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Procrastination and how to deal with it

Procrastination is frequently a behavioral response to fear. The behavioral responses include avoidance of the task(s) or using distraction to deal with fear. Either way, we are seldom relaxed when we procrastinate, and this exaggerates the problem. Each procrastinator develops and responds to his/her own specific fears. In varying degrees, we are all afraid of facing life’s challenges, the hard work and frustrations ahead of us. So rather than facing and dealing with the unpleasant situation or task, we turn to our favorite distraction(s) – Facebook or surfing aimlessly, TV, food/cooking, substance use, cleaning & dusting, filing, daydreaming, or other behaviors that provide us with a temporary sense of relief. This behavior can become self-reinforcing because the activity we indulge in can be satisfying in the short run.

How to stop procrastinating

It is useful in the long run to identify the underlying fearful beliefs that cause procrastination. This is not always an easy task. Here are some simple tips:

  1. Create a list of all the things you need to do. However short or long it takes to do something, put it down on your list. This task aims to clear your head. Go through the list and see if you can separate tasks from projects (projects involve multiple steps and perhaps other people’s input).
  2. If a task takes 2 mins or less to complete – DO IT! For projects, ask yourself – “what is the next actionable step?”
  3. Build mechanisms of reminders for your project tasks. Reminders are not useful if you get into the habit of ignoring them.
  4. Ask yourself if you are setting up unrealistic expectations for the quality of your work? Having run procrastination treatment groups at a large university for many years, I have noticed how procrastination is frequently accompanied by perfectionism.
  5. Take an honest look at the underlying fears, beliefs, and negative attitudes. Are the fears based in reality or a creation of your mind? Write them down and really question them. See for yourself how closely held beliefs impact your body, mind, and actions. Fears, resentments, and unmet social needs can act as powerful triggers for procrastination. Identify them, list them, question them.
  6. Ask for help. It is ok to do this. There are people in your life who would be glad to help you. Just make sure the help-seeking is not another avoidance behavior.