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When none of the ways to get productive when you feel lazy work for you, it’s time to dig deeper into your personal procrastination reasons. In this post, we’ll look at the 18 most common internal and external causes of procrastination and attempt to find a cure for each of them.
You’ll likely recognize yourself in more than one reason from this list.
Ironically, I procrastinated way too much before I finished this post and I identified at least 5 reasons on this list that took part in the process. But, I finally did finish it, as you will finish your important task too as soon as you find the root cause and implement one of the many solutions for procrastination I listed below!
If there is something that’s holding you back from success, let’s find it!
Hopefully, by the end of reading this, you’ll figure out what causes procrastination for you as well as get the idea for overcoming it and becoming a more productive person. Read carefully, take action to fix your mental blocks if you have any, and enjoy the benefits of getting things done!
9 Internal Causes Of Procrastination
The first group of reasons for procrastination that I have for you today is internal reasons. These are mainly in your head and you can totally work on your mindset and use some simple tricks to overcome them.
To help yourself even further, you may want to use some positive affirmations for procrastinators that help you focus on your goals and keep your performance up!
1. Fear of failure
This one happens to the best of us and is discussed in every procrastination book. Trying something new is scary! Doing big things is frightening! Usually, the scarier it is, the more it’s worth it in the end.
Everything that’s somewhat different from the cozy lifestyle we are used to, everything that’s outside of our comfort zone, makes us procrastinate. Some of the basic instincts we have as humans are trying to protect us from anything that’s unknown and unfamiliar to us. It’s that little inner voice that is all about staying in a safe and predictable environment. Stop it, why would you wanna go out, what if you fall and get hurt? Back to the cave! So we subconsciously resist change by postponing important work and delaying big decisions.
And then there is your own perception of yourself. What would it say about me if I actually fail? Will it just prove all the negative things I already think about myself? And what would people think? Right, maybe I shouldn’t even bother trying…
Solution to fear of failure procrastination:
Successful people aren’t afraid of failure. Instead, they see it as an opportunity to learn, to improve, to find the right way to do something. Accept that it’s okay to fail as long as you don’t stop trying. And if you do fail, welcome it, learn from it, and do it again.
Look at it like Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb, did. One of his famous quotes is: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Well, this is a perspective of a person who is bound to succeed!
Every person who achieved something in life through hard work will tell you that failure is good. Without failing a few times you wouldn’t appreciate the success that has to come eventually if you don’t quit. If it was easy and everyone could do it on the first attempt, that win wouldn’t even matter as much.
2. Fear of success
This may be more unexpected for many than the previous one. Like, why would you be afraid of success, right? Everyone wants it, everyone dreams about it, and everyone hopes to reach it.
Although that’s true, many people get intimidated in multiple ways by everything that supposedly comes with success. Some get overwhelmed with the potentially increased amount of responsibilities and things they’ll need to handle. Some start to question if they are even worthy of being successful, and therefore struggle with the impostor syndrome.
Basically, the fear of success is rooted in many other possible fears that may apply to a successful person. And any of these fears alone can make you procrastinate on important projects!
Cure for fear of success procrastination
I don’t think I can put it better than Brian Tracy, so I suggest you listen to his words of wisdom in this case. (If you somehow don’t know who he is, Brian has been a world-known motivational speaker for more than half a century so I guess he knows what he is talking about. You can learn more about his various time-proven success strategies on his website.)
3. Low self-esteem
If you don’t believe you are able to get good results with whatever it is you are doing, it’s hard to get motivated to work. You may think you aren’t good enough and then build a whole story in your head of how everyone else will see it too and criticize you, or hate your work, or do something to make you feel even worse.
And if you don’t break this self-deprecating cycle of thoughts, you might at some point join those people who say procrastination ruined their lives.
Low self-esteem makes you subconsciously avoid doing the work because of the reasons above, so you keep postponing the work until either:
- it can’t be postponed anymore: the deadline is so close that there is no time to do a good job so you toss off a semi-okay output and hope for the best
- or it is too late to even start so you just accept being a failure once again without even trying
Sounds familiar, huh?
