The psychology of my procrastination

GingerTammyCat, via Flickr (CC license)
Alice cautiously replied: “I know I have to beat time when I learn music.”
“Ah! that accounts for it,” said the Hatter. “He won’t stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock.”

Like many self-employed folks, I’ve got waaaaaay too much on my plate — in terms of client projects, “business housekeeping,” my own interests, and (of course) life. Managing time becomes crucial, and I don’t always do a good job of it. Every day I find myself procrastinating on something that I really should just get done. Of course, the effects of this accumulate through time and occasionally I end up in crisis mode trying to slam through something.

Don’t get me wrong, I get done the vast majority of what I need to do, pretty much on time. But repeated time-crunch crises suck.

One of my current goals is learning to minimize day-to-day stress, and procrastination definitely stresses me out. So I’ve been paying more attention to how and why I procrastinate. That’s been interesting. Here are a few things I’ve noticed about my own habits…

  1. Shame. The top reason why I procrastinate is because I’m ashamed that I’ve already put off taking action one or more times. When I see an e-mail pop in, or a calendar reminded pop up, regarding something I’m already behind on by my own reckoning, I feel a flush of shame and want to just push it away. The bigger the accumulated shame, the harder it is to act.
  2. Rebellion. Even though I’m the one in charge of loading my own “plate,” I sometimes get annoyed that it’s routinely overloaded. I then rebel against that sense of being burdened by ignoring a task that needs doing, or a communication that needs to happen.
  3. Subconscious priority-setting. No matter what my conscious mind decides my work and life task priorities should be, my subconscious mind often has a very different opion on that subject. Sometimes I just don’t do things because I’ve lost motivation, I’m discouraged, or they just aren’t as important to me as they once were. Eventually my conscious mind is forced to recognize this and make choices — but that can get messy.

…Notice that these all have to do with emotions and the inner working of my mind. Notice I’m not trying to judge these as character flaws. They are simply processes and circumstances that exist.

I find that when I look at things for what they are, I can start to manage them or adapt to them. I never seem to get very far when I try to deal with my life, work, mind, and emotions as they “should be.”

I’m mentioning all this because I think these kinds of internal processes have a great effect on how people interact, cooperate, and conflict online and elsewhere. So don’t worry, I’m not getting all touchy-feely-woo-woo on you. I’m just starting to pursue a new line of inquiry. Bear with me.

Does your procrastination have emotional triggers? If so, what are the emotions, and how are they triggered? Please comment below.

4 thoughts on The psychology of my procrastination

  1. When I was doing some self help research, I stumbled across a number of self help podcasts posted to iTunes. One of these was called iProcrastinate Podcasts and I really enjoyed listening to them because it’s a review of literature about procrastination and therefore quite interesting to try and separate the emotion from the action. Check out the podcasts (which I know you love) at and the webpage for the group that is creating the webcasts at… and the

  2. I remember a poem once about shoulds and woulds…now I should dig it out and reflect upon it anew now that I have become a classic should/would person myself.

  3. Procrastination has been such a block to my success, that I decided to inaugurate October as Anti-Procrastination Month on my blog.

    My emotional trigger is fear: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of losing face, etc.

    I can definitely relate to your rebellion. I have a little anti-authoritarian inside me that loves to question authority — even my own!!

    Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed it.

  4. What I find is that procrastination is an indicator that we can’t achieve some of our goals alone or in isolation. We need help from other people who are in a position to help use achieve some of our goals. Other like minded people will be like buddy systems to help inspire us and to keep us accountable for our goals.

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