Procrastination Is More Than Putting Things Off. Here’s How To Kick the Habit
Procrastination. At the beginning of every year, we promise ourselves that we’ll slay this beast. We make lists, buy journals, try new apps, but no matter what, we often wind up falling into the same cycle of delay and avoidance — putting things off, day after day.
If you’ve resolved to quit procrastinating, it might help to know there’s more to it than just delaying tasks. Therapist Anastasia Locklin describes chronic procrastination as “an inability to regulate negative or fearful emotions or feelings.” Research shows that people tend to prioritize short-term mood over long-term goals and that they’re more likely to put off tasks that don’t have quick rewards. As Locklin says, “Your present self often values immediate gratification over the long-term goals.”
Procrastination and perfectionism often go hand in hand. As some researchers have concluded, perfectionists “experience a chronic sense of falling short of their own personal standards,” triggering their procrastination. Locklin says the mental narrative goes something like this: “I’ll just wait until I’m in a setting or situation where I can be completely perfect at it.”
Culture is to blame for some forms of procrastination. Black women tend to put off self-care activities — like vacations and doctor’s appointments — because they’re often taught (and expected) to prioritize caring for others. “I know personally, for myself as a woman of color, some of the things that I’ve been told is that if you care for yourself and only care about yourself, then you’re selfish,” Locklin shares.
Black women can also feel like they have to work twice as hard to be recognized in their careers. “I think sometimes we attach our self-worth to our own productivity and [feel] we’re only as valuable as how successful we are,” Locklin explains. “That makes us almost put our own self-care and self-preservation on the back burner.”
To combat procrastination — on the big things and the little things — here’s what Locklin recommends:
‘Tiny Habits’ Are The Key To Behavioral Change
First, identify small goals. Set a goal to work on something for a short, fixed amount of time — say, 10 minutes.
If you need more structure, Locklin recommends trying the Ivy Lee method. At the end of each workday, make a list of six things to work on the following day. List them out in order of true importance. Tackle those things and only those things the next day.
Next, if you’re trying to figure out the best way to prioritize tasks, use natural patterns to your advantage: If you’re a morning person, do important tasks in the morning. If you have midday slumps, take that time to organize and create your list for the next day.
Why You Feel So Guilty When You’re Not Working
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Research shows self-compassion can help you cope with procrastination-related stress. Remember every success is just that: a success!
If you’re procrastinating wellness and rest, plan ahead and delegate! Block out vacations in advance and put systems in place with co-workers so that you can work toward your time away and feel secure that all your goals at work are met.
Faced With A Tough Decision? The Key To Choosing May Be Your Mindset
Finally, if you’re having trouble addressing procrastination on your own, meet with a therapist. One treatment approach, called cognitive behavioral therapy, can help improve coping skills by focusing on current barriers and solutions to those problems.
If you need help finding a therapist, check out this episode of Life Kit.
The podcast version of this story was produced by Audrey Nguyen. It was engineered by Patrick Murray, and the digital version was produced by Clare Lombardo.
Increase your productivity at home and at work using mindfulness techniques.
- Procrastination is often emotionally driven and may be linked to fear of failure.
- Take time out to address your feelings mindfully to see what is blocking you.
- Make a list of tasks and start the most important with a dedicated time limit and an alarm.
By Sarah Salas.
It’s a new year, it’s summertime, and things are looking good. You have a whole year ahead to make your New Year’s resolutions happen. Hold on a minute….. didn’t you say that last year? And did you do it? Did you apply for that new job? Go trekking in South America? If not, then apparently you’re one of the 95% of the population who procrastinates.
The old joke: “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow” could well apply to you.
What exactly is procrastination?
Procrastination is the practice of doing less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or alternatively doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, therefore putting off more challenging tasks until later.
I can hear the dedicated procrastinators asking: “What’s wrong with doing the more pleasurable tasks instead?” These people are very happy to be diverted from the job at hand and are often fuelled by a rush of impulsiveness.
In fact, procrastination expert Dr Piers Steel describes impulsiveness in his book Portrait of a Procrastinator as “the Achilles Heel of procrastination.” He goes on to say: “Impulsive people find it difficult to plan work ahead of time and even after they start, they are easily distracted. Procrastination inevitably follows.”
So why do we do it?
Apparently we humans often lack self-control – we want it all now. From early beginnings, humans would rather choose to eat that tyrannosaurus egg straight away, rather than see if they could catch something bigger later. It seems we are hard-wired to want immediate payoffs, even if it’s unwise.
“These brief but powerful lapses in self-control govern the brain’s preference for behaviours that provide instant gratification and avoids pursuing goal-directed achievement,” according to the English Brain Bank blog published by scientist Dr Sarah Fox.
