We’re all familiar with procrastination. You know when you’re procrastinating, right? It appears as aimless social media scrolling, doing small pointless tasks, or even doing nothing at all instead of writing that paper that you know you need to finish, right?
Well… maybe not.
Sometimes procrastination is sneaky. You may be procrastinating without even realizing it’s happening.
Often, these types of hidden procrastination happen on a long-term scale, rather than over the course of a day or so. Some of them may even seem productive.
But when you step back and break it down, you’ll find that these forms of procrastination are likely a major roadblock that prevents you from getting to your goals. Here are 5 sneaky types of procrastination that may be holding you back and what you can do to overcome them.
1. Too much planning and research
This one is an especially sneaky type of procrastination because it feels productive.
First, you spend three weeks figuring out how to set good goals. Then you spend another two weeks thinking about what your goals should be. Then you spend an afternoon writing everything down. Then you spend two weeks planning it out. After that, you spend another month researching exactly how to do a perfect job of whatever it is that your goals are.
Suddenly, three months have passed and you could tell me everything there is to know about meal prepping and clean eating, but you had three donuts for breakfast and green leafies haven’t touched your plate in who knows how long.
I like to call it procrastiplanning. It plagued me for most of my teenage years. I wanted to get my life together and figure out how to stop procrastinating, so I spent years researching how to get organized, make plans, and accomplish my goals—all while not actually working toward anything.
If you find yourself watching YouTube videos and reading blog posts about how to plan and goal set, writing lists of goals and then abandoning them, and thinking more about what you want to do than actually doing it, you may be a procrastiplanner.
If you know everything there is to know about how to do a great workout but haven’t seen the inside of a gym this month, or if you know exactly which Ikea organizing system you need for your closet but haven’t decluttered so much as a sock in the last year, you’re probably a procrastiplanner.
Yes, planning and research are necessary to a point, but before long, they become procrastination. If you feel that you’re spending a lot of time on your goals but not seeing any progress, you’ve probably fallen into this trap because planning and research don’t actually move you forward.
How do I combat it?
The bright side of all of this procrastiplanning is that you already know what you need to do. You have the knowledge. All that’s left is the application.
Now, if you’ve been procrastinating in this way for a long time, it can be difficult to break out of that habit. You think, “Okay, this time I’m really going to do it. I’m going to plan my perfect week, and then I’m going to do it.” But this is likely to lead you right back into the same loop of endless planning.
Rather, start with something simple. Start with something that doesn’t need a plan (or much of a plan, at least). Rather than trying to implement an elaborate workout and meal plan that takes you all afternoon to devise, commit to drinking more water. Commit to carrying your water bottle with you everywhere you go this week and taking a sip every time it crosses your mind.
Break the habit of planning and research by doing something easy. Search that wealth of knowledge that you’ve already researched (if you have to Google it, it’s too complicated!) and start small. Focus on building a habit of action.
You don’t need more tips and tricks. Learning tips, tricks, tools, and hacks can be fun, but in the end, it’s often a time-waster. Swap your Google habit for a habit of action.
I have an entire blog post about this, so I’ll keep it short. If this sounds like you, check out that blog post for more information.
When we use overcomplication as a tool for procrastination, it frequently takes the form of excuses. “I should work out more,” turns into, “I should work out more, but I don’t have the right leggings, and I need a workout plan made by a professional to be successful so I’ll need to research workout plans, and I want to document my fitness journey on Instagram so I’ll need to think of an Instagram name and make an account, and, and, and…”
How do I combat it?
Any time that you find yourself saying “I should” or “I want to” and that sentence contains “but,” take a good, hard look at what follows. Even if the second half of the sentence isn’t overcomplicating the issue, it’s likely to be an excuse—”I don’t have time,” anyone?
Then, ask yourself if the thing that you said is really necessary. Do you really need to start a fitness Instagram account to work out more? Do you really need to clean out your fridge before you start eating healthier? Do you absolutely have to wait for a free weekend before you start decluttering? Probably not. (And that totally free weekend likely isn’t coming. Sorry.)
Often, as soon as you take a second to consider your excuse, you’ll realize that it’s unnecessary, and you only believed it because you’ve been telling yourself it’s true for so long. It’s easy to hold onto ridiculous excuses because we rarely take time to examine them.
If you’re still struggling, write down your excuses. Show them to other people. Both of these actions will help you to confront what it is that you’re really saying.
Perfectionism as procrastination ties closely in with #1 on this list. If you use planning and research as a tool for procrastination, there’s a good chance that you’re also a perfectionist and it often prevents you from getting to work. (But they don’t have to go together. I’m not a perfectionist, but I have used research as a procrastination tool.)
You know that this is your struggle if getting started often feels completely out of the question. If the idea of taking action feels so scary or anxiety-inducing that you don’t even want to consider action, perfectionism may be holding you back.
If you’ve turned research into a hobby, perfectionism may be holding you back.
