Procrastinators can develop feelings of
Procrastination Isn't a Time Management Problem, It's an Emotional Problem
I told myself I'd start writing at 10 a.m. and crank out a few sections of this article before lunch. It's now 1:40 p.m.—and I'm finally getting started.
In the commonly held view of procrastination, I failed to appropriately manage my time. Or maybe I was just lazy, unmotivated, distracted, or all of the above.
But new research on the psychology of procrastination suggests something different. Maybe the problem lies not with my willpower, but with my emotions.
"Procrastination is not a time-management problem, it's an emotion-management problem," says Tim Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University and blogger at Psychology Today, who spoke to me about the mounting evidence connecting procrastination to mood.
"I get emails from people who are developing apps to address procrastination and want to know what I think. And I tell them, 'That's a time-management app, not a procrastination app!' Because [. ..] the story is all about emotions, and those apps don't help with that."
For many of us, bringing emotions into the brass-tacks issue of work and productivity may seem counterintuitive—or even trifling. But more and more studies point to mood and emotion regulation as the main culprit in procrastination. In this article, I explore these studies and reveal some data-driven techniques anyone can use to help overcome their own procrastination-inclined habits.
(I finally wrote the introduction! Can I eat lunch now?)
What Procrastination Is (and Isn't)
"Procrastination is a voluntary delay of an intended act despite the knowledge that this delay may harm us," Pychyl explains in his book Solving The Procrastination Puzzle. That is, procrastination is by definition an irrational behavior because it runs counter to our own idea of what will make us happy.
Think about it: You know that tackling your to-do list will make you happier, less stressed, and more content, but you (all too often) don't do it. Trying to think or plan your way through the problem won't do any good because it's irrational.
It's an emotional problem.
Specifically, procrastination is an "emotion-focused coping strategy to deal with negative emotions," Pychyl explains. It goes something like this:
We sit down to do a task.
We project into the future about what the task will feel like.
We predict that the task will not feel good (e.g., will stress us out, make us feel bad, etc.).
Our emotional coping strategy kicks in to keep us away from this bad feeling.
We avoid the task.
This emotional avoidance technique that our brain—often subconsciously—employs is similar to that which underlies many types of anxiety. People with anxiety often do everything they can to avoid the perceived external threat and, in turn, shut off access to both good and bad feelings, often leading to depression. By procrastinating, we're avoiding a task with the assumption that the task won't feel good, and that means we're missing out on any feelings of, for example, accomplishment or success. This connection between procrastination and depression has been around at least since the '90s, and the experimental evidence has poured in ever since.
Another study, co-authored by Dr. Pychyl, found links between procrastination and negative emotions like frustration and resentment. And that makes it even more difficult to cope with the potential negative emotions we predict our task will create. So, instead of feeling even worse, we opt for something that makes us feel good.
"Giving in to feel good" is the term given to this phenomenon in one paper cited by many procrastination researchers. And it means seeking short-term good feelings at the cost of long-term satisfaction—something we're known to do as early as toddlerhood.
The key insight from the recent research is that "giving in to feel good" isn't about willpower or forcing yourself to do something you hate; it's about managing your emotions so they don't get hijacked by your inner critic.
The Heart Of Procrastination: Your Inner Critic
One study attempted to tease apart the relationship between procrastination and emotion. Researchers measured 214 undergraduates on procrastination scores as well as various measures of depression, mindfulness, rumination, and self-compassion. It found significant positive correlations between procrastination and rumination, and negative correlations between procrastination and both mindfulness and self-compassion. In other words, more rumination, less mindfulness, and less self-compassion were correlated with more procrastination.
Let's start with the relationship between self-compassion and procrastination because it's both counter-intuitive and revealing. What's the first thing you do when you catch yourself indulging in a particularly egregious spell of procrastination? Do you tell yourself, "What's wrong with you? Pull yourself together and get your work done!" That lack of self-compassion might be exactly what's causing your procrastination in the first place, according to the research.
Or maybe you don't beat yourself up. Maybe you just hang your head and feel guilty for the work you've put off. But feeling guilty is no better. "Guilt is a dissonance thermometer," Pychyl explains. "You've got a conflict between your intentions and your actions. You intended to do this thing, that's what you said yesterday, but now you're saying 'I'm not going to do it.'"
Guilt can be one type of "ruminative thinking," which also exacerbates procrastination. That is, we get caught up in our own narrative about how bad we feel for putting off our work, which feeds on itself and drains our ability to get the work done.
"We know we're culpable for our own self-defeated actions, and that brings us down," Pychyl remarks.
Another study found that procrastination is "associated significantly with negative automatic thoughts in general as well as automatic thoughts reflecting the need to be perfect." In both studies, this highly self-critical mindset created and perpetuated the problem of procrastination.
This flies in the face of how many of us think about productivity. When we're putting off work, we tell ourselves we're being "lazy" and that we need to "suck it up" to power through the task at hand. But the research suggests that taking a softer, more compassionate view of our own behaviors may be the key to breaking out of this self-perpetuating spiral.
