Procrastination is an inherited trait – but you can beat it

We loved this article from careers expert Zena Everett and are re-publishing it with her permission.

There’s nothing like exam time to highlight our universal tendency to procrastinate. Colouring in a revision diary instead of actually revising, or in my case when studying a mid-career masters, developing a daily desire to polish my oven before opening up my laptop.

Recently I caught myself watching a YouTube clip on how to get out of quicksand, when I was supposedly doing some real research, ironically on productivity tools.

We procrastinate over tasks at work and also about starting difficult conversations at home, getting medical symptoms checked out, speaking up in meetings and making life decisions. This causes frustration, inertia, stress and regret.

I have two Crazy Busy principles for getting stuff done:

1. Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.
2. Spending a long time on something does not make it important.

So why do we faff around, preparing to start, rather than just … starting?

Procrastination is a lifelong trait and researchers have found that it is in our genes: a tendency to procrastinate runs in families. That doesn’t mean we’re stuck with it, but the fix is more complicated than ‘just do it’.

It isn’t the task itself that’s the blocker, it is the transition to getting started that we need to work on.

Here’s two reasons why we delay starting, one psychological and one practical:

[mk_fancy_title tag_name=”h2″ style=”true” color=”#393836″ size=”18″ font_weight=”inhert” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”18″ font_family=”none” align=”left”]1. Fear of Failure[/mk_fancy_title]

You are paralysed by your perfectionist tendencies. Perfectionists aren’t trying to be perfect – they just feel that nothing they do is ever good enough.

Do you like to do everything at the last minute, right up to the deadline?

You’ve got an important report to write, due in by Friday morning. If you block out time early in the week to write and edit it, you stand a fair chance of producing a decent quality document. If you do it over Thursday night and the early hours of Friday morning, you are giving yourself a get-out clause for a sub-standard result, ‘If I only had more time, it would have been perfect.’

You are protecting yourself from the fear of failure. If you’d wholeheartedly thrown yourself into writing the report, and it still wasn’t up to your uncompromisingly high standards, you’d have to deal with that. This way, your perfectionist tendencies have held you back, protecting you from facing up to your perceived sub-standard performance and failures.

Rather than giving you a safety net, this avoidance behaviour creates even more stress and anxiety.

Your delaying and last minute approach probably creates stress for the people you work with too.


– Untangle your performance from your self-esteem: see yourself as more than just your achievements; there is more to your identity than that.

– Decide when only outstanding performance will do and when to aim for average performance. In most cases average is perfectly fine.

WHAT you do is significantly important than HOW you do it.

[mk_fancy_title tag_name=”h2″ style=”true” color=”#393836″ size=”18″ font_weight=”inhert” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”18″ font_family=”none” align=”left”]2. You haven’t planned the task into your diary[/mk_fancy_title]

If work isn’t scheduled, it doesn’t get done. Most of spend our day driven by what’s screaming out in front of us – usually our inbox. Vital tasks get fitted in around the sides. Our diary is full of meetings, not real work.

How we spend our day can depend on our mood and what we feel ready to take on. We have a slow build up to getting ready, regardless of our intentions.


– Block out time to do priority tasks, in the same way you schedule meetings. Make sure you have all the resources you need and start it on time. If you are in an open plan office you may have to go to a quiet location where you aren’t interrupted. At the very least, shut down all message pop-ups. Try it for 60 minutes and see what you get done and if the world can cope without access to you.

– Design a routine and stick to it. Don’t wait until you are in the mood. Start your task and your mood will catch up. Structure your day in a disciplined way so you can be as effective as possible. Aim for 90 to 120 minutes a day of deep ‘flow’ working on challenging tasks that will make significant impact. Allow time to get a few quick tasks and conversations done each day to get your energy going, then drop into scheduled flow working.

Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what to do first, or the task/project seems overwhelming. Your first chunk of time can be for figuring out how to do it and making a plan.

This is taken from Zena Everett’s new book, Crazy Busy: How to get more done in a day than you do now in a week. It is available in print versions from her website and Amazon. If you would like a FREE digital version, please email 

Zena runs 90 minute Crazy Busy events in organisations, leading to increased productivity and team collaboration.