I’ve often thought about why we Procrastinate. If one was logical, one would assume if there’s something that needed to be done and was Urgent/Important or rewarding enough, we’d get on to it right away.

Here’s what it would look like on a diagram:

Procrastination vs Payoff

The reality however is people are seldom logical. As humans we’re governed partly by our intelligent mind and partly by our feelings and desires. Maybe we’re avoiding a task because we have a low sense of worth or a self-defeating mentality. Maybe we’re avoiding a task because it’s small, petty and annoying (not worth doing). Maybe we’re avoiding a task because it’s too big and we don’t know where to begin (too hard).

Here’s what this would look like on a diagram:

Procrastination vs Pain

Whatever the actual reasons are, generally when the Pain associated with doing a particular task increases, so too does the level of Procrastination. That’s just human nature – we run away from things which cause us pain.

Let’s consider a couple of typical examples.

  • Doing the school report: I’d have to do some research at the library and online. I’m going to have to read lots and take notes. After all that, I’d have to compile the data and write the actual report.
  • Going for a 5km run: I’d have to wake up earlier than I normally would. It’d be freezing cold in the morning. I’d have to go to bed earlier. Then there’s the actual run itself – painful and exhausting.

I’m sure you can think of better things to do than that school report or 5km run. It wouldn’t be hard. Let’s see, how about sitting in front of the TV and watching the latest episode of Heroes or Desperate Housewives? Or, calling Jane, your best friend whom you haven’t spoken to for a month? Maybe, you could be making a nice ham and cheese sandwich instead since you had a small lunch?

The good news is Procrastination is a function of both Pain and Payoff. In reality, the relationship is more like so:

Procrastination vs Pain and Payoff

As before, Procrastination increases along with Pain.

However, this tapers off as things become more urgent and important. For instance, looming deadlines can kick start us into action this instant! That report is due tomorrow, so we’d better get cracking now. There’s only two more months to the wedding, we’d better start getting up early for a run.

The Payoff also seems more real and tangible. Doing that report 3 weeks in advance has no perceivable increase in Payoff compared to doing it 2 weeks in advance. However, if the report was due tomorrow, the Payoff of doing versus not-doing the report is now very significant. It could be the difference between a pass or fail. Again, similarly with the run. Wedding photos don’t lie so if we didn’t want to look fat, we better start losing the weight now or there won’t be enough time.

So given this information, what can we do to combat Procrastination?

Stop for a moment and think of a particular task you’ve been avoiding. Why have you been putting it off? Is it because of the amount of effort involved? Is it because you don’t have enough time? Is it because you don’t know how to begin? Whatever the reasons, consider the following tips:

  • Experience Quantification: Use the Experience Quantification technique to increase the attractiveness of a task by either downgrading the associated Pain or boosting the associated Payoff.
  • Set aside some time: Use time boxes, schedule them in your calendar and when the time comes stick to the plan.
  • Develop some positive patterns and habits: Get into the habit of doing things and working around good patterns. You’re more likely to keep at things when they become second nature.
  • Look at alternate ways of doing things: Don’t just assume every problem is a nail if you have a hammer. Try to look for alternative approaches which may simplify things.
  • Pace yourself: Don’t go our strong only to burn out before you get to the finish line. Pace yourself. Break the problem down into smaller chunks and tackle each in turn. You may also apply other great problem solving nuggets.
  • Stay motivated: Big and important tasks often require hard work and dedication. Often it’s not a sprint but more of a marathon. Keep yourself motivated with appropriate rewards at key milestones and work within the 10R Success framework.
  • Do it now: Don’t let the Broken Windows Theory eventuate. Take on problems early and often, before they get too big and too hard to overcome.

I believe there is a threshold associated with Procrastination. This action/inaction boundary is determined by both Pain and Payoff. These simple tips are all designed to either reduce the Pain associated with a given task or increase the Payoff.

Good luck in your fight against Procrastination!

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16 Responses to “Fight Procrastination!”

  1. David says:

    amen to that! just what i needed to hear! thanks!

