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Procrastination – can it be telling us something useful?

By Mary Andrews

Originally, when I thought I’d like to write about procrastination, it was going to be a piece with tips on how to recognise and overcome procrastinating behaviours. I reflected on when I procrastinate and what I know about other people’s procrastinating behaviours. And sure, many of us often do other things that are less important, or eat, drink, smoke or turn to some form of media when we ‘should be’ doing something else.

Yet I wonder whether procrastination is always as bad as it’s portrayed? I know from my own experience that sometimes procrastination can actually be quite helpful. So given that as humans we respond better to encouragement than criticism, here’s my attempt to reframe procrastinating behaviours. In doing this, I am in no way trying to diminish the anguish that some people feel when they are unable, for whatever reason, to proceed to do that which they must. I am simply exploring alternative ways of looking at procrastination.

There are various definitions of procrastination:

  • Putting off doing something important and focusing on less important tasks
  • Delaying action until near or past the deadline
  • Not doing something knowing there will be negative consequences


But what if the reason you are putting something off is because it doesn’t actually fit in with your values? Perhaps you’ve been asked to terminate someone’s employment in a way you deem unfair. Or maybe your director wants you to adapt the data to show that a product has a greater impact on weight loss than you know to be true? You don’t like being part of a deception.

Your procrastination may be telling you something about your values and ethics. Notice it and reflect on what you want to do about it.

Or what if you’re procrastinating over meeting a friend or colleague who you don’t quite trust? Maybe you’re reluctant to visit your mother because she can be highly critical of you and rarely satisfied? Perhaps you keep putting off going to a networking event because you find the attendees intimidating?

Your procrastination may be telling you something about which connections are nurturing and supportive for you. Listen to it and take action.

Maybe you’re a student struggling to study? You’re bored and restless. Or a manager bogged down by your ‘to-do’ list? You can’t see the point of it all. Perhaps you’re procrastinating over submitting a proposal for a piece of work? You just don’t feel inspired.

Your procrastination may be telling you that you’re on the wrong course or in the wrong job for you. If this is true for you, face it and take action.

Other things to bear in mind…

Your procrastination may be your body and mind’s way of telling you to rest-up and relax; take a break.

Taking a break may then allow your creative juices to flow and so produce better outcomes.

Procrastination could be a sign that you don’t fully understand what you’re doing, that you’re overcomplicating things or trying to cover too much.

What is your aim here? What are you trying to say or achieve? What point are you making? Simplify things as much as possible.

It’s also possible that the tasks you procrastinate on are ones that are not important to you. The task may be important to others rather than to you. You do not have to do what others want.

However, if the relationship is important to you, is there a way you can reframe the task to make it more doable for you? For example, you don’t mind your space being messy and untidy. In fact, you work better amid chaos. But your partner finds it hard to focus among the random piles, empty cups of coffee and selection of clothing! Can you be tidier for them because you care about them? Can you experiment with tidiness to test if you really are more productive in untidiness? Maybe you need to face-up to some laziness?

Finally, if you’re someone who procrastinates by doing some cleaning, cooking, exercise, admin, sorting out your photos, clearing out your cupboards, and so on…well who’s to say these tasks are not useful too? Research indicates that any form of exercise or ‘tidying’ is good for our brain.

In conclusion, consider that your procrastination may not be about poor time management or the indication of a problem. It could instead be serving a purpose or telling you something.

Mary Andrews Portrait

Mary Andrews, MSc, IDC, MBPsS, PMABP, AssocISFCP is a qualified coach and career analyst.

With a background in HR and psychology, since 2011 she has been helping professionals and students find direction and thrive in their careers and life.

Make changes that stick. If you want to move from feeling unhappy and dissatisfied to content and fulfilled, contact me for a free without obligation conversation.