Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

How to Deal with Procrastination

Every now and then when I sit down to write a post for my blog, I find my mind drifting off to other tasks; things that I could be doing at that moment instead of writing. In these cases, it’s not an issue of struggling with writer’s block, as I know exactly what it is I wish to write about. Instead, the problem has to do with something we all face at one point or another in our daily lives – getting stuck in the procrastination rut.

It’s a common situation that we can all relate to – finding ourselves procrastinating when there’s this pile of work that requires our current attention and focus. Of course, thanks to today’s hyper-accelerated sense of immediacy and drive to increase productivity, procrastinating not only draws our frustration and annoyance, but it’s also become something we feel guilty about doing.

Ironically, part of the problem with procrastination is that we’ve created a negative perception around it, instead of recognizing it as being a normal behaviour. After all, even the most efficient workers among us procrastinate at times. In dealing with procrastination, we need to understand that the real issue here is not so much the behaviour as how we choose to respond to it when it happens.

With this in mind, here are some things you can do that will not only help with maintaining some level of productivity, but which will also change how you look at procrastination:

Time for a break from that pressing task

Let’s face it; in these moments, we know intuitively that this work has to be done and yet we just can’t get our minds out of neutral. Trying to rationalize yourself back into drive is not going to happen. What’s more likely to happen is that you’re just going to increase your level of stress and frustration, which obviously won’t help you in getting back into that work groove.

So if you find yourself procrastinating over a task that needs to get done, simply accept the fact that your mind is not ready to tackle it and put it on the back burner, with the understanding that you’re simply taking a short break before resuming your work on it.

Focus on some of those less-critical tasks

Invariably we when start procrastinating, we tend to let ourselves get distracted with all sorts of mundane activities – getting caught up in a round of cards on the computer, hanging out on our favourite social network site, or maybe even just aimlessly moving around the office supplies.

As we all know, performing these activities doesn’t help to alleviate our procrastination or the subsequent feelings of frustration that we’re not being as productive as we should be. And yet, we still find ourselves being drawn into these time-draining activities that end up offering us no solutions or breaks to the work pile on our desks.

What we can do here instead is use this time we now have to work on some of the other tasks on our list – perhaps there’s an industry report you’ve been meaning to read, or maybe you have some paperwork that’s been sitting on your desk waiting for you to file it away. While these activities might not help push your main project forward, shifting your attention to working on these lesser tasks will at least give you the satisfaction of knowing that you were able to get some work done and off your list.

Remember, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

Of course, sometimes you might find yourself incapable of getting your mind out of this rut, and even the most menial tasks look insurmountable. At these moments, you just have to recognize that this is your mind’s way of saying you’ve been neglecting something key to healthy living – making time for some purposeless play.

Now, to be clear, this isn’t the same thing as people playing solitaire on their computer and then complaining about how they should be working on this particular assignment. In those cases, the act of playing is a diversion from performing a task, as opposed to intentionally taking up an activity of play simply for the fun of it.

Given how for so many of us, the goal behind working so hard is to free ourselves to be able to pursue activities purely for the sake of enjoying our lives, using these moments of procrastination to at least grant yourself a brief moment to enjoy the act of playing will certain go a long way to improving your sense of inner balance.

Granted, none of these exercises will help you get more work done on that project you’re dragging your heels to work on, nor will they cause a decline in how often or how long you find yourself procrastinating in the future. What they will do, though, is remind you that it’s quite natural to procrastinate every now and then and that you no longer need to have this negative perception of it because while you may not be productive in tackling the problem in question, you can still be constructive in managing that time to do something else.

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6 Comments » | Tags: , , , , , , , | April 6, 2010 by |

  1. On April 6th, 2010 at 7:28 AM Xurxo Vidal said:


    Three points stuck out for me:

    1. How we choose to view procrastination

    2. How we choose to respond to it

    3. You can procrastinate on one thing and still be productive elsewhere

    You're absolutely right about it being better to accept that you may not yet be ready to tackle the task at hand and it might be more productive to walk away, take a break or do something else of value and then come back to the task.

    In addition to shifting attention to another task or taking a break, I also find that breaking down a task in easier to manage chunks helps get things moving. Too often things appear more complicated or too huge to tackle in our minds so we keep putting them off.

    Breaking these down into smaller components helps alleviate the stress, fear and pain we feel when thinking about completing or even starting the task.

