Why do we Procrastinate?


Temporal Motivation Theory
How do I get over my habit of procrastinating?
is among the very top questions on Quora, “a question-and-answer website where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users#.”

When we procrastinate we “put off activities that were planned or scheduled, for activities that are of a lesser importance.” In response to why we put off tasks, Dr. Margaret J. King, Director, Cultural Studies & Analysis, says:

it’s usually a combination of factors: 1) a challenge to your ability or expertise, which 2) imposes an unwelcome demand on your time, abilities, emotional reserves, or resources.  Much of procrastination is a species of protest against these demands and resentment about the fact that forces from the outside have the power to enforce those demands if they aren’t met from your own resources.

A recently study by Dr. Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary concluded that procrastination is on the rise. According to Steel’s research, in 1978 about 15 percent of the population were considered moderate procrastinators. Today that number is up to 60 percent, a four-fold increase.

Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago and Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada say:

  • 20 percent of people auto-identify as chronic procrastinators
  • that is represents a problem of self-regulation
  • and is not a time management or planning problem
  • we become procrastinators based on our environment growing up
  • because of poor self-regulation, procrastinators tend to consume more alcohol
  • procrastinators tell themselves lies like “I work best under pressure”
  • and actively look for distractions — see for example, this stop-motion video


  • there’s more than one flavor of procrastination — Dr. Ferrari identifies three basic types of procrastinators:

– arousal types, or thrill-seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush

– avoiders, who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success, but in either case are very concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability

– decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision. Not making a decision absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events

  • procrastination comes at a high cost for self (health), and others (unfulfilled responsibilities)
  • it’s possible to learn to change behavior

British philosopher Derek Parfit says “we procrastinate because we think of our future self as strangers.” For example, the boy who starts smoking:

“This boy does not identify with his future self. His attitude towards this future self is in some ways like his attitude to other people.”

In Reasons and Persons, hailed a seminal book on identity, Parfit challenges our commonsense views of personal identity. He argues that as humans:

“we are not a consistent identity moving through time, but a chain of successive selves, each tangentially linked to, and yet distinct from, the previous and subsequent ones.”

This dis-connection between our present and our future selves impacts how we make decisions, including what we choose to focus on right now.


For the avoiders, there is a solution to both fear of failure and fear of success, and that is called turning pro. In the The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield describes procrastination as Resistance:

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony,’ instead we say, ‘I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.’

The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit.

He says we would rather learn a little bit more, or OVERthink something in place of constructing an action plan and then sticking to it. Even when we have an action plan, we don’t really commit to it fully day in and day out. In the forward, renown screenplay writer Robert McKee says:

I hold the Olympic record for procrastination. I can procrastinate thinking about my procrastination problem. I can procrastinate dealing with my problem of procrastinating thinking about my procrastination problem.

[…] Some years ago I was blocked as a Calcutta sewer, so what did I do? I decided to try on all my clothes. To show just how anal I can get, I put on every shirt, pair of pants, sweater, jacket, and sock, sorting them into piles: spring, summer, fall, winter, Salvation Army. Then I tried them on all over again, this time parsing them into spring casual, spring formal, summer casual… Two days of this and I thought I was going mad.

Want to know how to cure writer’s block? It’s not a trip to your psychiatrist. For as Pressfield wisely points out, seeking ‘support’ is Resistance at its most seductive. No, the cure is found in Book Two: ‘Turning Pro.’

Resistance can be beaten by turning pro. A pro commits full time to doing the work.


For the decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision on what to tackle, it’s useful to parse urgent vs. important:

Urgent is often a posthaste type of adjective, something that gets attached to a project, action item, piece of correspondence, phone call that says — we have not planned for this contingency, or we failed to plan altogether. Urgent may be accidental, is time-driven, and imposed by someone else.

Important matters, it makes a difference, thus not everything is important. There’s no time limit for important, and it is something we decide and drive. Hence when we talk about doing important work, what we’re saying is work that matters, that puts us in flow. Important is planned.

Having a process to document what we commit to and how we regulate our energy levels go a long way in helping us stay the course and make a difference in how we decide and our role in taking responsibility.

When problems feel daunting or too complex, we can solve them by thinking small. To stay focused, instead of trying to take on multiple parts of a project at once, we can single task. We also underestimate the importance of rest to recover cognitive abilities and of sleep to balance our over-committed lives.


[top image via Ryan Perera]

Conversation Agent – Valeria Maltoni


More Marketing Time: How to Procrastinate Your Way to Success


Do you spend too much time on insignificant tasks?

