What is procrastination?

Although we know it’s overly simplistic, at SlothZero we have found it useful to determine your SlothType based on which of the pillar(s) below is the biggest problem for you:
If you are a “pure type” of sloth, you are Red, Blue, or Yellow according to the diagram above.
  • Red Sloths forget what they have to do until it’s too late. The coach’s main mission is to remind them of what they need to do in a timely manner.
  • Blue Sloths are so disorganized that even if they remember what they need to do, they lose track of it, or can’t decide what to do first
  • Yellow Sloths get easily diverted, distracted, and off-track, so they either fail to get clear on their goals or, if they are clear, get distracted and fail to achieve them.

Disorganized Type

At the heart of most procrastination are, typically, an absence of good work habits and the presence of bad work habits. Between the two, procrastinators find themselves unable to efficiently and effectively work towards their goals. Oftentimes, our clients simply don’t know how to organize themselves efficiently, and it is this task — organization — that we help with.
Here are some common subtypes of organizational problems which we like to describe as failure of know-how — a framing that correctly implies that you can learn your way out of them:
  • Not knowing your goals
  • Not knowing how to prioritize your goals (which is more important, or which needs to be reached sooner, than another)
  • Not knowing how to break goals down into doable steps or tasks
  • Not knowing how to give time estimates to tasks
  • Not knowing how to use a calendar to structure your day, week, month, year
  • Not knowing how to use a to-do list every day, rain or shine, to make sure things don’t get missed
  • Not knowing how to identify when you are procrastinating
  • Not knowing how to ask for help in overcoming your procrastination
  • Not knowing when things are snowballing (going from bad to worse) and how to stop the snowball

Disorganization is a deeper problem than negative emotions

Psychotherapy is an important part of modern life. We all have emotional and psychological baggage and issues that benefit from being examined with a thoughtful, caring, other person — a wise ally who is on our side. Psychotherapy is perfectly designed to help people explore the first set of problems we just described: negative emotions and thinking, like anxiety and self-hatred. 
But psychotherapy is very bad at addressing the second set of problems. Simply put, psychotherapists are bad at helping clients with their organizational problems, because while the emotional problems are happening inside the therapy room, the organizational ones aren’t. The therapist doesn’t get a clear, clean look at their client’s disorganization.
Happily, the disorganization problem is both “deeper” than the negative emotions problem, but — happily! — easier to fix. It doesn’t require psychotherapy or exploration of your unconscious psychology, something that a therapist might help with. Rather, it requires an accountability coach who can help you.
All our clients have a common problem, although each has their own personal version of it: they either have trouble setting goals, working successfully to achieve those goals, using the proper techniques when working, or all three. The end result: they don’t. This can manifest in many areas of their lives – “activities of daily living” (ADLs), e.g., laundry; homework and class attendance; exercise and eating well; writing and replying to emails; job searching; staying in touch with friends and family; dating. It looks different for everyone, and we can relate! Everyone procrastinates to some extent.
There are as many procrastination “methods” as there are types of procrastination, e.g., “forgetting,” “avoiding,” “flaking.”
Luckily, a common solution can address all these types and methods of procrastination. We know it’s not about a lack of willpower or desire to change/not procrastinate. Even the best intentions and strongest will cannot change over the long term. What does work is creating new habits and fostering them with another person – e.g., an accountability coach! – who can help keep them accountable and motivated. The great news is that once the habit is created and firmly in place it doesn’t take much mental effort to sustain – they become automatic and don’t require strong willpower.
We believe at SlothZero that habits are best formed in partnership with another person and that will be our primary focus in working with you.

Fixing the Three Pillars of Procrastination

Framing the problem of procrastination in three pillars leads to a natural solution. Each SlothType implies its own particular treatment — meaning what their coach needs to do to get them to finish their work. 
  • Red Sloths need to be reminded of what they need to do in a timely manner. They need texts, emails, phone calls, zooms, or even in-person visits to remind them to get to work now.
  • Blue Sloths need help planning through the use of goal-setting, to-do lists, and calendar creation.
  • Yellow Sloths need focus — to be chaperoned and baby-sat and proctored, either by a community of like-minded sloths or by a coach or other ally — so that they stay on task until their work is done.

