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Procrastination

How to Gently Change Your Procrastination Habit Into Choice

Try any of these 6 approaches that emerged during therapy.

Key points

  • When procrastination is working for you, it’s a safe time to test alternatives to it.
  • The pandemic seems to have increased the occurrences of procrastination.
  • Try naming how procrastination benefits you instead of shaming yourself about it.
 Alli Spotts-De Lazzer
Source: Alli Spotts-De Lazzer

In my previous post, "Procrastination Can Be a Good Skill to Have," I shared how putting things off often benefits people and that procrastination is not necessarily a “bad” trait. That said, a person who successfully procrastinates may someday land in a situation or environment where it gets in their way. For example, maybe putting things off freaks out a co-worker they care about. At that point, they may need to crash course their time management techniques to avoid rifts, which can be a scary experience if they haven’t built that self-trust yet.

If this might be describing you, there’s no judgment here. In fact, the same principle can apply to people who terminally start early. They, too, can get in a pickle when handed a last-minute assignment and they don't trust their ability to manage that brief deadline. Assuredness takes time and practice. So, it would be good to sample and build the skills that can help you not procrastinate now—yes, ahead of time.

Thus far, and according to a 2018 meta-analysis, psychological treatments for procrastination have not shown steady promise except potentially cognitive-behavioral therapy. Furthermore, a 2021 science article in National Geographic and a 2022 review in Behavioral Sciences pointed out that the pandemic unleashed obstacles to timely self-starting. Now, more than ever, people can probably benefit from creative, personalized techniques.

The following are anecdotal solutions from the therapy room. I’ve seen each offer benefits. I hope that some will help you.

Most Important

Look for and name how procrastinating serves you instead of shaming yourself. Shame tends to keep a person stuck. So, a way to gently begin forming your custom antidote to procrastination is to view the positives of your putting things off. Next, since you have time right now to experiment with adding more tools to your life's toolbox, ask yourself: “What’s something I can do differently to add some flexibility around my routine of procrastinating?”

4 Common Reasons People Procrastinate and Gentle Actions That Might Help You Change the Habit

  1. Suppose you tend to procrastinate because you can (you do well enough to get by). You might try participating in projects that engage your interest and might be too challenging to put off and still complete at an acceptable level. Or find a mentor whose standards challenge you, causing you to want to work harder. Either tactic might inspire you to practice different time management and experience something other than your typical pattern of procrastination.
  2. Suppose you begin close to the deadline to limit the time spent second-guessing yourself after completion. In that case, you might try doing the assignment earlier anyway. You can self-impose a deadline to stop editing. If that's tricky for you to honor, develop security measures, such as adding an accountability buddy or self-imposed penalty. Then, as you notice your worry and impulse to revise, you can practice reassuring yourself: "This feels bad right now. It's just my body's response and my mind's anxious chatter." Maybe try other anxiety management skills such as breathing, guided meditations, and distraction techniques. See what might work for you to make it through the challenging part.
  3. Suppose you put something off until the last minute to minimize the duration of unpleasantness. In that case, you might benefit by starting just a tiny bit earlier than usual. Then earlier than that, and so on. If you take baby steps, you can gradually build your ability to tolerate and work through the discomfort of unpleasant feelings. (And if you just thought, “Ewww! Why would I want to do that?,” it's because life offers a lot of uncomfortable emotions and experiences. Learning how to manage discomfort is a skill that will benefit you).
  4. If you need the due date and time to motivate action or "unfreeze" you, you're not alone. Sometimes people get overwhelmed and don’t know where or how to start. And that can make any capable person feel incapable! Practice techniques to unfreeze yourself. For example, on a piece of paper, write down each potential option on which you could focus, crumple up each, place in a bowl or bag, shake, pick one at random, and go! That offers you direction, and, if it isn't the "right" direction, you'll probably quickly know. The key is to practice starting, period.

2 More Ideas for Anyone Who Procrastinates (No Matter the Reasons)

  1. Find work partners. Do you have friends who are always on time? Know someone whose work ethic you admire? See if you can schedule a live or online work party. It may help you settle into your task earlier and more enjoyably.
  2. Try scheduling time on certain days of the week to practice forming your customized antidote to procrastination. For example, dedicate 10 minutes on Monday through Wednesday. Then, each day, get in your position to work at the designated time. Even if you stare at the computer screen or something else, you’ll be practicing building your desired habit. Also, you may want to add a reward for yourself (e.g., After X times, you get to order that item on Amazon you’ve been wanting).

If your reasons for procrastinating or potential formulas weren't named yet, I'm sorry about that. You get the gist, though. I encourage you to create your experiments to test your assists and solutions. No one said we all have to do things the same way, and improvement is an improvement.

Bottom Line

Though procrastination can be a savvy life skill, it will benefit you to learn how not to procrastinate, too. (And, again, vice versa!) That way, you can choose which of your methods will serve each situation the most.

This blog is for informational purposes and does not substitute for therapy.

References

Johnson, N. (2021, March 3). Are you procrastinating more? Blame the pandemic. We know putting things off is bad for us. But an evolutionary battle in our brains can drive us to procrastinate—and lockdowns are adding fuel to the fire. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/are-you-procrastinat…

Rozental, A., Bennett, S., Forsstrom, D., Ebert, D. D., Shafran, R., Andersson, G., & Carlbring, P. (2018). Targeting proscrastination using psychological treatments: A systematic review and meta analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01588

Unda-López, A., Osejo-Taco, G., Vinueza-Cabezas, A., Paz, C., & Hidalgo-Andrade, P. (2022). Procrastination during the COVID-19 pandemic: A scoping review. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 12(2), 38. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs12020038

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