“Lack of confidence, sometimes alternating with unrealistic dreams of heroic success, often leads to procrastination, and many studies suggest that procrastinators are self-handicappers: rather than risk failure, they prefer to create conditions that make success impossible, a reflex that of course creates a vicious cycle.” ― James Surowiecki
- Procrastination is not a time management problem; rather, it’s likely due to difficulty managing negative feelings like boredom or anxiety.
- But avoiding negative emotions—and important tasks—tends to lead to much worse outcomes in the long run, including more stress and regret.
- Changing your mindset, rewarding yourself for progress, and letting go of perfectionism can all help you overcome procrastinating tendencies.
Everyone has put off a task at some point in their life. (Take, for example, this article that I had planned on posting yesterday…) But have you ever wondered why you—or others—procrastinate? While some view it (in themselves or other people) as laziness, there might be something else at play.
In psychology, it has long been believed that people who procrastinate have a faulty sense of time—that they think they will have more time to get something done than they actually do. While that may be true for some, more recent research suggests procrastination is linked to difficulty managing distress. Specifically, it seems that task aversion is to blame—that is, when people view a task in an unpleasant manner (“It will be tough, boring, painful…”), they are more likely to put it off.
While procrastinators may be trying to avoid distress, this approach can ironically cause more distress in the long run.
Procrastination can lead to increased stress, health problems, and poorer performance. Procrastinators tend to have more sleep issues and experience greater stressful regret than non-procrastinators. What’s more, procrastination can also hinder your self-esteem with the guilt, shame, or self-critical thoughts that can result from putting off tasks.
If you struggle with putting things off, try any of these tips to get you on track:
1. Get Rid Of Catastrophizing.
One of the biggest reasons people procrastinate is because they catastrophize, or make a huge deal out of something. It may be related to how tough, how boring, or how painful it will be to complete the task; whatever the case, the underlying theme is that doing the task will be “unbearable.”
In reality, challenges, boredom, and hard work will not kill you—or even make you sick. Procrastination, on the other hand, is associated with stress—think of the stress you feel when you avoid making a phone call you know you need to make. So keep things in perspective: “Sure, this is not my favorite task, but I can get through it.”
2. Focus On Your “Why.”
Procrastinators focus more on short-term gains (avoiding the distress associated with the task), as opposed to long-term results (the stress of not doing it, as well as the consequences of avoiding this task). Instead, try focusing on why you are doing this task: What are the benefits of completing it?
If you’ve been putting off cleaning out a closet, imagine walking into the closet when it is decluttered and how good that will feel. And consider how much money you will make by selling the items on eBay, or how those in need will feel when they receive these items as donations.
If it is an exercise program you have been avoiding, focus on how exercising will help you have more positive energy, give you a boost of self-esteem, and serve as a great role model for your children.
3. Get Out Your Calendar.
Projects that will get done “when I have time” (as in “I will do it when I have time”) tend not to get done very often, if ever. You need to schedule when you are going to work on a project and block out that time, just as you would an important meeting.
And when it is time to do your work, set a timer so you can be focused for the entire allotted time.