Chronic Procrastination: How to Get Rid of It and Overcome It for Good

written by Dan Silvestre

chronic procrastinationGood, old chronic procrastination. 

How many times have you googled it? Although often described and analyzed, chronic procrastination still takes hostages. The deadline is looming, but you keep putting your task off.

With billions of good advice online, we still struggle. 

Seriously, how could I not procrastinate? 

And what’s even worse:

The more you know about it, the stronger the sense of guilt.  

So you think to yourself:

“I’ve read everything that’s out there, but I still can’t do it” — and the downgrading voice echoes in your mind.

Not to mention the quality of work. You could have done it much better, if only.

From elementary to middle school, procrastination is often confused with laziness. “A lazy genius” — they say. It sounds rather flattering.

As a student, you already understand that you have a problem. Yet, the University hang-loose lifestyle covers all the flaws. 

Later on, the situation only gets worse. The chronic procrastination monster shows his teeth. Meanwhile, all you wish is to fight it over for good.  

Chronic procrastination can affect your quality of life on a daily basis.

But here are the good news:

According to some psychologists, procrastination is a learned habit—more nurture than nature.

Chronic Procrastination: Meet the Enemy

People who experience chronic procrastination hear that:

  • It’s their fault
  • They need to stop complaining and “Just do it”
  • They are lazy or immature

But here’s the truth:

As a chronic procrastinator, you know these claims are wrong.

Everyone has dreams, goals, aspirations, ambitions. Telling chronic procrastinators to “just do it” does not help.

Procrastination is a disorder like OCD or distortion of body image.

You cannot blame a person for it and telling procrastinators to change won’t work (at least, not immediately). 

Behavioral psychologists believe that chronic procrastination is a deeply ingrained cognitive pattern. It’s often propped up by self-esteem issues and negative beliefs.

Now Let’s Beat Chronic Procrastination Down!

To tackle the monster of chronic procrastination, we need two kinds of information.

The first is the reason for it to happen. The second is the way to overcome it

According to “The Organization Against Chronic Procrastination” the majority of procrastinators have these three characteristics in common:

  • Fear of failure — or rather, fear of starting certain tasks. It derives from an imagined, usually unrealistic negative future appraisal of their work. It’s an overwhelming feeling of being unable to work at a certain standard. See also: perfectionism.
  • Frequent and temporary repression of responsibilities — allowing them to focus instead on tasks that don’t make us afraid.
  • Self-conflict — procrastinators hold the belief, common in childhood, that all pleasure comes from leisure. According to it, these “lack-of-responsibility-tasks” are pure fun. 

At the same time, we are aware that it would be best if we produced and achieved our highest standard.

The consequences? Inefficient system of productivity that allows for:

  • self-loathing 
  • feelings of inadequacy 
  • choice paralysis

And did you know that chronic task-avoidance could be both symptomatic of and responsible for maladies? From chronic stress and its secondary ailments (tension headaches, IBS, insomnia) to fatal inflammatory diseases. Crazy!

16 Jaw-Dropping Ways to Overcome Chronic Procrastination chronic procrastination

At home in the DIY mode, we can tackle non-professional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It’s proven to be useful in helping overcome procrastination

Let’s review some techniques that actually reprogram your brain.

Don’t get discouraged. Curing chronic procrastination will need some trial and error and persistent effort.

1. Narrow Your Focus

Procrastinators are often intelligent “big thinkers”.

They spend too much time looking at the big picture, so a project can seem overwhelming. 

Break the project down to make it seem more doable. 

Focus on one small task at a time and, before you know it, the project will be complete. 

Think rocks. The mountain breaks down into boulders and breaks down into rocks.

Dissect every task into its smallest component. 

Make yourself do this process on paper at first. Then your brain will learn to do it by itself.  

Start with the smallest step and work your way in

Ask a non-procrastinating friend and see if they can take it even further. 

For example:

You have to buy a car. You think that going to the dealer is the smallest step. But your friend might point out that first you have to research the dealers. Then you have to find out how to get there. And you also need to book the time out to visit.

Do you see what I mean?

2. Set Scary Deadlines for Yourself

You’ve continued to put off that task, but finally the deadline is here

You need to have things wrapped up by tomorrow morning. 

There’s nothing quite like the threat of a looming deadline to overpower your emotions

You finally get that thing done, despite the fact that it seemed impossible for the past few days. 

