I have a first-class badge in procrastination. Not one of my finer qualities, but it’s true. I promise to do something, and – depending on what it is – I put it off or forget about it altogether. Ask any of my colleagues, family, or friends. Ask me to write a blog or mail a package. Nope, not going to happen, or it will take me weeks. As a grad student, I left all papers to the very last minute, hammered them out, then stayed up all night re-writing and tweaking. Recently, a family member was very upset with me – understandably so – for something he’d asked me to do over two months. “I thought I had more time,” I lamented.
So why do I procrastinate? Surely it serves a purpose, or I would have changed my behavior long ago. Perhaps understanding will motivate change, so let’s dig in and see where we land.
Fear of failure. Fear of failure can be a huge contributor. We don’t want the feeling associated with it, so we put off the task to avoid feeling judged, criticized, or that we haven’t measured up! Julien Inesco wrote an extensive article on procrastination outlining several reasons why we avoid.
Perfectionism. “I don’t want to write a blog” is my mantra. I feel satisfied once it’s written, but my god, the process is painful! My inner critic shows up, the editing starts, and it’s overwhelming. I hate it, but I am writing one here, so there you go! I put writing off to avoid the overwhelm.
Distractions. Let’s face it most of us work in distracting environments. Scrolling a cell phone, checking emails, online shopping, text messaging: every time we reward ourselves with a distraction, our brain gets a healthy dopamine hit, and before we know it, an hour has passed, and the ability to concentrate gets flushed. Manage your environment by minimizing distractions, and you stand a much better chance of finishing the task.
Anxiety. Low self-confidence, imposter syndrome, and angst about the outcome can create an uptick in anxiety. If you’re already feeling it, then having to meet a deadline or request one more thing can lead to putting it off. Ironically, a vicious circle is created because putting things off leads to more anxiety and avoidance. One of my clients avoided it so chronically that they became paralyzed in fear, no matter how many intentions or plans they made to address what they needed to do.
Time Management. Setting priorities or feeling overwhelmed with time constraints can lead to putting off tasks. While it’s true that last-minute deadlines can motivate, it’s not ideal. As noted above, it can increase anxiety, leave too little time and generate more avoidance.
So how does one take charge of procrastination? Take action.
- Break tasks into smaller chunks. Do a piece of it and come back to it.
- Use the Pomodoro Method for managing your time. Allocate 25-minute chunks to a task, take a short break, and return to it. This helps concentration and focus.
- Use deadlines. Set a deadline for each task component to increase the potential for completion. A deadline, even if you leave it to the last minute, contributes to small successes, increasing your motivation.
- Reward yourself! When you’ve finished a task, treat yourself to a mini celebration for completion.
- Use your peak productivity time. This might be evening or late afternoon for others. I work best in the morning, so tasks that require more brain power, thoughtfulness, and focus are best done in the morning.
- Two-minute rule. If a task takes two minutes, do that first and get it off your desk. You’ll feel positive getting those things done.
- Seek counseling to explore what’s keeping you stuck in the habit of avoidance. Everyone procrastinates to some extent, but it’s time to look at what lies underneath and if it’s affecting your work or relationships.
Read more about procrastination.
Procrastination, Psychology Today
11 Effects of Procrastination that Can Affect Your Life, Kristin O’Donovan, 2023
9 Simple Reasons why we Procrastinate and How to Fix It