• Joanna Pantazi

Procrastination and 7 Tips to Crush it

Updated: Sep 29, 2019


Procrastination is the tendency of postponing or avoiding doing a required task. When you set a goal and then have a hard time finding the motivation to get started, you postpone the task or come up with excuses that keep you from starting. Later on you may feel frustrated and disappointed at yourself, and this might make you feel even more stuck the day after- unless you consciously invest some time to understand the causes of your procrastination, and then employ a solid action plan to manage it.

Procrastination can present in many ways; distraction towards other stimuli, preoccupation with perceived requirements before you start, or sheer delay and laziness. Procrastination is by default an avoidance behaviour. For instance, think of that time when you sat down to work, but then decided that you can’t get started unless you first tidy up your desk, do the dishes, or complete any other task irrelevant to the one at hand. Or whenever you have to start doing something important, e.g. a job application, but then end up completing all other more trivial tasks (e.g. answering emails etc), and later decide for yourself that you don't have enough time to start what you originally planned anymore, or that it’s too late to get started now. “I will catch up again tomorrow, now it’s better to do something else”.

Procrastination seems to be growing rapidly as a problem amongst young adults, especially with the rise of technological development and the abundance of distracting stimuli that surround us on a daily basis.

Procrastination is either a self-esteem problem,

or a self-regulation problem (or a combination of both)

Someone with low self-esteem may find it difficult to get started towards completing important tasks due to underlying negative beliefs about the Self. Do some self-reflection and see if any of the following dyfunctional beliefs apply to you, if you have been procrastinating. “I will not succeed”, “I can not do this”, “If I can’t be perfect then why bother trying at all” are common low self-esteem beliefs that may justify the act of procrastination.

In cases like this, there are active self-sabotaging Parts within your Self that obstruct you from getting started towards your goals. Self-doubt and intolerance to uncertainty also play a role in this pattern, where you hesitate to start out of fear of failure- or fear of success. It may sound as a paradox, but fear of failure and fear of success may in fact be two sides of the same coin! Think about it for a while; you may say you want to succeed, but are you ready for the responsibility that success carries with it?

There are well-skilled individuals that have managed throughout their lives to attain favorable results without much effort. Everyone may know that one person that always delivered great essays or obtained good scores at exams during graduate school, without much studying or effort. Despite slacking and procrastination, this person may have achieved more than others who worked harder, therefore he may have never defined procrastination as a problem because he did not have to experience the negative consequences of this behavior. Though it is true that people like this do succeed despite limited efforts, they may be simultaneously limiting themselves from reaching their full potential. In this case, although low self-esteem may not be the main reason, self-sabotaging Parts may also actively promote procrastination.

On the other hand, someone with low self-esteem who may succeed despite procrastination may unconsciously be using it as a means of increasing their self-worth and self-esteem. A sense of triumph and success may be perceived by the individual when they achieve goals without much effort, in which case they may have a hard time letting go of procrastination, because it contributes in them feeling better about themselves.

Perfectionism is also found to be related to procrastination, since it seems to mask an underlying fear of failure. Someone who cannot accept less-than-perfect results from themselves may delay or avoid difficult tasks altogether. By not starting, this person avoids the potential dissatisfaction of not-good-enough results, but this short-term avoidance actually serves in a counterproductive way, because it brings forward even more self-loathing and guilt long-term.

For others, low-self esteem may not be the root cause of procrastination, but rather difficulties with self-regulation. Some people may struggle with delaying instant gratification from engaging into other, more pleasurable, activities. In this light, procrastination is regarded as an emotional regulation issue. When faced with an important task, you may experience negative emotions such as anxiety, stress and feeling overwhelmed. You may then prefer to push away these negative emotions by satisfying your immediate desires instead , which seem preferable and more pleasant in that moment.

The reward system of people like this must be satisfied immediately, thus they procrastinate in order to avoid doing something that is not directly bringing gratification to them. Though avoidance may be a suitable course of action at different occasions, in this case avoidance has only short-term benefits for repairing one’s mood. Procrastination regarded like this is actually a self-defeating, self-sabotaging coping strategy with quite negative long-term consequences.

The distracting stimuli that we are constantly surrounded with in the form of social media, smart phone games, internet – that have been proven to serve as a means of instant gratification and towards which individuals may develop compulsive and addictive ways of behaving- may seem much preferable to engage with than the daunting task of correcting your CV or finally writing that proposal to present yourself for a challenging position.

If procrastination is treated as an emotion regulation problem, then by developing the essential emotion regulation skills to counteract negative emotions and discomfort, procrastination should also dissipate. The negative emotions are regulated by procrastination so far, so learning to tolerate these should also cause a decrease to procrastination.

Think of it in terms of what is your comfort zone. As discussed in a previous article, we may prefer activities that keep us within our comfort zone; our window of tolerance. Whatever seems to be out of habit for us may be avoided, to overall avoid escaping our comfort zone towards hyperarousal or hypoarousal, that are both undesired.

