7 Reasons Why We Procrastinate

2011 | Jul 20 in Home Page News , Leadership

By Bobby Burns, E-Myth Business Coach

We’d just begun our coaching call. Don was explaining why he had not kept his word about creating monthly financial statements.  Again.

 In a voice tinged with resignation, he said there wasn’t enough time. He rolled out all the things that had gotten in his way in the past two weeks.  He waited for me to change the subject.

I didn’t change the subject.  As his coach, I knew that this was The Subject.  And this was a major challenge to Don’s getting what he truly wanted for his business and himself.  Don knew it.  I knew it.  And as his coach, I wouldn't be helping him if I let him off the hook.

But I never seem to have enough time!

“Your problem isn’t lack of time, Don,” I said.  “You had time enough to make client calls. You were able to take an extra two hours on your lunch break to read up on SEO optimization and tweak your blog. You had time for a lot of things, but you consistently put off this one thing that you’d committed to, agreed needed to be done, and wasn’t all that difficult.  So what's really going on?”

Don got defensive, saying he'd been prioritizing. Then he caught himself, and said:  “I know this is important, but I just feel so uncomfortable dealing with finance.”  This was big for Don to admit and I was relieved to hear him own it. “Not having time” was a red herring and we both knew it.

I assured him that he wasn’t alone when it came to procrastination, and we considered a number of places throughout his management and leadership functions where this habit was showing up. We reviewed several other things he wanted that he wasn’t getting by allowing this habit to drive him. We had to agree that it was a problem before we could agree to work on it.

Tell Me Why?

There are myriad reasons why we procrastinate. And there are often telltale signs that we are indeed procrastinating even when we think we are being truly productive.

Do you stay busy doing low priority tasks despite the high-level, strategic work that remains undone?

Are you checking and re-checking your email without acting on them?

Do certain items keep getting “carried over” to another day on your To-Do list?

Are you perpetually waiting for a “good time” to tackle certain tasks?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you may be struggling with this issue.

While there are many underlying causes, here are seven that are particularly common and easily identified:

  1. You are feeling overwhelmed by a particular task
  2. You are afraid that you will fail
  3. You feel unwilling or unable to make a decision
  4. You are overworked or too tired
  5. You just don’t want to do it
  6. You are too disorganized and distracted to effectively budget the time
  7. You don’t want to commit to starting a task unless you know it will be perfect

Deferring some tasks, especially low-level or unimportant tasks, is not necessarily procrastinating. Part of the art of self-management is being able to prioritize and, where possible, delegate.  It might also be a good strategy to intentionally hold off on high-level or critical tasks if you are not able to focus effectively due to fatigue or unavoidable distractions. But that should be the exception, not the excuse.

Don had developed the habit over the years of putting off unpleasant tasks simply because he didn’t want to do them. But that didn’t make them go away.  They just collected in the background – adding to Don’s stress and further distracting him for being able to fully focus on any task at hand.  It was a vicious cycle.  His upbringing and his work ethic made “doing things and being busy” essential, so he would immerse himself in “work.”  

But for all the time he put in to being busy, he was perpetually frustrated by his inability to get the results he really wanted.

For some people, the greatest enemy to getting important things done is perfectionism.  If it can’t be perfect, it can’t be done.  

Okay, so stop that. It’s not going to happen. Nothing is perfect and striving for perfection is just another way of putting things off indefinitely.  Sometimes, “good enough” is good enough.  Leave room for improvement and innovation – but give yourself something to start with!

Plan Your Work, Write it Down, and Work Your Plan

The old cliché about planning your work and working your plan is a powerful maxim. I added the bit about writing it down because there is enormous power in putting things on paper. There is an extra force in making your objectives visible and “real."

Getting effectively organized and developing effective time management practices will not happen overnight. But today is a great day to start! Confronting your own particular procrastination demons will not be comfortable or pleasant. So be it – today’s a great day to begin! Create a realistic To-Do list each day with only 3 priority tasks.  Put the least inviting one on top.  

