navigate procrastination

How To Navigate Procrastination For Future Success

guest blogger  Emer O’Donnell

What is procrastination?

To do or not to do, that is the question. Ever had an important task that you considered difficult, that needed to be completed and you just kept avoiding, delaying, or putting it off even though there were negative consequences in not taking the necessary action? That is procrastination. It is not laziness. It is part of the human condition as we tend to have a habit of running away from perceived pain.

Who does it impact most?

It is a real challenge for many people. 20 to 25% of adults worldwide are chronic procrastinators and they are less likely to express their needs and concerns. In terms of students, however, the number increases to 50%. Research also suggests males procrastinate more than females both in general and academic tasks. The age group most likely to procrastinate are young people but many seem to outgrow procrastination as they mature.

Why do we procrastinate?

There are many reasons why.

  • Lack of motivation or being bored about the prospect of what needs to be done because we often want to avoid the boring stuff e.g., filing a tax return.
  • A negative or unknown outcome or a fear of failure. This can be linked to a perfectionist tendency where rather than fail the task, it just won’t get started and there is often a sense of being overwhelmed.
  • Low self-esteem is where we lack confidence in ourselves, and feel we are inadequate or unlovable. A real fear of making mistakes or letting others down can also be present.
  • Low self-efficacy is a belief that you don’t have what it takes to rise to the challenge and get it done. It is the inner critic at work again.
  • When procrastination is simply triggered by not knowing what is expected of you. There is a lack of clarity or direction on how to proceed.
  • Some people are great at starting things, but their procrastination kicks in with their struggle to finish the task.
  • Fear of success and the new pressures that are perceived it may bring down the line is also a factor.
  • Fear or anxiety concerning an outcome that needs to be faced, e.g., having a bad tooth but putting off a visit to the dentist to get it fixed. It is something that can impact our physical health.
  • Environmental factors like poor working conditions or lack of structure can contribute to not getting tasks done too.
  • Procrastination can also be linked to depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), poor study habits and poor impulse control.

What internal story is going on?

The internal story can be a bit like the line used by Vivien Leigh’s character Scarlet O’Hara in the 1939 American movie classic ‘Gone With The Wind’. “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow”. It is basically ‘I don’t feel like it’. Then we can get sucked into distractions e.g., social media.

We effectively disempower ourselves to achieve our longer-term goals. We kind of relinquished responsibility for them, often stepping into a mindset to voluntarily delay a required course of action that makes no sense rather than embracing a creator mindset or engaging in executive intelligence. These are all about having a go, being in flow, connecting the dots and getting it done.

Navigate Procrastination

The normal accompanying feeling that tends to go with procrastination avoidance is guilt. This is a low-energy vibrating emotion and yes, our emotions can be scientifically measured. The results are often: feeling stressed and anxious or having racing thoughts and fatigue. It creates a feeling like a dark cloud hanging over you that you just can’t fully shake off. This is despite the initial delayed action being linked to the idea that avoiding the task will make you feel better in the shorter term and not cause stress only to experience greater stress over the long term. We can also struggle to sleep, have erratic eating patterns, feel anger, and blame external factors.

The latter can be linked to our predisposed locus of control. This is the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their influence), have control over the outcome of events in their lives.
Ten benefits of overcoming it

  1. Increased productivity
  2. Reduced stress and anxiety
  3. Better time management
  4. Improved focus and concentration
  5. Increased self-esteem and confidence
  6. Improved decision making
  7. Better life/work balance
  8. More opportunities for life learning/growth
  9. Improved relationships
  10. Supports goal achievement.

Where can procrastination show up?

Here are some common examples.

  • Not completing a crucial work project with a tight but manageable deadline.
  • Failing to stick to health and fitness goals by not joining the gym, not eating properly, and putting it off until tomorrow but tomorrow’s effort never comes.
  • Avoiding the need to financially plan and save for the future.
  • Not starting an assignment despite having plenty of time to do it and delivering a substandard effort having not left enough time to complete it.
  • Delaying a college application despite the importance of getting it done on time so missing the cut-off and ending up in a college which was not the desired one.
  • Often talking the talk but not taking the action to walk the walk to achieve the desired goal.

