It’s impossible for all us of never to procrastinate or, as some might say, exercise the freedom to do something later over sooner. Procrastination isn’t uniformly a terrible thing. There are instances where it can be helpful. Overall, however, it generally is a liability to doing one’s best work and if allowed to dominate one’s way of thinking will lead toward a lot of unneeded stress.

First let’s define what we are talking about. Procrastination by definition is delaying actions that need to be done. The inference in this is that someone is lazy and unproductive in their planning, easily distracted by less important things, and generally of low motivation. The most logical outcome is something important ends up getting done at the last moment not reflecting one’s best work. We usually assume the worst about someone’s skill and character if we tag them as a procrastinator. In many cases this assumption is true and can significantly hurt one’s chances of being trusted and gaining influence in their work. The good news is it is not a genetic condition. It can be changed and, if carefully understood, can actually improve your work. Let’s look at some steps toward this.

Procrastination by definition is delaying actions that need to be done.

Understand what’s going on in your head. The first aspect to understand is one’s desire to procrastinate is not an inherent character defect. It is an outcome of how the brain works. Our limbic system, the part of the brain that controls our initial reactions to things (think flight or fright reflexes) is wired to make the easiest decisions first. It is an inherent operating system in the way God designed us to conserve how we expend energy. So, first rule is do not be discouraged when you battle procrastination or look upon it as a character flaw. It’s the natural way our brains approach prioritization. We just have to learn to wire our brains to recognize “exceptions” and allow our awareness of this reflex to create a proactive mental posture toward it. This sounds like a small step but this does lead toward one not feeling defeated when faced with procrastination but rather energized about tacking the challenge.

Understand what is causing the “hiccup” toward action. Once you pause and understand you have the natural reaction to taking action then the next step is to dig a little deeper and determine what exactly is causing you to hesitate on taking action. Is it because it is an unpleasant task? Is it boring? Does it involve confrontation? Does it require research? Does it simply involve needing time to think? Do the potential outcomes bring great risks? Every one of these questions requires a different response. Rather than mentally settle on “I don’t want to do this now” instead push to the deeper question of “Why do I not want to do this now?” The answer to this will inform your next steps.

Choose an action. Once your procrastination radar goes off and you catch yourself thinking “I’ll do that later” then pause and create a concrete action. This does not mean the task has to be done immediately but it does mean determining the next step. As stated above, different reasons for procrastinating require different actions but here are a few possible ones to consider:

  • Make the decision.  Of the action you are procrastinating can be done in 15 minutes or less than simply go ahead and do it. It’s not worth the time on your priority to do list. Grind through and get it done. Note: a steady habit of this will begin to create a natural reward system in your brain of endorphin releases that help the task become more satisfying to complete even if it isn’t one of your favorite ones.
  • Calendar the time for action. I don’t mean keep it on your to-do list. I mean block a time on the calendar when you are going to tackle it. Consider the amount of time, the resources, and the environment you need and prepare accordingly. Having these three factors in place plus the knowledge you have time put aside for it will also likely help bring a needed energy toward completing it.
  • Consider all of the associated context. If the “hiccup” is around the weight, risk, or potential negative outcome of the task then part of the hesitancy may be around not feeling prepared enough to take actions. In these cases, don’t be afraid to set mini-goals of producing a draft response. This is an extremely low-risk action and allows you to take an idea and bounce it off key team members, supervisors, or others potentially affected by the outcomes. Getting input from key stakeholders will make for a better result, increase buy-in, and create a higher confidence that you are on the right track.

Remember, initial procrastination isn’t a character flaw. It may simply be your brain’s natural response to prioritizing or it may be an intuition that you don’t have the right info yet to get to a solution. Procrastination, however becomes a problem when you simply kick the can further down the road and let the item take up valuable real estate on your to do list. When you feel the instinct calendar your next actions and move ahead confident that with the right amount of dedicated time and key inputs you can get this knocked out in a very effective way.