The blanket definition for procrastination is the action of postponing something. This delay creates a mad rush to accomplishment, better incentivized by the stress of a quickly approaching deadline. But this scenario only provides a narrow scope of the multi-faceted beast. The better-under-pressure category is only one variation of the common ailment that can poison your productivity.
And in comparison to other forms of procrastination, it’s pretty docile. Some people just work better with an imminent deadline staring them dead in the face. It’s not the healthiest method of accomplishment, but at least it ultimately gets done.
In fact, if I’m completely honest, I am suffering at the clutches of this milder procrastination breed as the deadline for this very article looms. Procrastiception, perhaps?
The kinds of procrastination we are going to focus on are the ones that can lead to dead-end stagnancy. These are far more malicious than harnessing the adrenaline of the last minute in order to motivate movement. The primary difference between last-minute procrastination and paralysis-procrastination is that one is provoked by laziness, while the others are founded upon fear.
Fear-based procrastination will leave you completely incapacitated, rendered immobile until you simply don’t do anything at all. If gone unchecked, these procrastination viruses can mutate into full-blown paralysis, leaving you with a pile of dreams, intentions, and goals and a reality that couldn’t be further from fulfilled.
Each type of procrastination requires a different remedy, so first, it is paramount to be able to identify and understand what kind of procrastination you are experiencing. The second step is knowing how to effectively combat it. The third tactic is prevention over reaction. You must know which form you personally are most prone to so that you can begin building your immunity to it and enacting methods of prevention.
Types of procrastination that most commonly lead to complete paralysis & how to combat them
1. Perfectionist Paralysis
Someone afflicted with this form of procrastination may be experiencing a crippling case of self-doubt and/or a nasty inferiority complex. They simply can not start because they fear they are not good enough to do so. They fear their action will expose their shortcomings. The idea of failing or falling short of whatever expectations (likely self-imposed) is crippling.
They have no regard for the stage of their own journey, striving immediately for expertise or nothing at all. They forget that crawling comes before walking, and when this chronological truth becomes evident they would rather just lie there than reveal their infancy.
This often comes as a result of baseless comparison to someone else who has already learned to walk and is doing so in a seemingly effortless manner. They fail to rationalize that this now-expert also had to crawl once as well.
This can also result from the underestimation of our own capabilities. But we don’t know what we can or can’t do until we actually do it. Furthermore, we can’t improve by inactivity.
Respect your journey and the stage that you are in. Comparison is not necessarily bad when utilized effectively—compare yourself only to yesterday-you, today-you, and future-you.
And keep in mind that you are more capable than you know. Do as much you can with what you have now. This is the only way to equip yourself with more—by building on what you already have. Just do more. The more you do the more you can do.
You will first need to get your lack of confidence in check. Confidence will stamp out any self-doubt. The best way to build confidence is to fake it until you make it. The thing about faking it until you make it is that you will not only be convincing the rest of the world, but you will simultaneously be framing your reality in a way that convinces you too.
Replace that obsession with perfection with an obsession with improvement and understand that quality is founded upon quantity. The more you do, the better you get. Progress is more encouraging than perfection and it is the key to maintaining consistency.
Measure your progress. Reflecting on your progress will show you how far you’ve come. You’ll find you’re getting closer and closer to that ideal that seemed so elusive at the starting line.
2. Big Picture Paralysis
A person under the hypnosis of Big Picture Paralysis likely is rendered immobile simply from the discrepancy between the grand, intricate vision of their dreams and the blank canvas of their current reality.
The vision of the big picture can be quite daunting when you are confronting a blank canvas. So daunting in fact, that you can’t fathom how each minute brush stroke effectively contributes to the overall masterpiece. This unfathomable step-by-step process can leave us paralyzed before we even leave the starting line.
You are great at creating visions but could stand to work on creating processes. You forget that, though you dream big, you must start small. Nothing of long-term value yields an overnight reward.
Create sub-visions, digestible chunks of the larger goal. Treat each sub-vision with the same pride as the big picture. Reward yourself for the accomplishment of each step. This will build your momentum through your journey and create awareness of the instrumental small wins that lead to big victories.