So how do we do that?
Knowing that procrastination is an emotional regulation problem rather than a time-management problem is a good start. But that doesn't tell us what steps can be taken to improve our behavior.
To do this, Pychyl brings together ideas from three disparate fields of study.
The first, which comes from Buddhist psychology, is the idea of the "monkey mind" that we all share. "The monkey mind never stops and you can't make it stop," Pychyl says. "Instead, you've got to give the monkey something to do."
The second idea, which comes from more traditional psychology, is that our emotions can't be pushed aside or ignored. So when we have a strong aversion to getting our work done, we can't ignore this feeling.
The third part comes from David Allen, the founder of the Getting Things Done™ method, which is the idea that we don't do projects when we work; we do actions. In other words, the mountain of work that we picture ourselves wading through is really just a set of smaller, discrete actions that have to be taken one at a time. We put our pants on one leg at a time and write our articles one word at a time.
Pychyl ties these threads together with one simple mantra:
"What's the next action?"
Instead of fretting about the huge project you have to do and all the stress it will entail, ask yourself what the next action is. "I need to open my computer and read the email," Pychyl explains. "I'm not going to worry about responding to it or anything else. The next action is opening the email."
By asking "What's the next action?" you (1) give the monkey something to do, (2) engage with the emotions you're feeling about the task, and (3) focus on actions rather than projects.
Looking for technological assistance to take the next action? Some apps can help, especially those designed for the Getting Things Done method, which focus on identifying and prioritizing actions. Using the Agile Method can also help keep you focused on the next task. But remember: These apps don't address the underlying emotional issues of procrastination.
For that, you'll need a much older technology...
Mindfulness and Procrastination
"Willpower" is a slippery concept. Some researchers believe it doesn't really exist. Some believe it exists but in finite supply. Others take a middle path.
"I do think it has a role," Pychyl says. "But it's a smaller role than we think."
Instead, he recommends cultivating another mental skill: mindfulness. The skills developed in mindfulness meditation, such as concentration, non-judgment, and equanimity, align perfectly with the research showing the vital role of emotional regulation in reducing procrastination and improving productivity.
A recent brain-scan study found reduced activity in the amygdala, an area that controls stress response, among a group that was trained in mindfulness meditation compared to two control groups. The amygdala is the region that can "hijack" our emotional response to a perceived threat, whether that threat is a mountain lion or a Slack notification sound.
One small pilot study found very low procrastination scores among experienced meditators, suggesting that doing absolutely nothing might be the best way to get everything done.
So mindfulness meditation can help us remain calm and non-judgmental in the face of work stress, which makes us more able to engage with the tasks, which makes us less stressed—a positive feedback loop.
Here we are. I've almost finished writing this article, and it's only 11:58 p.m. In my book, that's a victory, even if more of the day was spent avoiding work than doing it.
I caught myself experiencing "ruminative thoughts" and an unmistakable lack of self-compassion a few times throughout the day, and I did my best to let these feelings go (as I've been instructed in mindfulness meditations) rather than get caught in cycles of negative thinking.
Doing this helped me get back to my work, just as Dr. Pychyl and other procrastination researchers would predict. But it had another impact that might not show up in their data: I enjoyed my day more. Even in those times I knew I was procrastinating, I gave myself a break and felt less bad about myself than I would have normally. Anecdotal evidence, but worth sharing, I think.
Treating procrastination as an emotional and mood regulation problem might be the best way to move past it and get your work accomplished. But it can also improve your quality of life more generally. Next time you're faced with a project that's causing so much stress it feels like your amygdala is stabbing icicles into your eyeballs, try taking a deep breath. Let go of whatever self-judgment you're adding to the mix, and ask yourself, "What's the next task?"
Not only might you get more work done—you might even enjoy it.
Procrastinate with a Purpose: Science-Backed Ways to Recharge Your Creativity
Why You're Not Getting More Done, and How to Fix It
Experiments with Time: How to Take Back Your Day from the Grip of Procrastination
Image of person painting nails designed by yanalya / Freepik. Image of brains and image of people taking different actions designed by Freepik.
A Guide for People Who Procrastinate – Solving Procrastination
Many people are procrastinators, whether they realize it or not. Procrastinators often struggle to overcome their procrastination, even when it causes them many issues, especially if they don’t understand what causes it in the first place and what exactly they need to do about it.
The following article can help with this, by explaining what it means to be a procrastinator, what causes people to be procrastinators, and how to stop being one.
What is a procrastinator
A procrastinator is someone who repeatedly and unnecessarily postpones decisions or actions. For example, if a person repeatedly delays working on assignments until right before their deadline for no reason, even though they know that it would be better for them to start earlier, that person is a procrastinator.
Procrastinators generally suffer from negative outcomes due to their procrastination, such as missed opportunities and increased stress. Furthermore, procrastinators often suffer from an intention-action gap, meaning that they’re unable to bring themselves to do things on time despite intending and wanting to do so, and despite being well aware of the issues that their procrastination causes. Accordingly, many procrastinators are stuck in chronic cycles of procrastination, which they keep trying to escape.
