It starts innocently enough. I “just” want to go on to Facebook to check on one thing. When I finally emerge from my Facebook haze, 20 minutes has gone by. “Not a problem,” I think. “I still have enough time to pay the bills before I have to go get Isabel from the bus stop.” So I pull up my email inbox to find the bill pay reminders, but get distracted by some personal emails that have also been a nagging item on my to-do list for several days. I think to myself, “This is just as important.” Before I know it, I realize it’s nearly 4 pm! I grab my keys, and rush out the door, jogging down the street to meet my daughter at the bus.
When I get back, the bills take a backseat to our afterschool routine -- tending to the kids’ homework, getting dinner on the table and spending time as a family. Thus another day goes by with my minimum balances unattended.
After a few days the stars align and I have both the time and motivation to tackle them again. I manage to click and pay the electric and cable bills, but I hear the kids calling me just as I’m about to pay the credit cards, and realize it’s past their bedtime. Off again.
The next few days are filled with reports that are due, getting the plumber to fix the broken sink, and various other mundane but important tasks. Those credit card bills keep getting further and further away from the top of the list and the forefront of my mind.
Finally, one evening I’m just about to settle in for the night and then it hits me… THE BILLS. I fly into a panic. I turn on my computer while simultaneously admonishing myself for forgetting about them for so long and fervently hoping I haven’t passed the due date. I don’t want to risk the fees, or worse, a hike in my interest rates. As my computer boots up, my mind is reeling with thoughts of how I could let this happen, how I’ll never forget about the bills again, that next time I’ll take care of them immediately…
Ah, the life of a productive procrastinator. I’m full of ambition. I accomplish many things day to day. I am a responsible parent and business owner, but there is also the fallible, human side of me who sometimes can’t make timely decisions, and dreads doing certain tasks until I have people breathing down my neck.
Perhaps you can relate. While researching this topic, I Googled “procrastination” and was flooded with sites -- 3,570,000 of them, to be exact. Many of them purport to fix procrastination by simply following a few simple steps. But 3,570,000 different approaches can be a bit daunting. Where to start?
One site I visited presented a different take on procrastination. Paul Graham ( writes that “Most people who write about procrastination write about how to cure it. But this is, strictly speaking, impossible. There are an infinite number of things you could be doing. No matter what you work on, you're not working on everything else. So the question is not how to avoid procrastination, but how to procrastinate well. There are three variants of procrastination, depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I'd argue, is good procrastination.”
There you have it. There is no escape from procrastination. So, how to do it well?
First of all, I’ll assert that there is NO SUCH THING as “lazy.” Yes, watching TV for two hours when I know perfectly well that I need to get my bills paid is a big old waste of time. But am I doing it because I am lazy? I say no. Lazy is a label that we use to describe ourselves when we don’t understand why we don’t just get up and do something useful, and often times the voice telling us that we’re lazy is really just echoing someone else’s voice (our parents, our teacher, our old boss...). Ok, so if it’s not laziness, what is it?
Here it is: Resistance.
Instead of beating yourself up for being lazy, start by asking yourself, “What am I resisting?”
Further research into this topic revealed that all procrastination is not created equal. I was able to group them into four distinct types:
1. Avoiding
Avoiding goes hand in hand with resistance. Whatever it is, we just don’t want to face it. So we stall. And delay. And hem. And haw. The ironic part is that most of what we are avoiding is fantasy.
For instance, we may have a fear of failure (FEAR = Fantasy Evidence Appearing Real.) However, if I never try it, aren’t I pretty much guaranteeing I’ll fail?
The task may be distasteful or boring. Who among us likes to do our taxes? Do I have a choice? No. Will I get a refund? Probably. Did I just spend 2 hours checking email instead of calling my accountant? Yes. Will I still have to do it? Yes. Since I no longer have the excuse of being lazy, I recognize that I’m resisting, and give myself permission to get it done now so that I can get it off my chest.
