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Emotional Wellness

How to Break the Cycle of Chronic Procrastination

Procrastination has been called the thief of time, and that’s pretty accurate. The tendency to put off things that we know we should be doing now is common to all of us. For some, however, putting things off is their default mode. The result is a mess: problems compound, necessary tasks never get done, and the person’s life becomes increasingly complicated. This chronic procrastination can become debilitating. In this article, I’ll identify what you can do to break free from chronic procrastination.

What Is Procrastination?

Procrastination is avoiding doing what you know you should be doing and putting it off to later. Often, this task- avoidance is a result of stress, pressure, or anxiety, with the person falsely believing that not confronting a task or decision will make their life easier. This short-term thinking is counterproductive. While they may feel freer in the moment, the mounting difficulties of task avoidance will inevitably catch up with them to complicate matters down the road.

Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator | Tim Urban | TED

If you know that you should do something now, and you also know that not doing it now will make things more complicated later, but you still don’t do it—you’ve procrastinated. Chronic procrastination is like procrastination on steroids; it’s how you react to virtually every situation that confronts you.

How to Manage Chronic Procrastination

A common misconception is that procrastination results from laziness. Research, however, indicates that it is more likely to be linked to a person’s emotional mindset. So, rather than coming from a place of not being bothered, the task-avoidance is more often motivated by fear of the emotional consequences of performing the task. Procrastination may also result from an abundance vs scarcity mindset.

Lazy young office employee dealing with chronic procrastination at work
How Do You Manage Chronic Procrastination? (Image Source: Shutterstock)

The negative emotional result of doing a task could come from prior experience or, more likely, from an inflated idea of what could result. For example, if you keep putting off a medical check-up out of fear that you will be diagnosed with an illness. Often the emotional triggers that stop people from doing things are more deep-seated and emanate from long-held memories and experiences.

Negative Self-Talk

We all engage in negative self-talk. We constantly question ourselves, think we aren’t good enough, and tear ourselves down in all sorts of ways. Motivational speaker Zig Zigler referred to this as “stinkin’ thinkin.” He also pointed out that we all have the power to control it. This is part of learning how to love yourself.

When it comes to procrastinators, negative self-talk exhibits itself in several ways. Overgeneralization leads to a belief that you are going to have a bad result, so there is no point in even trying. Even when the procrastinator has a good result from a task, they tend to think it was a fluke that cannot be repeated.

How to Affirm Yourself and Stop the Negative Self Talk | Dr. Tracey Marks

Another common negative self-talk element is catastrophizing. The procrastinator makes assumptions that do not necessarily connect. For example, a person may have a slight flare-up with their partner. They know they should call them to apologize but convince themselves that if they do, the other person will break up with them.

You can challenge negative self-talk by recognizing it for what it is: illogical and without foundation. Confront every thought that comes to your mind and look at it objectively. If it doesn’t hold water, kick it out! Then reframe your mental picture with an alternate, more realistic point of view. Going back to the example of a relationship argument, realize that your partner is probably feeling bad about what they said, too. They may be nervous about contacting you and would more than likely welcome you taking the first step to reach out to them.

A positive affirmations journal can also help you counter negative self-talk.

Don’t Multitask

If we try to tackle too much at once, it can all feel like too much, to the point that we end up doing nothing. So, slow it down and focus on one task at a time. Become laser-focused on the task at hand and break down big jobs into more manageable, bite-sized chunks. Then give yourself a mini reward when you reach a milestone of achievement.

Calm female meditating at work and avoiding multi tasking.
Don’t Multitask (Image Source: Shutterstock)

For instance, if you have an essay to write, break it down so that you write the outline and introduction, then give yourself a coffee break for 10 minutes. Then go back and write the next section before having another mini break.

Get Rid of Obstacles

Chronic procrastinators often have too many distractions at their disposal that keep them from attending to the task at hand. The biggest distractor is the phone. When you have a task that you don’t want to do, it is very easy to text a friend or start scrolling through YouTube. You can avoid that temptation by turning your phone off and keeping it off. Then identify any other obstacles that are preventing you from getting on with a task and remove them.

Consider the Consequences

You know from bitter experience that the longer you put something off, the harder it becomes. Not only is it a far greater physical challenge, due to the reduced time frame, but the dread of not getting it done can cause emotional stress that can make you physically ill. All of this inner turmoil is likely to make you less able to produce a good result when you finally do get around to the task. Just think back to the school projects you put off to the last moment!

What Happens When You Procrastinate Too Much | Science Insider

Learn from those experiences. You have the power to avoid those negative consequences by disciplining yourself to get started on the task now.

3 Action Steps to Break the Cycle of Chronic Procrastination

Procrastination is human nature, but it can easily become not only a bad habit but also affect our mental and physical health. Here are a few action steps you can take to break the cycle of chronic procrastination:

  1. Make a things-to-do list for the coming day each evening before retiring. For every item, allocate a time period to get it done. Be generous in your time allocation to account for any disruptions. Then use the list as your guide for the day, starting right away in the morning. Work through it and cross off each item as it is completed.
  2. Delegate; you don’t have to do it all yourself. Recruit the assistance of other people when appropriate.
  3. Chunk up large tasks; rather than putting off a task because it is too large, slice it up into manageable chunks, providing yourself a mini reward when you complete each portion of the larger task. Remember, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time!
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