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Procrastination and Victimhood

Brian Smith


Last week, I shared the Drama Triangle with you. This week, we’re diving into one of the most common types of victimhood and self-sabotage that I regularly see with founders, entrepreneurs, and high-achievers: procrastination and busyness.


Many of the clients I work with come to me on the verge of burnout from the sheer amount of activities and commitments they have on their plates.  Initially, most of these clients want help becoming more productive or better managing their time so that they can “get it all done.”


Some clients of mine present procrastination as a challenge they are trying to overcome. Often, their procrastination is masquerading as busyness (“I just don’t have enough time to get ahead”), but this is simply an excuse.

Inevitably, as we dig into their schedules and their to-do lists, we find that busyness or procrastination has become a crutch for them. When we view this through the lens of the Drama Triangle, we find something very interesting:

What the client thinks:

Victim: Self
Persecutor: Busy schedule
Rescuer: Takes many forms

How the client talks:

Victim: Self
Persecutor: Poor work quality, poor results, unhappy investors, etc.
Rescuer: Procrastination or Busyness

Wait, what? How can the problem act as the Rescuer? Simple: most of us treat these excuses as legitimate conditions or ways of being. We often accept them as a reality, rather than actively challenge them. The excuse of being too busy to give a project your full attention, or waiting until the very last moment to complete a task rescues us from having to face the reality: we didn’t do as good of a job as we believe we are capable of doing. What would have happened if you gave that project 100% of your focus and attention and it still didn’t turn out the way that you wanted? What would that mean about you?

Most of these challenges don’t magically appear once you begin building a company. Especially procrastination, and to a lesser extent busyness, appear early in many of our lives. Procrastination typically becomes very apparent in college. Let’s examine how it works with an example:

You’re in college and it’s the end of the year. Finals are coming up. You’ve got multiple projects and papers to do, so you don’t really know where to start. Not to mention, everyone will be leaving for summer break, so you want to spend time with your friends. So many competing commitments and desires! You put off studying until the day before your statistics test. You stay up all night, fueled by caffeine and Adderall, to cram for the test. You walk out of the test feeling pretty good about how you performed. A few weeks later when you get your grade, you got a B+. You think to yourself “damn, I did pretty well consider I only studied for this test the night before taking it!”

Everything in our lives serves a purpose, so what is procrastination is serving in this example? Procrastination and busyness both serve the same purpose: they save us from facing our true selves. By procrastinating, you don’t give 100% effort to a task or project. You’ve got a built-in excuse for not doing as well as you believe you could. And that’s the key: we want to believe that we’re capable of accomplishing much more, but we didn’t simply because we procrastinated.

The procrastinator is trying to avoid a situation where they put 100% effort into a project and still are met with less than optimal results. For example, if you were to study all semester for an exam and you still only got a B+, you’d be forced to face the fact that you may not be as good as you thought you were. While we all want to believe we’re A+ students, landing a B+ despite your best efforts can be hard to face.

The reality of procrastination and the Drama Triangle is:

Victim: Self
Persecutor: Fear of not being good enough
Rescuer: Procrastination

This is exactly why productivity tools, changes in habits, and task management systems almost never work to cure procrastination or an overly packed schedule. The issue isn’t in how the work is completed or scheduled. The underlying problem is the fear that you aren’t good enough. Sorry, but Asana & Trello can’t help you with that.

Overcoming procrastination is a process of challenging the way that you relate to perfection and failure. It requires the ability to face yourself head-on and recognize that you may not be as skilled or competent as you once thought you were. This type of personal growth not only improves your productivity but makes you a better leader. Being honest about your abilities and shortcomings instills trust in your leadership, but it helps you to build a more functional, cohesive, and well-rounded team.

Functional steps to Overcome Procrastination:

  • Admit to yourself (and others!) that procrastination or an overly packed to-do list isn’t a byproduct of your work habits or situation. It’s an excuse.

  • Pick a single project and put your focus entirely into that one project. Don’t allow yourself to switch between projects throughout the day or week. Work on one until it’s done.

  • Prioritize your projects and commitments. Don’t allow a lower priority to encroach upon a higher priority project.

  • Practice saying “no” to things that are not supporting your highest priority projects.

  • Work with a coach or a confidant who can help you to address feelings of inadequacy, impostor syndrome, or fear of not being good enough. This work can be powerful and the impacts of addressing these feelings can have far-reaching impacts in your life.

Ready to attack procrastination in your life? Contact me to schedule a time to discuss the impact coaching can have on your life.

(Image credit.)