woman sitting by the window making plans on her diary

The struggle is real! With YouTube videos, Instagram feeds, Facebook updates and Pinterest boards vying for our attention daily, how does anyone manage to still be productive? According to some studies, procrastination is four times more prevalent in our life today than it was 30 years ago! In fact, as many as one in five people struggle daily with severe procrastination that can create a negative impact on their work, relationships, and finances.

man working alone at restaurant with laptop

However, have you ever stopped to wonder exactly why you tend to put things off until the very last minute? Procrastination results from a combination of factors, and here’s how you can overcome each one of them:

1. Being a Perfectionist

You’ve probably heard this before- procrastination is often a symptom of perfectionism and anxiety issues. It has been widely reported by psychologists and psychiatrists that many of the same patients who suffer from anxiety are also the very same who are chronic perfectionists.

When you’re a perfectionist, you tend to set unrealistic expectations for yourself and may be more sensitive than most to criticism, rejection, or failure. It’s hard for you to get started on something because you’re constantly plagued by the fear that what you are doing will either draw criticism from your peers or fail to measure up to your personal standards. This constant self-doubt can be paralysing, and without proper coping mechanisms in place it can even lead you to self-sabotaging behaviour.

To overcome your fear, you need to simply allow yourself the room to make mistakes. You need to see that mistakes do not define who you are nor do they determine your worth as an individual; they are in fact opportunities for you to learn and grow. Look at it this way- by procrastinating, you are just putting off the inevitable. So instead of spending too much time mulling over one particular aspect of a project, make it a personal challenge to get it done as quickly as you can, and then you can start working slowly on refining and revising your work.

Keep a checklist of the tasks you’re supposed to do, so that as you make your way through each of them, you’re able to cross off the items from your list and enjoy the small sense of triumph that comes with it.

2. Being Easily Distracted

manicured hand of a woman multitasking on her phone and laptop

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Technology was created to make our lives easier, but it is also making it increasingly difficult for us to stay focused for long stretches of time. The brain is like a muscle, and the type of content and media that it’s used to processing has a significant impact on its attention span.

A review conducted by the University of Oxford, King’s College London, Harvard University, and Western Sydney University found that mobile phones are replacing our ability to remember facts while misleading us into thinking that we are smarter than we actually are. The endless stream of prompts and notifications on mobile devices encourage people to flit from activity to activity without holding undivided attention on any one task. This has in turn been shown to decrease  our capacity for maintaining concentration in our day-to-day lives.

A task that normally takes five minutes to complete can take twenty minutes if we are constantly looking at our social media or text messages. The solution for this is simple: set a time to focus on a task, and turn off your device and put it away during this time.If you’re having to work with the internet browsers open, close all your multiple tabs and keep open only those that are directly relevant to the work you are doing now.

Get in the habit of not budging until you have seen a task through from start to finish, and you will find it increasingly easier to be more productive.

3. Not Having a Realistic Plan of Action

Imagine what our lives would be like without GPS or maps. You are told that you need to show up at venue X, but you’ve never been there before. How would you even know which direction to start walking in?

We often procrastinate when projects seem too daunting, and we have only a vague idea of what needs to be done in order for us to achieve our end goal. Breaking project down into smaller, actionable tasks provides you with the ability to take one step at a time and progress towards completion. Instead of being paralysed by inaction over how much time it would take to complete an entire project, focus instead on what you can do today to help you take a few steps forward.

Set a realistic schedule of tasks to be achieved on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis and just slowly work your way through them.

4. The Lack of Motivation

Man looking dejected sitting on railroad tracks

Photo by Daan Mooij on Unsplash

Sometimes, the reason for our procrastination is as simple as us not liking the task or finding it boring and unstimulating. In such instances, you need to create little ‘motivation checkpoints’ for yourself by allocating a specific amount of time to be spent on the task, and then rewarding yourself after each milestone you complete.

Get started on the task, and just tell yourself that you will spend just 15 minutes on it before taking a 5 minute break. Once you get started, don’t feel like you have to stop at the 15-minute mark if you have gained momentum in it. Sometimes, just the act of starting on something is enough to motivate us to complete it. The faster you remove this task from your to-do list, the more satisfied you will feel.

For example, let’s say that you have this online course that you started two months ago and have been wanting to complete. In order to be disciplined about it, assign one hour a day to work on that online course. Pick the hour that you prefer and don’t ever skip it. That is the hour that you’ve assigned for that task so make sure that all distractions are cleared. No phone, no TV, no Netflix, no social media. Just you and your online course. Soon, you will be breezing through the course and wanting to spend more than just your one hour daily on it.

5. Being Emotionally Exhausted

We spend so much time multi-tasking, juggling multiple responsibilities, and having such high expectations of ourselves that chronic stress can become a real issue. While most people tend to think of procrastination as laziness, it can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious mental health crisis. Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by work or the demands of your personal life that you feel like just throwing in the towel and not doing anything? If so, you may be experiencing emotional exhaustion.

Emotional exhaustion tends to build up over a long period, and can arise when someone experiences excessive stress in the personal or work life. This may range from stressors such as financial stress, working in a high-pressure environment, juggling multiple things at once, or the loss of a loved one.

When you are emotionally exhausted, you often find it hard to feel motivated or to perform simple, daily tasks. You may feel detached, numb, or isolated from the world and prone to cynical or pessimistic thoughts. When in such a state, you’re prone to self-sabotaging thoughts. You don’t wish to do anything, because you don’t see what’s the point of it anyway. Why bother putting in effort at home when nobody appreciates you for it? Why bother taking your professional responsibilities seriously when you don’t get any credit, and your boss will just heap more work on you?

tired woman leaning out of an office buildiing

Photo by Hernan Sanchez on Unsplash

To reduce emotional exhaustion and burnout, you may need to consult a licensed therapist. But in most cases, it can be prevented by making lifestyle adjustments.

  • Schedule breaks throughout your work week and spend at least a day doing the things that you enjoy.
  • The dietary habits that you adopt can have a huge impact on your mood as well. Reduce your alcohol consumption and instead of ordering pizza or fast-food, eat a balanced diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein. 
  • Spend at least 30 minutes exercising daily

Ultimately, to beat procrastination and to live a healthier and more fruitful life, you need to first examine the underlying reason why you tend to put things off. By addressing your inherent fears or anxieties, you would be able to then find the right coping mechanism to help you manage your situation.

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