To add another layer, we also learn that procrastination, on a neurobiological level, actually appears to be emotionally driven. It stems from an internal desire to protect ourselves from negative feelings associated with the fear of failure, according to a journal article in Psychology Today.
When are you most likely to do it?
Some people tend to procrastinate mostly when they are at work, whereas others tend to do it more at home or in their personal life.
Often it’s a game-changing event that you procrastinate most about, like changing jobs, relationships or moving house. It’s simply feels just too hard. Let’s say for a while now you’ve been thinking about putting in for a promotion, or applying for a transfer, but somehow the time has never felt right. Notice here the common theme is feelings. It’s all about how things feel.
Addressing feelings may not always come comfortably or naturally. Fortunately, the following ways of dealing with procrastination only involve dealing with your feelings alone – there’s no need to share them with anyone else. (Do I hear a sigh of relief?)
OK, I want to change, where do I start?
Start by being honest with yourself. Let go of the need to blame poor time management or someone else for obstructing your progress.
Address pressing tasks you have been avoiding and admit how the thought of them makes you feel. There will definitely be a yuk factor here, but it’s good to see this for what it is…this uncomfortable thing that is holding you back.
The next most important thing, and probably the most critical to overcoming procrastination, is to actually start the dreaded task. This is where mindfulness comes in to help you start that looming project. It will also help you move forward and feel positive about what you’ve been shying away from.
Five steps to overcoming procrastination
- Make a list of important tasks and see if you can notice how your body feels after this. Write down what happens: “I feel tightness in my chest/throat, buttocks/head or I feel an ache or pain in my”….. Name an emotion if one comes to mind. “I feel sad/slightly anxious/angry….”
- Prioritise the list with the most unpleasant yet important task at the top (go back to your body again and notice how it feels, or any emotions that come to mind. Write them down. Bring your attention to where that feeling is in your body again.)
- Set a timer for three minutes and during this time focus on slow, deep, breathing. Try to ignore any arising thoughts and return your awareness to your breath. Now reset the timer for 30 minutes. Dedicate this time to work only on the most unpleasant task from the top of your priority list. Turn off your phone and move away from any potential distractions.
- When the alarm goes off, either one of two things will happen:
a. You will give a sigh of relief and stop the task…. or b. You will decide you want to carry on because you’re on a roll!
- Whichever option you take, once you have decided to stop the first task, give yourself a pat on the back (literally), take a slow deep breath and notice how your body feels now – alert/alive/relaxed/excited. Also notice any emotions that you feel like relief/contentment/happiness and write this down. From here, you can move down your list and chip away at a few tasks or continue on just one. The choice is yours, but there’s no denying how good it feels to start. So what are you waiting for?? Good luck!
Related: Five daily ways to practise mindfulness at work
Whether it’s on the train or at your desk, taking regular daily short breaks for mindfulness practice can help you cope better and lead a less stressful life.
Sarah Salas is a Melbourne based mindfulness expert. She is the Director of Need a Hint – a company that provides corporate and educational mindfulness training services. Salas is the creator of Mindful Moments Activity Cards and owner of www.mindfulproducts.com.au.
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Procrastination is nothing more than a HABIT that determines your daily behavior. And if you’re always putting off taking ACTION toward your VISION, procrastination becomes an ingrained, automatic response.
You no longer think about why you do it; you just feel it’s just a part of who you are.
But if you want to ACCOMPLISH your goals and dreams, you have to kick this habit ASAP.
Take a look at why you are procrastinating. Is it because you’re afraid of failing? Procrastination stems from inner fear.
NEURO-TIP: Take six deep breaths, replace the negative thought of failure with thoughts of your previous successes . . . and select a small task to begin chipping away at your daily goal. Remember, the Law of Little Actions WINS!
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Even the highest performers deal with the big “P,” the Mack Daddy of putting things off: PROCRASTINATION. It doesn’t matter where you live, how old you are, what your job is or how you were raised, there are simply things we don’t want to do. Sometimes we put off the smallest of tasks, like putting away the linens sitting at the top of the stairs for three weeks, to large projects like organizing our last 15 years of photos.
Big or small, why can’t we take action on tasks? Although you might associate procrastination with a sign of laziness, that’s not the problem at all. What it is, however, is a way of coping with your emotions. Any task you’re unnecessarily postponing is related to a feeling of overwhelm, confusion, boredom, self-doubt, resentment or insecurity.
The problem with procrastination is that it feels really good at the moment. You’ve put off that dreaded task, which gives you immediate pleasure. You can go back to doing whatever you’re already enjoying like watching TV, scrolling Instagram or even doing the work you love. As a result, we take this negative emotion and turn it into a positive emotion.
Why can’t we take action on certain tasks?
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The irony is that the longer you procrastinate, the worse it actually feels. The task or project builds up more emotional, mental and sometimes even physical anxiety. It feels heavier each day, each week and each month. So procrastination goes to show how we prioritize short-term pleasure over long-term pleasure. Who can blame us for loving immediate gratification?!