If you fear criticism, messing up, not living up to expectations (yours or those of other people) or you want to be totally alone when you finally do get started, you may be procrastinating because of perfectionism.
If not trying at all sounds like a better outcome than doing a mediocre job, perfectionism is likely holding you back.
How do I combat it?
Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve been told by several people that reading my blog has helped them overcome their perfectionism. I often talk about how perfection literally isn’t real, and encourage my readers to give it a shot knowing that they may mess up because that’s okay.
I put myself out there and do an imperfect job at a lot of things, which can be encouraging when we’re used to seeing nothing but flawlessness.
Know that it’s okay to do less than you planned to do. I tell myself this often, especially while I’m cleaning or working out. Yes, ideally I’d clean the entire room or apartment, but I may not have the energy or time for that. Sure, I’m supposed to do three sets of bicep curls, but if I only have the energy for two, doing those two is better than not doing any at all.
It’s okay to start and not finish. It’s okay to do an okay job. Doing an imperfect job, doing 70% of the work, or failing your first attempt are all fine. The world will not end, no one will hate you, and no one will think that you’re a failure.
Work for just five minutes. Having a five minute limit makes it easier to get started. There’s no pressure to accomplish perfection in five minutes. After getting started and seeing that those five minutes were much less painful than you expected, it’s often much easier to keep going. If you get to work knowing that it’s fine to quit after five minutes, it’s easier to get moving.
4. Focusing too much on the big picture
For a couple of months now, I’ve been planning to move my blog from Wix to Wordpress. It’s been on my to do list as “move blog to wordpress,” and—unsurprisingly—I postpone it every time it comes up.
“Move blog to wordpress” is a daunting task. I don’t know how to do that, I’m sure I’ll run into plenty of annoying issues, it might be time-consuming, and it’s an all-around Thing I Don’t Want To Do. So I haven’t.
I realized this morning that if I’m going to make the move, I need to stop thinking of it as “move blog to wordpress” and start thinking of it in smaller pieces. Rather than thinking about climbing the entire mountain at once, I’ll find more success if I put it on my to do list one step at a time. (It’s actually odd that I haven’t done that because I do tend to break up my big tasks into small ones.)
Big one-off tasks like this are easy to postpone repeatedly because it feels like they’ll take all day. We don’t have the time or energy to commit to it today, so it gets pushed back. But you don’t have to take on the entire project at once.
Redecorating your home, buying everyone’s Christmas presents, or decluttering the attic are all tasks that we think of as monolithic. Rather than breaking them into small pieces that fit into our day, we avoid the whole unpleasant task for weeks or months.
How do I combat it?
If you take a moment to consider these large tasks, you’ll find that they’re made of smaller tasks. “Write research paper” can be broken into “brainstorm topics,” “outline paper,” “research topics,” “write paper body,” “write intro and conclusion.”
Ask yourself what the first step is. Don’t worry about the rest just yet. Sometimes the first step is to research how to do the rest of the task, like with me moving my blog to Wordpress. Even researching how to do what needs to be done is better than postponing the entire task indefinitely. Just don’t research forever (see item 1).
Redecorating your home can be done one room at a time, buying Christmas presents can be done by theme—first the presents for people who like clothes, then housewares, etc.—and the attic can be decluttered by area or type of clutter.
When a big item is broken into smaller steps, it becomes much easier to schedule those small pieces into our lives instead of just postponing it all because it feels daunting.
5. Doing it “later”
How many tasks do you have in mind that you’d like to do “later”? These are often the “when I have time” type of tasks. Well, as I’ve talked about before, it’s not a matter of time, it’s a matter of priority.
Letting tasks go for an undefined “later” is an easy way to procrastinate on them. You don’t feel a sense of commitment, and it’s easy to say over and over that you didn’t have time. “I’ll do it later tonight” gets pushed back to “I’ll do it next week” when dinner runs late. Then “I’ll do it next week” turns into “I’ll do it in the fall when I’m less busy,” and before you know it, this task has been pushed back for months.
How do I combat it?
First, I want you to ask yourself if these things really matter. These kinds of “later” tasks are often the things that we’d do in an ideal world, but we don’t live in an ideal world.
Yes, it would be nice to take a photography course, but is that one of those “it’d be neat” ideas that you threw on your to do list, or do you genuinely want to explore photography?
Often, tasks like this spend way too long looming on our to do lists and causing stress before we eventually decide not to do them. Take some time to really consider whether now is the time to pursue these tasks. It could be that these things aren’t a priority now and you can revisit them in a few years.
After you’ve removed all of the items that just don’t have to happen, calendar block it out. I know, it’s been a while since I’ve mentioned calendar blocking, but it’s still as useful as it’s ever been.
Give your “later” tasks a concrete home on the calendar. Rather than “next week,” schedule it for next Tuesday at 8 p.m. By giving your tasks as home on the calendar and blocking out time to complete them, you solidify your commitment to making them happen and they’ll become much harder to repeatedly push back.