The Bad Balance

No matter what type they are, what all procrastinators have in common is that they give “more weight” to their short-term moods than to their long-term achievement. This means that in the “battle” between mood and achievement, mood wins. The more often your mood wins, the worse your procrastination.
It is important to emphasize just how “radical” this theory is, at least compared to what outsiders tend to see and say about procrastinators. This balancing model is not about a bunch of concepts that procrastinators hear a lot.
  • It’s not about laziness.
  • It’s not about willpower.
  • It’s not about organization skills.
  • It’s not about executive function.
  • It’s not about motivation.
Rather, it is a good old-fashioned competition between the procrastinator’s short-term and long-term needs, with them repeatedly deciding that it is better to avoid pain in the present rather than to feel pleasure in the future. Look at this figure:
Consider an example from one of our clients when we first met her. She knew she wanted to lose forty pounds and that diet was not enough to get her where she wanted to be. She needed to exercise to burn calories and inspire her to eat better when she went home (she tended to eat carbs at night). She also knew that this weight loss plan would take around a year to accomplish, so that the green box, on the left hand side of the balance beam above, represents “losing forty pounds in a year.”
But the problem was that she felt intensely ashamed of how her body looked, particularly in workout clothing. In fact, it was so humiliating for her to be seen in her workout clothes that she simply could not bring herself to go to the gym. She had signed up and was paying monthly, but every time she got to the gym doors she would hesitate for a moment and then…. walk on by, straight home, where she would often take comfort in a bag of chips and her favorite TV show. So the red box, on the right hand side of the balance beam above, represents “avoiding the shame of being seen in gym clothes.”
Now that you know what the two boxes represent, you can see how she made her decision. Our client was giving more weight to avoiding humiliation than she was to losing those forty pounds. Thus in her mind, when faced with the decision “to go to the gym, or not to go to the gym, that is the question!” she chose not to go the gym. It was the weightier option.
But now look at what happened to our client over her time working with us (see the figure below).
With a lot of careful thought and brainstorming and planning and practice, using self-compassion, forgiveness, baby-steps, and just good old fashioned human connection with a trusted coach, she changed the weight of the green and red boxes. Slowly but surely her future need to be skinnier began to outweigh her present need not to feel ashamed. In a nutshell, she decided to accept the shame in exchange for the gym attendance. In fact she decided to use one of our little catch phrases — “no shame, no gain” — to get herself to march into the gym, change into her workout clothes, and work with a personal trainer to get in shape. She lost sixty pounds over a year and a half, and has kept it off for five years. Success!
With your coach you will learn to love this diagram of the balances, and learn to verbally state what’s in each of the boxes. You’ll do this when you are procrastinating, so that you can visualize the unhealthy decision you are making, but you will also do this when you stop procrastinating, so you can visualize the healthy decision you are making. The beauty of this model is that it is the same model for problematic and healthy thinking.

Pain Management

Remember those pictures in your grade-school science book about the earth’s layers? They looked something like this:
Well, from a psychological standpoint the procrastination problem is organized something like the earth.

Top Layer: Defensive Procrastination

Everything that third-party outside observers see — the procrastination itself — is the behavioral “crust.” If you look at the figure below, all the various defenses that the world calls procrastination.
These behavioral/cognitive defenses include:
  • Perfectionism
  • Gaslighting yourself (“I was crazy to think I could get that job”) and gaslighting others (“I never wanted to go to law school!”)
  • Forgetting (“I didn’t know that was due yesterday!” “oh shoot, I never paid that ticket!”)
  • Disorganization (“I never keep a calendar — and I lose my to-do list!”)
  • Resting (“I’ll take a quick nap and then I’ll start my paper”)
  • Distraction (“Ok so let’s open the document… oooh! Taylor Swift broke up with her boyfriend!” click)
  • Misunderstanding (“oh, when you said it was due next week last week I thought you meant next week from this week.”)
  • Goal shifting (“I realize I don’t need to write a novel, this is more like a short story. Actually it’s more like a haiku. Actually I don’t like writing. What’s for lunch?”)
  • Avoidance (you have to return a scary email so first you turn on the TV to check the score of the regular season game of the team you don’t care about in the sport you don’t like so you can tell the guy you sit next to in class that you watched it because it seemed like he wanted you to.)
  • Perfectionism (“it’s due in an hour, but I really need to edit it a fourth time, I think the bibliography needs to be in Courier, let’s just see where we are after I’ve read it over again and deal then. He’d rather have it perfect than on time.”

Middle Layer: Negative Emotions

Underneath a procrastinator’s superficial behaviors are the negative emotions that are driving those behaviors. Take a close look at this orange later and notice how some are far more socially acceptable than others.
  • Depression: “I’m bummed I didn’t get my paper in on time.”
  • Regret: “I should have started it earlier”
  • Anxiety: “I’m scared I’m going to do a bad job.”
  • Doubt: “I don’t think I can handle organic chemistry.”
Nobody in the procrastinator’s life will be particularly alarmed to hear about these emotions, and they will find it easy to discuss with you. And discussing them is very important, because avoiding these emotions drives a lot of procrastination behavior.
But other emotions are socially unacceptable and you should expect them to take much longer to get to.
  • Grandiosity: “I’m completely amazing, if I ever finish this song it’s going to blow people’s minds.”
  • Entitlement: “I’m so good at hearing music and knowing what works and what doesn’t that writing a great song should only take 30-45 minutes.”
  • Envy: “Taylor Swift is such a hack loser. “Whaah whaah my boyfriend left me.” I could write a million songs better than her.”
  • Shame: “Everyone must think I’m such a loser that I always said I was going to write a pop song that made it to the top of the charts and I’m 24 and still haven’t done it.”
These emotions are not going to become apparent until deep into your coaching with a client. Don’t try to ferret them out too soon!

Inner Core: Self-Esteem

The fantastic news is that underneath all these horrible emotions is healthy self esteem. We are all born with it. We feel that we are worth it. We feel we matter. We feel we are valid. We feel legitimate when we pursue our own needs.
Coaches “drill down” from the procrastination crust, through the negative emotion “middle core” into the healthy “inner core” and let it flow up and out to the surface where it can produce good, timely work:
In short, you can think of procrastination as the behavioral or observable “outward sign” of “inner” psychological problems that generates procrastination. Solve these problems, and you overcome procrastination. These inner problems are negative emotions and disorganized thinking. Here at Slothzero we know that we have to solve these inner problems in order to solve the procrastination problem, and of the two, we know that the most fundamental one, and therefore the one that we take very steady aim at, is the disorganization problem.

Ready to finally show those negative emotions who's boss?

Understanding how procrastination works is one thing—but it’s hard to overcome it on your own. Our productivity experts at Slothzero can help you reach your goals! Click the button below to schedule a free, no-pressure consultation with Lacey, our friendly intake specialist.