I know better yet I still put off an important task. Why do I this again and again? I hate the stress of the last minute life, but I am stuck in the “do in later” mentality. Is there help? Yes, there is help in conquering procrastination. Take a minute and learn what the triggers to putting things off are and how to overcome the triggers to procrastination.

What is procrastination?

Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished by a certain deadline. It most often includes a habitual or intentional delay of starting or finishing a task despite knowing it might have negative consequences.

Procrastination is a choice to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.

Procrastination is doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones.

cartoon girl saying procrastination makes her crazy


First of all procrastination;

  • Is not a time management problem
  • It is more often an emotion management problem
  • Is a tool we use to protect ourselves
  • Often it is a temporary stress reliever

Procrastination is actually a term that is a representation of your belief system. The beliefs that promote procrastination are most often a specific fear.

It could be a fear of failure or of success.

We procrastinate because we are plagued with perfectionism, low self-esteem or other negative self-beliefs.

In other words, we procrastinate to protect ourselves from a projected negative or uncomfortable result from finishing the task.

In a short term sense, procrastination brings some relief to the upcoming stress.


Fear of failure

Here the procrastinator is afraid of;

  • Not getting the task right
  • Being thought of as stupid or not good enough
  • Not being good enough might be linked to not being lovable

These potential consequences make powerful motivators to avoid a task.

Excessive perfectionism is also a belief based in fear.

  • It is the fear of making a mistake, thus exposing a weakness.
  • It is the fear of not performing at 100% and having people judge you.

Being a perfectionist is not the positive trait it would seem.

It is a toxic mix of non-productive habits and a view of life that restricts progress.

It would seem that having high standards would be a good thing, but in reality their standard of success is totally unrealistic and impossible to attain.

A perfectionist needs to be perfect which will lead them to being afraid to reveal any imperfections.

This results in their inability to complete tasks; always needing the perfect time or approach.

They never complete tasks because they can’t accomplish them perfectly.

Fear of embarrassment

Sometimes people avoid activities or tasks because they are afraid they will look silly or vulnerable. These could be tasks they are capable of doing but it would expose them to too much attention.

cartoon girl confused about what to do, thus procrastinates

Fear of success

This one seems contradictory to all the other fears – someone did something right! Yet it holds some people back because they believe that being successful will;

  • Place them in a position where they are lonely or isolated
  • Bring expectations from others that could be overwhelming (sometimes it is just simpler to just not go there)
  • Or that they won’t fit in with the crowd.

Procrastination has other belief based causes.


cartoon girl confused about what to do leading to procrastination

Confusion on how or where to start

For some people the problem is not the doing the task, but it is starting the task. You are overwhelmed because you don’t know where to start the project. You don’t have enough information about the project or you don’t yet have all the equipment to start or you don’t even know why you have to do it.

Often this confusion is a result of there being no structure or the task is so big that it is overwhelming.  Our brain often loses motivation and begins avoidance when a task is complex. It opts to stay in its comfort zone. So the search for a more enjoyable task begins and the confusing task is delayed. Unfortunately this adds to the stress and dread when the task inevitably needs to be completed.

Confusion in what is most important of all the tasks you have to do

This is a person who has taken on or been given too many tasks at one time and they feel too overwhelmed to prioritize all the tasks that need to get done.

They may deal with this overwhelming schedule with “filler” tasks or flit from one task to another never completing any of them.


  1. The belief that you have to feel like doing something to get it done.

Ana Swanson of The Washington Post says “people need to learn that you don’t feel good all the time and you’ve got to get on with it anyway”.

In other words, you don’t have to be in the “mood” to move forward. In fact, you often have to ignore what you feel. Most people believe that their emotional state must match the task at hand and that is just not true. A mature approach is just doing it despite what your emotions are at any given moment.

  1. The belief that instant gratification is more satisfying than the long term payoff.

This one is super interesting. There is a scientific word for it TIME-INCONSISTENCY. This can be seen as a person having different “selves”. These “selves” are the person in different points of time making life decisions and those decisions don’t align with each other. What does that mean? The “Now” you makes a decision for the “Future” you and for a procrastinator the now decision adversely affects the future.

The problem is that the “Now” version cares more about herself and less about her “Future” self. There is a disagreement between the today and the future.

The “Now” self makes plans for the “Future” self – I am going to watch what I eat so I can lose weight. The “Now” self is envisioning what life could be like in the future. The “Future” self has goals; she is willing to wait for the rewards, but the “Now” self has to take action and often likes immediate gratification rather than future rewards.

