Why “Just Do It” Doesn’t Fix Procrastination (and What You Should Focus on Instead)

I will launch the product, but I need a good logo first...

I can't publish my book yet, there are so many things I want to change...

I'm going to start selling my e-course, but first I need the perfect design..

Do you ever catch yourself saying this? Putting off a project because you feel like so many things are missing? 

You're not alone.

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Are You A Procrastinator? 

According to Joe Ferrari​ Ph.D., professor at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, every person tends to procrastinate. In fact, as many as 20% of the population is a chronic procrastinator. They procrastinate in all areas of their life: work, school, home, relationships and even leisure time.

This number is higher than depression, phobia or substance abuse, and it's a global phenomenon: it's 20% not just in the US, but in most countries, regardless of the age, gender or the language we speak.

Yet, we tend to think of it as a light topic. 

Why Do We Procrastinate? 

There can be a number of reasons behind procrastination. It can come from a fear of failure: "What if nobody will like my product? What if people will think I'm a fraud? What if it won't sell? If I don't finish it, people can't judge my skills".

But, it can also come from a fear of success: "What if they will like my product and want more from me? Can I live up to that?"

As Joe Ferrari says, even though these statements sound very logical, they're all just excuses. Procrastinators are the best excuse makers. 

“You’re Just Lazy”

There are plenty of misconceptions about procrastination. One of the most common ones is to think that procrastination is the same as laziness.

People tend to think procrastinators lack the effort to get work done, which paints them in an even more negative light than if they were accused for lacking ability.

For this reason, a motivating "just do it" coming from a non-procrastinator is just as useless than saying "cheer up" to a chronically depressed person.

Joe Ferrari has spent most of his life researching procrastination and he came across many false mindsets that go counter to what the scientific data shows.

​That's why in 2010 he published his book Still Procrastinating?: The No Regrets Guide to Getting it Done. We were fortunate enough to chat with him over Skype where he shared the biggest procrastination myths with us.

Myth #1 - Today's Technology Makes Us Procrastinate

Your smartphone won't stop beeping and flashing until you check who posted that cat video on your wall.

We often think that the internet has too high a distraction factor that keeps us from focusing on the things we need to get done.

But is it really a 21st century problem? 

Ferrari reminded us of the snooze button, everyone's favorite "just 5 more minutes" tool, that was first used back in 1956. The snooze button is basically the first technology for procrastination: "My day can start a few minutes later if I press this button"

Another example is the phone which made it unnecessary for people to dress up, sit into their car and go visit their neighbors if they needed something. 

Procrastination is not a new phenomenon. Joe Ferrari's first study on the prevalence was in 1996 in which he already found that at least 20% of the population is a chronic procrastinator. This number is just as high as it is today.

Even Scarlett O'Hara was a serial procrastinator.

The takeaway here? Blaming procrastination on today's tools doesn't help you solve your rampant procrastination.

Myth #2 - We're Just Too Busy To Get Everything Done

The world is changing faster than ever before and we love to think we're victims because of this. There's simply too much going on. We're just too busy!

Ferrari thinks this is a massive insult to our ancestors.

Their lives were just as busy as ours. In fact, that they had to deal with every day things such as hand-washing their laundry or plowing the field without any automation. A modern man in the 21st century never spend time on these things throughout his life.

Ferrari doesn't believe in time management. As he pointed out: There has and will always be 168 hours in a week. Not a minute more, not a minute less. 

You can't manage time. There will always be 168 hours in a week whatever you do. What you can manage is yourself. 

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Blaming the busy 21st century is just another excuse to procrastinate.

Myth #3 - We Still Think The Early Bird Gets The Worm 

It's pretty clear why you shouldn't miss deadlines. 

If you fail to pay our credit card bill before the deadline, you'll be charged more. If you don't finish a task on time, you might lose your job.

But what if you complete something sooner that it was due? In our culture, this behavior is never rewarded. You don't get a discount if you pay our mortgage ahead of time or finish assignments before the due date.

Our society needs to give early birds the worm again, otherwise there's always an incentive to put things off until the very last second.

“But What if I Fail?” is the Wrong Question

We procrastinate because we're afraid to fail, to put ourselves in a bad light and humiliate ourselves. 

According to Ferrari however, the question is not if we're going to fail, but when. Just accept it, we're all going to fail​ at something sooner or later.

But failing is not the problem. The only important thing is how you're going to pick yourself back up after you fall.

Think about it like this: your product may not have done well, but left an impact on the world just by trying something in a way no one ever did before you. If it made just one person's life a tad better, it was meaningful and worth all the effort.

Just like the phoenix dies each day to rise the next from its ashes, your failures will teach you how to learn from undesired outcomes and move forward wiser and more prepared. With this mindset, there are no failures, only learning experiences.

Missing The Trees For The Forest

We're all familiar with the saying "Don't miss the forest for the trees", meaning: don't miss the big picture by spending too much time focusing on the little details.

Procrastinators should learn the exact opposite. They have no problem seeing the entire forest. This is exactly what scares them: looking at that wild jungle just overwhelms them!

Ferrari suggests that procrastinators need to re-frame their mind by focusing on one tree when getting started on a project. Or a branch. Better yet, a handful of leaves, if they're still having trouble getting to work.

Chronic procrastinators usually have a much harder time getting over their procrastination habits just by using the mindset re-frame strategy. They might need some external help to succeed.

For the remaining 80% of us however, seeing things from a different perspective can be what it takes to fix habitual procrastination.

What Can You Do Right Now? 

Joe Ferrari left us with a few action steps that you can try right now. 

1

First of all, focus on your future regret. If procrastination prevents you from doing the things you'd rather be doing, you'll regret it. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually you'll wish you had just started on your project sooner. When putting off a task, think about how much you'll regret it in the future. Do you want to be proud of yourself or live in regret?

2

Second, surround yourself with the right kind of people. They say you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. 

Spend time with doers who get things done. Talk to them and ask for their advice. Model their behavior.

3

Ferrari's third piece of advice is accountability. Post on your social media profile that you're going to do something.

Tell your friends or audience what your goal is, and ask them to hold you accountable if you don't get it done. You're much more likely to get things done if you know that people can call you out on procrastinating.

We only had an hour with Joe Ferrari. Although we found it extremely valuable, this short hour can't compare to the decades of research and work the professor has done on the topic of procrastination. 

If you feel like procrastination is one of your weaknesses, we highly recommend you check out one of Joe Ferrari's most important books on the topic: Still Procrastinating? The No-Regret Guide TO Getting It Done.

Also, we've launched a whole podcast series on the topic of entrepreneurial procrastination with the title: Your Job Is To Ship. Listen to the first episode of the series here

How Do You Deal With Procrastination? 

Do you ever struggle with procrastination even when it comes to growing your business or achieving your dreams?

Do you have any good ways of your own to sidestep procrastination?

We'd love to see your thought, ideas and suggestions in the comments section below!

Are you interested in reading our entire conversation with Dr. Joe Ferrari, Ph.D.? Read the full transcript of our interview here:

Transcript

About the Author Alexandra Kozma

Alexandra is a traveling marketer. When she is not editing podcast calls or writing blog posts, she's out there exploring a new city. She helps Hungarians become digital nomads.