Ever notice that when you have a deadline to complete a task or make a decision, you somehow remember all those other things you have been meaning to do? You decide that now is the time to reorganize your bookshelf or delete junk email. Or that you should read that book you’ve been wanting to read for a while or research something of interest on the internet. You decide to return phone calls and catch up with family and friends? Or, maybe you tell yourself, “I need a nap first.” You are too tired to do it right now, and have plenty of time to get it done later.
Putting off items on our to-do list, delaying completion of a project, making a decision or working towards some goal we have established is something we all do from time to time. We make excuses to feel okay about not getting things done and to avoid feeling guilty. We procrastinate. Some exponentially more than others.
While procrastination is a topic some of us might joke about or make light of as we engage (or prolong engaging) the activities of our lives, it can be a chronic and distressing issue for others. And, it can lead to a lifetime of regret.
What is procrastination?
According to researcher Piers Steel (2007), to procrastinate is, “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.” In other words, we put-off the task or activity we have committed to getting done. Instead, we become distracted, turning our attention to things that are more attractive in the moment. We redirect our focus to these things even though we know doing so will make things worse in the long run.
The exact causes of procrastination are still being researched and debated. However, some possible causes suggested by Bakas and Duru (2007) are fear and angst over potentially failing; negative thoughts and beliefs about one’s adequacy and ability; poor time management; and difficulty concentrating and remaining focused. Closely associated with procrastination and the fear of failure is perfectionism which involves the setting and attempting to live up to unrealistic standards.
What do we get out of procrastinating and what is it costing us?
On the up side, relief and gratification. Putting off completing a project or delaying a decision helps take the edge off by reducing anxiety or other unpleasant feelings. Doing the little things previously pushed aside and deemed unimportant, which are now “important,” leads to a sense of accomplishment. For example, finally getting that spare bedroom cleaned and organized feels really good. We experience refreshment after escaping into a good book or are invigorated after having caught up with family and friends.
On the down side, delaying a project, task or a decision in the long run surfaces anxiety and unpleasant distress. This time to a greater degree. And think about it, the longer we put off doing the whatever it is we are avoiding, the more unpleasant the thought of actually doing it and the longer it takes to get to it later. Along with that comes the self-criticism, guilt and being stressed out because now you are behind…again.
What do we do to begin dealing with procrastination?
The first level of working through any issue is awareness. Paying attention to when you procrastinate, the thoughts you have related to your procrastination, and the excuses you make to delay or avoid completing a task is the beginning to cultivating a new way of being. Some questions to ask as you begin to devise a plan to stop procrastinating are:
- When and in what area(s) do I tend to procrastinate the most?
- What excuses do I make to keep from doing the task, completing the project or making the decision?
- What beliefs do I have keeping me from leaning in and getting things done (I have to do it perfectly or I am a failure, I have to be energized and motivated to get things done, I am inadequate, etc.)?
- What am I trying to avoid in delaying the project or making the decision?
- Am I clear about the project and what is required to get it done?
- Am I aware of all the components and understand what is in question in order to make a good decision?
Also, breaking down an overwhelming task and applying some time management skills can be helpful in combating procrastination. Clarifying the goal, breaking it down into smaller pieces, estimating the amount of time you will need to complete each item and then putting it on the calendar can make a task seem less daunting. So, go on and give it a try.
- Write down your goals.
- Rank them according to importance.
- Create a task list for each goal.
- Create smaller portions for each activity on your list.
- Do a time budget and identify how much time you think it will take to complete each activity.
- Add to your weekly calendar.
Then “just do it”, one piece at a time.
Is procrastination disrupting your life at school, work or in relationships or finances? Need help understanding why you keep delaying important tasks and feeling stressed out? Let us come alongside and help you uncover and challenge the beliefs that keep your procrastination going. Help you be more effective in getting things done. Stop procrastinating. Give us a call today to set up a session with one of our therapists.
Written by therapist Roslyn Jordan
Learn more about Pete by reading his blog posts
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