Ever find yourself saying “I’ll do it tomorrow”, “it’s not that important”, “I’m not in the mood”, “I don’t have time right now” or something similar? Whether it’s putting off chores or school assignments, delaying tasks at work, or simply waiting until the last minute to get things done, we’ve all procrastinated in some way in our lives. This is completely natural and doesn’t mean we are lazy. It simply means we’re likely overworked, stressed, or mentally unprepared to work through the task at hand.
Procrastination can be viewed as a type of self-sabotage as a result of being overwhelmed, confused, bored, unmotivated, distracted, or unorganized. It can also be seen as a form of self-protection due to fear of failure, anxiety, or being a perfectionist. If we don’t control procrastination, it can negatively affect our long-term wellbeing and can lead to missed opportunities, increased stress, anxiety, physical and mental health problems, sleep issues, lower income, lower self-esteem and challenges in our relationships. In fact, research studies have shown that procrastination lowers happiness by 94 percent.
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Let’s look at it this way. Think of your mind like a garden or plant that needs to be cared for, otherwise it will slowly decay and die.
When you procrastinate and put things off, it’s as if you’re neglecting yourself.
But just like a neglected plant with some nurturing, time, and effort, your mind can be revived. We will always have more on our plates than we can handle, so procrastination is hard to avoid. With these strategies, learn how to control procrastination and get on a path to a more fulfilling and improved life.
To recognize and identify your procrastination, consider the 4 W’s. First identify what tasks you are procrastinating on. Then reflect on when you are procrastinating. Do you tend to put things off in the mornings, afternoons, evenings, weekdays, or weekends? Take a moment to consider where you procrastinate. Do you frequently put off things that need to be completed at work, school, home, or all of the above? Now consider the reasons why you are delaying those tasks. Are you unsure about how to complete them, overwhelmed, unmotivated, fearful, or just bored?
Now that you’ve determined what, when, where, and why you’re putting off certain tasks, it’s time to create a plan and look for ways to make it easier on yourself to accomplish them. Start by creating a to-do list to help you keep track of your tasks, keep you from getting overwhelmed, and help you organize your thoughts. If you find yourself routinely putting off tasks until the next day, think about trying a different strategy. Instead, outline each activity you need to complete, then divide it into smaller, more manageable steps that are easier to complete, and set deadlines for each step (revisit and modify as needed). Using this approach lowers expectations, allows you to arrange your work and do as much as you can when you have time, and ultimately makes it easier to finish the task.
Take for example chores, such as laundry, that you’ve decided to put off (we’ve all been there). There’s no sense of urgency so you tell yourself it can wait. This becomes a repetitive cycle until it accumulates over time and grows into a much larger task that becomes overwhelming and feels impossible to get through. Rather than deciding not to do laundry at all, instead try to set realistic goals by narrowing down the items you can handle, even if it’s just one or two loads. This stops it from turning into a huge avalanche that you eventually become forced to tackle.
When you’re in a distracting setting, such as one that’s noisy, uncomfortable, messy, or chaotic, it’s easy to get sidetracked. Work from areas where you are most productive, turn your phone off (or at least silence it or put it on do-not-disturb) so you have dedicated focus time, and try your best to avoid getting distracted by TV, internet, or other sources. If you work from public spaces such as parks, cafes, and libraries, take note of whether you’re putting off work or moving slower than usual, due to being preoccupied by your surroundings.
Remember, overcoming procrastination is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, so it’s important to figure out what works for you. Some of us need complete silence to work, while others, like me, prefer a minimal level of background noise. It may be necessary to use your phone to get the job done in some cases, so turning it off won’t help. It might seem enticing to work at the library or coffee shop, but if you find your mind wandering and that you’re people watching more than you are working, then consider changing your workspace and rewarding yourself with a visit to the coffee shop or library afterward. The key is to find what works for you and stick with it. Each task may require a different approach, depending on what you are trying to achieve.
It’s easy to get bogged down by the list of things that need to get done and you may find yourself putting things off. Instead of putting too much energy into the task at hand, stay motivated by concentrating on the end result, and keep reminding yourself of why you chose to accomplish this task in the first place. As you complete tasks, reward yourself with something you’ve been wanting to do. You can even turn typical distractions into rewards, like watching that movie or show you’ve been putting off, getting caught up on social media, playing that game you’ve been itching to play, or catching up with family and friends.
The key to overcoming procrastination is to just get started; leave perfection at the door. You are less likely to achieve a goal the longer you put it off. Start small until you feel ready to take on more. Once you start, you may find that accomplishing tasks is easier than you anticipated and at times even enjoyable. If you find yourself spending too much time on one thing, switch to something else. When you find yourself losing motivation, find ways to make tasks more enjoyable by listening to music, taking frequent breaks (including mindfulness breaks such as meditation and journaling), reflect on your successes (no matter how big or small), and give yourself permission to make mistakes, and ask for help when needed.
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Don’t spend your time beating yourself up over past mistakes. Put an end to the negative self-talk by practicing self-forgiveness, mindfulness, and self-compassion, and most importantly, keep going!
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