Here are three reasons we put things off followed by three simple strategies to stop them.
Why We Procrastinate
Reason #1: The task is too big. Just thinking about renovating your house, creating your financial future or developing an entire strategic plan is enough to put you in a state of paralysis. It’s no surprise you shut down as soon as you think about where to start. The bigger the task, the more overwhelming it feels to initiate and make movement.
Reason #2: Your task is painfully boring or dreadful, like dealing with an insurance dispute, doing taxes or cleaning out your closet (which for me would be fun because I love decluttering and organizing, but that’s a whole other topic). There’s nothing about the task that remotely resembles enjoyment or interest. The option to prolong becomes very appealing. The bad news is that by procrastinating this task, you’ll build it up to be even more painful than it was originally.
Reason #3: You have a fear of failure. You might have thoughts like,
“I never finish what I start.”
“What if I don’t do it right?”
“It’s impossible to get through this.”
“I’ll look like a loser if I start but don’t complete.”
“What if I spend all this time and energy, and it’s terrible?”
You see defeat written all over it, so you continue to postpone decisions or actions. In most cases, however, this fear is completely irrational. You’re fully capable of success (I mean think about everything you manage and every one you take care of!), but exaggerating consequences in your head prevents you from moving forward.
How to Stop Procrastinating
Strategy #1: Break It Down.
Now that you have a better grasp on why you unnecessarily put things off, let’s move on to a few ways to make headway on these procrastination drivers. This first strategy is age-old advice, but it works and can always use reinforcement. It’s a three-word phrase that I love: Break. It. Down.
That means to identify one small next step of your task or project so you actually take an action. Let’s say for the last six months you’ve put off creating a training document for your team. Naturally, you’re overwhelmed by this monstrosity, so it’s no wonder you find other priorities and projects to fill your time.
Here’s what you do.
Step #1: Grab a piece of paper or open a document and write down every task to complete the project — everything from picking a format, to proofreading, to sending it out to the printer. Don’t stop until you’ve brainstormed every last step.
Step #2: Pick the very first action you need to take, which in this case, may be creating the outline. That is all you put your attention towards. Let go of the end result and put your focus on this next step only. When that’s complete, focus on the next immediate action, such as collecting old training manuals, followed by talking to your team about your vision.
The “Break It Down” strategy works with boring tasks, too. If you’re dreading organizing your garage, take one next action like clearing donation items from one corner. Continue to break down your tasks and do another decluttering exercise the next day.
Strategy #2: Make your environment more appealing.
- Put on music you love, the kind that makes you want to dance or puts a smile on your face. It makes everything more pleasurable.
- Light a candle of an aroma you love.
- Change your physical state and do the task outside of your regular environment, if possible. Go to a coffee shop or sit on your porch or deck.
- Make a phone call to someone you’ve been procrastinating calling while doing your task (if it’s a low brain activity like folding laundry or filing papers).
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Strategy #3: Set a short time limit.
Set a timer for 20 minutes. You’re an adult and can do 20 minutes, y’all. Caution: Do not use your watch, wall or laptop clock. Set a timer on your phone that signals when you’ve reached your goal. Psychologically, working against an alarm will help you get going as well as keep you on task.
I find a timer super effective to move on small tasks I’m procrastinating, like hanging a frame on the wall, clearing my desktop or calling the dentist. Knowing it will only be 20 minutes and not a minute longer makes it easier to digest and to start taking action.
Experiencing small progress and success is often the inspiration you need to take another action. Remember, procrastination is a way of coping with a negative emotion associated with a task. So use the strategies above to shift your feelings from dread and overwhelm to tolerable — and maybe even enjoyable! It can make the difference between procrastinating and taking action right now.
What postponed task will you move forward on today?
When you’re ready to stop procrastinating, get Mridu’s free resource, “How To Finally Stop Procrastinating,” right HERE.
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Procrastination may be a result of what reinforces our behaviors.
- What Is Procrastination?
- Find a therapist near me
- One theory of procrastination suggests that getting things done close to deadlines may actually reinforce the behavior.
- Pigeons are more likely to show a response after reinforcement given close to the end of a task rather than the beginning, research found.
- Procrastination may not necessarily be a problem, as using deadlines more effectively could help people get things done.
We all have problems with procrastination sometimes. There is something we need to do—a project for school, perhaps, or an assignment for work—but we just cannot move to do it. It needs to be done but getting moving on it just seems so difficult.
What keeps us from moving forward as we want? Why don’t we just get going on things?
One theory of procrastination is that the anxiety about getting things done remains at a low level up until the point that it is overtaken by anxiety about not meeting a deadline. Thus, we tend to procrastinate because, until a certain point, we are just not concerned enough that we will not get the task done on time.