However, there are also differences between procrastinators, in terms of why they procrastinate, how they do so, and how exactly their behavior affects them. For example, one person might procrastinate because they feel anxious about a task, so they avoid thinking about it, which leads them to keep worrying for longer than was necessary. Alternatively, another person might procrastinate because they get distracted by digital temptations (e.g., social media), until they’re reminded of their original task by the pressure of an upcoming deadline.
Examples of procrastinators
An example of a procrastinator is a student who repeatedly postpones studying for tests until the night before they take place, despite wanting to start earlier and feeling bad about these delays.
Another example of a procrastinator is a person who has months to work on an important application, but waits until the day before the deadline to work on it, despite repeatedly promising themselves that they’ll get started on it soon.
In addition, the following are other examples of procrastinators:
- Someone who frequently browses social media when they should be working, even though they’re frustrated with themselves for it and wish they could just get started.
- Someone who stays up hours later than they intend each night, doing this such as watching videos, despite knowing that this makes them exhausted.
- Someone who often does useful things, such as cleaning their room, when they should be doing more important things, such as finishing a school assignment.
- Someone who keeps promising themselves that they’ll get started on a project (e.g., writing a book or building a business) “one day” or “sometimes soon”, but never makes any progress, and instead just fantasizes about their future success.
- Someone who keeps making excuses to explain why they should wait before starting positive new habits (e.g., dieting, exercising, or saving money), even though they know it would be better for them to just start.
- Someone who postpones dealing with unpleasant tasks (e.g., paying bills or going to the dentist), even though the issue becomes worse the longer they wait.
- Someone who fails to ask someone else for something they want (e.g., a promotion, favor, or date) every time they have the opportunity to do so, even though they wish they could just ask and get it over with.
- Someone who postpones choosing between two opportunities repeatedly, until this indecision means that both opportunities are no longer available.
Finally, note that many famous and important people throughout history were procrastinators, including, J. K. Rowling, Bill Clinton, Hunter S. Thompson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Margaret Atwood, Douglas Adams, and Steve Jobs.
Dangers of being a procrastinator
Being a procrastinator can cause various issues, including missed opportunities, worse academic performance, worse employment and financial status, increased interpersonal conflicts, worse emotional wellbeing, worse mental health, and worse physical health. Furthermore, procrastinators are less likely to seek help for problems relating to their procrastination, and are more likely to delay when they decide to seek help.
How common are procrastinators
Around 15%–20% of adults are chronically affected by procrastination, and around 25% consider procrastination to be a defining personality trait for them.
Furthermore, procrastination is even more common in certain populations. For example, when it comes to college students, around 70% of students consider themselves to be procrastinators, around 50% say that they procrastinate in a consistent and problematic manner, and around 80%–95% say that they engage in procrastination to some degree.
Types of procrastinators
Procrastinators can be categorized based on many criteria, including why and how they procrastinate. Based on this, common types of procrastinators include the following:
- Anxious procrastinators, who are so worried about things such as making mistakes or receiving negative feedback, that they avoid doing what they need to do. For example, an anxious procrastinator might repeatedly postpone bringing up an important issue at work, because they feel scared of speaking up in social situations. Such procrastinators can also be called neurotic procrastinators, if they are high in the neuroticism personality trait.
- Perfectionistic procrastinators, who are so concerned about their work being imperfect (e.g., due to trivial flaws), that they delay things such as making their work public once it’s ready. For example, a perfectionist procrastinator might repeatedly revise a research paper, even when it’s ready to be sent out for review, because they worry that it might still have some negligible typos.
- Overplanning procrastinators, who use unnecessary planning as a way to delay doing things, especially if they’re afraid of them. For example, an overplanning procrastinator might spend months researching a new hobby instead of just starting it, because they can’t stand the uncertainty that it’s associated with.
- Overwhelmed procrastinators, who feel so overwhelmed by things they need to do, that they end up not doing them, especially if they’re unsure how to start. For example, an overwhelmed procrastinator might want to make a lot of positive changes to their life, but end up not doing anything because they don’t know which of many aspects of their life they should start with.
- Pessimistic procrastinators, who are overly doubtful of their ability to do things, and therefore avoid them. For example, a pessimistic procrastinator might wrongly believe that they’re unlikely to be able to get a certain job that they want, and consequently repeatedly put off applying for it.
- Depressed procrastinators, who suffer from depression, which makes them tired and unmotivated to take action. For example, a depressed procrastinator might be unable to bring themself to get out of bed or do anything for hours at a time, because they feel that there isn’t a point to any of it.
- Introverted procrastinators, who delay due to a preference for being by themselves, especially when it comes to avoiding engaging with others. For example, an introverted procrastinator might postpone scheduling an important appointment, because they don’t want to engage in conversation.
- Extroverted procrastinators, who delay due to the high value they have for engaging in social activities. For example, an extroverted procrastinator might postpone studying for a test, because they much rather go out with friends instead.