Another way we avoid is by being productive. Yep, I can actually procrastinate by getting things done. This might include things like cleaning underneath my claw footed bathtub. Or I might try to cross off many of the smaller items on my to-do list before tackling the big things. As John Perry writes on his excellent site, “Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they reorganize their files when they get around to it."
And let’s not forget the old fear of success avoidance technique. If I do it well once, won’t people expect me to do it again, and just as well the second time around? Who needs that kind of pressure?
2. Thrill-seeking
All those college years proved it: I’m most creative at 5:00 AM after pulling an all-nighter preparing a paper for my 9:00 AM class. Suddenly all my ideas come in to sharp focus and the words just seem to flow. The euphoric rush of getting it all done and printed by 8:30 is actually, it turns out, almost fun.
And why wait until midnight to start typing? Because I am a “time optimist.” I always think it’s going to take less time to do something than it actually does. Does it work out sometimes? Maybe 5% of the time. Those are the times that reinforce my behavior the other 95% of the time.
3. Indecisiveness
By being resistant to making a decision, things often get decided for me, and then, I don’t have to take responsibility for the decision. (Oddly, whichever option I choose, I’ll later find out some information that leads me to believe I should have chosen differently.)
4. Perfectionism
There will never, ever, ever be enough time available for me to do the perfect job I was hoping to do. John Perry writes, “Procrastinating is a way of giving myself permission to do a less than perfect job on a task that didn't require a perfect job. But when the deadline is near, or even a bit in the past, there is no longer time to do a perfect job. I have to just sit down and do an imperfect, but adequate job. The fantasies of perfection are replaced by the fantasies of utter failure. If only I had been able to give myself permission to do an imperfect job right at the outset.”
So where to go from here? Is there anything specific you can do to improve your productivity? Here are some ideas worth repeating:
1. Realize you are procrastinating and figure out why.
Some people say awareness is the first step. By being aware, you are now in a position to take action. Say to yourself, “Here I go again, procrastinating. I wonder what I am resisting right now?”
2. Commit only to the first step.
Being overwhelmed plays a big part in why we don’t start or finish projects. What is the very next thing that you can do towards your goal? Do that and you’ll be inspired to continue further.
3. Realize perfectionism is an unobtainable fantasy.
Again, John Perry’s words ring true: “You have to get in the habit of forcing yourself to analyze, at the time you accept a task, to consider the costs and benefits of doing a less than perfect job. You need to ask the questions: how useful would a perfect job be here? How much more useful than a merely adequate job? Or even a half-assed job? … And the answer, in an enormous number of cases, will be that a less than perfect job will do just fine, and moreover it's all I am ever going to do anyway. So I give myself permission to do a less than perfect job, rather than waiting until it is overdue. I may as well do it now.”
4. Don’t do it at all.
Delegate, automate, simplify, eliminate, or stall. Sometimes things just work themselves out and you don’t have to do them. I know this seems counter to all that I’ve been discussing, but it’s entirely likely that many of the items slowing you down are in the unacknowledged (type b) something less important category and letting them go will get you closer to (type a) something more important.
5. Get connected with your vision.
Place yourself in the future and see your life from the perspective of having already accomplished whatever you are putting off. Revel in the satisfaction of having gotten it done, and then bring that experience to the present. That will put you in the frame of mind to get started.
6. Make a big promise to a lot of people and put a deadline on it.
Nothing like a little pressure to get us moving (as us time optimists know so well.) Dream big, promise big, and deliver big.
What are you waiting for?

Author's Bio: 

Liz Wolfe has been presenting in front of groups since she was a child living on a sheep farm in Western Pennsylvania, when her family would participate in local festivals doing shearing and spinning demonstrations. Growing up money "poor" but resource "rich" on the farm supplied her with a wonderful foundation to learn about the abundance the universe provides.
She gave up the farm life when she moved to NYC in 1987. Since then she has built a successful business with her husband, Jon, which focuses on helping companies and individuals realize their full potential. She has been leading trainings with A&P Life for 20 years. You can visit her site at She has two children, ages 8 and 11.