We all tend to procrastinate at one point or another. Perhaps you find yourself repeatedly waiting until the last minute to study for a test or get started on a paper. Even though you know that you are setting yourself up for more stress later, you can’t help but keep putting it off; and the frustration with yourself for not getting to it earlier only adds fuel to the fire.
In this article, we are going to look at what is at the root of procrastination, and some strategies for helping you to overcome the vicious cycle of avoidance and stress.
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Why Do We Procrastinate?
Despite popular belief, procrastination is actually not the result of poor time management skills or laziness. The roots run much deeper. According to an article in the New York Times, experts believe that procrastination occurs because of difficulties with regulating difficult emotions about a task. For example, we might delay working on a project because it is tedious and boring, or we may find that a certain task spurs feelings of anxiety, self-doubt or insecurity.
Maybe we question whether we have what it takes to complete a task successfully, or fear judgment or criticism if we don’t do as well as we hope. As we procrastinate, even more negative feelings become attached to the task, as we feel increasing anxiety and self-blame about having delayed what needs to get done.
Experts note that procrastination is an irrational behavior, as we continue to put off a task despite knowing that there will be negative consequences that follow. As humans, we tend to be more focused on short term comfort than long-term needs. Each time we procrastinate, it provides relief in the moment as we avoid an undesired emotion, which re-enforces the behavior; this is how so many people become trapped in a cycle of chronic procrastination.
Research has revealed that chronic procrastination is linked with many negative outcomes, from reduced productivity to symptoms of depression and anxiety, low life-satisfaction and even increased risk for disease.
4 Strategies for Breaking the Cycle of Procrastination
Now that we know that overcoming procrastination requires more than productivity hacks, let’s take a look at some strategies that can help you to break out of the cycle of avoidance and stress.
- Forgive yourself. Studies have found a link between chronic procrastination and low levels of self-compassion. Instead of beating yourself up for not getting started earlier, extend yourself grace. Despite popular belief, self-compassion does not cause complacency; it actually fuels motivation.
- Tune into your emotions. Take notice when any urges to procrastinate creep in. Spend a few moments checking in with yourself and assessing what emotions could be underneath. Are you unable to get started due to an overwhelming desire for perfectionism? Do you doubt your abilities to do what is required of you? Cultivating awareness over your emotions can help you to move through them instead of becoming overtaken by them.
- Break tasks down into smaller pieces. The thought of a final exam or a big project can be daunting. Considering all that goes into something can prevent us from getting started at all. It can help to break the task down into more manageable sections. For example, it might look like breaking the process of writing a paper into doing research, gathering sources, crafting an outline, then writing one section at a time. Assigning a deadline for each of these pieces can make it seem less intimidating, and ease feelings of anxiety about the eventual goal of ten polished pages.
- Ask for support from others. Consider turning to a trusted friend or family member that can help to hold you accountable. Share with them the deadlines that you have decided on for each piece of your task, and ask them to check in with you to make sure you are staying on track. Knowing that you have to report your progress to someone else can be beneficial. They can also help you to process any feelings of resistance that may surface along the way.