Behaviors Are Reinforced More Strongly When Completed Near the End of a Task
Research over the past several years has shown that another theory, called the “delay reduction theory,” may also help to explain procrastination. This theory, as it applies to procrastination, suggests that human and nonhuman animals find behaviors reinforcing when they complete them closer to the deadlines.
This theory was played out in experiments using pigeons (Zentall, 2020; Zentall, Case & Andrews, 2018). In multiple situations, pigeons were given the option of choosing to receive reinforcements close to the beginning of lengthy tasks or closer to the end. In each experiment, the pigeons showed a strong preference for reinforcement close to the end of tasks.
How it worked was that the pigeons were completing tasks where they were given a signal just after a task started and then a signal when it was about to end. Even though the reinforcement was the same, the pigeons most often waited until the ending signal before giving a response. They were reinforced more often by knowing that the task was about to end than being reminded that the task had just begun.
There are similar experiments in human and other nonhuman animals supporting this “debt reduction theory.” It has been around for years but has only recently been used in animal models to try to explain procrastination. Behaviors across many species are conditioned in a way that they are reinforced more strongly when completed close to a deadline or the end of a complex task.
How to Use Deadlines to Your Advantage
One thing this theory suggests is that procrastination may be more natural than we thought. It may not really be a problem and may be hard-wired into our behavioral processes. Waiting until close to a deadline to get things done may not really be the problem. What may be the problem instead is that we fight this tendency and do not use our natural preferences for getting things done more effectively.
- What Is Procrastination?
- Find a therapist near me
Does this provide any useful information for procrastination? Well, it does show that deadlines are important. We may not actually be using deadlines enough. Every important task that you must complete should have a definite deadline.
And it would be more useful to give thought to deadlines. We often choose deadlines as being the very last moment that a task could possibly be done. It represents that moment when we will be “dead” (thus the term) if we do not get the task done. Given how reinforcing working up to a deadline can be, we would probably do better to choose deadlines based more on when a task “should” be done rather than when it “must” be done.
Granted, it might be hard to fool ourselves if we know what the “actual” deadline is; if we are fully aware that we are OK if we go past the less strict deadline, then we may just do that. It is, however, possible that getting in the habit of changing what we mean by the term “deadline” might have a positive effect over time.
Procrastination Essential Reads
6 Ways to Combat Procrastination for Adults With ADHD
4 Procrastination Tips for When You’re Feeling Down
There is another behavioral psychology concept that might fit well here: “shaping.” This is the process by which we break tasks down into smaller parts. Shaping can help with procrastination by having each smaller part have a shorter deadline. So, rather than having an exceptionally large task with a deadline of two weeks, you could have 14 smaller tasks that each have a solid deadline of one day.
If you feel like you often get worried because you always seem to wait until the “last minute” to complete a task, you are not alone. That may be more ingrained in our behavior than we like to recognize and/or admit. Rather than trying to fight this process, it might be better to use it to our advantage.
LinkedIn image: Maridav/Shutterstock. Facebook image: Lazy_Bear/Shutterstock
Zentall, T. R. (2020). Does conditioned reinforcement play a role in procrastination: A pigeon model. Behavioural processes, 104139.
Zentall, T. R., Case, J. P., & Andrews, D. M. (2018). Procrastination in the pigeon: Can conditioned reinforcement increase the likelihood of human procrastination?. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 25(5), 1952-1957.
“Procrastination” has become a trivialized catch-all word, which might be why the impact of workplace procrastination is so understated.
Procrastinating is defined as putting off until later what could be done right now, be it answering emails, drafting a report or processing time-off requests. Generally speaking, people are more likely to put off tasks they dislike and to do right now what makes them happy or puts them in a good mood.
Did you know about 20% of people could be called “chronic” procrastinators, managers included? For people responsible for managing a team, procrastination can quickly become a problem.
Procrastination’s Adverse Effects
It will come as no surprise that procrastination has many consequences of varying severity, including increased stress, career repercussions, and even lower self-esteem.
When it becomes systematic, procrastination can negatively impact relationships with staff. It is essential to give importance to staff requests and process them promptly. After all, who likes waiting weeks on end to find out if their time-off request has been approved? Put yourself in their shoes.
The Causes of Procrastination
If you believe procrastination to be an innocuous habit of lazy people, think again! It has many causes.
1. Instant Gratification
Fuschia Sirois and Timothy Pychyl, authors of Procrastination, Health, and Well-Being, link procrastination to short-term mood regulation. More precisely, they argue that the tendency to procrastinate stems from a “disconnect from future negative consequences on oneself.” I love their illustration:
Procrastinating is a little like spending on credit; it’s a search for instant gratification, heedless of potential consequences.