Begin.  Experience the pleasure of getting something you’d avoided off your list.  It's a monkey off your back! Move on to the next.  It gets easier with each little success. 

Don did exactly that. It wasn’t easy and it did not all turn around in a week. But as I told him then -- it’s a process, not an event. Over time he’s gained control over his time by gaining control of himself.  By implementing key tools and methods for planning and prioritizing he is winning the battle with procrastination.

Does he still dislike certain tasks? Well, yes. But he’s getting them done, and a completed unpleasant task feels a lot better than one hanging over your head.


  1. .Bob H. says:

    Timely! Thanks for the reminder of a realistic To-Do list each day with only 3 priority tasks. 

    Submitted Jul 20, 2011 11:18 AM

  2. .Deb B. says:

    If you know you have to swallow a frog, swallow it first thing in the morning. If there are two frogs, swallow the big one first." ...

    Easier said than done..

    Submitted Jul 20, 2011 1:03 PM

  3. .geoff m. says:

    remember the 6 p's.  Prior proper planning prevents poor performance.

    Submitted Jul 20, 2011 1:48 PM

  4. .David V. says:

    Timely indeed! Am glad to have read the article, now to change some bad habits.  


    Submitted Jul 20, 2011 4:04 PM

  5. .Paco S. says:

    I have in my priorieties to complete my organizational chart, I keep putting it off. I decided that I will get done within a week now. I've procrastinating.  

    Submitted Jul 20, 2011 8:27 PM

  6. .Adriane S. says:

    Great article and very timely! Thanks for the reminders and tips. I must admit, I do seem to struggle with some of the underlying causes you mentioned. It’s good to know that it will be a process to correct, but it can be accomplished.

    Submitted Jul 20, 2011 10:39 PM

  7. .Amy S. says:

    Hard to admit to sometimes but I still find myself avoiding certain tasks. One trick I use is to set a timer for 10 minutes. I can get myself to do 10 min. of work on the issue, usually; then after ten minutes goes by I realize it's not so intimidating after all and I often do more of the "dreaded task." That one trick has helped me tackle high-priority tasks that have seemed too big or scary. After a while they aren't so "big" or so frightening.

    I also agree wholeheartedly with the suggestion to write things down. I say that with earnestness and with life experience. It's not really my nature BUT keeping track on paper has been an extremely successful tactic for me.

    Thanks for the great article!

    Submitted Jul 21, 2011 11:26 AM

  8. .Elizabeth M. says:

    Thank you for this article.  procrastination - due to overwhelm and perfectionism - totally rules my life and has for years :0(

    I really like Amy S's 10 min trick and agree when I've been at the end of the long tunnel on something to do and can't avoid it anymore no how - I start the task and realize after about 1/2 an hour I'm actually enjoying doing it - so I need to remember that feeling to help me as well.

    Thanks again

    Submitted Jul 22, 2011 7:52 AM

  9. .Michael B. says:

    What an excellent article: reminds me that if I were to eat an elephant, I have to do it one bite at a time - probably starting with the tail!

    Submitted Jul 28, 2011 3:52 AM

  10. .Bakari A. says:

    Just in time! I have been bashing myself for not acting on some of my actions that perpetually appear on my to-do-list not realising the underlying "must be perfect". Thanks for easing my TDL.

    Submitted Aug 4, 2011 4:36 AM

  11. .Christopher F. says:

    I am a procrastinator and I finally got around to reading this.  Ironic isn't it?  Thanks for the advice on the 3-item to-do list.  I'm going to try that.

    Submitted Aug 10, 2011 9:53 AM

  12. .andrew b. says:

    "Today is a great day to start!" I love the power of this statement. Get a plan people, write it down and work it!!! Now!!! I'm going to give it a shot.  

    Submitted Sep 7, 2011 5:41 PM

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