When we think about procrastination we often think of the person who is disorganised and leaves everything until the last minute – always rushing to meet the deadline. They use the pressure of a deadline to get them motivated to action.

But there’s more to it than that, because even people who are ordered and planned still procrastinate on occasions. That is, put off for tomorrow what could be done today. They go more slowly on a project or task than is warranted, by giving their attention and focus to other things.

Here’s a perfect example…

In my work, I do a lot of writing and it is something I enjoy. However, on this occasion I was putting off writing an article – to the point that I didn’t make my deadline. I had started it but just kept delaying finishing it, as I kept pushing it down my ‘to do’ list.

It wasn’t as though I was sitting around twiddling my thumbs, reorganising the cupboards or playing with Barney the pooch. I was doing work – but other work that had less of a pressing deadline. It was a different form of procrastination.

The root cause of procrastination is often put down to: fear, lack of focus, having too many things to do, and perfectionism.

In my situation, I was putting off writing the article because it felt harder than other work I needed to do; in fact, it wasn’t any harder than other tasks – I had just convinced myself that it would be. I wanted to get a whole heap of things off my ‘to do’ list, so I focused on the work that felt easier and quicker to nail.

I felt productive, but was I productive on the right things at the right time?

Procrastination is really a form of prioritisation. When you put something off you are making the decision that this task or activity matters more to you than something else.

In the book, Getting Things Done, David Allen outlines a five-step process for uplifting your productivity:

  • Capture – collect things that command your attention and you need to get done
  • Process – what they mean and what to do about them
  • Organise the results – create reminders, action lists etc
  • Reflect – frequently review the options for what we choose to do
  • Engage – go and do, and take action

That’s a really helpful process, which I’d take a step further.

There’s always going to be lots to do – and for many of you – too many things to do.

So, making progress requires you to make the task that you are putting off doing matter to you. If something doesn’t matter to you – if there’s no consequence or benefit from the action you’ll keep delaying it. And I’d also argue you should challenge yourself on whether you should be spending time on it.

When something matters to you it becomes a priority. It becomes something you want to do, rather than feel compelled to do.

So when you are working out what to do next ask yourself:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What’s the intended outcome and why does it matter?
  • What’s the benefit for me or for those around me?
  • What would happen if I don’t do this?

Once you are clear on those answers, the next step is to just start because as you know all action begins with the first step.

Of course, you want to finish too (as I’ve written about before – What’s stopping you).

It can also help to have a daily process, where at the end of each day you look at tomorrow and work out what needs to get done that will make a real difference to your work and life, and then to allocate time.

As Stephen Covey said “The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities“.

And so yes, I did prioritise the article and it did get written and submitted.