A person laying bored on their bed.

You Aren’t Procrastinating. You Are Bored.

Addressing that boredom is the key to real progress.

The alarm sounds in your mind. Go do it! Go do it! Guilt sets in. You do your best to ignore it. Instead, you scroll on your phone. All the while, you know that the dishes are still there. From the corner of your eye, you can see them. Stacked up, waiting to be cleaned. You turn away. The alarm sounds once more. Don’t forget about that report! Don’t forget about that report! You know all too well what’s still left to be done today: dishes, work report, email, laundry. You sigh.

Your roommate comes in an hour later. “You’re still sitting there? I thought you had things to do.”

You turn to face them. Over their shoulder, you see the dishes. You also spot your laptop on the nearby table. Your email is probably getting unruly. You groan. “Don’t you think you should get to it?” your roommate asks. You groan again, turning away from the responsibilities before you. You’re annoyed with your roommate. How dare they chide me like that! In reality, though, you aren’t mad at them. You’re mad at yourself. You’ve wasted a solid hour on nothing. And still you refuse to get up.

You have nothing but dissatisfaction ahead of you.

 

It’s more than procrastination

To the outsider, this would seem like classic procrastinatory behavior – which it is. But there is something much deeper to it. Below the surface is a vast ocean of boredom. A sea of tedium and listlessness. You don’t enjoy putting things off. You don’t like the feeling of guilt associated with it. And you especially hate wasting countless hours on the couch. But if doing the work and scrolling on your phone are equally unstimulating, you choose the path of least resistance.

The solution to the problem is simple. At least, it would appear so at first glance. You just need to get up and do what you need to do. Clean the dishes, finish the report, respond to email, fold the laundry. But let’s say you did that. Alas, tomorrow you will be back in the same situation. You’ll have dishes to clean, reports to do, emails piling up, and laundry to fold.

To solve the problem of procrastination today, you force yourself to complete those duties. But what about tomorrow? Or next week? Or next month? You can do the work now, but it’s merely a band-aid. The true issue is yet to be resolved. You may win today’s battle against procrastination, but you are losing your life’s war against boredom. Imagine though that things are different. In place of the work report is a graphic design project. In place of email is a client call. Two things you actually want to do. Think of how much easier it will be to clean the dishes and fold the laundry when you have those two things to look forward to.

Chores are inevitable, but by replacing boring activities with stimulating ones, procrastination is no longer a problem.

 

Solve for boredom

In this article from the American Psychological Association, Joseph Ferrari, PhD mentions that, “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator.’ We all put tasks off, but my research has found that 20 percent of U.S. men and women are chronic procrastinators. They delay at home, work, school and in relationships.” We all procrastinate to varying extents. If you’re of the occasional sort, an hour wasted on the couch isn’t a big deal. However, an hour each day spent on the couch will result in a tremendous amount of life lost.

Boredom lies beneath that procrastination. Whether that means you’re bored in your work, your exercise routine, or the people you spend time with, boredom is the true culprit. When you solve that, procrastination dissipates. For example, who is more likely to pop out of bed in the morning? Person A who hates their job and everything about it? Or Person B who derives a great deal of meaning from their work and can’t wait to start their day? Person B, obviously.

If procrastination seems to follow you around, consider the role that boredom is playing in your life. Determine if you are fulfilled across the landscape of who you are. In terms of your:

  • Career,
  • Relationships,
  • Health,
  • Finances,
  • Education,
  • Home, etc.

 

Convert boredom into meaning

Let’s look at career as that’s a major life category. If you are excited about what you do, would you willingly procrastinate on it? I’m not talking about resting or breaks, I’m talking about procrastinating. Of course you wouldn’t! In fact, you’d likely rush through the chores of the day – the laundry, the dishes, etc. – so as to get to your work even sooner. You wouldn’t delay. You wouldn’t want to delay. Your work is stimulating. You look forward to it. Boredom isn’t an issue and thus neither is procrastination.

Conversely, if you dislike your job, if you are dissatisfied in the work, the industry, and the opportunities, you will do whatever you can to put it off. To hide from it. To scroll the time away. But that only does a disservice to yourself and your time. Procrastination abounds and boredom lives on.

Here’s what I suggest then. If procrastination is a regular companion, consider what a fulfilling life looks like to you. Then measure your current life against that. Notice the areas that could use adjusting. Then let the excitement of that better future pull you forward. Let it motivate you to make a change. Procrastination has deeper roots than simply putting off a task. In reality, you are bored. Bored with your career, health, or home. Possibly all three and then some. Spend time considering what a fulfilling life for you looks like. Plan it out. Begin to take action on it.

Then watch as procrastination turns into motivation. Watch as you no longer gravitate towards the couch. Watch as your roommate comes in and finds you passionately typing away on a new project. “Wow,” they’ll say. “You already did the dishes?”

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