Once you have a vision of the big picture, set a deadline you’d like to realize this by. Then strategically plan checkpoints that will systematically move you closer to that goal. Then train your focus on those immediate matters rather than the long-term vision.
3. Too much to chew Paralysis
This type of procrastination comes out when we take on too much too quickly, rendering us unable to pick where to begin. We then settle on doing nothing at all due to overwhelm. Scatterbrains are never conducive to productivity and disorganized goals can send us in circles looking for where to begin.
This may come from attempting to multitask, saying yes to too many requests at once (from yourself or others,) underestimating the time and energy required for each responsibility, or from having a multifaceted goal or vision that you are trying to implement all at once.
Be decisive and learn to deprive in order to thrive.
You must realize that you need to give 100% to the completion of each task or idea for supreme results. 12% here and 47% there is only going to have you with a bunch of useless, half-done tasks that will eventually have to be revisited or abandoned altogether. Choose one thing to zoom in on and see it through. Do not distribute your attention to anything else until that one thing is completed to your satisfaction.
Forfeit the idea of multitasking and learn to say no. Break down your multifaceted goals so that you can dedicate all time and energy to completing one facet before moving to the next. Failing to streamline your attention, time, and energy may seem more efficient in the moment, but eventually, you will burn out quicker.
You can’t do it all so you will have to choose what deserves your committed focus.
4. Unproductively busy paralysis
This is the assailant that pacifies goals undone because there was no time left after this errand or that obligation or this responsibility. It’s not of personal fault that those tasks contributed nothing of consequence to the progress of my actual goals, but what could we do? We had to clean out our closet during the only possible free hour of our day so therefore we could not possibly have done anything else worthwhile because there was just not enough time! I had to work this day or go to the bank that day and so my real goals simply could not be done. Life happened and so can you even blame me?
This is the excuse that literally replaces your worthwhile obligation with seemingly-worthy-but-probably-not-worthy other obligations. Years later, all you’re left with is a very clean closet and wishful thinking.
Most of our excuses come from this false sense of busyness, often rationalized so well that we don’t realize they are actually excuses. This form of procrastination is a cocktail for productivity disaster simply made up of one part Poor Prioritization and one part Useless Excuses.
It can be one of the more dangerous because it makes you drunk on invalid validation. We become addicted to rationalizing our stagnancy, blaming completely controllable situations as completely out of our control. We cling to these excuses for comfort, complaining about the false plague of busyness to our peers because we as a society will offer understanding, support, and empathy to the common experience of idle busy work. This external validation only provides the nail in the coffin of our goals.
Look over your to-do’s and rearrange your items according to importance and relevance to overall goals. Leave the things that do not contribute to the end-goal for later.
Be intentional and use discernment. Know your priorities and say no when other things are campaigning for your attention and commitment. Even though something may be obligatory, it may not be worthy of your immediate prioritization. Identify and then complete your most important tasks first.
This will require discernment because ‘most important’ is generally a subjective description. But if you realize your days are jam-packed with little to nothing to show for it, you need to reassess and readjust your method of prioritization.
5. Perfect condition paralysis
We feel we can’t start something until something else happens. You feel impaired and stuck—like you can’t move until you have a perfect scenario for movement. We need more money or we need more expertise or we need more contacts. We don’t want to start our journey until we have everything we think we need safely packed up in a suitcase.
You are overthinking your present circumstance. You are falling victim to comparing your current resources to resources that you won’t actually need for a while. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Yes, they would likely expedite your journey, but speed should not be your primary concern right now. Focus only on moving forward and those resources you seek will likely appear.
Be confident in starting small and starting now. Throw your caution to the wind. You can literally always do something, however small. Pick something small to do. Even if you can’t see the value in that small movement now, you will find that every small action builds momentum and confidence. In the end, you will find that each small step is integral to the larger picture, that they were the foundation for the larger steps, that the larger steps would be impossible without those small ones.
Whenever you feel you’re ill-equipped or underprepared, start up your momentum by attempting a small, feasible task. The feeling of progression will give you the confidence you need to build towards the larger goal.
Understand that the perfect scenario is a figment of your imagination, as mythic as a unicorn. There is just no such thing outside of fairytales. Journeys to dreams are not like vacations where you can check each item off of your packing list. Most of your resources will be found along the way.