- Hedonistic procrastinators, who delay due to prioritization of activities that are more enjoyable in the short term. For example, a hedonistic procrastinator might continuously put off starting to work on a project that they’re interested in, because it’s more fun to play video games instead.
- Laid-back procrastinators, who are generally unconcerned with tasks, goals, or consequences for missing deadlines, and who are often reluctant to put in effort toward their goals. For example, a laid-back procrastinator might continuously put off starting to exercise, because it’s easier to just sit on the couch and watch TV instead.
- Impulsive procrastinators, who delay because they can’t manage the impulse to engage in other alternatives, and especially more appealing temptations. For example, an impulsive procrastinator might decide to simply get up while working on an important paper, because they suddenly feel like watching TV instead. These procrastinators are often also easily distracted.
- Thrill-seeking procrastinators, who delay getting started intentionally, because they enjoy the thrill of working under intense time pressure right before deadlines. For example, a thrill-seeking procrastinator might postpone writing a research paper until the end of the semester, at which point they’ll work hard to get it done on time.
- Rebellious procrastinators, who delay a way to get revenge against an authority figure (e.g., a teacher who’s assigning them deadlines or a parent who’s setting high expectations for them). For example, a rebellious procrastinator might put off completing tasks that they were given by their boss, because they resent the way their boss treats them.
- Optimistic procrastinators, who don’t worry about their tendency to postpone tasks, and who are confident in their ability to complete those tasks on time.
- Full-of-excuses procrastinators, who always find excuses for why they should wait before doing what they should be doing. For example, a full-of-excuses procrastinator might manage to spend a whole semester without studying properly, while constantly justifying their behavior with excuses about other things that they have to do.
- Last-minute procrastinators, who can’t bring themselves to get started on tasks until right before the deadline, no matter how hard they try, and will usually waste time doing unrelated activities, even if they don’t really enjoy those activities. For example, a last-minute procrastinator might repeatedly put off studying for an important exam until the night before they take it, at which point they’ll enter panic mode and finally manage to start studying.
- Indecisive procrastinators, who struggle to make decisions in a timely manner. For example, an indecisive procrastinator might repeatedly postpone making an important decision by claiming that they need to wait until they have more information, even though they already know what they need to do.
- Daydreaming procrastinators, who like to spend time fantasizing about things that they hope to accomplish, while procrastinating on working toward those things. For example, a daydreaming procrastinator might spend hours thinking about the interviews they’ll give once their book is successful, instead of actually working on their book when they should be.
Some of these types of procrastinators can be considered sub-types of others in some cases. For example, perfectionistic procrastinators can be considered a sub-type of anxious procrastinators, when the perfectionism is rooted in anxiety over being criticized.
In addition, a person can display the characteristics of more than one type of procrastinator. For example, a procrastinator might be both anxious and introverted, or they might be both hedonistic and impulsive.
Finally, there are other distinctions between different types of procrastinators, such as passive and active procrastinators, productive and unproductive procrastinators, and academic and workplace procrastinators. Furthermore, procrastinators can differ in terms of other factors, such as the stage of the task that they struggle with (e.g., the beginning or the end).
How to tell if you’re a procrastinator
To determine if you’re a procrastinator, the key question you should ask yourself is whether you often delay when you shouldn’t. If the answer is “yes”, then that means that you’re likely a procrastinator.
If you’re unsure, then you can also consider the following signs of being a procrastinator:
- Waiting until the last minute before deadlines to get started.
- Finding yourself performing tasks that you intended to do days before.
- Continually saying “I’ll do it later” (or something similar, like “I’ll do it tomorrow”).
- Getting stuck in neutral even though you know how important it is to get started.
- Needlessly delaying finishing tasks, even if they’re important.
- Postponing working on things you don’t like to do.
- Promising yourself you’ll do something and then dragging your feet instead of doing it.
- Delaying starting tasks that look unappealing (e.g., boring, frustrating, or hard).
- Taking days to complete even jobs that require little else except sitting down and doing them.
- Always having excuses for not doing things on time.
- Constantly putting off improving your work habits.
- Putting off making decisions.
- Struggling to get started even if you hate yourself for it.
The more of these signs you display, and the more frequently and seriously you do so, the more likely it is that you’re a procrastinator, and the more severe your procrastination likely is.
In addition, when assessing the severity of your procrastination problem, you can also consider how exactly your procrastination impacts you, for example in terms of your performance on tasks and emotional wellbeing.
Why procrastinators procrastinate
Procrastinators procrastinate because their drive to delay is irrationally stronger than their drive to act. This generally happens because their self-control and motivation are weakened by issues such as exhaustion and delayed outcomes, and are opposed by a preference for feeling better in the short term, as well as by emotional issues such as anxiety and fear.
