, one person may not have purchased life insurance yet because she is young and healthy, and sees no reason to worry about the future now.  Another person may be putting it off because the cost of life insurance seems enormous to him and his finances are limited.

What is the reason for this randomness?

There isn’t just one reason.  There are seven.  And each time you procrastinate, it may be because of one or more of those seven reasons.


I’ll walk you through an example, and show you how each of those reasons can explain your tendency to delay taking action.  Imagine that you want to leave your job and do something else.  You have no idea what.  And even though you really suffer at your job, you are still there, feeling stuck, unmotivated, and unproductive.  What is the reason you aren’t doing anything about it?

Reason #1:  Skills – The task requires skills that you don’t have or think you don’t have and as a result you delay getting started.

One reason you haven’t left your job yet may be because you don’t think you have the skills to do something else.  Therefore, you haven’t been looking for another job.

Reason #2: Options – You can’t decide how to proceed because you think you don’t have any options, or you have too many options and can’t narrow them down.

Another reason you haven’t left your job is because you see no other option.  No jobs available in your field.  Or you are overwhelmed by the options: Do you transfer within? Do you work for yourself? Do you find a career coach?  Do you go on unemployment?

Reason #3: Outcome – You are not sure what to expect.  You know how to do the work, but you’re not sure whether it’s worth the effort.

You have no idea whether finding another job is going to solve the problem.  You have no idea whether a career coach will help you discover your passion.

Reason #4: Novelty – You are much more likely to procrastinate when you are dealing with a new task or a new situation.


This is your first and only job, so you are really not sure how to talk to your family or your employer about resigning.  You never had to do a job search before.  You don’t know how to earn money working for yourself.  You don’t know if you are entitled to unemployment benefits.

Reason #5: Emotional Temperature – Sometimes you’re just not in the right mood to start working on something, so you put it off.

You are too depressed to even muster up the energy to look for another job.  You feel unmotivated and unexcited.  Or conversely, you are having a great time with your co-workers, even though you hate your job, which makes it hard to leave.

Reason #6: Relevance – You see the task as irrelevant or unimportant to your goals.  Especially if the task was delegated to you by someone else.

You refuse to see a therapist, because you are not sure how a therapist could help you find a better job.

Reason #7: Resources – You are short on time, energy, money, or other resources and as a result you put off the work.

You are too busy to look for a new job, you don’t have enough savings to live on between jobs, or you feel too tired all the time to make an effort to do a serious job search.

So what do you do?  How do you deal with the randomness of this very persistent productivity killer?


First, avoid labeling yourself a procrastinator, because chances are there are many things you get done and get them done on time.

Second, recognize that the same task may take you forever to complete at one time, and no time at all another time.  Start paying attention to what facilitates and what hinders your productivity each time.

And finally, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to stopping procrastination, because each time you procrastinate even on the same tasks it may be for different reasons.

The key to getting things done is to figure out what gets you stuck.  Each time you feel you are not doing the work, wasting time, or waiting too long to get started, do a quick self-assessment to see which of the seven reasons gets in the way.  And when you know what’s holding you up, you will know what the barrier you need to overcome is.


Originally published at Psychology Today