In most cases, that something we claim we’re waiting on won’t come until you actually start moving towards your goal. You may think that you’re ill-equipped, but you can always do something, anything, in the meantime. And you will be shocked at what presents itself under even the smallest progression.
Small steps are no less valid than large ones. In fact, they will better prepare you than the large steps. You will have a more well-rounded archive of experience which leads to a more solid portfolio of expertise.
6. Blurry Vision paralysis
Lack of clarity is one the easiest ways to get distracted and ultimately derailed from your aspirations. Clarity is not always easy to come by and it’s not easy to hold on to. Not reconciling with blurry visions will leave you in a constant state of yield to whatever fork in the road seems most convenient at the time.
Blurry vision comes from mental disorganization, inactivity, and lack of direction. This chaos can come from scatterbrained visions, similar to the causes itemized under the too-much-to-chew paralysis above.
It can also come from atrophy. The longer you are inactive the more you lose your sense of direction, ultimately leaving you immobile.
Clarity needs regular maintenance and active engagement. It’s so common that even after you have a destination for your life, the means to get there will frequently become hazy. Create a pervasive and repetitive message or theme that consistently keeps your mind on track.
Write out your vision and place it somewhere you will see it every day to train your mindset and ultimately your reality. Try out this method for sustainable clarity.
7. Comfort Zone Paralysis
We are addicted to comfort so much so that we’d rather remain stagnant forever than risk the short-term discomfort that accompanies life-changing growth. We clam up at the thought of this slight inconvenience and the unpredictability it may entail and therefore retreat back to our more reliable sanctuary of ease.
We tend to become paralyzed at the thought of change and discomfort. But fearing these elements is fearing growth. We cling to our comfort zone, preferring to doom our futures to stagnancy, rather than experiencing temporary discomfort now for fulfillment later.
Do one thing you’re uncomfortable with. Try spontaneity. It doesn’t even have to be risky. Just surprise yourself. Yell or jump or do a cartwheel. Just do something that jolts your equilibrium.
Notice how fleeting that moment of discomfort was. You were likely most uncomfortable during the anticipation of your action that in the action itself. Fear is only made worse by anticipation. Try not to think too much. It’ll be over in no time.
Develop your appetite for risk and discomfort. Begin introducing yourself to bite-sized risks or spontaneity. Schedule it in your planner like it’s a task. Try doing one thing per week that is blatantly uncomfortable even if it’s not directly in line with your overall goals. Then mold your new appetite to accommodate goal-oriented uncomfortable assignments.
You will come to see that you are an adaptable being and that change is not as bad as it first seems. You will begin to realize that you are only fearing the perception and anticipation of the thing rather than the thing itself.
Weigh your worst case scenario and your future satisfaction. We have a false understanding of comfort, as it is a subjective construct that generally is only temporarily comfortable. But in the long term, comfort mutates into very uncomfortable things like mediocrity and stagnancy. If it does not result in death, severe injury, or jail time, it’s probably not as bad as not trying and then living with regret.
When you are consistently introducing yourself to discomfort, you will find that leaving your comfort zone can be a gradual process rather than a sudden shock to your comfort systems. With consistency, you can build your adaptability and threshold for discomfort.
8. Analysis paralysis
When you are facing great goals, you can be inclined to over-plan them, jotting down compelling brainstorms and impressive strategies in notebooks and planners that never make it off the paper. You can endlessly wax on and on about how to do something without ever actually doing anything. And then you become all talk, no action, falling deeper and deeper into the clutches of this over-planning paralysis.
The ironic psychological effect that Analysis Paralysis has is that you can end up with a false sense of accomplishment simply for having thought about anything at all. You begin enjoying the mere thought of your dream more than the fruition of it. The abstract becomes such a satisfying muse that you no longer feel compelled to force that muse into reality. You prize the pleasantries of a vision but balk immediately at the less glamorous, obstacle-ridden path to get there.
At first, try to match thought with action. If you spend 20 minutes writing out your vision, try initiating 20 minutes of action.
Try to train your mind to anticipate the same excitement it gets from planning, from action. Once your brain learns there is similar euphoria experienced from effective action, it will crave the author of that emotion. And that action will create tangible momentum that will replace your appetite for abstract musing.
Also published on Medium.