Specifically, the drive to act represents how strongly driven procrastinators are to take action at the moment. It depends primarily on their self-control and motivation, which are influenced by various factors. For example, at any given moment, a procrastinator’s self-control can be influenced by how tired they are, while their motivation can be influenced by how long they will have to wait before being rewarded for taking action. Accordingly, issues such as exhaustion and delayed outcomes can interfere with self-control and motivation, and consequently reduce procrastinators’ drive to act, as can many other issues, such as depression, ADHD, and low self-efficacy.
Conversely, the drive to delay represents how strongly procrastinators feel pushed to avoid taking action at the moment. It depends primarily on the desire to feel better in the short term, by avoiding negative emotions (e.g., anxiety and fear that are associated with a certain task), and by increasing positive emotions (e.g., enjoyment from digital entertainment), a behavior described as “giving in to feel good”. This drive can involve various underlying issues, such as perfectionism, which are often also rooted in the desire to feel better in the short term from an emotional perspective.
Accordingly, although procrastination often leads to issues in managing time, it’s driven primarily by issues with regulating emotions. In addition, procrastination is strongly associated with the concept of akrasia, which is a state of mind where someone acts against their better judgment, due to a lack of sufficient self-control.
Based on this psychological framework, the following are the key reasons why procrastinators procrastinate:
- Prioritization of short-term mood (i.e., preferring to feel better now even if this will lead to feeling worse later).
- Task aversiveness (i.e., finding a task to be frustrating, boring, or unpleasant in another way).
- Anxiety and fear (e.g., due to concerns of being criticized for your work).
- Feeling overwhelmed (e.g., due to having so many things to do that it’s unclear where to start).
- Perfectionism (e.g., due to refusing to publish work that has any flaws).
- Disconnect from the future self (e.g., viewing the consequences of your delay as something that someone else will experience).
- Delayed outcomes (e.g., due to discounting of rewards that will only be given in the far future).
- Low motivation (e.g., due to low-value outcomes, low expectancy of achieving outcomes, or difficulty in associating tasks with their outcomes).
- Expected effort (e.g., due to hard tasks).
- Inertia (i.e., the tendency to keep procrastinating once you’ve started).
- Abstract goals (i.e., ones that aren’t clear and well-defined).
- Cognitive biases (e.g., a bias that makes you unreasonably pessimistic about your odds of success).
- Time-management issues (e. g., failure to prioritize tasks).
- Problematic traits (e.g., impulsivity and distractibility).
- Underlying behaviors (e.g., self-handicapping, sensation seeking, or rebellion against an authority figure).
- Underlying conditions (e.g., depression and ADHD).
- Low energy (e.g., due to lack of sleep).
- Low capacity for self-control (e.g., due to exhaustion).
- Problematic environment (e.g., one that’s filled with distractions or has negative peer influence).
For more information about the causes of procrastination, see the guide on why people procrastinate.
Many of these issues are interrelated. For example, depression can cause lack of energy, lack of energy can exacerbate anxiety, and anxiety can increase task aversiveness, which can cause procrastination due to prioritization of short-term mood. Similarly, the effect of anxiety on procrastination can be influenced by various factors, such as people’s self-efficacy and mindfulness.
Furthermore, the relationship between these issues and procrastination is complex for other reasons. For example, while some types of perfectionism and fear generally increase procrastination, others generally decrease it (by increasing the motivation to act). Accordingly, the exact way in which these issues influence people’s behavior can vary across situations.
Finally, note that the issues that cause procrastination can lead to problematic cycles. For example, this can happen when someone is anxious about a task, so they procrastinate on it, which causes them to do badly, which makes them more anxious about similar tasks, which makes them likely to procrastinate again for the same reason in the future.
How to stop being a procrastinator
To stop being a procrastinator, you should do the following:
- Set specific and realistic goals. For example, if you want to start exercising, a good goal might be “manage to run for 1 mile straight by the end of the month”, while bad goals might be “do some running” (unspecific) and “run a marathon by the end of the month” (unrealistic).
- Assess your procrastination. First, identify situations where you delay unnecessarily, to figure out what exactly you procrastinate on (e.g., studying) and how you do it (e.g., by browsing social media). Then, think about those situations to also figure out where and when you procrastinate (e.g., at home or the library, on starting or finishing tasks, in the morning or evening). Finally, figure out why you procrastinate (e.g., due to perfectionism, fear, or abstract goals), based on the information you saw in this guide.
- Create an action plan based on relevant anti-procrastination techniques, while accounting for the goals that you set and the nature of your procrastination problem.
- Implement your plan, and then monitor your progress and refine your approach, primarily by figuring out which techniques work for you and how you can implement them most effectively.
The following are key anti-procrastination techniques you can use as part of your plan:
- Break tasks into manageable steps (e.g., sub-tasks you can easily complete).
- Commit to a tiny first step (e.g., working for just 2 minutes).
- Give yourself permission to make mistakes (e.g., by accepting that your work will be imperfect).
- Make it easier to do things (e.g., by preparing everything you need in advance).
- Make tasks more enjoyable (e.g., by listening to music).
- Make it harder to procrastinate (e.g., by eliminating potential distractions).