3. Reward Yourself For Meeting Your Goals 

Connect activities you dislike with ones you love.

Let those incentives help you stay on task: 

  • favorite TV show
  • a run
  • ten minutes of personal time

As you change your habits, don’t push yourself to be perfect. 

If you achieve 80% of your goals, that’s your success. 

4. Hold Yourself Accountable in Public 

Feeling like others are watching will help prevent you from making excuses.

Some things you can do:

Post your daily goals on Twitter or Facebook, pair up with a friend, or write your current task and start time on a whiteboard at your desk. 

In the case of working in a group, delineate who will be responsible for each task. Then track progress in front of everyone. 

You might use Trello, an online task management tool, or morning check-ins. Or any other system where each person reports to the group. 

Letting others know you have something to do can be helpful. 

Procrastination works best in privacy. 

5. Be Honest With Yourself 

If you aren’t starting something because the overwhelm is real then delegate it.  

When you don’t have the skills required to complete the task – look for help.  

Maybe you delay all work tasks because you actually hate your job- acknowledge and accept that. 

Never forget this:

You have the power to change your job. You can always quit and look for something else.

6. Don’t Lose Momentum

Newton’s first law of motion says:

An object in motion stays in motion

Once you start a task, you’re much more likely to keep working on it until it’s finished.

Take the easiest task on your list and force yourself to start. 

Some hacks you can use to help you:

  • close your browser
  • turn off email pop-ups
  • make the program you need to use fit the full screen

Just start and you will see that tensions goes away and work flows. 

7. Prioritize Yourself 

This one presents a more humanistic approach. 

Prepare a list of why you are worthy of a calm, organized life.

Why do you deserve to overcome procrastination?

Is prioritizing yourself selfish? Not at all. 

If you love to do everything for everyone, you know how easy it is to lose sight of yourself in the process.

Being selfish implies that the world revolves around you.

Prioritizing yourself means giving yourself:

  • attention
  • compassion
  • time
  • energy 

Procrastination is often a form of self-abuse. 

You sabotage your life because you don’t think you deserve good things. 

Start a list about why you are a good person and add everything you do that you are proud of. 

This will help you learn you to prioritize your wants and needs.

8. Remove Emotions

Are you constantly waiting for the right mood to hit?

Are you sure you’ll feel more like doing it tomorrow?

Guess what?

You’ll not. 

Flip this belief system around by telling yourself that the worst you feel, the more perfect a time it is to start

You’ll only feel better once you get going with things.

9. Change Your Mindset

Once you get used to procrastinating, your brain has learned that distractions are rewarding. 

It’s the thinking scheme that we need to flip around. 

To stop the cycle, change an outlook on getting things done. 

Try making distractions harder to get to. For example, temporarily delete fun apps off your phone.

Reframe the task as something beneficial. 

Challenges are a way to improve your life. They are not a measure of your worth. 

Find personal meaning in the task.

10. Do Things You Are Bad At 

If your chronic procrastination is linked to perfectionism (which is very likely), then try your hand at something you don’t care about being good at. 

A couple of examples:

  • go to an art class if you’ve never drawn 
  • enroll in dance class if you are all left feet 

You’ll see how liberating it can be. 

Drop your standards and feel this energy of just “having a go”. 

It can carry over to the things you are usually so hard on yourself about.

11. Learn to Differentiate Between Urgent and Important Tasks 

The most common technique is the Time Management Matrix by Stephen R. Covey.

According to the matrix, everything we do in life can be sorted by both its urgency and its importance

It’s in our nature to prioritize urgent tasks. When we know a deadline is looming, our reactive brain kicks in. 

You put all our energy into completing something simply because it’s “urgent” and then you are rewarded with a brief hit of dopamine for our efforts. 

The rule of thumb is not to commit typical mistakes.

Most people prioritize the most urgent things, without stopping to think whether they’re the most important things.

You probably waste far more time than you realize doing that.

How can you make better use of our time? Start using the time management matrix.

It’s easy to overlook the distinction between what’s important and what’s urgent.

These two words often seem interchangeable, but there’s a big difference between them. This difference forms the crux of the time management matrix. 

12. Turn Off Technology

Try turning off your phone and internet for 45-minute long-timed intervals followed by a 15-minute timed ‘on’ slot. 

