Why we Procrastinate… And How to Stop

A couple of days ago I finally got round to tackling my in-tray. Having put off this dreaded task for several days, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was and how great it felt to have finally cleared the space…. Not only on my desk but in my head too, because putting off a task doesn’t mean that you don’t think about it. In fact, putting off a task actually means that you allow that task to become so much bigger than it really is, allowing it to take up a disproportionate amount of your valuable thinking time.  Worrying about not doing something takes so much more energy than actually doing it.

We all tend to put off certain tasks sometimes but like any other self-defeating behaviour, when procrastination is normalised, it can become extremely life-limiting and can lead to people experiencing really negative emotions such as guilt, inadequacy, stress and depression. Things begin to build up: for a student, for example, one assignment not completed then can become two, three or four. One was a challenge but now four feels like an impossible task. Not being able to keep up with the other students makes them feel like a failure. It’s perfectly normal to have a bit of a ‘blind spot’ to a particular task but it’s not emotionally healthy to procrastinate on a regular basis.

Why do people procrastinate?

There are many reasons including:

• Poor time management/organisational skills

• Task overload

• Anxiety about the task

• Feeling overwhelmed

• Low self-esteem and concerns about failure

• Avoidance of things which you simply don’t like doing

When you convince yourself that you aren’t up to the task and so put it off, you simply ‘prove’ yourself right.  That creates a downward spiral, which affects the way you feel about lots of other things in life. 

Emotional issues like low self-esteem are more difficult to overcome than organisational skills and that’s where counsellors and therapists can help, but there are lots of things that you can do yourself too!

• Focus on your successes to boost your confidence – you really CAN tackle that task, you really ARE up to the job! 

• Spend some time thinking about what approach suits you and your personality when tackling tasks… and develop strategies that suit you.

• Remind yourself that, for the most part, the task is to your benefit. A university essay, for example, is all part of the degree that you chose and that will ultimately benefit you. You don’t really HAVE to do it, you CHOSE to do it.

• Break down the task into manageable chunks, which don’t seem so scary on their own, but build up quickly so the job is done. 

• Accept that you have to do it and promise yourself a reward on completion.

If your procrastination means that you are behind with things professionally or on a course, talk to your boss or tutor.  Everyone can get behind sometimes, it’s not the end of the world and, with effort, it can be rectified.  Just be honest with others and with yourself because you really CAN do this.