The 7 Triggers of Procrastination

by | Apr 21, 2020 | General Productivity, Podcast

Takeaway:We procrastinate when a task is boring, frustrating, difficult, ambiguous, unstructured, or lacking in personal meaning or intrinsic rewards. By reversing these triggers—a few suggestions for how to do this are below—we can overpower our urge to procrastinate.

Estimated Reading Time:1 minute, 41s.

Podcast Length 23 minutes, 24s (link to play podcast at bottom of post).

The 7 Triggers of Procrastination

Procrastination is a fascinating topic—and just as fascinating is the science behind it. Research suggests that there are seven attributes a task can have that make us more likely to put it off.

We’re far more likely to procrastinate when a task is:

  1. Boring (e.g., doing our taxes);
  2. Frustrating (e.g., learning a complicated new skill);
  3. Difficult (e.g., solving a math proof);
  4. Ambiguous (e.g., training for a marathon);
  5. Unstructured (e.g., undertaking a home renovation project);
  6. Lacking in intrinsic rewards (e.g., not getting feedback while we’re writing a 50-page report);
  7. Not meaningful (e.g., cleaning up the home office).

The more of these attributes a task has, the more likely we are to put it off.

On this week’s podcast, we dig into how to flip these triggers so we can use the science of procrastination to our advantage. There are countless ways to do this, depending on which attributes a task has. For example, we can:

  • Form a simple plan to make boring tasks more fun (e.g., buying an audiobook for doing mindless chores around the house);
  • Set a time limit for frustrating tasks (e.g., making a game out of something we don’t want to do, by filing as many papers as we possibly can within 20 minutes);
  • Work with someone on difficult tasks, so we have more support while doing them (e.g., hiring a virtual piano teacher, instead of learning via an app);
  • Make a plan for ambiguous and unstructured tasks (e.g., taking 20 minutes to map out next steps for a home renovation project);
  • Treat ourselves while doing unrewarding tasks (e.g., putting $1 in a frivolous spending account for every five minutes we spend on our taxes);
  • Journal about tasks we find meaningless in order to connect with them on a deeper level (e.g., journaling about why cleaning our office will make us feel calm as we work).

Procrastination is a human phenomenon—everyone on the planet puts things off. The next time you notice yourself procrastinating on something, bring some awareness to what triggers the task is setting off, and form a simple plan to overcome them. You’ll get a lot more done as a result.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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