‘Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.’ Napoleon Hill

Procrastination is perhaps one of the biggest issues that business owners and professionals experience on a day-to-day basis. In this article, we are going to establish what procrastination is, identify why you do it, and then look at three ways of tackling the issue.

Wikipedia Encyclopaedia defines it as follows:

‘Procrastination is a human behavior which is characterised by the deferment of actions or tasks to a later time.’

This definition is an interesting one because procrastination is identified as a behavior and that actions are directly related to that behavior. Psychology researchers use three criteria to categorize procrastination: for a behavior to be classified as procrastination, it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying (Schraw, G., Wadkins, T., & Olafson, L. 2007). Those behaviors are based on decisions.

We are decision-making creatures. Decisions are thoughts that are converted into behaviors. Everything we do is based on the decisions we take, including when to eat, drink, sleep, wake up, communicate with each other, planning, taking action, and so on. These are all behaviors. Procrastination, therefore, is a series of decisions we make which are then converted into behaviors.

The question is what causes us to decide to assign a higher priority to tasks that are counterproductive, needless and delaying to those that are important business critical?


‘If it were not for the last minute, I would not get anything done’. Anon

To answer the question I want to outline a client’s use of procrastinating behavior.
As a senior partner in an accountancy firm Muriel (name changed) was responsible for submitting tenders for work. She had one on the desk that had to be finalised by Friday. It had been on the desk for three days and today was Wednesday. She had not yet started. She set the day aside to complete it. It was nine o’clock. Initial tasks – make the coffee, switch computer on, read the mail, check the email, make a few phone calls, check the newspapers, check the meetings diary, check the TV news, etc, etc, etc. Time – 11am. Next tasks – more coffee, read files on the desk and file, check email, phone the vet, etc, etc. Time 12:30 – time for lunch. Time 13:30 – time for coffee, pick up the tender and read the brief (for the fourth time), more phone calls, etc, etc. By the time 16:00 had arrived, she had still not started the tender.

Sound familiar?

She did everything she could to delay the starting of the tender, which was important to the business, by completing irrelevant and unimportant tasks – why?

We discovered a number of underlying issues, including the following:

• Values and beliefs around being perfect
• Overwhelm – the task was too big
• Fear of failing – not completing on time
• Avoidance of critical feedback – non acceptance of the bid
• Fear of succeeding – having to live up to a high level reputation

Muriel had, over a period of time, developed a decision making process that ensured that she avoided (or minimised) the perceived negative outcomes of her issues. She rarely considered her successes and chose instead to concentrate on the failures. She had developed an ‘avoiding’ decision making process that was presented through procrastinating behaviors.

The task for you is to identify what your procrastination behaviors are which will help you understand your decision-making processes.

Then what do you do?

The following three methods will help you identify and then rectify your procrastinating behavior.

1. Take on an apprentice. I want you to imagine you have an apprentice and that you want them to be as good as you are at procrastination. List all the things that you do when you are procrastinating and then, against each entry, describe in detail what you do to be so effective. When you next start procrastinating, check your list and add to it – make sure you add as much detail as you can. Keep revisiting and reviewing until you have a comprehensive process document. Your final task is to identify, against each item, the actual positive outcome you want in each area and then think about what you need to do to get there. Then get on with it.

2. Think elephant. You have possibly heard about the view of how to eat an elephant - break it down into smaller chunks and eat a piece at a time. Sit and think about the task and list all the key elements. Put them into a priority order and then allocate a period of time against each one. Put a name against each one (if you have staff available). Put a start and finish date against each element. Then get on with it!

3. Think three quarters. If you normally sit for hours (without a break or limited breaks) at the desk working on a task, be it a tender, project, paper, book, etc. then use the three quarters/one quarter rule. Our maximum period of concentration is between 45 – 60 minutes, anything past this mark means that the quality of concentration will be inferior as will be the outcome of your work. Set aside 45 minutes (3/4) for the task you want to work on and then take a break – this could be for a coffee, or just turning away from the desk and doing something else for a few minutes (15= ¼). Then repeat the process.

We have found that procrastination is a set of behaviours that have been generated by your decision-making processes, developed over time. I have given an example of the outcome of those decisions as well as three ways that you can use to combat them.

Remember that:

“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

Now is the time to do it differently – you could of course leave it until later!


Peter Mackechnie

Author's Bio: 

Peter is a professional coach who works with clients from a range of backgrounds and businesses. He is an active writer of blogs on coaching and related subjects.