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Tackling your procrastination gremlins - 3 ways to take back control

Updated: Oct 21, 2023

Interestingly - you can be a high acheiver, a sucessful person in work and in life, but still procrastinate. We somehow decide we function better with the stress of a deadline. So how do we stop procrastination?

Accepting procrastination is self-defeating. Rather than dealing with procrastination, we puts ourselves under a huge amount of stress, the type of stress that makes us feel distressed, anguished and rushing round setting off a cycle of undesirable consequences to deal with later. This is not a healthy coping mechanism, it's maladaptive and has several risks and consequences if we procrastinate under the excuse of "needing a deadline to perform". The downside of leaving things to the last minute is that we do, or say things that don't fit our values, simply because we've run out of time. We spend money on taxis rather than getting fit and cycling, we miss meetings that we know are essential, we annoy our partners as we have to put them off or we flip-flop between freezing them out as we prioritise our deadline and fawning in forgiveness when we stick up heads up again. It's far from win-win. It's our own drama triangle of win - lose - overcompensate.

The other side of procrastination is we simply never get round to doing the things we want to, the important things that make life living, as we endlessly put them off for the urgent or ones with the short-term gain rather than the long-term goal. There is always something else to do. Either way, procrastination is not time well-spent and makes us feel bad about ourselves. Learning how to deal with procrastination is one of the most effective ways to change your life.

Woman at work with her head in her hand
Learning how to deal with procrastination is one of the most effective ways to change your life

1. Know your procrastination gremlin

If you are reading this as an important project deadlines looms, you are possibly falling victim to one of the four procrastination gremlins - the novelty seeker gremlin. "This is interesting" you say "this will be more useful than addressing my deadline!" Whoosh - adrenalin hit of the new and shiny ... and procrastination. Working out which type you are, is only half the picture. People typically fall into a pattern of one of these four procrastinators; performer, the self-deprecator, the overbooker, and the novelty seeker. So which type are you?

  1. The Peformer Gremlin: " I need the pressure". And your biggest challenge is simply getting started. How to be more accountable? Set a date for starting your project, with milestones, rather than just the end date

  2. The Overbooker Gremlin: "I'm so busy". You create your own overwhelmed life to avoid the very thing you are procrastination on. How to be more accountable? Work out what you are really avoiding and replace the 'busyness' with the real thing you need to address.

  3. The Self-deprecation Gremlin: "I'm just so lazy" But you aren't really are you. You are actually very busy, very tired and need to rest. How to be more accountable? Give yourself some time, have a break and be more compassionate to yourself, not just others.

  4. The Novelty-Seeker: "This is a great idea!" Moving to the next shiny exciting project means you avoid finishing anything. How to be more accountable? Follow up and finish what you started. This is the precursor to burnout, and not a sustainable strategy for success.

Procrastinating “is the biggest waste of life,” the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote. “It snatches away each day…and denies us the present by promising the future.”

2. Master Motivation

We have heard about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, the forces that compel us to meet our goals, that drive us forward - the 'inner satisfaction' motivation or the more tangible extrinsic one of status, money or reward. So assuming you appreciate a mix of motivation drivers, what else can you do to harness motivation and avoid the dreaded procrastination?

There are 3 areas that you can control, that support motivation. Firstly, stop 'black and white thinking' - acknowlege that some areas are grey, and that you can't have complete clarity, all of the time. Sometimes, you do have to embrace the unknown or the murky - and maybe it even makes life that little bit more colourful.

Secondly, there is no 'silver bullet' or quick fix. It take consistency and effort. Seeing things through and applying yourself fully to the task will actually improve your motivation levels as you are more likely to get into a state of flow as you focus all your inner resources on a task.

And lastly, your motivation levels will rocket if you have an inner self-confidence. So remind yourself of your achievements, write out your strengths, the reasons why this will work and be a success. Feel proud of yourself. And believe it.

3. Swap your Procrastination Gremlins with the 3Ds of Accountability

This is rife in the working world, as accountability barriers and boundaries are blurred. The accountability 3Ds of denial, deflection and diffusion can cause projects to stall, people to work in a cacoon of underperformance and targets to drip away. But there are ways to stop this procrastination gremlin. Having your colleagues deny there is any issue or a problem is the first one. Take a clear look, compile evidence and solid reasoning, and use this to legitimise your concerns.

Deflecting is when a team or colleague attempts to move towards their comfort zone or area, and tries to discuss areas that simply aren't within the remit. Focus on your concern at hand, refuse to be deflected and keep the conversation on track.

Lastly, diffusion is simply the 'over the wall' technique of no-one quite knowing what is wrong, so the issue is unclear, responsibilities are diffused and nothing gets solved. Approach with a 'rugby scrum' technique and get everyone in the room, with all areas focused on the project and concern.

Building an accountability framework is the antidote to procrastination. Learning how to be accountable to yourself, for yourself, helps you to move forward in your life and career. It helps you make the most of your time, and most importantly, fosters a sense of self-belief or 'self-efficacy' as you start to work through your plans, and make your future a reality.


Ella is a trained, accredited Life Coach & licenced Firework Career Coach. She has a background in marketing, internal and change communications, with experience across large corporates to smaller charities. She uses a positive psychological approach to coaching & consultancy 07597157194


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