Solution to low self-esteem procrastination:
The best way to deal with low self-confidence is, of course, to raise it!
One way to do this is by watching relevant classes on any online learning platform (e.g. on Skillshare, Udemy, Coursera, or Linkedin Learning) and applying the knowledge to your life as much as possible.
Here are a few courses on building self-confidence that should help:
- 60 Minutes To Self Esteem: The Confidence Crash Course (Skillshare)
- Radiate Confidence: How to Create a 1000 Watt Presence (Udemy)
- Unshakable Confidence: The Ultimate Self-Esteem Formula (Skillshare)
- Complete Confidence in Minutes (Linkedin)
- How to Build Confidence in Your Abilities (Udemy)
- Stop Stressing and Keep Moving Forward (Linkedin)
Self-esteem is not built in one day but it definitely can be done with lots of practice! And when you get rid of that not-good-enough feeling, you’ll see your procrastination levels naturally decrease as you get confident in your skills and abilities to get things done.
There is nothing wrong with your desire to be great at what you do. The problem starts when you can’t define that point of “great” so you aim for “perfect” instead, which often leads to either using your time inefficiently or not doing anything at all.
The idea of a perfect result alone sounds overwhelming: there are so many things that can go wrong and have to be addressed and thought through in advance! At some point, you may find yourself solving hypothetical problems that might never even happen, and still zero progress is done.
Why would you pressure yourself so much before you even started? Let yourself make mistakes and aim for a “good” or even “okay” version before you aim for anything better. This should calm down your nervous perfectionist mind and let you work in peace.
You’ll probably realize that it comes out not that bad after all. And if it is bad, you can work from there and improve whatever parts you don’t like.
Remember that done is always better than perfect!
Cure for perfectionism-based procrastination:
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Allow the room for improvement but aim to get the first version done no matter what, even if you think it’ll be awful. It’s almost always easier to fix or update something than to create a perfect result from scratch. And in most cases, that first raw version is not half-bad!
If you happen to be a perfectionist, here are a few books that may be interesting to you. But don’t use reading these as an excuse to procrastinate even more, alright? Get the important stuff done first!
- How to Be an Imperfectionist: The New Way to Self-Acceptance, Fearless Living, and Freedom from Perfectionism by Stephen Guise
- Present Perfect: A Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need for Control by Pavel Somov
- The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by Tal Ben-Shahar
5. Unclear priorities
If you postpone one important task a lot but are doing many other things instead, you are also procrastinating!
It’s very common to get busy instead of productive if your priorities aren’t crystal clear. Getting yourself exhausted with heaps of unrelated tasks like responding to emails or doing chores will likely not take you closer to your goals!
You may be running around doing everything else but your important project, and you will be as close to your dreams and success as some lazy person who is in front of the TV the whole day! Put it all into perspective and set your priorities straight so you can organize your life according to them and not continue wasting your time on the less important stuff.
Solution to priorities-based procrastination:
You need to understand what’s important to you and analyze everything you do in a day: does it work for your long-term goals or only takes you through the day? Are you moving in the direction of your dreams or staying in the same spot? Where will you be in six months if you continue with this routine? It’s totally fine to continue like this if you are completely satisfied with your life and don’t need any changes. Are you, though?
Maybe repetitive things like cleaning and cooking take a big chunk of your day? Can you maybe make simpler meals or clean your house a bit less often in order to save time to work on your important project? Don’t worry, the dust will be there again tomorrow!
Clarify what’s the number one thing that’s important, and prioritize it every day.
Don’t do emails, social media (unless that’s your one thing), chores, or anything else until you do something for your dream project first. Using one of these apps for procrastination can help you focus on that one thing until it’s done.
It doesn’t mean completely neglecting your kids, household, or whatever it may be. Find a little bit of time every day for something that’s important to you. Every little step counts!
