What’s Behind Your Procrastination Habit? Four Unmet Needs That May Be Keeping You Stalled and Stuck

What’s Behind Your Procrastination Habit? Four Unmet Needs That May Be Keeping You Stalled and Stuck

by Jo Anne Preston, author of “Lead the Way in Five Minutes a Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team

Most leaders are all too familiar with procrastination and how it manifests. Instead of tackling that tedious spreadsheet, writing that shareholder report, or instigating that tough performance conversation, we stall by answering the easy emails, cleaning out desk drawers, or (worse) falling down a social media rabbit hole. A harmless habit? Not at all. Procrastination is “an evil beast.”

Procrastination costs us big, especially when it’s chronic. Not only do we sabotage our own performance, we undermine our mental health. Perpetual procrastination leads to stress, anxiety, and depression. It can send us spiraling into shame and self-doubt and — ultimately — low self-esteem, as our lack of impactful actions create and reinforce limiting beliefs. It’s not hard to see how this can decimate your career.

The good news is that there are some “do this now” tactics for overcoming procrastination. The key is to figure out what gets you out of “first gear” by identifying an unmet need.

Not in the right mood? Can’t decide how to begin? Know you can’t get it done, so why start? These reasons boil down to feeling like you can’t do it or don’t want to do it. So, how can you get started? Depending on your personality type, identifyin some hidden needs can get you back on your feet and back to work.

The need to take quick action.

Have you ever felt that surge of satisfaction at crossing off a task on your to-do list? Harness that! Break a project into tiny chunks and complete any part of it — any feeling of accomplishment builds on itself. No need to worry about perfection right now (or ever worry about perfection, really) — just focus on completion. You can always go back later and fine-tune it.

Set a timer for 30 minutes. Work on any part of the project for that amount of time. Chances are, you’ll keep going because the ‘fire’ will be started.

The need to have an influence.

It’s important to ask yourself, Who will this project benefit? Understanding the positive impact of your work can provide a breath of fresh air to get you motivated.

Call a friend — but with a purpose! Ask someone whom you look up to or admire what they would do with the project if it were theirs.

The need to find “the best way.”

Unsure of how to approach it? Limit your options. This advice may sound counterintuitive, but when the options are endless, it’s hard to land on one — hence the relentless search for the “very best” way.

Pick three options (a way to do the project or resources to check, whatever defines your project), select from only those three, and you will move toward accomplishment more quickly. It’s like letting the particles in the water settle down so you can clearly see the goal you are swimming toward.

The need to create order out of chaos.

Block everything else out. Find a quiet spot where you can’t see your other work and give yourself a set time (30 minutes to one hour) to jot down everything that needs to be done. Then put the list in the most logical order. Only then can you begin at A and move to Z.

Or, it might be helpful to look at it from the opposite point of view, and write down a list of everything that might go wrong. By looking at downsides first, you can make sure nothing gets missed.

A sense of order can help you feel like there is solid ground beneath you. The need for order may be the most challenging obstacle to overcome, because there are endless details to consider, and you may be looking for the one right away.

Of course, in a world where everybody’s motivational needs vary, this list can’t represent everyone. But pick one that resonates and try it — not tomorrow. Today.

One more thing: Learn to pick your perfects. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Unless you’re an eye surgeon, some tasks can just be ‘good enough.’


jo anne preston

Jo Anne Preston is the workforce and organizational development senior manager at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, where she brings over four decades of her healthcare leadership experience to designing and delivering leadership and employee education for rural healthcare throughout Wisconsin and the U.S. She is the author of “Lead the Way in Five Minutes a Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team“.