Is Your Procrastination Laziness or Fear? Five Fears to Face to Find Out

“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an unfulfilled goal.” – American Philosopher William James.

We all procrastinate sometimes, despite its negative impact on our productivity. The word “procrastinate” comes from the Latin roots pro (forward) and crastinus (belonging to tomorrow), which developed into ­procrastinat in English, meaning “deferred until tomorrow.” Perfect, right?

So why do we knowingly put important things off that we know we need to do? Many of us believe procrastination arises from laziness, and maybe that’s true sometimes. Maybe it’s mostly true for some people. But I believe the chief cause of procrastination is subconscious fear. So let’s take a look at the five fears I believe contribute most to procrastination. If you see yours here, that might explain your procrastination—not laziness.

  1. Fear of failure is a HUGE factor in procrastination, because it includes so many related fears: fear you’ll do the job badly, fear you didn’t prepare enough, fear because you don’t know where to start, fear you don’t know enough, and so on. Ultimately, you fear you’ll mess up the task and look foolish. Well, maybe you will; but if you let procrastination weigh you down, the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling, and you will fail. Spectacularly. But if you at least try, no one can blame you for not making the effort. Nobody does everything right the first time. Do the best you can and learn from the experience, so you can move forward with those lessons in mind. You probably won’t lose your job for failing your first time out, as long as you’re willing to keep trying. Prepare carefully, do the best you can, and deal with the details as they emerge.

  2. Fear of success is also surprisingly common. We all know the best ditch-digger’s reward: a bigger shovel and more work. Are you the “reliable” one in the office—the one your manager counts on to come in on your days off and fix the mistakes others make? If so, you understand the fear of success and the stress that can result. Doing a good job can result in promotions and more money, and it might also result in too much work… and so, subconsciously, some people let themselves fail through procrastination.

  3. Fear of running out of work. This is a constant fear in workplaces where headcount is shrinking through attrition. If you finish all the work on your plate, will you get more—or will your role be eliminated? Even in a good economy, if people are twiddling their thumbs because they’re out of work, the common reaction is to reduce the team’s size and then go through the trouble of rehiring when the work does come. If this fear powers your procrastination, you can’t allow it to continue. Just assume your supervisor will have work for you and ask for projects and increased responsibilities. Otherwise you’ll eventually lose standing, because you’re stretching the work you do have too far.

  4. Fear of the Unknown. When you’re presented with work that’s new to you, or that’s unclear, or that you don’t know where to start, you may feel reluctant to put your shoulder to the wheel and get to work. You can overcome this fear by consulting with someone experienced in that type of work. Ask a colleague or co-worker to introduce you to someone in the field, so you don’t end up reinventing the wheel. Or ask your manager for the training required to do the job right.

  5. Fear of the Task arises when you’re given something you don’t like to do, possibly because it’s difficult, unpleasant, you’re sick of it, or you feel unqualified for it. Maybe you don’t agree with the project and how it’s run or find the task of questionable value or taste. So instead, you do other things first, “deferring until tomorrow.”  At least you’re procrastinating somewhat productively… but you’re still procrastinating.

Do It Anyway

How do these five fears stack up against your procrastination reality? I’m willing to bet at least one resonates with you, and all are understandable. But you have a choice: you can let your fears control you, or you can square your shoulders and do the work you’re paid to do. Obviously living in fear isn’t the answer, so find ways to answer or work around the fears you have control over, and stop worrying about the ones you don’t. Otherwise, you’ll never stop procrastinating.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email, or CONTACT US.

Here’s what others are saying:

“Laura Stack’s session with a group of our seasoned operations managers was eye-opening. We all learned new ways to be more productive with the tools we already have. I’ve never seen each of our seasoned, experienced operations managers so engaged in a session. Many of our senior and mid-level leaders were wowed by what they learned and have already begun using the new techniques with their teams.”
—Mary Pawlowski, Learning Design, Piedmont Natural Gas

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland