Despite my reputation for getting things done, I can also procrastinate with the best of them.

And I’m not just talking about the usual suspects like putting off a difficult conversation or waiting until the night before the assignment is due to work on it. This is about the big important projects and I recently experienced a perfect side-by-side example.

When I said I wanted to redecorate my home office, my family assumed it would be transformed in a few weeks. 

But 3 years later, it’s still cluttered with papers with no window treatments and the same rickety conference table we’ve had since we first got married.

In contrast, from the moment I said I would set up a home gym, it took less than 4 weeks to have it up and running.

Clearly, when it comes to getting things done, the same person can have different outcomes in different situations.

I’ve realized there’s a special kind of procrastination that often applies to the bigger things in your career and life. The ones that require a lot more investment in time, effort, money or risk.

So if you’re procrastinating about bigger things like remodeling the kitchen, finding a new job or changing careers altogether, you are not alone.

And here I’ll share three success factors you need to have in place in order to move forward:

  1. Motivation
  2. Clarity
  3. Support

Let’s start with the first success factor.

Find your source of motivation

I had thought about converting part of our garage into a home gym a while ago. But I rejected it since it was an added expense on top of my CrossFit gym membership. Plus it seemed self-indulgent as I would be the main person using it.

When all the gyms closed for a second round of lockdown, the professional basketball team members staying with us needed a place to exercise. That’s when I leapt into action.

Having four other people using the home gym meant I was doing it for others and not just me. And professional athletes need to keep in top physical condition so this was not just important, it was also urgent.

Finding that source of motivation was what I needed to get the job done in record time.

So what’s your level of motivation for that project or investment you’ve been procrastinating on?

If you’re lacking the sense of urgency, think about how you can create it. For example, if someone told me that a film crew was coming to do a photo shoot next week, I’d make sure to have my office in shape.

Or you could make it something positive – like treating yourself to a vacation or hike outdoors once you’ve finished your project.

And if you tend to put yourself last, stop! Remember, you are the “golden goose” without which there would be no golden eggs. If you don’t prioritize your own needs, others won’t either.

Which brings us to the second success factor.

When you have clarity, it’s easy to take action

On the other hand, when you’re not sure what the right way is to do something or how to do it, it’s hard to get into action mode. Uncertainty tends to breed fear, and when you’re in fear mode, it’s hard to think clearly and take the right actions to reach your goal.

Take job hunting for example. Sometimes the lack of clarity can show up as analysis paralysis, like doing a ton of research about the job market but not making any calls or sending emails to activate your network.

Other times, it could be staying busy with repetitive tasks like applying on low probability job boards or draining your energy by worrying so much that you’re too exhausted to take strategic action.

In contrast, the advantage I had in putting together the home gym is that I had a very clear idea of what it should look like.

The role model was my CrossFit gym, which eliminated the need for time-consuming research into the equipment needed and anxiety about whether I might be buying the wrong stuff. And while I didn’t know where to get the equipment, I knew who to ask.

That level of clarity made the project simple to execute. What took the longest time was waiting for the equipment to be back in stock (seems like I wasn’t the only one with the home gym idea).

Renovating my office, on the other hand, was an opportunity to take a blank canvas and start fresh. The only problem was that I had no idea what I wanted.

Sleek modern or traditional furniture? Bright colors or muted earth tones? Window shades or curtains? The choices were endless and the whole project ended up in the “too difficult box” for me.

So think about what isn’t yet clear and see if you can fill in the gaps. And don’t feel like you need to figure this out on your own. As they say, there’s nothing new under the sun, which means there are definitely people out there who can help you gain clarity where you’re stuck.

And this brings us to the third success factor.

It helps to have support

My husband and I discuss significant investments before making a decision. So before I started on the home gym, I knew I had to have the conversation.

I was afraid he might say that we wouldn’t be in lockdown forever or point out that we were still paying for my CrossFit membership. But in fact, he was excited about it and even suggested we put it in our family room which is warmer and has higher ceilings than the garage.

And when I talked to the players living with us, their enthusiasm gave me more motivation to get this done quickly.

Having their support and backing made it so much easier and more joyful to go ahead with ordering the equipment. And I certainly benefitted from their help in carrying all the heavy floor tiles and weights in.

If what’s causing your procrastination is fearing that you don’t have the support of your managers, your team or your family, maybe it’s time to make the case rather than letting assumptions hold you back.

But what if none of the key pieces are in place?

Without motivation, clarity or support you’ll continue to struggle to move your project forward. In fact, it’s a sign that you may need to revisit the project and perhaps decide it isn’t for you right now.

Making the decision to take something off your to do list can be hugely freeing because you’ll no longer be procrastinating. And that ultimately frees your energy and time to pursue the things you do have motivation, clarity and support for.

Just don’t make the mistake of defaulting to the expectations of others

The weight of expectations is a heavy load to bear, especially when those expectations go against your grain.

So if your hesitation to get started is because you really don’t want to manage people or transfer to a new location or whatever the expectation is at the next level, then get clear about what you do want, and that will ease your path.

Remember, your apparent procrastination may be your inner compass trying to guide you toward a better path. Listen for that quiet voice inside you that knows what you really want to do.

So take a look at the things you haven’t gotten done yet

Especially the big and important things you’ve been procrastinating on. And apply these three criteria to see which might be missing.

  1. Motivation: what’s the source of motivation that will make your project something you’re excited to do?
  2. Clarity: to what extent are you clear on what and how to go about the project, and who could help you get clear?
  3. Support: who do you need to have on board and how can you make the case to them?

Once you’ve figured out what’s missing, you can choose a course of action to take to fill in the gaps. And maybe, just maybe, it’s giving yourself permission to let go of that project.

As for redecorating my office, a few extra filing baskets and an additional table surface are enough for me right now. I’m not yet prepared to choose curtain colors and all the things I dread but I will be enjoying my new home gym!

How about you?

Which of these success factors is the missing piece that’s contributing to your procrastination and how will you close that gap?

I’d love to know, so please leave me a comment.