Stop Procrastinating by First Asking “Why?”

Stewart has always been a bit of a procrastinator, but he had fallen way behind schedule with performance reviews for his team. “I need to stop procrastinating!,” he shouted to himself.

Is procrastination something you struggle with? Many articles, blogs, social media posts, and videos earnestly lay out specific actions and steps you can take to stop procrastinating.

However, we all do things for a reason — even if that reason is sometimes unclear to us. Desmond Tutu once said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” It’s a fantastic quote — for many reasons. But for our purposes, it forces us to pause and ask ourselves, “Before I implement a lot of tactical steps to quit procrastination, WHY am I procrastinating? Why am I falling in the river?”

As executive coaches, we are committed to helping our clients change behaviors, improve performance, and achieve their goals. We’ve learned over the years that the essential starting place for our work is the question “Why?” (By the way, we can challenge ourselves with “Why,” but should generally avoid using the word with others. For more, read “Don’t Ask Why!”)

Why Are You Procrastinating?

Write down a few examples of procrastination that you recently experienced — or are currently dealing with. Ask, “Why?” Your procrastination might show up as:

  • A task that is unpleasant or boring — it’s too long, too much of a grind
  • A task that you are unsure how to start — it’s undefined or poorly defined
  • A task that is not important enough — you may be too busy with other things and may be prioritizing more urgent tasks
  • A task that is “too soon” to work on — you think you work better under pressure and delay working on something until you have to

Stewart felt that he had pushed his team performance reviews back because his supervisor had assigned him an urgent, important project. That was Stewart’s initial “Why.”

Why Are You REALLY Procrastinating?

But, go deeper. Push for more. Ask yourself “Why?” again. Your why might really be:

  • That you are not really interested in the task — is it a “should” rather than a “want?”
  • The task is outdated — it’s been on your to-do list for a long time, or the situation has changed, so that it’s actually no longer necessary or relevant.  
  • You are honestly not sure how to do the task or you don’t understand all the pieces, so you’ve been pushing it off
  • You want to avoid dealing with tough questions that the task raises — for example, “I don’t want to reflect on my mortality, so I’ve been putting off getting a will.

With his executive coach, Stewart pushed himself to go deeper and realized that his “Why” was that he didn’t want to deal with the fact that he might have to let a poor-performing employee go. He was not confident that he would communicate clearly and effectively and do what needed to be done in a professional, constructive, empathetic way. Stewart was afraid of an emotional blow-up, so he was avoiding working on performance reviews and follow-up meetings.”

Stewart worked on his communication skills and his understanding of how to have a difficult conversation. That then enabled him to apply a couple of appropriate stop-procrastinating-tactics, and complete his performance reviews.

With a more thoughtful “Why,” you are in a much better position to attack the true source of your procrastination and take action that will bring you success.

To learn more about your “Why,” defining and achieving your goals, and improving your leadership skills, contact the executive coaches at Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.