April 27

Why We Procrastinate

Human Performance, Strategy & Theory


Okay, so we might not all be procrastinators but most of us, in one realm or another, procrastinate from time to time. I will be the first to admit that I procrastinate regularly. For me, I tend to seek the classic “path of least resistance” in order to get things done. Anything I accomplish (or should I say akomplish) is simply a function of the relationship I have with 3 variables: personal drive (or will power) and urgency versus resistance. If the urgency or personal drive is great enough to overcome the resistance, then things get done. If neither is great enough, than nothing gets done.

If I’d like to get things done and neither personal drive nor urgency is great enough, the only option left is to decrease the resistance to a point lower than the other two variables to get me to do something. Here is the simple equation:

(Personal Drive X Urgency) / Resistance = Y (action/inaction)

If “y” is less than 1, than nothing happens as resistance is too high (greater than the top of the equation). Anything greater than 1 makes the cut. So, procrastination in this context is simply the result of a low drive vs. Resistance causing inaction until urgency increases – as deadlines approach – sufficiently to push the top higher than the resistance. If a deadline exists and the consequences of the deadline carry sufficient weight, then urgency will dramatically increase as that deadline approaches.
Now, how do we overcome this procrastination stuff? Different techniques can be applied to each area of the equation in order to improve the likelihood of execution – that plays out as 3 key actions – decreasing resistance and increasing personal drive and/or urgency. Some examples of these techniques –

Decrease Resistance:

  • Habits and Routines
  • Productivity Methodologies
  • Automation and/or Simplification (often through technology)
  • Outsourcing

Increase Personal Drive – Will Power:

  • a little “soul searching”
  • meditation
  • personal reviews – goals, schedules, etc.
  • personal mission, vision, and values

Increase Urgency:

  • deadlines
  • rewards for accomplishment
  • punishment for failure
  • review “whats at stake”

Ultimately, strategies and tools assist us in decreasing resistance while personal improvement, alignment, and “soul-searching” activities help us increase personal drive. Interestingly, these activities are virtually worthless when switched around, i.e. strategies and tools to increase personal drive does not work (at least not in the long term) and personal improvement activities do little to decrease resistance (or can even add to it!)
Now, lets wrap our brains around this in context – Entrepreneurial adventures tend to offer up significant, often demoralizing levels of resistance. So how do people ever get anything done under this level of resistance? These projects are largely moved forward by an overwhelming personal drive or mission, and often a real sense of urgency as your financial well being may depend on success.

Another point to note with the equation, if personal drive goes to ZERO, then urgency doesn’t matter, the top will be zero and no action is taken. This essentially represents an extreme depression or something similar. Zero will power or drive is a bad place to be and is likely in need of more significant interventions – therapy or the like.
Others have identified 3 types of procrastination. I will apply the context of the action equation as well. We procrastinate on something because:

  • deep down it goes against our core beliefs. (low will power due to misalignment)
  • we know it’s a waste of time. (Low urgency as well as low will power)
  • At some level we can’t accept the larger meaning of our actions. (lack of understanding or personal clarity creates an environment of low will power/drive)

I agree with these though they are almost exclusively connected to drive and will power. They do not properly address urgency and completely leave out role of resistance in procrastination. At the the end of the day though, if you can sufficiently increase will power, the resistance and urgency matter far less, action will happen. It is a fallacy to think you can always increase will power though – it is essentially a finite resource that must be managed well.

These types do bring up another important point, the answer to procrastination may often be to just cut it off. Don’t do it at all! Thin out the busy work and focus on more meaningful ways to spend your time and energy. Be honest with yourself and recognize when things are misaligned, give yourself permission to just drop it altogether. Preserve your Will and focus for more important challenges facing greater resistance.

Now, its time to do some self-assessment. Download the exercise and run yourself through it. How do you stack up? So what do you do now? Lets touch on a great first step –

As listed above, one of the most effective ways to decrease resistance – therefore requiring significantly less personal drive – is through habits. Your daily habits are automated routines of accomplishment – circumventing the need for advanced levels of personal drive or will power – which, as mentioned is essentially a finite resource (you only have so much each day). Exploring ways to improve your daily routines – allowing for deep work, soul searching, reading, meditation, and focused time on your most difficult projects – will yield dividends almost immediately. Certain activities – such as meditation – may also improve your drive, helping you align with the purpose.

“The answer to procrastination may often be to just cut it off, just NEVER do it!”

Improving habits is likely the most impactful action you can take. Through proper habits, powerful thinking can take place to optimize and improve all aspects of life, making better choices, increasing creativity and so much more. Think about what it takes to push yourself to get something done, how do you overcome the resistance? How do you overcome procrastination? or maybe you are struggling, what is your biggest piece of resistance? or challenge you’d like to dig deeper on? Let us know in the comments…

Bonus exercise: Utilize the download-able exercise, be real and honest. Identify your hurdles and begin to reap the fruits of your labor!

About the author 


Strategy Consultant & Productivity junkie - Focus: Systems & Processes, Product/Service Design. Founder of Akomplish.com. Its ironic how much time I waste learning about productivity ;P

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