- Delay before indulging the impulse to procrastinate (e.g., by counting to 10 first).
- Set deadlines (e.g., by deciding that you’ll complete a certain task by tomorrow evening).
- Plan how you will deal with obstacles (e.g., by deciding that if X happens, then you’ll do Y).
- Identify and address your fears (e.g., by considering what advice you would give to a friend).
- Increase your motivation (e.g., by marking streaks of days on which you achieve your goals).
- Increase your energy (e.g., by taking necessary breaks).
- Improve your environment (e.g., by adding reminders of your goals).
- Use social techniques (e.g., emulating a role model).
- Use time-management techniques (e.g., alternating consistently between work and rest).
- Create starting rituals (e.g., counting down from five to zero).
- Start with your best or worst task (e.g., your easiest or hardest one).
- Develop self-efficacy (e.g., by reflecting on your successes).
- Develop self-compassion (e.g., by reminding yourself that everyone makes mistakes).
- Treat underlying conditions (e.g., ADHD).
For more information about these techniques and how to use them effectively, see the guide on how to stop procrastinating.
You can use any combination of techniques that you want, but should start by focusing on a few that seem most relevant to your situation.
Note that you will likely benefit from writing things down, such as your goals and plan. This can have various benefits, such as helping you think more clearly and making your decisions feel more concrete.
In addition, remember that imperfect action is generally better than no action, so you’ll benefit more from trying to do just some of the above, than from getting stuck doing nothing at all. Furthermore, the longer you delay, the more likely you are to do nothing, so you should start right now, while understanding that you’ll probably get some things wrong at first, but that you’ll be able to improve your approach over time.
Accordingly, if you feel overwhelmed, start by just identifying the smallest possible step you can take to make progress toward your goals, and then try to start with just that tiny step, while giving yourself permission to make mistakes during the attempt. Potentially, you can also make it easier to get started, for example by preparing everything that you need for your work without yet trying to start the work itself, and also make it harder to procrastinate, for example by eliminating potential distractions from your environment.
Procrastination benefits and harms - Who are procrastinators?
Procrastination has become the scourge of our time. But let's not rush, but first we will analyze and rehabilitate this phenomenon a little. After all, if it appeared, it means that it is needed for some reason?
What is procrastination? Everyone condemns her - colleagues, relatives, and ourselves. But the fact remains: the more tasks, challenges and opportunities, the more people become who simply cannot force themselves to take up work on time. nine0007
However, psychologists say that procrastination is, in fact, a defense mechanism. We do not just, because of laziness, delay the solution of seemingly important issues. Behind this there are always some feelings: fear that it will not work out; sadness when the past interferes with building the future; joy when we dream about something so much that we are delaying the incarnation. By the way, forgetfulness and being late are also varieties of procrastination, only unconscious.
Who are procrastinators
Procrastinators are people who regularly procrastinate. In general, this is almost the entire population of the globe. Because there is hardly a person in the world who has never put off anything for “tomorrow”. Even sleep can be procrastinated. If for some reason you do not want to be in tomorrow as soon as possible, you will scroll the social media feed, watch the series - just so as not to fall asleep.
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Procrastinators can be active and passive. The former simply postpone the execution of the task to a more convenient time, clearly understanding why they are doing it. The second put off for "later" unconsciously, because of fear or other internal experiences.
There are other classifications. So, psychologist Neil Fiore in the book "An Easy Way to Start a New Life" talks about five types of procrastinators: perfectionist, "imposter", unmotivated, overloaded, lucky. nine0007
And coach Christopher Sauer divided procrastinators into the following types: conflict avoiders, people avoiders, procedure avoiders, and detail avoiders. In general, it is important to understand that in order to fight procrastination, you must first understand what kind of internal problem you are solving by putting things on the back burner.
Why is procrastination harmful? As a result, the procrastinator drowns in the flow of routine, loses strategic vision, and cannot follow the plan. nine0007
2. Makes you live in constant stress
Constantly delaying the solution of important issues until the very deadline, a person is eventually forced to work in a terrible hurry. That is, he experiences strong physical and psychological stress almost all the time. To keep within the lines, sometimes you have to sacrifice not only rest and sleep, but also the quality of the work performed. And this further increases the stress, because the procrastinator does not feel a sense of satisfaction for the work done. nine0007
3. Provokes feelings of guilt, lowers self-esteem
A procrastinator is always at odds with his conscience. He suffers, feels guilt and shame, considers himself a weak, undisciplined person. This deprives him of inspiration and faith in his own strength.
4. Spoils the image
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The habit of procrastination not only hurts self-esteem, but also affects how others perceive the procrastinator. Unfortunately, at best, they treat such a person with condescension, considering him unreliable and irresponsible. And this deals another painful blow to the self-esteem of the lover of time.
5. Deprives of rest and joy of life
Life in constant stress, a stream of unresolved tasks, with guilt and low self-esteem, to put it mildly, is not very joyful. And the procrastinator does not have time for rest and entertainment. nine0007
What is the use of procrastination? Adam Grant from the University of Pennsylvania proved that creativity levels increase if you take a break from work from time to time. By the way, having found out this, Adam decided to specifically study procrastination in order to bring fresh notes to the work.