Navigate Procrastination

It is important to note that all is not lost if we procrastinate more than we would like. Next are some top tips to support navigating it.

make a start

Make A Start

Like the Nike slogan says, ‘Just do it”. It is about getting started. The Pomodoro technique is a useful approach. Set a timer and work for twenty-five minutes, focusing on a single task. When it rings tick off the task and record what you have completed. Have a short five-minute break. Start again and do three more twenty-five-minute bursts of work with a five-minute break in between, except for the last one where we get a fifteen-to-thirty-minute break.

This approach will get things moving as it pushes against the resistance that is in place to take that first action step. What so often happens is that the anticipated fear and dread of starting is never as bad as the doing. It also calms down anxiety and tension in the body as it is hard to feel this as much when we are taking progressive action. The action then provides the opportunity to build momentum and confidence plus the motivation to continue.

Break Things Down

When we feel overwhelmed by what needs to be done, we can think we have to eat the whole elephant in one go and that sure can feel like a struggle. By chunking the task down into bite-size more manageable pieces we can feel more able to cope.

Set Clear Goals And Prioritize Tasks

Clearly defining goals and what is wished to be achieved is vital. Having this sense of purpose can support motivation and reduce procrastination.

The Eisenhower Matrix is also great to support being able to prioritise tasks. Identify urgent vs important tasks so the focus is on the right stuff at the right time. This avoids a build-up of stress where we can feel more productive and not under so much pressure by doing the wrong stuff first.

Make A Plan

Make a step-by-step plan with actions to be taken within a scheduled time frame with realistic deadlines. This creates more certainty and clarity of direction feeding the belief about the ability to succeed. When we feel we have an 80% chance of success and only a 20% chance of failure, we are more likely to have a go. Sharing plans and goals with another person who is trusted will keep us accountable and improve motivation to stay on track to complete what has been agreed.

Do note that if a young person is experiencing procrastination and needs to create a plan an adult should ask if they require help to create the structure of the plan from start to finish. This is because some will find it difficult to do this by themselves due to the rewiring of their brain which is only 80% mature. Let them set their deadlines for the completion of each task with a review process in place. They must be responsible for these elements.

Navigate Perfectionism

Highlight that the first go at the task doesn’t have to be perfect it just needs to be a rough draft. This reframe can take the pressure off and get people started.


Visualizing success and the benefits of achieving the task, along with imagining the positive feelings that will result are powerful stimuli. They can push us beyond negative patterns of thinking and the perceived pain of starting.

Reward Yourself

It can be a break, a treat, a walk or maybe listening to music after completing a set task. This can also boost energy levels and creativity. A neuroscientist once told me that a little bit of dark chocolate and a cup of coffee wasn’t a bad thing to get your brain in motion to learn.

Remove Distractions

Turn off devices, clear your workspace, ask not to be disturbed, and maintain clear boundaries so it is possible to focus attention on the task at hand.

Future success

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Recognise no one is alone in facing the challenges of procrastination. Quieting our inner critic by acknowledging the negative thoughts it creates but only giving it a few minutes headspace is helpful. Then the focus should be on calming things down by acknowledging there is only a need to focus on this current moment, not the past or the future and then act in that moment one small step at a time. Trying to enjoy the learning journey and the fact that our attention, effort, and energy spent will make our lives better can be empowering to think about.

Use The Two-Minute Rule

If a task takes less than two minutes to do, start it immediately to avoid a backlog of tasks building up to avoid creating feelings of being overwhelmed.

Consider Professional Help

If you are significantly impacted by procrastination in your life, consider seeking guidance from a counsellor, coach, or therapist. They can do a deeper dive into underlying issues where they will support you by developing an individual coping plan with actionable strategies.

In Conclusion

Whatever choices are made to change behavior in the future, remember overcoming procrastination is a gradual process. So many people experience it. It is something that takes constant effort and requires a willingness to develop new habits to break old patterns of behavior. The good news is that practice makes progress.

Dan Ram ignites the stage as an in-person event and virtual event MC/ Moderator & Speaker at over 100 events a year. He has shared the stage with international luminaries including President Barack Obama, Sir Richard Branson, Reid Hoffman, Nico Rosberg, and Grammy-winning artists and celebrities. He has also been recognized as a Top 40 under 40 leader 2020 as well as a Top 100 Yale Alumni in Technology 2021. He has dedicated 2023 to providing resources and coaching 500 international dreamers who are dedicated to launching new initiatives.  His passion is to inspire people with his motto ‘Start Now Start Simple’ in building a future we all want to live in. If you you are launching something new this year join #The500Club to receive resources and coaching from Dan!

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