The real reason you’re procrastinating

“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.” 

This quote in the NY Times by Dr. Tim Pychyl, a psychology professor at The University of Ottawa, stopped me in my tracks.

Having spent more than a decade in the productivity industry, this was the first time I saw what I intuitively knew.

One of the reasons I left productivity training was for this very reason. We were dealing with the outer circumstances and not the inner self of very busy people. For some it worked, for others it left them stuck.

Many productivity tips, tricks and tactics don’t work because they don’t address the true cause of a busy person’s procrastination. The block is rooted far deeper.

The truth is procrastination occurs for one of two reasons: 

  1. The task is boring or unpleasant – think formatting a document or answering emails, OR
  2. A person’s feelings toward that task, such as self-doubt, imposter syndrome, fear. 

Here’s a story that may resonate with you …

My client, let’s call her Emily, came to me complaining of a chronic procrastination problem when it came to writing a book she knew would showcase her brilliance to the world. 

Yet she just couldn’t seem to “find the time” to do it.

There were 4 stops on her journey to addressing the root cause of her procrastinating. Perhaps this will look familiar to you.

Stop # 1: Despite all the tricks she put in place to set herself up for success, she still procrastinated. 

In our first coaching session, we came up with a writing schedule, set an acceptable number of hours for her to write, blocked time in her calendar, and she would ask her business buddy to hold her accountable. Two weeks later, she came to her coaching session with a list of excuses as to why she couldn’t “find the time” to write.

Stop #2 : She’d ruminate about the task and blame herself for leaving it unfinished.

Emily was constantly thinking about sitting down to write, yet would always find something else to divert her attention away from it. She’d then start shaming and blaming herself for not doing it.

Stop #3: She felt a sense of relief from putting off writing.

On some level, it felt good to step away from writing, Emily admitted. “Not doing it kept me safe and hidden. There was a sense of safety that came from staying in my comfort zone,” she said.

And there it was … 

Stop #4: The essence of her procrastinating was revealed. 

=> I’m not smart enough to write this book. 

=> What if no one buys it?

=> What if I get negative reviews and people judge me, criticize me and ridicule me. 

That’s when the true power of our coaching came to life.

We dug in and went deeper, and focused on bringing the stories she was telling herself to the surface so she could see and feel them.  Through her coaching sessions we began to change the inner narrative Emily was telling herself. 

Once we removed the true barrier standing in the way of her writing her book, Emily’s excitement and joy of writing returned. It was now easy for her to “find the time” to write.  

Perhaps you see yourself in Emily.

Were you thinking of a task or project you’ve been putting off? Was it something that would elevate your impact and visibility?

If so, I invite you to get curious and dig deeper.  

When you realize procrastination is rooted in your emotions and not in a lack of self-discipline, that’s when you’ll release its grip and allow you to make your big dreams come true.