Here is the process of doing this by one of my favorite Youtubers, Lavendaire:
6. You just don’t wanna do it
If you keep procrastinating on doing something, it may be simply that you don’t want to do it. Imagine if I remove everything else you need to do from the equation and give you enough time and eliminate all the distractions so you can just sit and do it – and you still don’t do it. Even if there are no excuses, you continue to find excuses and justify why you can’t do it right now.
Why is that?
There is something in your mind that holds you back. As soon as you realize that’s your case, your mission is to figure out what it is – and then deal with it.
Cure for this procrastination cause:
First of all, redefine your “why.” If you think you really need to do this, why? What will you get (either now or later) if you finish it? What can happen if you don’t do it at all?
Usually, when you have your clear “why” and all the benefits, it’s inspiring enough for you to start working immediately.
However, if there aren’t any clear benefits for you but you still need to do it for some reason, create those benefits! Reward anticipation is proven to increase motivation so you will be able to overcome procrastination by promising yourself something worth working for!
7. Mountain task
If your project is so big and scary that you don’t know where to start, it might be your cause of procrastination.
When you have easy one-bite chunks of work, you can just go do them one by one and nothing is stopping you. But when you have a huge complicated project in front of you, you’ll most likely keep stalling.
Getting started with something new is hard by itself and often causes a struggle, and you make it even worse by trying to bite off too big of a task at once.
Solution for this procrastination reason:
The best thing you can do is to break everything down into a list of tasks. And then with every task on that list, break each down again. Repeat this process until you end up with super small chunks that are easy to do. Those little bites will help you start and get into the flow.
For me, it may be just opening the editor window and writing one sentence. In most cases, I’ll write more than one as ideas start to flow into my head, and even if I remove that first draft sentence later, I’ll still be left with some progress!
That first task might be something completely different for you: from doing a little part of research to making a quick call to reading one page to talking to someone about the project. But the smaller tasks you have in the beginning, the easier it is to actually begin!
When the process of breaking down is over, grab the smallest task you can do now and focus on it until you finish. Don’t think about the next steps or other things you need to do, only stick to this one. It’ll be easier with the next little task, and much easier after a few more.
8. No immediate results
I touched the motivation-by-reward in my cause of procrastination #6 above and now let’s just look at it from another angle.
As we live in this amazing world full of sources of entertainment, it’s always easier to choose to do things that give you instant positive results.
If you study well or work hard, you will get amazing results, but it may not be today, tomorrow, or even this year. On the other hand, there is Netflix, a good book, or a fun game, that give you good feelings right away. And as much as you understand that the former is better in the long run, it’s hard to resist instant benefits, so you postpone that important task… again.
Cure for this reason for procrastination:
If you aren’t familiar with the idea of instant gratification, here is a great explanation video for you. Hope it motivates you to finally stop procrastinating and go do something meaningful for your life!
9. Lack of motivation
This is a big topic on which I should probably write a separate article or two!
But in the context of procrastination, you may just be not motivated enough to do anything at the moment – and that’s ok. Being a human, it’s completely normal to have your ups and downs and not be excited to do the work all the time. Sometimes we all need a little push from the outside.
Solution to motivation-related procrastination:
Some of the things I mentioned below may help with this too, like defining your “why” or motivating yourself with treats. But there are also a couple of things I personally find useful when I need to motivate myself. Here are a few:
- Watch a motivational video. Often I just type “motivation” on Youtube and see what comes up! They are supposed to give you a fresh perspective and tune your mindset for success.
- Follow successful people in your area of expertise. Whenever I see a post from one of my favorite entrepreneurs on Instagram, it always gives me a shot of motivation. It shows that what I dream of is actually possible, and if someone lives my dream, I can too! Follow some specific people who are where you want to be and learn from them things like mindset, attitude, and dedication.
- Affirm positive things. From random happy affirmations to more specific ones for self-esteem or productivity, there are plenty of powerful statements you can say to yourself regularly to build a success mindset and get motivated!
- Read a good inspirational book. From biographies of successful people to many self-development books, there is a ton of great info out there to improve your mood and light that fire under you. And if you don’t love to read, you can always listen.