2. Procrastination and Emotional Regulation
Pychyl, associate professor and head of the Procrastination Research Group, argues that people who can master their emotions and tolerate frustration are less inclined to procrastinate. What does that mean? The key to not put things off is being able to tolerate the negative emotions that result from less enjoyable or stressful tasks and responsibilities.
According to him, certain personality traits are predisposing factors in themselves, namely impulsivity and lack of personal discipline. His research shows that putting things off constitutes a disengagement from tasks and responsibilities. Also—and this made me laugh as it reminded me of myself and the people around me at times—he points out the self-justification strategy of telling ourselves that things could have been worse. For example, we might put off important administrative tasks and reassure ourselves by thinking that at least we did it… even if at the last minute. Do you recognize yourself here?
3. Procrastination and Acknowledgement
Procrastination can also be associated with a need for acknowledgement, which is a necessity for developing our individual and professional identity. What’s the connection? We tend to choose tasks that will result in immediate or quick acknowledgement over those that will bring no short-term reward.
4. Procrastination and Perfectionism
Low self-esteem often stems from exaggerated perfectionism. That’s because the desire to do things perfectly is in fact a need to prove our personal worth. This tendency has a vicious aspect, as the quest for perfection inevitably comes with a burden. It can be very discouraging to start a report knowing that the bar will be so high that no matter what we do, we’ll never be satisfied. As Pychyl notes:
This pursuit of perfection keeps us from taking action. It can even directly lead to procrastination. Rather than confronting the possibility of failure, people can simply avoid trying, sometimes without realizing it.
Be easier on yourself, just like you’d be with an employee.
5. Procrastination and Anxiety
Doing less interesting or difficult tasks can generate anxiety. Procrastination can become an avoidance strategy that keeps us from feeling this negative emotion. However, it also presents a major, if often unrecognized, risk, which is that the resulting anxiety will be even more intolerable.
Intriguingly, medical tests such as MRIs have shown that chronic procrastinators have a larger-than-average amygdala. Situated in the brain, the amygdala is the centre of emotions and survival instincts.
Faced with an unpleasant task, procrastinators receive a flee signal from their amygdala, just as if they had to run away from a predator.
Beating Procrastination One Step at a Time
Knowing procrastination to be about self-control, we have the means at our disposal to beat it. Here are a few steps you can follow to fight your tendency to put things off.
1. Admit You Tend to Procrastinate
Like with any other problem, be it harmless or serious, the first step is to acknowledge you have one.
2. Identify the Cause
Try to identify the cause of your habit, bearing in mind the possibilities highlighted above. You’ll then be able to work on remedying it effectively.
3. Accept Your Negative Emotions
Accept the discomfort you’ll go through when doing certain tasks that you find stressful or daunting. Between you and me, chances are slim that something you find difficult or unpleasant today will be any less so tomorrow.
4. Identify the Negative Emotion Involved
Take stock of the negative emotion involved in the task(s) you put off, and deliberately choose to set it aside. Decide that you’ll act instead.
5. Proceed little by little
Go step by step, as Professor Timothy Pychyl recommends. If, for example, you hate managing vacation requests, try starting out by evaluating your personnel needs. The next day, you can start processing requests and eventually come up with a schedule that works for everyone.
This strategy serves a twofold objective: it gets you closer to your ultimate goal while giving you the pride of getting something done. No more disappointment and stress for sitting on your hands and dodging your responsibilities.
Introspection: Your Ally Against Procrastination
To sum up, procrastination—be it occasional or chronic—affects the great majority of people. It is, however, perfectly possible to shed this habit. It may take some effort and reflection, but the effort will be well worth it.
Ability to find and use available resources to achieve goals, problem-solve, and shape the future.
Parents who would like to help their children learn how to stop procrastinating and start achieving their greatest goals are invited to share this article with them, and chat about it, too. It’s written to help children and teens understand and manage their avoidance behaviors. Hopefully it will generate positive changes for families now, and throughout the school year.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” — Nelson Mandela
About Procrastination: What Kids Need to Know
Do you sometimes procrastinate? Be honest. Everyone does. Maybe you put things off when you’re overwhelmed with too much to do, or when you’re distracted, upset, tired, or uncertain. Maybe you need some help with organization, time management, prioritizing, or setting goals. Or maybe you need more encouragement, assurances, or direction in order to move forward. We all procrastinate at some point. But when does procrastination become problematic for kids—or for adults? How can we help children learn how to stop procrastinating so they can achieve their greatest goals?
Sometimes procrastination is a reasonable response or means to an end— it’s “acquired time” that’s useful for gathering resources, engaging in creative thinking, enjoying quality time with family and friends, or doing something else you really want to do. If what you’re engaged in is planful, preparatory, or productive, it may not be procrastination. That’s the upside.