2. Saves from perfectionism
Stanford University professor John Perry also talks about the benefits of procrastination. The scientist recommends to everyone who is accustomed to endlessly look for flaws in their work, to start deliberately postponing everything to the last moment. Then there will simply be no time left to search for improvements, there will be more time for new activities and ideas, and as a result, your business will only win!
3. Gives the opportunity to work intuition
John Perry also believes that sometimes we just need to be patient and let others solve the problem without us. nine0007
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Often we are prevented from letting go by the desire to keep everything under control. It creates the illusion of security, but takes the resource away from us and does not allow others to develop.
If you intuitively put things off, and after a while they drop by themselves, congratulate yourself. Your brain has intuitively chosen the right tactics to focus on the really important tasks. nine0007
4. Signals that you are tired
You used to have no problem getting started, but now you have to force yourself more and more? Perhaps this is how your brain signals that it is time to give up some things, deeds, tasks and people. Arrange yourself an information detox and think about how to reconsider your priorities and get rid of the excess.
5. Shows that “not yours”
If you keep putting off some tasks, it might just be “not yours”. Then procrastination can be the first signal to change in your life. Even if the situation is such that it cannot be changed quickly, the very realization of this fact will help you to better formulate goals for the future. nine0007
How to deal with procrastination
Whatever one may say, quite often procrastination prevents us from achieving what we want. Let's not fight it directly (this is ineffective), but rather try to negotiate.
Tell yourself that you are not alone
A lot of people, including very successful ones, periodically procrastinate. For example, Steve Jobs. He explained his behavior by the fact that he seeks to obtain the greatest benefit by delaying the solution of certain tasks. In addition, in the midst of work, he could drop everything and leave "for inspiration." And he came back with new ideas. nine0007
Eat the frog last
Instead of the common advice to "eat the frog first", that is, start with the most difficult tasks, try starting with easy and pleasant things. Celebrating small accomplishments will increase your levels of joy hormones – dopamine and serotonin – and give you a resource for bigger things. Just don't pull. The action of hormones of joy is short-lived. And when their levels drop, cortisol, the stress hormone, takes over. You will recognize him by the feeling of discomfort and the desire to “do something”. At this moment, you can eat a cake, or you can direct energy into work. The main thing is to track this desire and refrain from the first option in favor of the second. nine0007
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Give yourself the opportunity to relax
Or please yourself with a book, TV series. Just strictly limit the time of relaxation and promise yourself a prize for the fact that after that they immediately set to work. Take a break to rest and return to activities with new ideas. Your creativity will benefit from a little break. nine0007
Answer the question: “Why am I doing this?”
If you clearly understand that the reason for your procrastination is that the business is “not yours”, try to connect boring work with something important and interesting that awaits you in the future. For example, the phrase placed in a prominent place: “Work in Amsterdam!” will help you to study English.
Get busy with routine activities
Procrastination is not just laziness. It is also waiting for the right moment for inspiration. While you are cleaning up your plans and completing small tasks, your brain is accumulating information and preparing to start big work. nine0007
Choose your reward
Create a new habit for yourself - after completing a difficult or unpleasant task, always reward yourself. The size of the prize depends on the scale of the work. It can be a visit to your favorite cafe, a good movie, going to a concert.
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How procrastination differs from laziness
Laziness and procrastination are often considered synonymous. But these states are different. It is important to understand what you are facing so that it is easier to find ways to deal with the problem.
- Laziness - a person does not want to do anything, most often from fatigue. At the same time, fatigue can be not only on a physical level, but also on an emotional one. When a person is lazy, he takes a break from work and enjoys it. He doesn't feel guilty about tasks being idle. nine0007
— Procrastination is the habit of postponing difficult things for later. A person replaces them with simple activities that are pleasant to him, for example, drinking tea or watching TV shows. At the same time, he does not rest, but blames and scolds himself for the lost time.
How to deal with procrastination
Ignoring procrastination can be dangerous because it leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety. We tell you what to do if the habit of putting things off has become more and more pronounced.
Determine the cause of procrastination
The reasons may be different, usually they boil down to the fact that it is beneficial for a person to put off important things. He acts so unconsciously. Benefit should be understood as the pleasure that a procrastinator experiences.
The pleasure of shifting responsibility. No responsibility - no punishment. Sometimes procrastination returns to states from childhood: impressions, situations, interactions with loved ones are repeated. For example, in childhood, a person is used to learning under the strict supervision of an adult. And now he has grown up and cannot start doing something until he informs himself instead of his mother: “Why are you sitting? You have many lessons, hurry up! You will not be paid and scolded." It turns out that a person is used to doing things only out of guilt or under someone else's control. nine0007
The benefit is that you do not have to make decisions and be responsible for them. Just like in childhood, when parents decided everything. A person is waiting for a situation that will force him to act. Psychologists call this state of learned helplessness. If you notice such behavior behind you, remember: you have already grown up, you can work, study and live without strict reminders and control from the outside. This scheme worked before when you were a child, but you don't need it anymore.
