How To Overcome Procrastination

by MindJournal - 8 mins

How To Overcome Procrastination - MindJournal

Ticking clock, bottomless to-do list? It's time to dive into endless Wikipedia spirals, dust bunnies under the couch, and alphabetising your bookshelf – just because.

According to a 2022 study review of 1,635 articles published in Frontiers in Psychology, "Procrastination is commonly conceptualised as an irrational tendency to delay required tasks or assignments despite the negative effects of this postponement on the individuals and organisations." In other words, even though we know a task needs to be completed, we're fantastic at finding ways to avoid it.

"You could go ahead and get whatever it is done, but you simply choose not to," says career consultant Victoria McLean. "That might be because you don't want to, don't feel like it, or, as studies suggest, there isn't any urgency to complete it, the deadline for doing it isn't imminent, or it might feel overwhelming or daunting."

Speaking to the New York Times, Dr. Piers Steel, a professor of motivational psychology at the University of Calgary, went so far as to argue that procrastination isn't laziness; it's actually self-harm. Yikes.

Whatever your take on procrastination, we can all agree that we'd like to do less of it and get more done, right? And it starts with identifying your own procrastination patterns.

How Can I Identify Procrastination Patterns?

“Procrastination typically arises from feeling overwhelmed,” says business coach Kate Kurdziej. “It often manifests as a coping mechanism rooted in fear of failure, perfectionism, or not meeting expectations. Procrastination often reinforces the belief that you are incapable.”

“Despite postponing tasks sometimes bringing a temporary relief or allowing you to reassess strategies, in the long term, it sabotages progress and leaves you feeling worse than before.” Kurdziej continues.

Psychologist Mark Travers agrees, arguing that there are three key personality types when it comes to procrastination. Understanding them and their patterns can help you avoid falling into the same old traps.

The Perfectionist

A 2010 study of university students found that the pressure to achieve impossible standards can paralyse even the most motivated individuals, leading to higher levels of procrastination and dissatisfaction with their work and life. Put simply, if we think everything has to adhere to impossibly perfect standards, it can be daunting even to get started. Self-compassion can help perfectionists loosen their grip, reframe challenges as opportunities for growth, and finally take that first step.

The Self-Saboteur

"The self-saboteur feels a relentless discomfort towards uncertainty and change and, therefore, procrastinates to avoid it," writes Travers. He suggests reframing daunting tasks as a chance to grow, pointing to a 2017 study that found cognitive behavioural techniques to be valuable in treating procrastination.

The Thrill Seeker

Work best under pressure? Then you could be a 'thrill seeker'. Travers points to a Personality and Individual Differences study that found these personality types are "easily influenced by their moods and short-term gratification". The answer? Self-regulation. Harness your energy by setting firm, non-negotiable deadlines for yourself and channel your inner daredevil for controlled bursts of productivity, not missed opportunities.

Instead of succumbing to procrastination's automatic pilot, hit the pause button. Carve out some quiet time to reflect on your typical patterns in your planner and see which personality type you most relate to. That way, when you feel the familiar siren song of delay, you can quickly identify the pattern and take action.

Are There Any Benefits To Procrastination?

If all of that sounds slightly overwhelming, don't be too hard on yourself: there are instances when procrastination can be helpful. For some people, 'active procrastination' might mean you become diligent about getting lots of smaller tasks done while thinking about how to approach a larger one.

"If the task is something that requires a lot of thought or creativity or you need to find a new way of doing something, procrastinating can actually give you a little more time and breathing space to come up with new or innovative ideas, as well as time to get more information or data," says McLean.

But, if procrastinating makes you feel stressed, it's probably time to put solutions in place to help you overcome it.

What Steps Can I Take To Overcome Procrastination?

"Breaking the cycle of procrastination involves recognising the underlying causes and then challenging them," says Kurdziej.

Once you've taken time to analyse the emotional reasons slowing you down, it's time to implement some practical tips to empower yourself to take back control. Here are a few simple strategies to get started.

  • "Break tasks into smaller, manageable parts with defined milestones," says Kurdziej. "If you're struggling, request a deadline extension or ask for help from colleagues."

  • Taking five minutes each morning to think about difficult tasks you mastered in the past while focusing on your breathing can build up a feeling of inner confidence and capability.

  • "Set a five-minute timer and tell yourself this is how long you'll work on the task for," suggests McLean. "Often, once you get started, you'll find the task is easier than you thought it would be, which is a great confidence boost.

  • "Leave your phone in another room, or put it out of reach so you're not tempted to use it as a distraction," says McLean. Setting yourself up for success is key to keeping procrastination at bay.

  • "Pressure can work for some people," says Kurdziej. "Instead of a negative, see occasional deadline stress as fuel to make you hyper-focused and energised."

  • "Don't be too hard on yourself if you do procrastinate," says McLean. "It's natural, and we all do it from time to time. Try rewarding yourself for getting the task done. Use the carrot, not the stick."

We all procrastinate, and it can even be helpful in small doses. But if it's becoming a serious impediment to getting things done, you might want to consider the emotional reasons why you procrastinate and learn to recognise the signs. By leading with self-compassion, you can then tailor your daily tasks in a way that works best for you.

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