However, there’s a downside to putting things off. Procrastination is a form of avoidance behavior. It can short-circuit motivation and forward momentum. It can also interfere with learning, happiness, success, relationships, and overall well-being. When that happens, it’s important to find ways to reduce procrastination’s hold and potential impact.
But Wait… (There’s More!)
Each person is unique, and so are the reasons for behaviors and attitudes. That means each of us learns how to stop procrastinating in different ways! As I discuss in my new book, Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate, procrastination is complex because there are many possible reasons for it (or BUTS), and many possible consequences, too. And, it’s not just a matter of saying, “I’m going to stop procrastinating!” and then you will, and that’ll be that. It’s not so simple. Certainly, you need to decide to change, and to have support and encouragement. However, you also need good strategies and self-awareness, including an understanding of what’s causing the procrastination in the first place.
Why do you procrastinate? When thinking about why, you might also want to determine when, and what. Perhaps you can identify a pattern (morning? evening?), or a trigger (certain emotions? types of tasks?), or a particular distraction (tech devices? snacks?). It may also help to consider how you spend time during the course of the day. Do you have sensible routines in place? Do you do things logically or randomly? It makes good sense to think about how you use (or waste) time, and how you can become more efficient, and less inclined to procrastinate. Asking these kinds of questions is critical to shedding the role of “procrastinator.”
How to Stop Procrastinating: Take The First Step
What’s the most important strategy for overcoming procrastination? That depends on what underlies your avoidance behavior, and how committed you are to dealing with it. A first step is essential.
Here are five tips to help you learn how to stop procrastinating: Take that first step, tap into your capacities, and embark on action!
- Make up your mind to get things done.
A shift in mindset from “I can’t” or “I won’t,” to “I can, and I will!” can increase your productivity. Take a deep breath and exude purpose and self-confidence, and there’s no end to what you can achieve. Opportunity knocks in different ways (including softly, harshly, and unexpectedly), but you have to be willing to answer that knock.
- Stay calm.
This is important because it enables you to be in the right frame of mind to both hear and respond to any knock. You are in control. Navigating difficult times, putting forth effort, and being resilient, are better alternatives than being a procrastinator. You can become riled up, or you can calm yourself down. Go for the latter.
- Collect your thoughts.
If demands are worrisome, or expectations are piling up—and you’re tempted to procrastinate—it helps to reflect and take stock of what’s around you. This includes your own and other people’s feelings, and the potential consequences of any actions you might take. You might find that deep breathing, exercise, and visualizing happy outcomes will allow you to gain composure, and focus on your capabilities.
- Be open to communication and collaboration.
Talk with people you respect and trust, and who can support you as you tackle challenges. Listen. Ask questions. Be resourceful. Share ideas. Chat about procrastination. Use a steady tone of voice. Don’t be afraid to seek help from various sources if you feel you need it.
- Consider what really matters to you.
Then work out how to make time for those things. What propels you toward accomplishment? Curiosity? Encouragement? Competition? Become familiar with your feelings, attitudes, and habits. The better you know yourself, the sooner you can get down to the business of tapping your strengths, bolstering your weaknesses, and doing what you have to do to learn how to stop procrastinating.
The Power of Possibility
If procrastination is challenging—if you find it’s impossible to get started, or difficult to advance, or stay on task—it’s generally helpful to begin by doing what is “necessary.” That is, what’s essential, urgent, or required.
So, what is necessary? What comes first and foremost? For me, it’s maintaining family ties. Safety. Physical and mental health. Personal integrity. Happiness. Creative expression. Friendships. That’s just a short list. What’s necessary for you to look after? Create your own list (it will differ from mine in content and length), but once you figure out your priorities you’ll be primed to move forward from there.
The eight compass points on the Roots of Action site are excellent springboards for positive action and accountability. Knowing what you have to pay attention to now, rather than later, can lead to more steps and possibilities. Think about what you might require, and who can help you as you aspire to be the best you can be.
What you accomplish today, tomorrow, and afterward is ultimately up to you. Once you rise to the occasion, begin to manage your procrastination, and start to move forward, you’ll be motivated to keep going. And, that’s the power of possibility!
We live in a busy world. Each week presents new challenges, goals and accomplishments that we hope will not only leave us satisfied but also with the energy needed to do it all over again – tomorrow.
But all too often, we avoid doing the things that are lying there on our to-do lists, staring up at us as if to mock us. We procrastinate. Procrastination is associated with a long list of negative traits, such as laziness, lacking motivation or focus, having a poor attention span and so forth. Is it really all of these negatives and then some? Is it a matter of laziness or lack of care? The answers may lie in the abundant research that focuses on procrastination, decision-making and risk.
Procrastination is often equated with “poor time management.” This can be misleading, as it’s less about your ability to adhere to a calendar-based list, but rather that your attention to what may be considered to be “growth” activities (taking a course, following a training regimen, writing poetry) loses in the tug-of-war with activities that we consider to be critical to our survival.
