Sofa designed by Sofie Hauge Katan from the Noun Project

Over on the Harvard Business Review, Heidi Grant Halvorson shares the thee reasons you find yourself unwilling to finish a project, make an important decision, or hit the gym. Fortunately she also gives us solutions for overcoming whatever’s holding you back. Halvorson writes:

The good news (and its very good news) is that you can get better about not putting things off, if you use the right strategy.  Figuring out which strategy to use depends on why you are procrastinating in the first place.

Reason #1 — You are putting something off because you are afraid you will screw it up. Solution: Adopt a “prevention focus.” What you need is a way of looking at what you need to do that isn’t undermined by doubt – ideally, one that thrives on it.  When you have a prevention focus, instead of thinking about how you can end up better off, you see the task as a way to hang on to what you’ve already got – to avoid loss.

Reason #2 — You are putting something off because you don’t “feel” like doing it. Solution: Make like Spock and ignore your feelings.  They’re getting in your way. Somewhere along the way, we’ve all bought into the idea – without consciously realizing it – that to be motivated and effective we need to feel like we want to take action.  We need to be eager to do so.  I really don’t know why we believe this, because it is 100 percent nonsense.

Get all three reasons for procrastination, and solutions for each, from Harvard Business Review.

  • clover

    I’m just gonna throw something out there and see if it resonates with anyone else.

    I procrastinate because . . . wait for it . . . I’ve done it for decades and I can’t honestly say anything particularly bad has ever happened as a result. Instead, one of several possible things has happened:

    1. The time came when it became urgent to complete the project, so I did. I find I work best when I have a sense of urgency and a need to focus on one important task until it’s completed.

    2. The project changed while I was procrastinating, and I was grateful that I’d procrastinated because I didn’t have to reverse or redo work I’d already done before the project changed.

    3. The project got canceled, and I was grateful I hadn’t wasted any time on it.

    Of course, there are times I know it’s best NOT to procrastinate. These would include:

    1. Projects where I’m collaborating with people who aren’t procrastinators. I can adapt my procrastinator tendencies to the needs of my team.

    2. Projects that include many sub-tasks. I have discovered I’m not good at gauging the time it takes to complete sub-tasks, and that I need to develop and stick to timelines for these more complex projects.

    3. Projects where the subject matter is complex and I feel that I understand the project really well now, but know that if I shift focus, I’ll lose that grasp and vision. When I’m in the sweet spot of understanding, inspiration, and time available to get something done, I’ll seize that.

    I would say I procrastinate shamelessly for 75% of my solo projects and about 25% of my group projects.

    • Paul

      Awesome! I think the same way, what is the problem society have with procrastinating or just been alone doing nothing for no reason? I believe the main reason it’s because this is not so common or accept by the majority, so most people assume it’s wrong. Although sometimes when people depend on you to complete their job, procrastinating could be problematic!

      • Wilson Filho

        Actually, right now, i’m procrastinating… i should be going to sleep, in order to wake up earlier tomorrow and keep working on my project. =T

      • Leigh

        They say procrastinators do so to create a burst of adrenaline (usually stemming from that “sense of urgency”) which then gives them the energy an ability to focus on the task at hand. Very common with people with ADHD tendencies like myself…

    • John

      I agree with 1 – 2 – 3. There is also the opposite, where starting right away can be ‘non-productive’ as well. I have worked on projects numerous times where facts or opinions have changed the production further down the timeline; and would have been easier to change has I not started yet.

  • Jō Thomas

    Reason #2 is troubling. Better to understand why you’re feeling the way you do. Are you being asked to do something you don’t believe in, like using your graphic talents to promote even more soft drink sales? Design yet another ad campaign for cigarettes, cars, designer labels… Maybe this Harvard Business Review author should check her own feelings and ask why she thinks telling the world to suppress feelings is a good thing. Boo.

    • Heidi Grant Halvorson

      Thanks for the comment – I’m not sure if you read the whole piece over at HBR or just this summary, but I did make it clear that I was talking about getting yourself to do things you WANT to do, that you think is important and valuable, but just don’t “feel” like doing – the example you mentioned, where you are being asked to do something you don’t believe in, would be a case of not actually wanting to do it in the first place. And I agree, you absolutely shouldn’t be ignoring your feelings in that instance.

      • tannerc

        Thanks for clarifying for readers Heidi.

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