There is a disconnect between how you will ideally feel in the future and how you will really feel in the future. Tomorrow I will have lots of time, energy and motivation.  The problem is that the future you is unknown and you really don’t know what will have happened that could negatively influence your mood or the time available for the task.

The balance between today’s “self” and the future ‘”self” is out of whack.

cartoon girls one procrastinates, and the other pays the price

As we have seen there are many causes of procrastination.  The key  to get to the root of procrastination is to know what is behind it – what are your triggers. In order to conquer procrastination you need to figure out what triggers you into it and then pick strategies to remove the triggers.


Ask yourself these 3 questions at regular intervals.

  1. What am I currently procrastinating on?
  2. What belief about the task I want to do is holding me back?
  3. What fear is behind that belief?

Make a list of the things you commonly say to yourself or do to justify your procrastination.


  • I work better under pressure.
  • This will only take a few hours, I have plenty of time.
  • I don’t feel like doing it right now.
  • I don’t have enough time to really devote to the task right.


Your list will give you an understanding of what is really going on.

Fear (Trigger)

If your trigger is one of FEAR, ask yourself the following questions.

  • What am I afraid of?
  • What is the worst possible consequence that could happen?
  • What could happen if I ignore the situation?
  • Why am I putting this off?
  • What will I gain in the long run by putting this off?
  • How often do people actually die from doing this?
  • Am I trying to convince myself of something that is not true?
  • Am I scared of the process or the result?
  • Can I handle the outcome?
  • Am I trying to protect myself from a certain outcome?
  • Am I actually scared or was I just told this was scary?


Don’t know where or how to start (trigger)

The action steps for this problem are:

  • Set time aside to think about the task, no work is to be done yet.
  • Ask yourself these questions
  1. Do I need more information about this project?
  2. Where can I get this information?
  3. Do I need special tools or equipment to start and complete it?
  4. Where can I get these tools?
  • After getting more information and tools, what needs to be done first?
  • Now, gather together your stuff and set a time to start
  1. Pick a time that you really can commit to.
  2. Turn off your phone.
  3. Commit to a certain length of time and to a specific place to begin the task.

cartoon girl needing information so she won't procrastinate

Too much to do (trigger)

  1. Write down the specific tasks that have your attention.
  2. Decide which actions can be taken care of right away, and do them.
  3. Organize the rest of the task.
  4. Constantly review your breakdown of tasks.
  5. Do each task, one by one, until they are all finished.

cartoon girl pulling at her hair wondering what to do first

Not feeling like it: No Motivation(trigger)

I heard Mel Robbins give a TED talk and she had a great take on this. She asked the audience to think about how much energy it takes to get out of bed on an average day. She then told the audience that that is ALL the energy it takes to start a task. No great or grand motivation or super excitement about the task just the amount of energy it takes to get out of bed. Hear her whole talk here

It is starting the task, not doing the task that is hard. Yet it is less painful to start a task than to experience the worry, guilt and frustration of procrastinating.

scale 1 -10 starting task is 5, procrastination pain is 9.5

  • Make it as easy as possible to start.
  • Work off your list of activities and just do one at a time.
  • Give yourself an exit strategy (decide to work for an hour, or till you have done accomplished a certain portion).
  • Set an appointment with yourself – I’m going to work on my blog tomorrow at 10: 00 and work for 2 hours.

 Disconnection between “Now” and “Tomorrow” You  (Trigger)

  1. Recognize that you are doing this.
  2. Think about your future self with kindness – don’t give her more to do than she (you) can handle.
  3. Be realistic about what could get in the way for your future self from starting and completing the task.
  4. To you in the past – tell her that you wish she had loved her future self more and not get you (now) into these difficult situations.
  5. Picture what it will be like for her (you in the future) to have this task accomplished.
  6. Send an email to future you. Bridge the time gap and tell your tomorrow self how your current actions will make your future self better. (here is a link to a site that you can “mail” this type of letter

cartoon girls the now girl hugging her future self because she did not procrastinate

Hopefully you found the trigger for your procrastination and I hope that the suggestions will help you.










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  1. This is really good! It helps to break things down into why you are doing (or not doing) something. Very helpful. Thank you!

    • Thank you Meagan. I loved learning that procrastination wasn’t mainly a time management issue! That always piled guilt on me and it seemed hopeless. Now I understand what is really behind why I put things off.


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