June 14, 2023

What Is Procrastination and How to Deal With It?

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
― Abraham Lincoln

Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing tasks or actions that need to be done. It’s a common problem that affects many people. We all procrastinate from time to time. However, when we develop a habit of putting off necessary actions, even when we face negative consequences, procrastination can affect our well-being.

So Why Do We Procrastinate?

Even though procrastination results in more stress in the long term, people may delay action with the idea that they will feel better in the short term.

Studies consistently show that our stress levels are higher as a result of procrastination, though. There are a number of reasons why you may procrastinate.

Feeling Bored. It makes sense that if you perceive an activity as boring or unpleasant, you’re far more likely to put it off until later.

Lack of Belief in Your Abilities. Another reason you may procrastinate is that you may lack faith in your abilities. Believing that you can carry out tasks is essential to functioning. If your sense of self-efficacy is low, you’re less likely to begin a task or to see it through.

Fear and Anxiety. You may procrastinate out of fear. For example, you might delay essential medical tests because you’re afraid of a diagnosis. The more anxiety we experience about a task, the more likely we’ll put it off until later. Not only does your stress level increase when you do this, but there’s a risk to physical health with an undetected, untreated illness.

Social anxiety can also play a role. The fear of being judged or embarrassed can cause you to put off scheduling meetings or completing projects.

Perfectionism. Perfectionism can play a role in procrastination. People may delay tasks they believe they won’t perform well or that they’ll fail altogether. They may try to put off a task until they suddenly feel more inspired or have a better idea, even though inspiration is more likely to strike once a person starts a task.

Distraction. Distractions in our environment can prevent us from focusing on the task at hand. Many of us can relate to the temptation of social media over a dreaded activity, such as paying bills or writing a research paper. 

Researchers believe procrastination has increased in recent years. Technology has been a factor. However, procrastination has been reported as a human behavior throughout history.

Fortunately, there are several techniques that can help you deal with it. Here are a few tips to help you overcome procrastination:

Take a half step. Thinking about all of the things you have to get done, or how big the task looming ahead of you can be paralyzing. Put that out of your mind and just do something miniscule. Anything. A tiny step forward — or even half a step — is all it takes to start chipping away at your to-do list, to gather some momentum, and to start feeling like everything is more manageable. This could be as simple as physically writing a task list, cleaning your desk, or responding to some emails.

You’ll be surprised how much weight a little task like this can lift off your shoulders. A half step serves to point you in the right direction and show yourself that every little bit of effort makes a difference. 

Remember: Don’t believe that tasks are an all-or-nothing effort!

Break tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces. This will make the task seem less daunting and will help you get started. Breaking a task down into small parts makes it manageable and gives you more confidence that you can do it.

Prioritize tasks. Identify the most important tasks that need to be done and start with those first. This will help you avoid putting off important responsibilities.

Use a timer. Set a timer for a specific amount of time and work on a task until the timer goes off. This can help you stay focused and avoid distractions.

Set clear goals and deadlines. Having a clear plan with specific deadlines will help you stay on track and focused.

Eliminate distractions. Create a distraction-free environment so that you can focus solely on the task at hand.

Use positive self-talk. Encouraging yourself with positive affirmations can help you stay motivated and focused. You can do that by giving yourself a pep talk. Instead of talking yourself into not doing something, focus on making your internal dialog more positive. Avoid phrases like “I must do this” or “I should do that.” These types of words imply that you don’t have a choice. Use empowering self-talk such as “I will” or “I choose to.” Changing the vocabulary you use, will influence your attitude towards tasks you don’t necessarily look forward to doing.

Find an accountability partner. Share your goals and deadlines with someone you trust. This can help you stay motivated and on track.

Take breaks. Taking regular breaks can help you recharge and refocus. Just make sure to set a timer so that your breaks don’t turn into procrastination sessions.

Practice mindfulness. Practice being present in the moment and focusing on the task at hand. This can help you avoid getting distracted by thoughts or worries about the future.

Finally, reward yourself. Give yourself a small reward after completing a task. This can be as simple as taking a short break or doing something you enjoy.

One bonus creative tip, send a message to your future self. Unfortunately for those of us who procrastinate, we’re also very bad at imagining our future selves — the ones who have to deal with the work that our present selves are avoiding. Bridge the gap between your current and future self by imagining yourself tomorrow, next week, or next year. Visualizing yourself then helps you to appreciate why you should do your work now. Recognize that there is a connection between your current and future self, and there are future consequences for decisions you make today.

Remember, everyone struggles with procrastination from time to time. It’s important to be patient with yourself as overcoming procrastination can take time. With practice and determination, you can overcome procrastination and achieve your goals. The key is to find techniques that work best for you and stick with them!