What to Do When Procrastination Stops Working for You

person procrastinating at desk illustrationSome people say they work best under pressure, that a looming deadline is about the only thing that serves to motivate them and get those productivity pistols firing. However, those same people often arrive at a point in their lives when this is no longer optimal. They are tired and stressed and feel like they’re always behind and playing catch-up. They begin to miss deadlines and suffer the consequences (poor performance reviews, lost opportunities, late fees, disappointment and anger from others, etc.). That’s when they realize a change is needed, that what may have worked before doesn’t suit any longer.

They say, “I’m a procrastinator.” It’s become how they define themselves. They wonder, “How can I do it any other way?”

It’s important to understand why procrastination doesn’t work long-term. Leaving things until the last minute results in having fewer choices. Too many options can be overwhelming for some, but constantly limiting them means you’re never really given the opportunity to advance or improve.

Sometimes procrastination is driven by the fantasy that an undesirable task will ultimately be removed from your realm of responsibility. However, if you look at the evidence history has to offer, it rarely happens. Maybe you believe that a “legitimate” excuse will surface so you don’t have to complete the task, but it never comes. For example, a snow day or tax extension only prolongs the period of time you might agonize over getting something done.

Procrastinating delays what eventually has to get done.

There is the discomfort, anxiety, and weight of having something hanging over your head. You don’t have the increased satisfaction of crossing something off your to-do list ahead of time. You might feel ill-prepared and end up delivering a product that’s subpar. Your reputation might suffer because you can’t be counted on to turn things over in a timely manner. If you’re a member of a team, you demonstrate disrespect for your peers and possibly cause their work to suffer as well.

Procrastination is like sitting on a fence. It gets incredibly uncomfortable after a while.

Procrastination is like sitting on a fence. It gets incredibly uncomfortable after a while.

Making a choice to get off the fence and do something is not as hard as it may seem.

There is far more power in doing, rather than simply thinking or talking about it. In other words, it feels great to be able to tell someone “I’m working on that and I’ll have it to you by Friday” (and mean it) rather than “I haven’t gotten to it yet.” When you tell yourself you don’t have time for something, what you often mean is the task is not a real priority for you. If it was, you’d find a way to find the time.

So what to do about it?

  1. Make tougher tasks a priority. Crossing them off your list first sets your mind at ease and removes an emotional burden you would be carrying with you a lot longer otherwise.
  2. Use “block” scheduling. Pencil obligations (or parts of them) in to your calendar. You can do this in shorts breaks between meetings as well as in larger segments of time. This is taking the to-do list to another level by assigning tasks their own specific slots in which to accomplish them. This combats that sense of overwhelm you might experience in connection with having too much to do. Once you assign a task a time, you don’t have to direct your attention to it until that time comes, freeing you to focus on what you choose to pay attention to now, knowing you haven’t forgotten about those other things and you will get to them sooner rather than later. Be sure to honor assignments you’ve scheduled and let the visual prompt of seeing them on your calendar serve as a motivator.
  3. Offer yourself a “carrot.” When your project is complete, give yourself a reward. This might simply be working on items you enjoy more, or spending time with friends, taking a well-deserved nap, or finding time to watch your favorite show.
  4. Be aware of all the benefits of getting things done ahead of time. Again, these include having more opportunities available to you, additional help or resources, constructive feedback, less anxiety, improved sleep, and improved relationships (no one wants to keep nagging you to get things done).
  5. Remind yourself of the discomfort you feel when you continuously procrastinate. Let that prompt you to go do something about it.

When we wait for the “perfect” time or circumstances to tackle certain chores or tasks, that time rarely comes. We have to simply take action, and by beginning, we discover momentum because we like how it feels to “overcome” or take charge of something.

There is a sense of relief (sometimes euphoria) in getting things done. Why put that off? We often make things bigger in our minds than they really are. The sooner we begin something, the sooner we may discover it’s not as daunting as we originally imagined.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC, therapist in Denville, New Jersey

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 8 comments
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  • Lilla

    Lilla

    February 25th, 2016 at 8:08 AM

    umm stop procrastinating and get to work?

  • tito

    tito

    February 25th, 2016 at 2:04 PM

    I am actually one of those people that you are talking about and I do work so much better under a pressure and deadline.

    I don’t know what my other work would be like not working that way because frankly doing things ahead of time just does not seem to be me. I am much better off and more creative when I put it off til the last possible moment.

    It’s gotten me pretty far so far so if it ain’t broke, I’m not gonna mess with it.

  • Jay

    Jay

    February 26th, 2016 at 11:28 AM

    While I am also a person who feels like I do my very best work when I am under a strict deadline I also have started to see that it can take a real toll on you if you choose to work like this all of the time.
    I used to be exhilarated but now I only feel pressure to get it done when I work like this.
    It’s not that I can’t do the job anymore, but I just prefer things to be a little more calm I think than what this creates for me.
    The creativity is still there but then enjoyment of that kind of process is definitely not.

  • Laurie Leinwand

    Laurie Leinwand

    February 26th, 2016 at 1:18 PM

    Tito, if procrastinating works for you now, you’re right, no need to change things. But like Jay, if it’s no longer feeling good to operate this way, then it may be time to change those habits up.

  • tito

    tito

    February 27th, 2016 at 8:13 AM

    Yep that’s what I intend to do. I don’t see any reason other than slightly more peace of mind to change things up now.

  • Rhianne

    Rhianne

    February 28th, 2016 at 7:26 AM

    I guess that when anything stops working for you you have to try to go with a different approach. Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and still expecting different results each time. Life does not work that way. We become a little too complacent and things stop working. In that case it looks like it would then be time to try something new, get a fresh outlook and see how that starts working for you.

  • bowen

    bowen

    February 29th, 2016 at 7:18 AM

    Like any habit that has become a part of your life this can also be one that is hard to break. But if you see that it is no longer reaping the rewards on you, then by all means, tweak that habit and make some real changes in life. You might have to have someone hold you accountable for your actions and that is fine. Just make sure that you are doing the adult thing when necessary ad move on to work that is going to help you later on, not hold you back due to lack of interest or completion.

  • Jibby

    Jibby

    February 29th, 2016 at 4:34 PM

    Bringing the obvious to the forefront. Great article. I’m printing it and sticking on the wall in front of my desk.

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