You’ll see it does wonders for your ability to focus and get things done.

But switching technology off is harder than ever. In our phones, we have a job, fun, and people to talk to.

Our phones are always present. 

How can you deal with it?

Force yourself to get rid of technology at least for half an hour a day. Increase that free-zone over time. 

You’ll be surprised how much of your focus will get back on track. 

13. Rotate Between Two Tasks 

This can keep your interest levels high.

It will allow you to feel focused and motivated for both tasks. 

To keep things better organized, set a timer and spend equal time on each task. 

This is also a way to make boring tasks more appealing.

Even if both of them are hard and unappealing, mixed together they will sound much more interesting.

14. Get a Handle on Time 

People who suffer from chronic procrastination often have an unrealistic sense of time

The answer is to spend a few days timing everything you do: 

  • breakfast
  • phone calls
  • news reading
  • time spent trying to work

Get an exact idea of how long things are taking. 

Write it all down.

This way, you’ll finally understand where the time goes.

Take it even further by making a rough schedule for every day and using your timer to make sure you are on track.

15. Schedule in Downtime 

Creating slots in your day that are there to do nothing at all.

This means that your usual delay tactics are no longer delays but accepted choices. That’s a funny way to mess with your own brain. 

In other words, your brain and yourself are playing a game where everyone wins.  

Give yourself an hour a day where you are “supposed to”:

  • cruise the internet 
  • chat with friends
  • spend time doing whatever you feel like

This leaves your mind less able to sabotage when you finally sit down to work.

16. Name Your Losses 

Sometimes we need a reality check. 

Write a big list of all the things that procrastination costs you.

Make yourself accountable for your losses. Make yourself feel how much you’re letting go. 

This will help you accept the sad truth and move on.

How to Spot Chronic Procrastinationchronic procrastination

How much would you do to postpone your obligations

Do you really have to check Facebook, Instagram, or email once more?

And do you need to clean the kitchen before you start with the project?

Or do you just lie flat in your bed, unable to move in any direction? 

You know how crucial it is to start working immediately, but a little kitten inside your brain purrs ‘no’. 

You know that feeling far too well, don’t you? 

You’re Procrastinating—This Is How It’s Called

…and you already know that.

According to Piers Steel, professor of psychology at the University of Calgary in Alberta:  

“There’s nothing wrong with delaying completion of a task – in due time – to do it well. Compulsively putting things off is a different story.”

In Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done”, Joseph Ferrari claims that about 20% of the global population are chronic procrastinators.

According to the author:

“They let the gas tank run empty, or miss concerts because they waited to buy tickets. They put off projects until hours before they’re due”.

Procrastination is not the same as having a one-off lazy day. Procrastination is habitual. 

You don’t need to worry about procrastinating a few times a month. It might be a case of needing some downtime or being in a bad mood.

But chronic procrastinators put off important tasks several times a week if not daily.

Chronic Procrastination — Nature vs Nurture 

It appears that being taught cognitive distortions (i.e. faulty thinking) can affect the brain long-term. 

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain responsible for planning, controlling impulses, and paying attention. If things go wrong, it can end up with low activation. 

This happens if you never learned to meet deadlines and don’t see rewards as something you must earn.

Low activation results in an inability to filter out distracting stimuli

It leads, in turn, to chronic procrastination.

Chronic Procrastination Is a Problem 

Chronic-procrastination-like behaviors are not always an issue.

But you’re reading this, so they must feel like an issue for you. Don’t worry, it’s fixable and I’m here to help you.

Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield, shears light on the subject in her studyProcrastination and the Priority of Short-Term Mood Regulation: Consequences for Future Self”:

 “Procrastination is essentially irrational. It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences. People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.” 

Procrastination is about being more focused on the immediate urgency of managing negative moods than getting on with the task. 

Chronic Procrastination and Bad Moods

According to Dr. Pychyl and Dr. Sirois“Procrastination is the primacy of short-term mood repair… over the longer-term pursuit of intended actions”.  

Certain tasks can induce negative moods. Challenging emotions like boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, and self-doubt arise.

Procrastination is a response to them. It’s a way of coping. 

It’s not a unique character flaw or curse on your ability to manage time. So don’t worry, you’re not condemned. 

All you have to do is to shift your mindset. 

It takes time. Be patient.

Thanks for reading!

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