Pleasure from the fulfillment of unobvious desires. nine0220 It also happens that postponing things is an understandable path to the intended goal. For example, a first grader does not want to study. Although usually children in the first grade do not yet have time to get tired and disappointed in their studies. And the boy no longer wants to do anything, is not interested in any subject, and refuses to do his homework. Mom and teachers are cursing: “If you study so poorly, you will have to work as a janitor!”
But it turned out that the janitor who is adored by all children is cleaning the boy's yard. He always cheerfully greets the residents, treats them with sweets, decorates the Christmas tree for the New Year, merrily cleans up to the music and, in general, easily copes with everything. The boy likes the janitor very much, so he does not mind becoming just as cheerful and cool. He sees in this a benefit that is not obvious to his mother. She and the teachers gave the child precise instructions on how to become a janitor - study poorly. So he doesn't study. nine0007
Philosopher and psychologist Alexei Cherneevsky talks in detail about the connection between significant events in life and procrastination in his lecture.
Emotional pleasure. When a person overcomes difficult obstacles, emotions become brighter and there is a feeling of fullness of life. Often people who put everything off until the last moment close large projects overnight, write a diploma and submit a report. This night before the deadline becomes bright: inspiration comes, efficiency increases to the maximum, endorphins are released into the blood, the brain generates one successful idea after another. A person feels alive and able to move mountains. His achievements become obvious, he does not doubt them. nine0007
If you often put off important work in order to show all your abilities on the last night, transfer this habit from important projects to leisure and entertainment - a safe space where you will not let anyone down if you fail.
Recognize the risks
If nothing is done about procrastination, it can lead to emotional burnout and professional deformation. When increased activity constantly alternates with apathy, neuroses can develop. As a result, a feeling of guilt arises, which requires punishment. A person gradually drops out of society, for example, being late, forgetting important information, missing meetings. And he also faces auto-aggression - self-flagellation and anger at himself. nine0007
The scheme is similar to the development of addiction: thrills are needed, and if they are not there, interest in life is lost. Therefore, this behavior model needs to be changed in order to avoid possible risks.
Steps to take:
Don't let guilt ruin your plans. Determine your area of responsibility if you don’t do something, and minimize the consequences. For example, warn colleagues that you are not on time and ask them to move the deadline. nine0007
- Allow yourself to be lazy, but agree with yourself how you want to relax and how much time. So you won't feel guilty and you can recuperate.
- Accept yourself - get comfortable with the idea that you tend to procrastinate. This is fine. When you know your characteristics, it is easier for you to control them and adapt to them.
- Find the cause of procrastination, pay attention to it and work with it. If you can’t cope on your own, contact a psychologist. nine0007
- Keep track of your health - check your hormone levels and general condition of the body. Sometimes tests reveal a deficiency of neurotransmitters, substances that transmit signals between brain cells. If there are fewer or more of them in the body than necessary, a person may feel constant fatigue and depression. In this case, it is better to seek medical help.
For independent work with the problem of procrastination, you can read the book by Peter Ludwig “Defeat Procrastination! How to stop putting things off until tomorrow. nine0007
Do different techniques
Try simple ways to deal with procrastination and choose the ones that work for you.
1. "Eat the elephant"
Divide the task into small steps. Any big task seems unmanageable until it is broken down into small steps. Write down a deadline for each step. Move at a comfortable pace from one small task to the next. Rewarding yourself after each milestone you complete will help keep you motivated. nine0007
2. Morning frog
Remember the feeling when you did something important in the morning and then felt energized and energized all day. There is probably a certain “frog” on your list of tasks - a difficult task that you don’t want to do at all. The longer you put it off, the more it weighs on you. Do the most unpleasant task first, praise yourself for perseverance and strict adherence to goals.
3. Franklin Pyramid
You are doing a task and suddenly find yourself in social networks: scrolling through the feed, looking at photos of friends. This can happen when you do not understand why you are doing a particular task, and this is fertile ground for procrastination.
Decide what you want to achieve. For example, fame, money or family happiness. American politician Benjamin Franklin was known for his high performance. One of his secrets is a planning method called the Franklin Pyramid. nine0007
As you plan for the month, ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve in my life? What is my mission? Define your global goal and make a plan how to get there. After the complete picture of desires and goals is drawn in your head, proceed to short-term planning.
4. Eisenhower Matrix
Draw a square and divide it into four parts. Divide all tasks into blocks:
A - important and urgent matters. If they are not fulfilled, there will be problems. Assign health issues and what threatens one of the global goals in life to this block. This is the fire sector, it is better not to bring tasks to this category. nine0007
B - important but not urgent matters. They can be done calmly and according to plan, pay maximum attention and not panic. Here is everything that you can do effectively, if you do not postpone until the last moment and transfer to the A quadrant.