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Seven Ways to Curb Procrastination

Procrastination doesn’t have to be a chronic condition.

Key points

  • Chronic procrastination happens when putting things off becomes a default behavior.
  • Chronic procrastination can lead to mental health problems, like depression and anxiety.
  • Dealing with the possible causes of procrastination can help one to overcome it.
Minerva Studio/AdobeStock
Source: Minerva Studio/AdobeStock

When we intentionally put off doing something that should be done, it’s called procrastination. Maybe it’s studying for a test, going to the doctor, or figuring out your taxes. At one time or another, we’ve procrastinated about something. But when procrastination starts creeping into too many aspects of our lives, it’s time to do something about it. Procrastination can become chronic.

Chronic procrastination is when putting things off becomes a default behavior, leading to decreased functioning in your professional, relational, personal, and financial life.

Chronic procrastination signs:

  • You feel perpetually behind and often disappoint others.
  • Multiple people in your life are frustrated with you.
  • You’ve lost jobs or relationships because people don’t trust you will do what you are supposed to do.
  • You often find yourself defensive, blaming others, or making excuses as to why you have not completed important tasks, projects, or goals.
  • You struggle with feelings of overwhelm and inadequacy around meeting deadlines and responsibilities at home and/or work.
  • People in your life complete tasks for you, frequently remind you of your meetings or deadlines, and try to help you better manage your time. You may see these people as controlling and resent them.

There are both mental and physical health risks to procrastinating. Procrastination can inhibit job performance which can impair career and financial success. I think most people can relate to burning the midnight oil to get an academic paper in on time. A recent study revealed that procrastination was negatively correlated with academic achievement.

Chronic procrastination can lead to decreased self-esteem and increased stress levels. In turn, this can lead to mental health problems like depression and anxiety, substance abuse, insomnia, changes in eating behaviors, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, and increased blood pressure.

Causes of procrastination:

  • Behavioral health issues such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, addiction, ADD/ADHD, and trauma can contribute to procrastination as each of these impair cognitive functioning and the ability to think clearly, concentrate, be organized, and make decisions. Mental health issues can cause overwhelm and also decrease motivation and energy levels, which can lead to procrastination. Mental health issues as part of the human condition and the pandemic has worsened most people’s mental health. Treatment is available and effective. Therapy is a routine and preventative form of health care, like going to the dentist or the doctor.
  • Fear: There is fear of success, failure, judgement, not being good enough, admitting that you don’t know how to do something, asking for help, or change. In my practice, I teach mindfulness strategies to detach from fear, uncertainty, and doubt so you can put one foot in front of the other and do the work you are meant to do.
  • Dread: You abhor a task, experience it as unpleasant or difficult, or worry about the consequences of having carried out the task. For example, you may delay a difficult conversation because you worry about the other person’s emotional response or the outcome of the conversation.
  • Perfectionism: In my practice, I’ve seen many people procrastinate on taking action in areas that would further their careers and financial prosperity. Why? Because they want their resume, business plan, website, or whatever to be perfect before they launch it into the world. Unfortunately, this leads to delayed results and increased frustration and disappointment. I coach them in turning down the volume of their inner critic, embracing their worth, and recognizing when their work is good enough to submit, knowing there is always room for continued improvement, growth, and evolution.
  • Burnout and overwork: With the chronic stress of the pandemic, many of us are feeling exhausted and depleted and experiencing overwork and burnout. This can lead to procrastination because we don’t have the energy or inner resources to take care of the responsibilities we could more easily manage when we were feeling better emotionally and physically and had better work-life balance.

What you can do to control procrastination:

  • Create systems of accountability. Ask people both at home and work to check in with you on a regular basis about your progress on certain tasks or responsibilities. Consider obtaining professional accountability by hiring a coach, therapist, or career counselor.
  • Work on time management. Prioritize must-do, time-sensitive tasks. Identify time-wasters, such as surfing the internet, binge-watching television, or playing video games.
  • Incentivize yourself. Reward yourself for completing tasks on time with quality time for yourself to focus on self-care or to do something you really enjoy. You might even ask loved ones to help you with incentives, such as being able to watch a show together when you complete your project.
  • Use strategies from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to cope. CBT uses thought records or thought diaries to help you identify irrational beliefs and fears, shift your thinking from negative to positive, and successfully coach you through waves of overwhelm or resistance to completing whatever needs to get done.
  • Take responsibility. Avoid the urge to blame your boss, your partner, or the weather. Commit to addressing your chronic procrastination just like you would if you had a physical health problem. Consider having a mental health check-up to see if conditions such as depression or ADD/ADHD might be contributing to your procrastination problem.
  • Practice self-compassion. Being hard on yourself will just create a downward spiral of frustration and feelings of inadequacy. Silence the voice of your inner saboteur who is full of criticism, blame, and judgment. Quiet the negative voices in your head, honor your feelings, and encourage yourself with positive affirmations and mantras to stay the course.
  • Practice mindfulness strategies like meditation, deep breathing, and yoga. Mindfulness practices help us stop ruminating about the past or worrying about the future and facilitate peace, calm, and mental clarity in the here and now. The result is like rebooting your computer operating system. Your mind, body, and spirit will function more effectively, and you’ll be able to overcome procrastination and other self-sabotaging behaviors better.

As you work on curbing your procrastination, especially when it comes to your finances, beware of the buy now, pay later programs that are especially popular during the holidays. Now knowing what procrastination can do to our mental and physical health, keep in mind these seven ways to curb procrastination.


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