What Makes You Procrastinate? The Three Most Common Triggers & How to Overcome Them

by Jennifer Good | February 7th, 2014 1:12 PM | No Comments

procrastination triggers

Procrastination is a bad habit that plagues many of us. What’s worse is that we all know that, whatever the reason, putting off what needs to get done just leads to more work to deal with later. However, if you thought the only negative effect of procrastination was an increased workload, you may be surprised at what some studies have uncovered. In fact, one of the earliest studies on procrastination showed that true procrastinators didn’t just finish their work later – the quality of it suffered, as did their own well-being.

As a one-time “nearly” chronic procrastinator, looking back, I can see how it ties in to your mental and physical health. You end up with feelings of stress, guilt, worry and regret when you don’t do what needs to get done. If you subscribe to the idea that your thoughts create your world, then you can only imagine the possible damaging side effects procrastination really has.

What’s even more problematic is that when we use procrastination as a method of dealing with a situation, we are actually actively lying to ourselves. According to Psychology Today, “Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, ‘I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow.’ Or ‘I work best under pressure.’ But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying ‘this isn’t important.’” Obviously this is not an effective way to live our best lives.


While chronic procrastination is a real problem that can’t simply be fixed by reading an article on the Internet, only about 20% of people actually suffer from this. For the rest of us, we’ve just fallen into a bad habit. Like any bad habit, with a little work and persistence you can get back to doing your best work and getting things shipped when they need to be.

What created my turning point in the battle of putting things off was the realization that procrastination is indeed actually just a habit. I had always identified with the concept that I was born a procrastinator and would always be one. My father was one, therefore I had “inherited” the trait. Realizing that it was a habit was a huge revelation. It meant I had the power to change it. It took a few years, some research on better productivity habits and a willingness to really analyze what I was doing to fix it all. However, while there are some things that will be unavoidably put off, it has nothing to do with chronic procrastination.

While analyzing my procrastination habits, I found that for me, there are a few triggers that I need to watch out for. No matter what the situation, if I feel the yearning to put the task off for later it almost always comes down to one of three factors. When I talk to people about their work, I’ve realized that I’m not alone when it comes to these triggers. These blocks seem to happen to a good number of people. If procrastination is an issue you’re dealing with, see if one of these blocks may be contributing to your delays.

Don’t Know What to Do
This is my personal number one roadblock to getting something done. The problem with this issue is that I don’t always realize that I don’t know what to do. I just get a strong urge not to do something. I’ve learned over the years that this is a big red flag indicating that I don’t have enough information to actually complete the task or project at hand.

To get around this, I have to stop and force myself to review what information I do have and then figure out what’s missing. Sometimes I’ll need more information from the other people involved in the project or task and sometimes I just need to do more research on the best way to handle the task. In some cases, I just need to sit down and create a project to do list. Just seeing the whole project broken down into smaller tasks can make all the difference.

Not Enough Subject Matter Knowledge or Lacking in Skill Level
Another roadblock to getting things done is not having the skill set to actually do the task. In most cases, for me anyway, it just comes down to having to do a bit of research to figure out how to do what needs to get done. In the case of a career or life change, you may not have done the particular task before. This can be daunting and you may not have enough experience to have created a cycle of routine in that area yet.

Think about the tasks that you do effortlessly. Typically it’s because you know how to do them and you are probably at the stage that you do them on autopilot. Well, you didn’t start out that way. You had to train yourself on your best method to get it done. The same applies to newer tasks that you may be putting off.

If you find yourself in this situation, my advice is to just do it anyway. You have to work through the hard stuff to get to where it becomes a routine action. Don’t expect that you’re going to be great out of the gate. Taking up something new is going to have some sort of learning curve. Anticipating this ahead of time can help you get through the more challenging aspects of what you need to do.

Starting a blog is a perfect example of this. If you haven’t written in ages, your writing is going to be rusty, and in fact it may just downright suck. Knowing this can be a big deterrent from actually starting the task, or it may prevent you from sticking to the task long-term. However, you can only get better in this area by practice, so that means you have to write every day. Even if you don’t use anything you’ve written. Make sure to account for this skill “ramp up” time in your overall blogging strategy. You can accelerate this ramp up by hiring someone to help copyedit your material or train you on better writing skills.

Not Sure Where to Start
This is a common problem area for many people, even for those without procrastination tendencies. While there are a myriad of books dedicated to the subject, there are some simple ways you can overcome this trigger. My go-to method for this roadblock is to work my way backwards. I start with the finished project or the ideal scenario and then start asking myself what I need to do to get there. I write down whatever I can think of. Then I ask myself the question again about the things I’ve written down. I keep repeating this task until I feel the excitement or urge to get started. This is my indicator that I know where to begin. What’s great about this method is that because I’ve started from the finished product, I won’t run into the “where to start” issue again for that particular project. I’ve already mapped out all of the “next steps” involved.

Keeping Motivated
Even when you know what to do and you have the best intentions, sometimes you really just don’t feel like doing it. This could stem from a much larger issue like a need for a job or career change. Or, it could be a task that’s just unavoidable, like taxes, that no one really likes doing. When it comes to these sorts of tasks, it’s important to remember that the only way out is through it. You just have to suck it up and do it. For that, you might need a little extra motivation. To help keep you inspired, here are a few of my favorite words on the topic of procrastination:

“Putting off an easy thing makes it hard. Putting off a hard thing makes it impossible.”
–George Claude Lorimer

“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task”
–William James.

“Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”
–M. Scott Peck

“Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin.”
–Victor Kiam

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.”
–Karen Lamb

“Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.”
–Wayne Dyer

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