- Read some quotes. When you are stuck in your routine, a fresh perspective from a wise person can open your eyes and inspire you to do the job. You can start with my list of quotes about staying focused on your goals.
- Surround yourself with fun things that inspire you to succeed. A boss mug or a motivational poster? Or maybe an inspirational calendar for your desk? There are inexpensive motivational little gifts that you can get for yourself or even promise yourself as a reward for finishing something!
These were all the internal causes of procrastination I was able to identify. Hope you found something familiar on this list! And let’s look at the external reasons now.
9 External Causes Of Procrastination
External reasons usually come from other people or your surroundings and not start in your head. However, it’s your choice whether to give them the power to influence your work.
You can’t always eliminate these causes of procrastination as most of them are out of your control but you can learn to not let them affect you and your productivity!
Intentionally or not, people in your life often set up some expectations for your behavior, abilities, and possible level of achievements, which can influence not only your current work but your whole life, if you let them.
Whether it’s someone who means well and expects wonders from you or some hater who doesn’t believe in you at all, it may reflect negatively on how you manage your workload.
Too high expectations may put a lot of pressure on you which may not only lead to procrastination but also intensify some inner issues from the list above like low self-esteem, perfectionism, the fear of success and failure, anxiety, and more.
Too low expectations, on the other hand, may give you the wrong idea of what you are capable of. Just because someone thinks something, doesn’t mean it’s true! Deep inside you know that you can do whatever you can dream of – and if you don’t believe it, you should!
Cure for expectations-related procrastination:
The main idea is to not let anyone else define you!
You know what’s best for you and what you are capable of. You know when you can push your limits and do more and when it’s okay to just do good instead of perfect.
When bad expectations come from people who don’t have your best interest in mind, just ignore them. More often than not, it’s about them, not you. Maybe they are envious or insecure or simply unhappy – and hatred is their way to channel those feelings. Don’t take it personally and don’t let their opinions affect you in any way!
Ironically, when low expectations come from people whose opinion IS important to you, it may work to your advantage: the idea of proving them wrong is often motivational enough to stop procrastinating and start working on your goals. However, don’t do it for them – do it for yourself!
You may be a hundred percent motivated and ready to rock the world but it’s hard to see any progress when you are constantly distracted. There are lots of research-proven ways in which workplace distractions negatively affect your productivity which means you should learn to deal with them on a daily basis if you want to get any results.
We live in a high-tech era and are surrounded by people so it’s hardly possible to completely eliminate distractions unless you go live in a cave without any digital devices. This means you’ll have to learn to manage interruptions in the most effective way as they aren’t going anywhere!
Solution to distractions-related procrastination:
Start by looking at your day with a set of fresh eyes and defining all the distractions you personally have. Then figure out a way to deal with each of them so they don’t bother you anymore.
If you work from home, refer to my tips for managing the most common home distractions. If your phone tends to be your biggest source of interruptions, read about smartphone distractions to see what you can do to minimize the influence other than just turning it off.
Just clearing a few hours of your day for pure focus will do wonders for your productivity!
12. Unproductive environment
If you sit with your laptop at the same spot where you usually watch TV, no wonder you are procrastinating! Every place in your home that you attend every day for some repeating activity is associated in your brain with that specific activity.
It’s mentally easier to fall asleep in your bedroom than in the kitchen, right? That’s because your bed is connected to sleep. Your sofa is probably all about entertainment, and your kitchen is about eating. If you ever tried working in the kitchen, you probably noticed the distracting desire to have a snack more often than you usually eat. That’s just how our brain works!
Instead of getting frustrated that you can’t focus in the wrong place, get creative and think about different ways you can set up a dedicated home office in your apartment.
Cure for environment-related procrastination:
The best-case scenario is to have a separate room as your office at home (or a real office if you can afford it) and do nothing but work or study there. This will create strong neural connections in your brain that strictly associate this place with work! So, whenever you go there, your mind automatically sets you into “work mode”.
When decorating your home office, make sure to only fill it with things that are either practical or give you the “work” vibe. There are plenty of creative ways to make your workplace look professional and fun at the same time!