    I would love to hear what strategies you use to break things down in smaller chunks. Is there anything specific you do or think about when using this strategy? For example do you write things down, use a digital recorder to capture your thoughts, or go for a walk to clear your mind and come back with an action plan?

  2. On April 6th, 2010 at 8:11 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Xurxo, thanks for the great comment. To answer your questions, I'm going to refer to a few of my previous posts where I describe some of these strategies.

    For starters, you're absolutely right that breaking down a project/task/assignment into smaller pieces is a great way to help make the process more manageable, an approach I discussed in greater detail in the post "How to Transform Problems Into Wins". In that piece, I pointed out that breaking down a task into its individual parts will allow you to sort them in terms of difficulty, so you can start with the easier ones and slowly work your way to those parts that are more challenging and difficult to complete.

    As for how to break down a task into more manageable parts, it's a matter of understanding what's involved in doing that task. It also depends on how much of the work is going to be done by yourself and how much is collaborative since that will also define how the work can be divided up into more manageable pieces.

    Sometimes this can be done right on the spot; other times, though, we need to give ourselves a break in order to clear our head of unrelated issues so we can focus on the key aspects, something I discussed in my piece "Got A Few Minutes? Why It’s Important to Take That Daily Break". Ultimately, it comes down to what approach is most effective for you to use to size up the problem and divide it up into tasks that you can easily sort and tackle.

    Now in the case of procrastinating, again we have this issue of mis-perception where we think procrastinating means you're being lazy. The truth is that we're not being lazy in those moments; instead, we're simply doing other things to avoid doing the task we're supposed to be working on. From that vantage point, one thing we can do when we're procrastinating is tackle some of those 'easier' tasks on our list, things like catching up on our work-related readings or filing away papers.

    By working on something simple, we can reassure ourselves that it's not a question of being unproductive; rather, it's just a matter of us not being in the right frame of mind to work on that particular task. Working on these unrelated tasks will also help us not waste time on mundane activities that afterwards will only make us feel worse, instead of helping us to recharge our sense of productivity.

    As I've mentioned in my series on time management, it's absurd for us to think we can manage time. However, what we can manage is how we spend it. As such, if we recognize that procrastinating doesn't mean we're being unproductive, we can then make the jump to understanding that we can still remain effective even if the thing we most need to get done is sitting in idle.

    Thanks again for the interesting comment, Xurxo. I appreciate your thoughts on this piece.

  3. On April 6th, 2010 at 10:53 AM Meryl K Evans said:

    Valuable and insightful points, Tanveer. I just returned from a non-work activity and feel pulled all over the place as things piled while I was away for a couple of hours. So I have sit back and pick an activity.

    Sometimes we procrastinate because we don't like the activity or we're afraid it won't be good. If we don't like it — can we get rid of it? I had a couple of clients I let go of because I found working on their stuff was more a struggle than a pleasure. It made a difference.

    The part about not being good enough — at least, get something started. You can make it better later. Don't dwell on perfection.

  4. On April 6th, 2010 at 4:11 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    That’s a great point you bring up, Meryl – that sometimes we procrastinate because we don’t want to do the task at hand, either because we don’t like it or fear that we won’t succeed at it. In those cases, we need to be honest about what’s the reason behind our reluctance to do the work and either find someone else who we can delegate/out-source to work to, or as you did in your case, simply let go of the work as the overall cost isn’t worth keeping it on your plate.

    Also, I couldn’t agree with you more on focusing on starting the work instead of worrying about a perfect execution, something I discussed in my piece “Why Better Will Always Beat Perfection“.

    Thanks again for bringing up this point, Meryl, and adding your thoughts to this discussion.

  5. On April 7th, 2010 at 7:16 PM Martin Perron said:

    Great posts and comments so far Tanveer!

    I think it's important to understand "why" we procrastinate and this might be for different reasons for each individual. There is definitely a mis-perception that procrastination=lazy as you pointed out and the root causes for procrastination are complex. Once someone has figured out the "why", the "what to do about it" becomes much clearer.

    But someone can always put it off for later to figure it out…ok, back to solitaire 😉

  6. On April 8th, 2010 at 6:47 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Martin; it's been nice to see the kinds of thoughts this piece has fostered both here and elsewhere.

    You're right that the reasons why we procrastinate can be varied and complex. Of course, the bigger issue with procrastination is the negative impression that surrounds it as that, more that the behaviour itself, tends to have the most deleterious effect on our attitude and sense of effectiveness.

    Thanks for joining in the discussion, Martin.

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