Four tips to kick procrastination to the curb

Tessa Burns MartinJasmin Dhillon, Psychotherapy

Written by Jasmin Dhillon, Ph.D., Registered Psychologist

default-post-imageProcrastination is a fairly common problem – everyone does it! Procrastination is delaying or putting something off for later. It can take the form of sleeping, eating, engaging in other pleasurable activities, or even engaging in tasks that are not as important as the task that is being avoided. For many procrastination can become a habit that is hard to break.

It can be a way of coping with negative emotions by avoiding situations that cause anxiety/stress. In the short term avoiding situations that cause negative emotions works, because by avoiding the situation and doing something else we instantly feel better; over time this behaviour may become more habitual because it is reinforced by the instant relief that is received.

However, in the long term procrastination has the potential to produce more negative emotions (e.g., guilt, anxiety). Procrastination may also be the result of negative thoughts. For instance, someone may experience the thought that there is no point in doing something unless it is perfect and this thought may prevent action. Thoughts related to not being able to do something may also impede action.

Facing procrastination can be challenging. Recognition of when you are procrastinating is the first step. Asking yourself about both the short term and long term benefits and costs of procrastination can also be helpful. The way in which you answer the benefit/cost question may help motivate you to try something different.

Once you have decided that there are greater costs than benefits associated with procrastinating try the following four tips to challenge procrastination:

  1. Break the task down. Sometimes the size of the task can make it seem overwhelming and procrastination may be a way of avoiding the feeling of being overwhelmed. Breaking the task down into smaller, more manageable steps may help. It is also important to start with a small step that isn’t too overwhelming.
  2. The 10 minute rule. Start by committing to engage in the task for 10 minutes. Some people find it helpful to set an alarm for 10 minutes. At the end of the 10 minutes if you want to continue to engage in the task go ahead, otherwise, you have achieved your goal of engaging in the task for 10 minutes.
  3. Reward yourself and be kind. Negative self-talk can be demotivating and push us further away for the goal. Rather than critiquing yourself, encourage yourself. If you catch yourself engaging in critical self-talk, ask yourself ‘what would I say to a friend/loved one in this situation?’
  4. Ask for help. Everyone needs help sometimes and it is okay to ask for help. If you find that you need assistance to tackle procrastination it may be helpful to talk to a psychologist. A psychologist may help you gain insight into the challenges you are experiencing and assist in implementation of various strategies that may be helpful for you.

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