However, most people can’t afford to organize a separate room at home for work. Thankfully, there are many creative individuals who already faced this problem! If that’s your situation, don’t worry: instead, look at some ways you can create a home office even in a small nook – and get inspired!
Big or small, it’s important to have a dedicated workplace to beat procrastination and be your best productive self! Always keep it as clean and as uncluttered as possible to avoid unnecessary distractions when you are working.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether I should put this one into external or internal causes. The thing is: you may be judged by others but it’s your own reaction to it that gets you to procrastinate.
It’s a very common issue to care too much about what other people think. And it’s especially hard when it’s your close ones who don’t understand what you do and don’t support you.
Cure for judgment-based procrastination:
First of all, answer this question: has someone really expressed their judgment toward your work in a negative way? Or is it just your fear that they may judge you? If your answer is the latter, think about why you would expect this from anyone. Can it be that you are insecure about your work and maybe judge yourself? If that’s the case, get over it and work your way toward your dreams!
If someone you care about actually judges you, maybe they just don’t understand what you do. Try to explain it to them in a simple way, without using complicated strategies and specific industry words. Maybe they’ll surprise you with their support!
And if the person doesn’t even want to hear about your work, which means they don’t care as much, why would you worry about their opinion? Accept it for what it is and do the work, do it for you, not for anybody else! And when they see your success, they’ll likely get more supportive anyway.
Here is what Marie Forleo, the author of the best-selling book Everything is Figureouttable, has to say about this:
14. Poor time management
Procrastination can easily be the result of poor time management.
It’s easy to get busy with small but seemingly important tasks and suddenly the day is gone and you haven’t got any time to work on your project. You may think it’s just life but, believe it or not, this rarely happens to organized people who know what they want.
If you think there is no time, find the time! Create the time. Throw something else out, track your day, and see where the gaps are. We all have roughly the same 16 hours when we don’t sleep, and it’s your responsibility to spend them in the most effective way.
This is related to clarifying your priorities that I talked about in the internal causes section above but there are lots of external things you can use to help you manage your time!
Solution to time management-based procrastination:
If you still don’t use a planner and keep everything in your head, you should get one and start using it right away! Whether it’s a modern online planner or a paper planner for productivity, it will make your life a whole lot easier.
Keeping a good daily planner lets you set your priorities, define big and small goals, choose the focus points for the day, and even reflect on your achievements if you want. You can plan your day before bed or in the morning and have a clear vision of what you should do and when.
One good technique many successful people use is called time blocking. Basically, it means that you block a specific time window in your calendar for working on your project and don’t do anything else during that time, no matter what. Try it and see for yourself how productive you get when nothing but work is in the picture!
15. No deadline
The job you need to do usually takes exactly as much time as you allow for it.
If you have half a year to write your thesis, this is how long it will take. If you procrastinate and postpone it until only two weeks left, you’ll most likely still get about as good of a job done in those two weeks. That’s the power of deadlines.
Doing a project for someone else, whether it’s your employer, teacher, or business partner, usually gives you a more or less fixed timeline. Doing a project for yourself is much trickier: you probably don’t have a deadline and if you aren’t careful with priorities, you may literally never get it done!
Life comes in the way, and first you decide that you can do it later, then after a while later becomes never and you continue with your half-happy life thinking “what if”.
Don’t let go of your dreams!
Cure to deadline-less procrastination:
Set your own deadline if you don’t have an external one, or set a closer one if you do have one. You may even combine it with the reward anticipation technique I mentioned above!
Put it like this: if I finish task X by day Y, I will treat myself with Z.
Both of these tricks (deadline and reward) trigger some neurotransmitters in your brain to motivate you to do that job on time. When used together, it’s twice the motivation so you don’t have to rely on your willpower alone!
16. Too much on your plate
Another way to put too much pressure on yourself is to get snowed under with more tasks than you can possibly handle. You start to feel like your head may explode with everything you should remember and there isn’t enough time in the day for anything. Hello, anxiety!