What is Procrastination?
It’s been said that procrastination is not laziness; that it is a misguided sense of activity rooted in a low tolerance for frustration and failure. If we perceive an activity to be unachievable, we tend to avoid that discomfort through diversion. There’s a cognitive aspect as well. For example, when you put off completing a task that seems like it will take a very long time, you’re surprised when you realize that it took less time to do it than to think about it repeatedly.
Why Do People Procrastinate?
It may be a relief to know that we are essentially hard-wired to procrastinate. Our ancestors, in order to survive, had to focus on the tasks of hunting and gathering. They couldn’t allocate attention to activities that may delay rewards, such as storing food for a rainy day or practicing correct leaf-picking techniques.
Evolutionary psychologists have theorized that survival of our species has depended on those who have a strong preference for immediate gratification.
Neurologically, procrastination is not even remotely logical. The blame can be placed on the emotional part of your brain’s limbic system bullying the reasonable, rational part of your brain known as the prefrontal cortex. The logical part of your brain gives up when you decide to choose a video game or social media over work, or decide to binge a slew of episodes of “Game of Thrones” when you get home.
Procrastination has been linked to perfectionism as well. If you are a perfectionist, you may fear completing a task or activity imperfectly and subsequently put it off for as long as possible.
Perfectionists may fear that failure will result in ridicule or criticism either from themselves or their bosses and co-workers. As frustrating it may be when you delay writing that presentation or seminar, there is a positive to be had.
For instance, it may be quite prudent to delay some activities or decisions that may need some extra time to analyze and think through. It may be best to hold back when there’s not enough information, or it’s complex and managing it correctly may be difficult at best, or when there are other more important things to be done. In other words, it may best to be right than right on time.
However, we do need to be very mindful of the potential pitfalls that may occur as a result of habitually delaying tasks. Chronic indecisiveness on matters minor and otherwise can create serious problems in our already busy lives.
Indecision itself has been related to a fear of failure, non-competitiveness, poor self-esteem, and public self-consciousness. This can lead to chronic procrastination of tasks which may result in overwhelming stress and feeling that we have lost control of our lives. The toll that this may take on one’s health is something to be taken seriously.
How to Avoid and Defeat Procrastination
What works for one may, naturally, not work for all battling procrastination. YouTube has been a great source of motivational and inspirational videos which has helped me personally, but alone, these aren’t the perfect remedy. If you look at the titles and themes of the plethora of motivational videos, you would see that many directly and indirectly tie procrastination to failure.
When we avoid a task, don’t deliver the goods on time or show up late for important meetings, such as the one with your child’s guidance counselor or the one-on-one with your supervisor, we know full-well that we will have to deal with the grueling after effects of this form of self-sabotage. It’s important to remember that these activities are growth activities that are critical to long-term goals for you and perhaps people near and dear to you.
Here are some research-based tactics and strategies that may help to avoid and overcome procrastination.
- Recognize and beat-back the procrastination triggers. Yes, many of these activities are perhaps less-than-exciting and present some form of risk. Try gamifying a task (such as writing a report that you dread having to do) by using a timer to see how many words you can write in a short amount of time.
- Don’t wait until the perfect time to tackle that project. For instance, I provide career counseling to criminal justice professionals, many of whom are contemplating pursuing an advanced degree. Most haven’t started because they don’t think the timing is just right. My unwavering advice to them is to start yesterday; tomorrow turns into next year.
- Try the “chunking” method. If that project looks daunting, tackling it all at once may seem impossible. Are you able to find 15 or 30 minutes each day to make some headway? This technique has proven to diminish resistance for many a procrastinator.
- Start something. Often, the hardest part is making that first keystroke. This may help you re-think your initial appraisal of the work ahead of you. You might just find that the actual task isn’t as daunting or difficult as it seems.
- Identify your long-term goals. You owe it to yourself to set great, long-term goals. It’s important to remember that your long-term goals will only be reached through the growth activities that can easily fall prey to avoidance and delay.
- What price do we pay? What happens if you don’t honor your training regimen and skip a day or two? What may happen if you don’t attend to the growth activities this coming week? What might be the impact on career, family, stress, health and so on?
- Get off the grid and disconnect. Unplugging from the things that distract us, overwhelm us cognitively and pull us from what we should be doing is critical to our goals.
From one procrastinator to another, you can do this. It’s important to know that your gifts, talents and abilities can only shine when you cast a light on them. Don’t hide them; the world is waiting but it won’t wait forever.
Dr. Jeffrey S. Czarnec is an associate dean at Southern New Hampshire University overseeing criminal justice, political science, anthropology, sociology, human services and justice studies programs. He served as Manchester (New Hampshire) police officer from 1979 to 2002. He earned his doctorate in leadership studies from Franklin Pierce University and is a member of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and the American Criminological Society.