Want to have more time to do what you do best?

To learn how to multiply your time as a marketer by procrastinating, I interview Rory Vaden.

More About This Show

The Social Media Marketing podcast is an on-demand talk radio show from Social Media Examiner. It’s designed to help busy marketers and business owners discover what works with social media marketing.

In this episode I interview Rory Vaden, the co-founder of Southwestern Consulting, an organization designed to empower sales pros. He’s the author of Take the Stairs. His newest book is Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time.

In this episode Rory will explore how busy marketers and business owners can get ahead by procrastinating.

You’ll discover how the principles of time management have changed over the years, as well as why and how to embrace the focus funnel.


Listen as Rory Vaden shares what marketers need to know about procrastinating your way to success.

Share your feedback, read the show notes and get the links mentioned in this episode below.

Listen Now

You can also subscribe via iTunes, RSS, Stitcher, SoundCloud or Blackberry. How to subscribe/review on iPhone.

Here are some of the things you’ll discover in this show:

More Marketing Time

Rory’s backstory

Raised by a single mother who sold Mary Kay cosmetics, Rory grew up around women who taught him the principles of success. Rory says it also means he knows more about makeup than cars.

take the stairs

Take the Stairs by Rory Vaden.

During college at the University of Denver, Rory was recruited to work in a program called Southwestern Advantage, where he sold educational children’s reference books door-to-door and eventually managed salespeople. He says that’s where he developed a passion for sales.

In 2006, Rory and three others started Southwestern Consulting, with the mission to help salespeople achieve their goals in life. They now have 115 team members and are working with more than 1,000 people.

Rory’s first book, Take the Stairs, is all about the psychology of overcoming procrastination, improving self-discipline and getting yourself to do things you know you should do that you don’t feel like doing. It answers the question, “How do the most disciplined people in the world get themselves to be disciplined?”

Rory’s second book, Procrastinating on Purpose, addresses the question, “How do the most successful people today think about time and do they believe the same clichés we often hear about time management?” Rory says a lot of them don’t.

Listen to the show to discover what launched Rory’s speaking career.

Why people struggle with time management

Rory says there is no such thing as time management, only self management.

In the world we live in today, time management isn’t just logical, it’s emotional. Our feelings of guilt, fear, worry and anxiety, as well as our desire for success and our need to feel valued dictate how we spend our time—as much as our inbox, our to-do list and our calendar do. There’s also a new type of thinker that has emerged: the multiplier.

Rory shares the history of time management.

Era one time-management thinking is one-dimensional. It was developed in the 1950s and 1960s, and was all about efficiency. All things being equal, doing things faster is better. However, there is a point of diminishing returns with efficiency.

7 habits of highly effective people

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

Era two time-management thinking is two-dimensional. This was ushered in by Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, in the late 80s. Dr. Covey gave us the time-management matrix. The Y axis was importance (how much something matters) and the X axis was urgency (how soon it matters), so it was a way to score tasks and prioritize based on their score. While prioritizing is a relevant skill today, there is a massive limitation—nothing about prioritizing creates more time.

Rory believes you cannot solve today’s time-management problems with yesterday’s time-management solutions.

People who are multipliers, Rory says, add a third calculation: significance. It takes a two-dimensional square and turns it into a three-dimensional cube.

The three factors work like this:

  • Importance is how much this matters.
  • Urgency is how soon this matters.
  • Significance is how long this is going to matter.

Multipliers don’t ask themselves, “What’s the most important thing I can do today?” If they do that, they start falling victim to urgency. Instead, they ask, “What can I do today that will create more results or opportunity tomorrow?”

While there is nothing you can do to create more time in one day, there are certain things you can do today to increase time tomorrow.

Without the significance calculation, Rory explains, we inappropriately overweight the urgency calculation. Therefore, we end up always doing things that are urgent. Multipliers have realized that success is no longer related to the volume of tasks we achieve, but rather their significance.

Listen to the show to hear examples of significance, as well as how priority dilution works.

The focus funnel

Rory explains the focus funnel, which is a visual depiction of the thought process that multipliers use when deciding what tasks to spend time on.

the focus funnel

The focus funnel is a depiction of how multipliers decide what to spend time on.

At the top of the funnel is “Eliminate.” The first question multipliers ask themselves is, “Can I eliminate this task? Is it even worth doing?” Multipliers realize that next-generation time management is much more about having a not-to-do list than a to-do list. Anything you say no to today will save you time tomorrow.

