7 Tips to Manage Procrastination

Manage procrastination

Your work projects aren’t ready for the deadline, you’re holding up other people by not getting your own work done, you didn’t study for that test, or your kids are hungry and you haven’t even gone shopping, much less cooked a meal.  All of these outcomes result in feelings of stress and guilt; not to mention that the people who need you end up annoyed and frustrated.  Despite your best efforts, you can’t seem to get things done!  …So, what is the problem and how can you fix it?

Procrastination is a form of avoidance.  It’s going to be too hard; you don’t know how to do it, you’re having fun playing the video game and think that the task you have to do is going to be boring, etc.  We put off doing the task until there is so much stress and pressure that we either get it done at the last minute in a state of panic, or it doesn’t get done, and now you are dealing with the aftermath: feelings of guilt and failure, your family, co-workers, or teachers are frustrated with you, bad grades, poor job performance, etc.  

It’s also important to remember that, when we are working in a high state of stress, your brain doesn’t have the resources to do an optimal job of both things; being stressed, and concentrating to get the job done.  Its resources are divided so you don’t do as well as you would otherwise.

So how can you address procrastination?

  1. Tell yourself and others the truth!  It’s OK.  You are who you are! We’re all good at some things, and not so good at others.  If you’re avoiding something because you think you’ll be bad at it, be brave and give it a shot!  Sometimes it makes it easier to lay the groundwork.  If you’re nervous to do a presentation, start the presentation by admitting to the group that you’re nervous and make a joke about it!  Other people in the group will be nervous too.  It will make them more receptive to your presentation and does a lot to manage your nerves.  The vast majority of people want effort, not perfection.  This isn’t easy to do; especially the first few times, but it becomes easier the more you do it, and you might be surprised by how supportive people are when you are honest with them.  
  2. Make big things small.  How can you break down your project so that it is in small enough parts that you can just do one at a time?  If we feel that a project is so large that we’ll never get it done, it becomes harder to start and we are more prone to avoidance.  For example, cleaning the garage feels like an enormous task and you will never start because it’s overwhelming.  ….but what if you just tidy one shelf?
  3. Create a structure, and organize the task or information.  Sometimes we can’t even break a task down into smaller parts because we only see the end goal and can’t envision the steps to get there.  Once we have a structure in mind, though, the parts of the activity fall into place, and we are able wrap our heads around how to start the task.  Think about how a textbook or website is written.  There are headings, charts, different colours, and pictures.  If those were all wiped from the formatting, you wouldn’t be able to tell what you needed to know or what was important.  More importantly, your brain wouldn’t know how to categorize and organize the information so that it could be more easily remembered.  This structure creates a scaffolding so that you know where to put information and things click into place more easily.  Can you apply this principle to the tasks that you are avoiding?  How can you organize work or study material in a way that helps your brain organize it?
  4. Just start…then you can stop.  Sometimes getting started is the hard part!  We can train ourselves to get better at starting by telling ourselves that all we have to do is start and do the task for 1 minute.  For example, if you have a report to write for work, just open the document and scan it.  Once you’ve done that, give yourself permission to close it again.  Keep a few things in mind with this strategy, though; you need time management and planning skills to do this well.  If the report is due tomorrow and it will take you five hours, then this strategy won’t work.  If, however, the report is due in two weeks, then it’s reasonable to use the Start…Stop strategy.  This is a training strategy to help you get better at starting.  It also allows your brain to subconsciously (or consciously) start working away at the task in the background as you gradually expose it to the task.  Sometimes that can help keep the task from feeling as large and overwhelming.  
  5. Anticipate and visualize.  Think about how you will feel when you are done.  What will your family, boss, friends, or teachers say when you turn the assignment in on time?  What feelings and emotions will you have? (Relief of pressure, sense of accomplishment.)  How will your body feel?  Will your muscles feel relaxed?  How will your chest and stomach feel?  Now think about how you will feel if you keep avoiding the task.  What will your family, boss, friends, or teachers say when you miss the deadline?  What feelings and emotions will you have? How will your body feel?  Try to close your eyes and really feel the sensations and see the scenario play out.  Feel the relief and feel the stress, see your teachers, co-workers and family react.
  6. Challenge your perspective.  There are times that our beliefs aren’t accurate.  We all have had times where we think something is going to be very difficult, and it is actually extremely easy or vice versa.  Instead of believing what you think, gather some objective evidence.  What has happened in the past?  What do other people say?  Maybe what you think is wrong.  Is this contributing to your procrastination?
  7. What factors are contributing to your avoidance?  Be honest with yourself.  This can require a lot of reflection and may even warrant some therapy support.  Is fear of failure at play, perfectionism, fear of success?  Do you struggle to accurately anticipate what is needed to complete the task?  Are there practical or emotional factors that are a barrier (i.e., challenging family relationships causing stress that holds you back from engaging)?

Procrastination can be challenging because there are so many possible root causes, and the impact of chronic procrastination can affect so many areas of your life.  If you are struggling with procrastination, our team of clinicians is here to support you!  Contact us if we can help.  

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