In the case of procrastination, it may be useful to expand our window of tolerance and think of our Future Self. How would you prefer to act now, in order to reach that image of an improved Self in the Future?

With procrastination the anticipated discomfort of starting the task preempts the actual reward of completing it; emotional disturbance blocks the way to action.

If we can turn THIS around, then we can overcome procrastination. There are certain steps to consider if you’d like to succeed in this path. The final goal is realizing that long-term results are more substantial and rewarding than short-term gratification and avoidance.

A successful approach against Procrastination: 7 tips to get you started

Below we will discuss a few tips that can help you if you're struggling with procrastination.

1. Be aware and mindful of procrastination

Like with any other intention to change, awareness is the first step. Think about the possible dysfunctional beliefs underlying your procrastination. Such beliefs can be “I will not succeed”, “I can not do this”, “If I can’t be perfect I can’t do it at all”, “It's not a big deal, I can do it later” etc. What is most applicable to you for every procrastination occasion?

After identifying your own limiting thought patterns, make a conscious commitment to observe yourself and become aware of whenever you are procrastinating. Be mindful; “catch” yourself on the job whenever you start to drift away from your predefined goal. Once you become aware of your behavior, you have more control of deciding what to do after.

2. Employ goal-directed behavior

Next step is actually setting up an action plan- in other words, it’s time to set a goal.

In order for goals to be possible to complete, you can consider the “SMART” goals approach:

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Relevant

Time-Bound

Your goals should be reasonable, concrete and manageable.

For best results, it is a good idea to also add an Implementation Intention to your goal.

For example, “When I finish, then I will do ……, in order to ….”

Keep the action concrete and the threshold for engagement low!

3. Break tasks into smaller parts

Procrastination most often means difficulty to get started. This may happen because our goal to achieve seems too big to tackle. It would therefore help if we can break our final goal into smaller and more achievable parts. Then we perceive the situation as more under our control, thus improving our chances of following through.

4.Make a prioritized to-do list

Behavioural activation in the means of a prioritized to-do list may be a great starting point towards eliminating procrastination. Every morning, or even better from the night before, form a simple to-do list for the next day. This does not have to be extremely extended, since that can be demotivating at first. You can start by setting 3-5 items on your to-do list. If one of them is more important than the others, and you’re therefore more likely to procrastinate and avoid doing it, set it on the highest priority in your list. The day after, do not allow yourself to move on to the remaining items of your list before you complete the one that’s the toughest. As Mark Twain once said “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

An effective way for prioritizing tasks on your list is to think of them as an equation of Pleasure * Importance to Accomplish. If you do that, you end up with a 2*2 table like the one below. Eating the frog first means, that the highest priority on your list goes to the tasks with the Lowest Pleasure and the Highest Importance to complete. In other words, what is least pleasant and most important should have 1st priority on your to-do list, followed by what is both pleasant and important, while the third tasks in priority should be the ones that are pleasant and unimportant, and the very last should be what is unpleasant and unimportant.

5. Activity Scheduling

A step further after the prioritized to-do list is setting up activity scheduling, or in other words, organizing your agenda. If you think some more structure and organization could be beneficial to you, then you can set up your whole calendar for the day according to the tasks you need to accomplish. For this to succeed though, you need to be already dedicated and committed to your goals- otherwise such time-planning can feel threatening and cause you to feel demotivated and “freeze” instead. Alternatively, you may compartmentalize your tasks in different day-parts; e.g. designate all urgent and unpleasant tasks for early in the morning, when you have more energy and better concentration. With this rationale, keep in mind your own preferences and patterns to use them to your advantage.

6. Commitment to tolerate the anticipated short-term discomfort in order to achieve a long-term goal

How to do this?

By disputing the irrational beliefs (e.g. “I can’t do this”) and developing a rational alternative.

To help you with the sense of commitment, you can think of a personal mantra to keep you focused on change. This should by no means be “I will try to do it”!

There’s a big difference between trying and actually doing. Think of the following smart example:

If you want to move to another room of your house, will you just get up and do it, or would you try to exit the room?

Trying to exit the room would actually keep you in this room indefinitely! You would be stuck between standing up and exiting, and actually exiting. So don’t try, just do!

That’s a funny example, but it’s true; don’t commit to trying to change- but to actual steps that you intend on following.

7. Persistence

In order to go through with your plan of action against procrastination, you clearly need to adopt a determined attitude. After all, confronting procrastination means employing self-discipline! To help you along with this, you may want to think about developing a personal maintenance message about your own responsibility to protect your progress from unconscious habits.

A great such message may be related to the concept of time. Our time is actually really precious and limited- think of procrastination as a huge and worthless waste of time and energy. “Your time is precious- don’t waste it!”

If you're struggling with procrastination and would like to figure out a way to manage it in order to become the person you want to be, I would be very happy to help out. Contact me here!

#procrastination #emotionalregulation #selfsabotage

+31 (0) 644 333 494

joanna@youniversetherapy.com

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Psychology Practice for Internationals in The Hague.

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