The #1 Way to Overcome Procrastination
"Never handle the same piece of paper twice."
This oft-heard bit of advice kept swimming through my thoughts
as I stared at the piece of paper in front of me, wondering what
on earth to do with it. Not that this was the first time I'd
touched this particular piece of paper. Not the second, nor the
third. In fact, I'd tossed this sucker back into my in-bin
several times during the last two months.
The time had come to do something with it.
But what? I'd already asked my boss for clarification on the
assignment--twice. And who knew how many minutes I'd spent, on
and off, studying it, mulling over it, and feeling guilty about
not doing anything with it. It had become my nemesis, this piece
of paper. How could I make it disappear, once and for all? Why
did I keep procrastinating on this one task?
That's when it hit me. Maybe I had at last asked myself the
right question. Instead of "what do I do with this?", perhaps
the real question was "why am I *not* doing this?"
Intrigued by this new insight, I looked at the piece of paper
again. Within seconds, the answer came to me. I kept putting
this task off because I simply didn't have enough information to
complete it. And asking my boss for assistance hadn't helped
because she wasn't a subject matter expert on this topic,
either. But I did know someone who was, and I knew that person
would be more than happy to help me.
I was finally on my way to making that piece of paper go away.
Moreover, I'd learned a very important lesson on how to deal
with procrastination in the process.
During my research on this topic, I discovered an article by Dr.
Kent T. Yamauchi at Virginia Tech, in which he listed three main
causes for procrastination: inadequacy, discomfort and
perfectionism. On top of this, the tendency to procrastinate
something often increases exponentially with our desire to
complete it; therefore, the more important the goal is to our
feeling of success and well-being, the more reasons we find to
put off doing it.
So here we are, many of us, putting off returning to school, or
writing that book, or starting our business, or whatever it is
that we resolve year after year to do--but don't.
So how do you overcome this powerful procrastination tendency?
By asking yourself *why* you keep doing it. Is it because you
feel inadequate to complete the task? Or does thinking about
doing it make you uncomfortable? Or do you feel that if you
can't do something perfectly, you don't want to do it t all?
Once you understand the "why" behind procrastinating, you've
taken a major first step towards dealing with it.
In my situation with that miserable piece of paper, I'd felt
inadequate to perform the task correctly. I needed more
information. Once I realized that, I was able to take steps to
get the information I needed, and the urge to put the task off
What if I had realized instead that I was uncomfortable
performing the task? Let's say the assignment was something that
struck me as unethical, or that I perceived would cause me harm
or embarrassment. Again, had I come to these realizations, I
would better know what steps to take to address them. Maybe I
would have expressed these concerns to my boss, instead of
simply asking her for clarification, or perhaps I would have
suggested that it be reassigned to someone more capable of
performing it safely.
As for perfectionism...this is perhaps the most potent cause for
procrastination. While striving to do one's very best in each
endeavor is admirable, settling for nothing less than perfect
stops us from even trying. At the 1976 Olympics Nadia Comaneci
made history, becoming the first gymnast to ever score a perfect
10. Could she have achieved such an accomplishment without a
great deal of efforts, or hundreds of hours of practice? Of
So, if you're putting off something that means a great deal to
you, ask yourself: Is it because you feel inadequate to perform
it? Then turn to those who can help you sharpen your skills.
Does the task cause you discomfort? Perhaps you need to break it
down into smaller tasks, until you can build up a comfort level
that allows you to try something greater. Are you a
perfectionist? Recognize the truth in "practice makes perfect,"
and practice, practice, practice.
And one more thing--try not to ever handle the same piece of