Know your Procrastination Triggers

There’s a reason I don’t play fantasy sports.

There’s a reason you don’t … (fill in the blank)

For me, fantasy sports is a category of online triggers which I know will cause me to severely procrastinate and negatively affect my life.

In general, there are certain physical or emotional situations you can place yourself in to set yourself up for failure.

Said another way, there are triggers or events that lead to provoking a certain behavior in all of us.

If that hurt your head, don’t worry.  This is a huge topic.  So, let’s narrow in specifically on recognizing procrastination triggers while creating digital assets.

It’s hard for anyone to focus for a full day on any topic, but it gets worse when you have the internet at your fingertips.  Have you ever been down a Wikipedia wormhole (Hm…I need an example of an infographic from Wikipedia) only to come out hours later… (I didn’t know Cambridge had a monument there…)?

Wikipedia Rabbit hole - DeJaVu., 06 Sep. 2017,

What happened?

In David DiSalvo’s book What makes your Brain happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, David writes that

Most of us are mentally elsewhere between 30-50 percent of our waking hours…but like so many of adaptive functions, the more we indulge it the more likely we are to take a fall

David suggests a little of this is ok.  But if you find yourself drifting continually, it is going to have negative consequences.  You will find yourself losing work and increasing in stress and anxiety. When that happens it might be time to try to fight back by starting to recognize the triggers.


It’s the reason I stopped playing RISK online at

One of my Triggers

I carried over a love of the board game RISK from high school.  We used to have RISK tournaments (Shout out to the RISK crew!)  in high school.  We played original and Lord of the Rings version, we even played futuristic RISK 2210 with Dan Barker!  Check out the variations if you’re a RISK fan.

It carried over into college, and I discovered

It’s a great site to play people all over the world in RISK on various maps.  I had a good score and high win percentage.  I was ranked about 700/5000 (86% percentile) from all over the world.  (can you tell I was proud of that?)

What happened next was bad.  It consumed me.  I would think about my strategy night and day.  I would get out of class and work out odds in my head.  It went from me having a ton of fun, to a negative trigger that severely increased my stress.  And I didn’t notice it happening.


Rome didn’t fall in a day.


My trigger here was giving into a game instead of work that would have been more productive.  I was seeking happiness through manipulating the objective based outcome, avoiding loss and proving I was correct.  Add in mathematics with a hint of geography and I was hooked.

Alert: You know you’re hooked when you avoid things you should be doing to feed your obsession.  (Why are you reading this right now?  Should you be doing something else?)

In fact, one of my overarching struggles is that I find games fun and challenging.  If you caught the subtle paradox, it’s that you can overdo fun when you know you should not be procrastinating.


Let’s consider a trigger framework.

When I {blank}, I typically {blank}.

When I play games on, I waste hours I could have spent elsewhere.


Your situation might be more or less severe.  At the end of your day, recap and think about your lost time.  Recapping alone might be challenging.  Try it out.  Where are you spending time?

When I {blank}, I typically {blank}.


If you’re reading this, congratulations, you are a better person because now you’re actively thinking about how you are using time units.  We each only get so many in our lifetime.

Good news!  You’ve now recognized a trigger.


But wait, there is even more good news…

There are ways to fight it.  Here are two techniques that work for me.


Zoom out, then try to Circumvent the Trigger.

Our emotions can overwhelm our rational thought.  Often our hearts and minds disagree on subjects so we can try hacks to trick ourselves.

Chip and Dan Heath in Switch use an analogy of an elephant (emotions) and rider (logic) and it’s path (environment).  Give it a read.  The authors dive deep into “how to change when change is hard”.

  • Stayfocusd (and similar alternatives) is a great app that I use regularly to trick myself and limit the trigger.  It’s a Google Chrome browser extension that helps me keep my elephant on a clear path.  For example, I set a and daily allowance at 20 minutes since they have a tendency to be time wasters.  If I’m on those sites for more time than that, the app kicks me off.
  • Try to schedule your time to avoid the trigger.  Create a daily schedule to fill the units of time so you’re not using them unwisely.  It may even help to schedule time physically away in some instances.  I use Google Calendar to manage my months and weeks.

In my case when I was on, I wish I had a better handle circumventing.  My fix was to limit the number of games, then wean myself off the site and eventually stop completely.


Use Triggers for Good.

Triggers work the other way around too.  Try to put yourself in a situation to succeed.

Do you notice you work better with country music on, rock and roll or no music?  For me, I get in the zone playing music with few lyrics such as classical or electronica.  I think Julie has heard enough DeadMau5 for a lifetime.

Maybe “When I {go for a walk during the day}, I typically {get more restful sleep}”?

Great.  Now fill in some of your positive triggers and experiment by being deliberate about them.

Try to chip away and form a habit so you can add it to your routine.



I’m sure there are many more techniques that work for you.  Please feel free to share them here or drop me a line.

Disclaimer: I shared one of the triggers I’ve recognized and so far overcome.  I’m not perfect and I still struggle with procrastination today.  Ask my family.  Every day is a battle but we can work together and encourage each other to make our burden a little lighter.

Now to watch the TED talk about the procrastination monkey again.