Why You’re Really Procrastinating

Maureen Hanson

November 18, 2021

If you are prone to occasional – or even not-so-occasional – procrastination, are you lazy, incompetent, and unreliable?

No, no, and no, said author and management consultant Susan Fowler. In a discussion of procrastination in SmartBrief on Leadership, Fowler said our tendency to put things off has less to do with motivation and more to do with our deeper emotional needs.

She noted procrastination doesn’t always apply to tasks you don’t want to do – like sorting the stacks of papers on your desk or filing expense reports. Sometimes we also put off things we truly want – and maybe even long – to do. Think taking a vacation or getting a good night's sleep.

According to Lawler, avoidance of unpleasant tasks stems from lack of interest or passion, because they do not align with your values or feed your sense of purpose. So, you may put off some things because they are tedious and boring. But you may avoid other, more consequential, tasks because they don’t “fill your cup” at a deeper emotional level.

“If you don’t experience your basic psychological needs for choice, connection, and competence at work, you have little chance of compensating for them outside of work,” said Lawler. “When you fulfill your psychological needs, you flourish. When your psychological needs are thwarted, you languish.”

When it comes to putting off things you actually want, Lawler said that, too, is a result of emotional unrest. You might put off planning a vacation because your work life feels unsettled and out of control, so you don’t believe you can ever leave it. And sleep procrastination recently earned its own cultural moniker: “revenge bedtime procrastination.”

Particularly thanks to pandemic-induced schedule disruptions and blurring lines between work and home, many people are sacrificing sleep to capture some precious personal time. “Sleep deprivation has been declared an international health issue, yet more and more exhausted people put off sleeping,” stated Lawler.

If procrastination – of the bad stuff, the good stuff, or both – is plaguing your daily routines, the most important thing to do is some truly introspective thinking about what may be missing in your life, or what values aren’t lining up.

“There is no such thing as work-life balance,” declared Lawler. “But an imbalance of psychological nutriments is a debilitating reality.”