I’m a procrastinator, but I’m not a gambler. Yet I would be entirely confident in betting that you’re a procrastinator just like I am. How can I be so sure?

Everyone procrastinates; they just don’t talk about it. Procrastination has gained a bad reputation, but I’m out to prove that it can actually be a strategy for moving forward quickly and achieving bigger and better results in any area of life.

As the founder of Strategic Coach® and creator and coach of The Strategic Coach® Program for successful business owners, I’m especially aware that procrastination is an intensely-charged problem for any entrepreneur. It’s also their carefully guarded secret.

We need to talk.

It’s interesting that when you come right out and ask people if they procrastinate, they’re very forthcoming. They have no problem sharing their latest frustration about feeling “stuck” on a project, an idea, an important phone call, and so on. Just ask, and it’s amazing the experiences that come pouring out.

Yet, until people can actually talk about it, it’s generally a negative experience. They’re embarrassed by the fact that they procrastinate. They see it as a character flaw—and have the mistaken impression that they procrastinate but other people don’t. It’s isolating.

Talking about it and realizing that everyone procrastinates is the first step to jumping in and getting it done.

PULL QUOTE (IF POSSIBLE): The word “should” is your clue that you’re in procrastination stasis—stuck.

The intelligence behind procrastination.

The universal experience of procrastination involves putting off something we know we should do but, for some reason, can’t motivate ourselves to do it. It’s a mistake, though, to think there’s no good reason for procrastinating. In fact, it’s likely there’s a very good rea­son—even an intelligent one.

My observation is that we always procrastinate for an intelligent reason. We know we have to move forward, but there’s something missing in the situation that keeps us from taking action.

Our hesitation is our indicator that something isn’t quite right. This is a perfectly intelligent reason to pause and think it through.

The importance of understanding the payoff.

The unintelligent—and harmful—side of procrastination is that, although there is an intelligent reason behind it, we don’t go deeper to find out what that reason is. We don’t ask ourselves why.

Ask yourself why you’re procrastinating in any given situation, and the reason will come out. You’ll see that there’s something missing, there’s a deficiency, or something has to be added before you feel you have the capability and confidence to move forward in a uniquely creative way.

You’re in a situation where you feel obligated to take action to produce a certain result—yet you haven’t fully worked out what the real payoff is if you complete the action. Instead of focusing on your pain points, shift that focus to the bigger and better payoff.

The growth fear factor.

The reason a lot of people don’t like growing is that, in its early stages, it’s not a positive experience. In fact, it’s tremendously uncomfort­able. You’re filled with adrenaline that’s pushing you forward, but you’re lacking the capability that would ideally go along with it.

My greatest tendency to procrastinate is always when I’m challenged to grow. I have to develop new skills, gain new knowledge, and strengthen my teamwork. I’m good at this, yet every time I’m challenged with a new demand to grow, it scares me. People think I must be good at meeting this challenge, but as you grow, the stakes become higher and the results are far bigger—thus, the 2 a.m. worries that most entrepreneurs have experienced.

But this is what the growth process looks like, and because I always want to be growing, I have to make friends with fear and the need for courage. I have to normalize this experience.

With a shift in mindset …

When I started delving more deeply into the subject of procrastination, I realized what a useful discussion this could be for entrepreneurs.

Along the way, I started to see that with a shift in thinking, anyone could use procrastination as a strategic tool or resource for what to do next. Rather than being considered a negative experience or character flaw, procrastination then becomes a highly useful capability.

In my case, I had to look no further than my commitment to write a book a quarter for 25 years, a project that involves about six or seven other people on my team. I realized a few books in that I would procrastinate for about a week in the middle of the process. Of course, I had become a bottleneck holding up the whole project for everyone.

… the potential for a new ability.

I asked myself why I was procrastinating on this project and wrote down my insights. By far the most exciting insight was that I could actually use procrastination as a strategic tool to figure out the three most important things I should be doing the very next day!

I realized that because we keep our procrastination a secret, and it’s never a topic of discussion, we can’t get any value out of it. We have this sense that it’s a waste of energy, but I’ve learned that it’s not really wasted—it’s just trapped.

In fact, if you use procrastination as your key indicator for your most important things to work on tomorrow, it’s directing your key activities for the day. You’re clear about what the outcome will be, and you get results quickly. The burst of energy you experience when you break through is actually the energy that was trapped in your procrastination.

Always be growing.

I’d venture to say that procrastination is probably here to stay, so why not get it working in your favor? In fact, I would go a step further and say that the only way to truly stop procrastination is to stop having any personal ambitions about a bigger and better future. And I never intend to do that.

A shift in how you think about procrastination can be the start of one of the most transformative experiences of your life: By changing your mindset, you can transform every procrastination you’ve experienced in your life into a posi­tive and creative capability. It’s a source that’s rich in possibilities once you get rid of the negativity.

About the Author

Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan is the founder and president of The Strategic Coach Inc. and creator of the Strategic Coach® program, which works with entrepreneurs to reach new heights of success and happiness. He has authored over 30 publications over his 42 years as a highly-regarded speaker, consultant, strategic planner, and coach to entrepreneurial individuals and groups.