  2. Fight Procrastination! — Inspiration, Personal Growth, Art and Photography says:

    [...] Dave Cheong wrote a great post about Procastination, and it’s relationship to Payoff and Pain. Here is a snippet. Click on the links to read the whole article. I’ve often thought about why we Procrastinate. If one was logical, one would assume if there’s something that needed to be done and was Urgent/Important or rewarding enough, we’d get on to it right away. [...]

  3. dan says:

    I was procrastinating doing something else to read this article. Alas, I enjoyed this article and browsed through some others. Nice work. I think I’m going to try to wake up earlier. Thanks for the motivation. Good luck on your journey.

  4. Dave Cheong says:

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for dropping by and good luck to you also. Don’t procrastinate. If you want to be an early riser, start now.

    All the best,


  5. Bob says:

    hi Dan,

    Interesting article. I have an important opinion about it to say. I’ll write it tomorrow.

    “Why doing something today when you can think about it, and do it better tomorrow?” – Anonymous.

  6. 3 Simple Ways to Battle Procrastination - Zoomstart says:

    [...] Fight Procrastination! [...]

  7. Maria says:

    Great reminding tips. Thanks. Perhaps, sometimes, we procrastinate to avoid people too as tasks may involve difficult-to-handle associates and in order not to confront them, we procrastinate. It’s just like what Dave says, the “pain”. Procrastination is not the ultimate solution but once there is a clue/the truth unravelled, there is a lighted path towards the exit.

  8. Fighting procrastination when working independently | IT Consultant | TechRepublic.com says:

    [...] You’d think that you’d only be tempted to procrastinate when you believe that you have plenty of time to get all your work done.  But the truth is quite a different story.  When I have one client waiting for a specification, another waiting on code, a third on help debugging a problem, and a fourth on a weekly TechRepublic article, guess what I do?  Apply software updates, read my feeds, chat with apotheon, play a game of backgammon, check my Technorati stats, anything but work on what so urgently demands my attention.  On the other hand, when I only have a few well laid-out tasks to perform, then I’m ready to get them done and check them off. [...]

  9. goof says:

    The graphs appear to have a defect: Procrastination is on the axis. Therefore it is on the ’cause’ side of things however the analysis treats it on the ‘result’ side.. aren’t you discussing why we procrastinate?

  10. Sridhar says:

    Awesome… Don’t you think procrastinators work more efficiently sometimes? They always look for an easier way to accomplish their task ^_^

  11. Harman says:

    Reply to Sridhar’s Comment:
    Awesome… Don’t you think procrastinators work more efficiently sometimes? They always look for an easier way to accomplish their task ^_^

    My Reply:

    The point is that we procrastinate looking for easier ways of doing things too. The article also states the same that we have to “Look at alternate ways of doing things”.

    Very Nice Article Dave :)

  12. An Entrepreneur - At Last says:

    [...] If you’re going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. So after years of procrastination and self doubt, I have decided to finally start living my dream and be an Entrepreneur. [...]

  13. Alex says:

    Great article – though bear in mind exercise is better done in the afternoon – fits in better with the body clock.


    “Going jogging of a morning can be severely injurious to health. Not to mention life. Your blood pressure is at its highest for the first 3 hours after waking, blood vessels are not so elastic and blood itself is much stickier in the morning (I know how it feels), which all adds up to a heart attack waiting to happen, if you engage in anything at all strenuous. By contrast, afternoon exercise can lower blood pressure by as much as 10%. In the morning, it has either no effect, or a slight increase (from its already high point).”

  14. Andy says:

    I don’t agree, because when you procrastinate you usually come out with easy and productive idea when you are not you just working not smart. Hour of procrastination might save a lot hours of work as it allow brain work transparently. The power of procrastination is so strong. May be your work is a digger to say so:)

  15. Andy says:

    Procrastination is bad only for simple job. I checked the customers like ideas which you come out in 5 minutes to deadline. Procrastination exists for a reason.

  16. Andy says:

    I know procrastination is so pain but it is so rewarded in new methods ideas and approaches. Let’s think there are work for 8 hours. You might procrastinate 4 hours and then make all work for 1 hour and you have 3 hours free. Of course it created pain because you putting yourself when you have no time to finish but it is rewarded.

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