Do you often find yourself putting off tasks? You tell yourself that you will do them later. But when that later time comes and the jobs are not finished, you berate yourself. You call yourself lazy and think you have bad time management. And you feel guilty as well. The good news is that you are none of those things. Although procrastination is seen as a negative character trait, it is anything but. Procrastination is both a habit that can be broken and a coping mechanism. So be kind to yourself.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
To procrastinate means to put off doing something we find challenging, boring, or anxiety-inducing. According to Psychology Today, procrastinators are perfectionists who cannot face the possibility of not doing a job well, which in turn causes anxiety.
We tend to put off tasks that we expect to be unpleasant or because we do not know how to complete them and have a fear of doing badly. The more we postpone doing things, the more this behavior reinforces itself and becomes ingrained. Besides, delaying doing a task gives us a sense of relief from not having to face something we see as unpleasant, and our brain responds to that stimulus by repeating the habit.
We tend to dodge chores that provoke negative emotions, like sadness, boredom, or anxiety about our work. Avoidance tactics are used to cope with stress. However, this can lead to feeling overwhelmed, which makes us more likely to procrastinate. When we feel like this, the smallest task seems intimidating. Therefore, procrastination is unsuccessful at dealing with anxiety because it exacerbates it.
Tips on How to Stop Procrastinating
Psychology experts have devised many strategies for breaking bad habits and have a lot to say about procrastination. But only you know what works best for you. Below are a few suggestions that you may want to consider.
Break down a task into manageable chunks: if you are not sure how to go about a task, if the amount of work involved feels daunting, or if the task makes you anxious, then pick the bits that make you the least nervous and go from there. When you make a plan that is clearly defined, it is a lot easier to take the first step.
Make a conscious decision to start the task, it makes it easier to dive in. As the Chinese proverb goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Overcome negative feelings with self-compassion. Be kind to yourself and do not kick yourself for procrastinating. Accept that changing a habit is hard work and you will sometimes falter. And that is OK too.
Create the conditions you work best in, both physical (like a comfortable working space) and mental (by doing away with distractions).
Practice accountability: tell somebody else about your plan or write a checklist and cross out completed items.
Reward yourself when you have completed a challenging task.
Take micro-yesses. According to Psychology Today, “Micro-yesses are the smallest possible things you can say “yes” to without triggering your nervous system’s survival responses.”
Delegate, if you can. Or ask a colleague for help.
Choose short work periods over marathon work sessions.
- 15 to 20% of adults procrastinate on a regular basis.
- 50% of college students consider procrastination a problem.
- 46% of undergraduate students regularly put off writing term papers.
- In a 2020 survey, 4% of employees mentioned having issues with procrastination since the COVID-19 pandemic.
- According to another survey, people spend around 218 minutes procrastinating per day, or 55 days per year.
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