At some point, you get so overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done that your only desire is to hide under the blanket and watch Netflix. And even when you do, you can’t stop thinking about all those tasks and feeling guilty for not doing them.
It’s best not to get to that point but if that’s the reason for your procrastination, you have to deal with it first in order to get any work done.
Solution to overwhelm-based procrastination:
First, write everything down to get some clarity and declutter your mind. Literally, make a brain dump and write everything you need to do on a piece of paper or in your favorite note-taking app (mine is Evernote).
Next, step back and ask yourself if you actually need to do all of it:
- Maybe something can be done later?
- Maybe there are things that can be delegated? (If you don’t have other people to delegate to, there are plenty of AI tools that can make you more productive by taking over some of your workload.)
- Are there items that someone else needs that stop you from doing your own work?
- Apply the 2-minute rule: if something takes less than two minutes to get over with, do it right now and cross away.
- Maybe there are some tasks you’ve been postponing for so long that they aren’t even relevant anymore?
After that, take some time off and not think about anything that needs to be done. Take a relaxing bath, read a fun book, and finally find the time for self-care. Whether it’s an hour with yourself or a week off, you’ll come back refreshed and happy to start working on what’s left!
17. Health issues
Another one of the external reasons why you may procrastinate is your health.
There are hundreds of different health problems that stop people from performing their best. You may be experiencing brain fog, have a hard time concentrating or remembering things, struggle with thinking clearly and making decisions, or often get distracted in the middle of something important. These all may be symptoms of something going on inside you and if you notice any of these regularly, contact your doctor to see if it needs to be addressed.
In many cases, people don’t even realize that something is wrong. They beat themselves, make excuses, and feel guilty for not performing well enough, not even considering that it may be some hidden health issue.
Health-related procrastination is very common and I myself face it quite often.
When a part of your body hurts, when you feel any kind of pain, all you want is to climb under a pile of blankets and not do anything. Definitely not being all energized and excited to work on your projects. It’s okay to not be perfect! But if resting doesn’t help, consider asking for external help: maybe it can be fixed and you won’t feel like that anymore!
One common health-related procrastination cause is anxiety. If that’s something you are dealing with, consider talking to a qualified therapist online in some safe place like Talkspace.
Cure for health-related procrastination:
There is no one solution to being healthy but there are parts of your lifestyle that can probably be improved so you are less susceptible to illnesses:
- Drink enough water
- Exercise regularly
- Cut junk food from your diet
- Sleep better
Watch this fun video about 10 good habits of a healthy person and see what you can incorporate into your daily life to become healthier and more productive!
18. Your childhood
This one is deep and doesn’t directly cause procrastination but it can enhance many of the internal issues listed above.
Your upbringing can influence your whole life and many of us have some unresolved issues that stop us from living our best life.
This doesn’t have to be a huge one like childhood trauma or something. In fact, you may not even know it exists until you start digging in!
For example, if you’ve been repeatedly told as a child that you can’t do anything well, you may still struggle with self-belief as an adult. If you come from a poor family, you may have all kinds of limiting beliefs about money that prevent your financial success. Being an excellent student to please your parents can easily make you a perfectionist. If you have always been compared to an older sibling, you may continue comparing yourself to others when you grow up. And so on.
Cure for this procrastination reason:
If you feel like there is something holding you back, talking to a therapist may be a good idea. Modern therapists like the ones from Talkspace are available 24/7 for texting or live video and you can choose a professional that’s the right fit for you.
Talking to someone about your childhood can be very beneficial for your life quality in the future. This might help minimize inner blocks that lead you to endless procrastination!
Final thoughts on causes for procrastination
These were 18 procrastination causes that are the most common. I’m sure there are more as we are all complicated human beings and have many less-than-obvious reasons to postpone important tasks.
A certain task may feel more difficult than the others without no apparent reason, and it’s ok too. Sometimes you simply need to rely on your willpower to push yourself into getting started, and it will go smoothly as soon as you get into the flow.
Hope this post helped you recognize what might be causing procrastination for you! Remember that figuring it out is great but not enough, you need to actually do something about it.