Procrastination. Is it a choice? Is it an affliction? Or is it simply the annoying habit that most people think it is?
My answer is that it’s a little bit of all three, but not really any of those things. Does that clear things up for you? No?
OK, here’s the thing. Procrastination is actually a coping mechanism. It’s a form of avoidance that you use when you have no other option. It does not work for anyone, ever. It’s basically a coping-mechanism-gone-wrong.
The reason procrastination does not work is that it’s a set-up to bring feelings of guilt, self-blame, dread, stress, and overwhelm upon yourself. In this way, whenever you procrastinate, you are ignoring your own need to feel good about yourself and your life. You are neglecting yourself.
The Relationship Between Procrastination and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)
There are many different types of emotionally neglectful parents and many different ways that parents can emotionally neglect their children. Generally, CEN is made up of some version of “not enough.”
Here are 3 different forms of CEN that set a child up to have problems with procrastination which may endure life long.
**Special Note: Most CEN parents don’t emotionally neglect their child on purpose. Your parents may have given you everything they have to give but they did not receive the 3 things below themselves when they were growing up.
- Not enough structure and discipline in your childhood home. Why? You don’t get to internalize the structure and discipline and make it a part of your personality. As an adult, you may find yourself lacking in self-discipline.
- Not enough attention or responsiveness to your feelings. This teaches you that your feelings do not matter. You do not learn that you are your own emotional steward and that it’s your responsibility to watch out for yourself by, as much as possible, making choices that bring you good feelings vs. bad ones.
- Not enough encouragement or reward for your strengths and accomplishments from your parents. This does not set you up with the awareness that accomplishing things should feel good and does feel good. You may lack a sense of pride in finishing things that keeps other people motivated.
A Weekend in the Life of Lisbeth, a Procrastinator
It’s Friday. Lisbeth is leaving work to meet up with her friends as planned, but she knows she hasn’t finished a report that her team needs to see first thing Monday morning. “I’ll work on it tomorrow,” she reassures herself, putting it out of her mind for the evening.
Lisbeth awakens Saturday morning feeling burdened and tired, and goes through her entire day under that dark cloud trying not to think about the fact that she must finish the report. The weight of the unfinished task drags down her energy all day. She ends up watching Netflix all day, feeling vaguely lazy and guilty all the while.
Sunday is like a repeat of Saturday except under more pressure. As the hours pass, Lisbeth feels the available time slipping away from her and grows angrier and angrier at herself for not having attacked and task and finished the report first thing Saturday morning.
Finally, at 10 p.m., the pressure moves her and she gets to work. Immersing herself in the task, she finally finds her focus and ends up finishing the report at 2 a.m. Of course, she pays the price on Monday. She feels sleep-deprived but also angry at herself for having such a burdensome, joyless, unproductive weekend overall.
Do you identify with Lisbeth? How many days or weekends have you lived like hers?
Growing up emotionally neglected teaches you many things that will color your life forever — until you address it, that is.
CEN teaches you to ignore your own feelings which are the deepest expression of who you are, plus also the loudest alarm bell that alerts you to whether your choices bring you positive or negative results.
So, in essence, CEN teaches you to emotionally neglect yourself all through your life. And procrastination is just one of the possible ways for you to emotionally neglect yourself.
Just as procrastination is not simple, the secret to getting over procrastination is also not simple. But it is definitely something you can do! It involves going directly against your childhood experience and making a conscious effort to do the opposite of the 3 forms of CEN above.
How to Start Dialing Back Your Procrastination
- Resolve to teach yourself discipline by providing yourself what your parents missed. In the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect I shared a daily exercise that will help you reprogram your brain to become better able to control your impulses and decisions better. It’s called The 3 Things Exercise.
- Since your parents, probably inadvertently, under-attended to your feelings now you will do the opposite. You will pay attention to what you are feeling and start to value your feelings. This will help you make decisions that bring you positive feelings instead of negative ones.
- Make an effort to take pride in your accomplishments. No matter how small, everything you force yourself to do or not do, if it’s a positive decision or step, is something you should feel proud of. Try to focus more on rewarding yourself and feeling proud of yourself in small bursts throughout your everyday life.
Imagine that Lisbeth follows these 3 steps for long enough that she starts to gain better control of her avoidant tendencies.
Imagine she begins to notice her feelings more and realizes that completing tasks brings her happiness while avoiding tasks drains her energy and makes her angry at herself. Imagine that this emotional awareness enables her to start facing tasks instead of avoiding them.
Imagine that Lisbeth finds herself feeling proud of her daily accomplishments and of how she is no longer neglecting herself.
Now, imagine that instead of Lisbeth, it’s you.
You CAN do this.
You can find the 3 Things Exercise to retrain your brain in the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.