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Why Procrastination Is Not Your Problem Everyone procrastinates. But if you spend your life avoiding doing what matters, that's not procrastination. That's denial.

By Steve Tobak Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Everyone procrastinates. Wherever and whenever there's work to be done, people will make every excuse imaginable not to do it. They will put it off and put it off until they have absolutely no choice but to bite the bullet and finally get it done.

The question is, is that a bad thing?

As a world-class procrastinator, here are three surprising revelations about this misunderstood phenomenon.

Revelation #1: Procrastination is remarkably subjective

One guy's $#*! work is another guy's dream job. Take accounting, for example. Most small business owners can't stand financial reporting. Not accountants. They absolutely live for the stuff.

I invoice and pay bills monthly, but that's all I do until tax time. Everything with dollar signs goes into a single pile in my office. Every year, about a week before meeting with my tax accountant so he can make the April 15th deadline, I move the pile, which by then has become enormous, to my desk. And I stare at it.

I stare at the pile with dread, all the while fantasizing about shredding every single document while laughing hysterically like a lunatic in a horror movie.

Related: The Fine Art of Being a Great Boss

Two days before the meeting, when I have absolutely no alternative, I sit down and start to sift through the pile. By the end of the first day, I've somehow managed to succeed in organizing the pile into about sixteen smaller ones on the floor of my office.

The next day I take out my calculator, make some notes, and place them on top of each pile. And so on.

It actually makes me physically ill to watch my accountant go through the piles and my notes. He looks like he's actually salivating as he turns the pages with one hand and calculates or whatever he does with the other. Meanwhile I sit there like a death row prisoner awaiting my fate.

Maybe that's just a little overly dramatic, but you get the point.

Revelation #2: Some people procrastinate good things

Here's where this gets much, much stranger. Everyone puts off what they desperately do not want to do and I'm no different. But get this: I also put off what I really want to do. There are so many things I would just love to do but, for some reason, never seem to get around to it. I have no idea what this means. I guess it's some bizarre form of reverse procrastination.

I know what you're thinking, but it's not delayed gratification. That's when you resist an immediate reward in favor of some greater reward down the road, like investing part of your paycheck instead of spending it all at once. I'm actually quite good about that, but that's not what I'm talking about.

Related: If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Is

There are movies I've been dying to see but I wait months, sometimes years in anticipation. I cellar great wines, sometimes longer than I should, and anticipate what they might taste like. I always save the best part of whatever I'm eating for the last bite. And when I get to the end of a great book, I savor it and get depressed when I'm done.

It's almost as if I enjoy the journey, the process, the anticipation of an outcome more than the reward itself because, once I get the reward, I know the journey is over. So I procrastinate.

If you have any insight into this phenomenon, keep it to yourself. I don't want to know.

Revelation #3: Procrastination is almost never the problem

I could be wrong, but I suspect people waste so much time reading about procrastination, time management and personal productivity because they're procrastinating. Why else would they spend their precious life on minutiae like that when there are so many wonderful opportunities to do great things?

The truth is, there's nothing wrong with procrastinating as long as you do what matters: get the job done, meet your commitments and work toward accomplishing your long-term goals. If you do that, you'll be fine, guaranteed.

If, on the other hand, you spend your life avoiding doing what matters, procrastination is not your problem. You're either on the wrong path, have the wrong job, lack the drive, or something equally significant. And you're just wasting time instead of dealing with what's really wrong with your life. That's not procrastination. That's denial.

Related: The Key to Happiness: More Work and Less Stuff

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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