If you can’t eliminate it, it drops down to the middle of the funnel, which is “Automate.” Anything you create a process for today will save you time tomorrow. Automation is to your time what compounding interest is to your money. Compounding interest turns money into more money, and automation turns time into more time.

If it can’t be eliminated or automated, it goes into the third funnel, “Delegate.” People think that no one else will be as good at a task or it would be faster to do it themselves. Rory suggests trying the 30x rule: Consider spending 30 times the amount of time it takes for you to do a task training someone else to do it.

For example, if a task takes you 5 minutes every day, the 30x rule suggests it should take you 150 minutes to train someone how to do it. If you make the significance calculation and think beyond the construct of one day, it makes sense to spend that amount of time training someone else to do it. A 5-minute task done 250 working days in the year means you’ll spend 1,250 minutes doing the task. Spend 150 minutes training someone to do this task, and you will get a 1,100-minute gain. That’s a 733% return on time invested.

Listen to the show to discover how saying no frees up your time.

Marketers and delegation

Rory says marketers who don’t want to delegate for whatever reason need to consider the MVOT calculation: Money Value of Time.

Everyone earns an hourly rate of pay, even if they are not paid hourly. If you take the total amount of money you make and divide it by the number of hours you worked, you come up with your MVOT. Someone who is earning $ 100,000 a year and working 50 hours a week makes about $ 62 an hour. If you are not delegating and paying someone else to do certain tasks, that’s what you are paying yourself. So if you aren’t paying an assistant, you are that assistant.

Rory continues by describing what happens at the bottom of the funnel to tasks you can’t eliminate, automate or delegate. Those are tasks that need to be done and need to be done by you.

procrastinate on purpose

Procrastinate on Purpose by Rory Vaden.

If a task needs to be done now, you can concentrate. You are given the permission to protect your focus and eliminate distraction.

If the task can be done later, then you are given permission to Procrastinate on Purpose (POP). Pop that activity back to the top of the focus funnel, where it will cycle through the funnel until ultimately and inevitably one of the four strategies (eliminate, automate, delegate or concentrate) will be executed. If something can continually wait, you will eliminate it. Perhaps you’ll discover technology that will allow you to automate it or somebody will rise to the call of leadership and get it done for you.

Rory says while his first book is on how procrastination is the foundation for a mediocre life and the second one says you should procrastinate on purpose, both are true. There is a major difference between waiting to do something you know you should be doing but don’t feel like doing versus waiting to do something because now is not the right time.

Procrastination is not going to the gym because you don’t feel like it. When you wait to do something, that is not procrastination. That is a virtue.

Inaction that results from indulgence is procrastination. Inaction that results from intention is patience.

Listen to the show to learn how to know if you are a chronic overachiever.

How marketers can have creative time and still get things done

Creative people should be creative, Roy explains. That’s how you multiply your impact. One of the reasons we burn out is we’re trying to satisfy everybody else. We have to realize our highest value to others is to be our highest self.

Ultimately the focus funnel is a methodology to help determine what is the one thing only you can do. Then you want to eliminate, automate, delegate or procrastinate on purpose everything else.

It’s about freeing ourselves from the tyranny of the urgent, which is what Charles Hummel called it in the 1963 essay of the same name. It’s about freeing ourselves from trivial things, as well as freeing our self-worth from being attached to the volume of things we complete.

We need to give ourselves permission to be creative, do the things only we can do and be able to explore, while having a system to handle everything else. That way, we can multiply our time, results and ultimately our value for ourselves and everyone around us.

Listen to the show to hear final thoughts from Rory.

Discovery of the Week

Looking for an app that will let you know when certain things are happening? Check out Hooks.

We used this alert app during Social Media Marketing World to let us know when a certain help hashtag was being tweeted.

hooks app

The Hooks app is an awesome alert system to use on your iPhone.

For example, to do a Twitter alert, just set up the app, go to Twitter search and plug in the hashtag. Then every time someone tweets that hashtag, you are notified with a ding on your phone.

There are hundreds of channels, including music, sports scores, weather, stock prices, shipping tracking and even a channel to let you know when a new Netflix movie shows up. Just think of any channel and then think of anything you would want to be notified of on that channel, whether it’s an RSS feed, a tweet by a certain person or when a website is down. Turn the alerts on and get notified through the app.

Hooks is a free app for iOS only.

Listen to the show to learn more and let us know how the Hooks app works for you.

Listen to the show!



Key takeaways mentioned in this episode:

Social Media Marketing Podcast w/ Michael Stelzner

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