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Procrastination


Information and resources for overcoming procrastination and anxiety and depression


arrow_red.gif       Understanding procrastination    |    Tips    |    Resources   






 Understanding procrastination



What is procrastination?


"Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow"
~ Mark Twain

Procrastination is the delay or avoidance of a task or decision against our own intentions.

We may "put things off" in many areas of our life, such as in our work, in our social life, and in our health.

Procrastination typically includes both minor issues - such as waiting till the last minute to post a letter, and major issues - such as delaying making a decision about whether to leave your job.
 



Examples of procrastination

  • Putting off calling back your friend after a missed call
  • Not starting on an assignment that you've had for weeks until just before it is due
  • Not going to the dentist despite having had a painful toothache for months
  • Putting off paying bills until after the due date
  • Putting off doing your tax
  • Not replying to invitations before the RSVP date
  • Not being able to make a decision about whether you will catch up with friends
  • Taking too long to make a decision about where you want to travel for a holiday, so that all the flights are booked out
  • Not making a decision about where to have dinner, so that your friend is forced to choose.


Why is it a problem?


Most people procrastinate. But not everyone is a procrastinator - someone who regularly puts things off which causes unneeded suffering. It may seem okay to procrastinate because putting things off helps us to avoid unpleasant tasks or decisions, at least in the short-term. It may not even seem like a major issue because eventually most things still seem to get done.  However, chronic procrastination can be very costly.

Research shows that “procrastinators” often perform poorly and do not achieve their desired goals, missing out on many opportunities. They may have strained relationships because of their procrastination, and experience poor mental and physical health, and unhappiness.


Do you recognise any of the following procrastination tendencies?



Thoughts:

  • Do you spend a lot of time worrying about an upcoming task or decision instead of doing something about it?
  • Do you think in "musts" and "shoulds" that set extreme standards for yourself? For example, "I must do this task well or not at all" or "I should be able to do this task easily or I must be stupid"?
  • Do you constantly doubt your decisions and actions, fearing that you’ll make mistakes?    
  • Do you find it difficult to stay in the present moment, with your thoughts focused on worrying about the future or ruminating about the past?
  • Do you obsess over details, sometimes to the extent that you lose sight of the bigger picture?

Feelings: 

  • Do you feel overwhelmed because of the imagined effort to complete a task or make a decision?
  • Do you find it distressing when there are unpleasant tasks or decisions?
  • Do you find it stressful where there are things you "have" to do?
  • Are you often stressed, anxious or depressed because you regularly avoid things and put things off?

Behaviours:
 

  • Do you have a tendency to delay and put things off - both with minor tasks and major ones?
  • Do you waste time even there's things you ought to be doing?
  • Do you often postpone and avoid things that are difficult?
  • Are you ever paralyzed by perfection where you procrastinate or fall behind because of a need to do something “just right”?
  • Are you too cautious to try new things in case you don’t do them well? 
  • Are you indecisive, delaying until you can make the correct choice?





 Tips for overcoming procrastination


arrow_red.gif     Tip Sheet for Overcoming Procrastination  pdf_icon.gif


Below we provide some tips for challenging your procrastination. 

Sometimes we have many subconscious thoughts that drive our procrastination behaviours. Here's some examples, with some alternative ways of thinking about the issue:



Procrastination thought
Healthier alternative
"I’ll do it later” is my default thinking—I can’t seem to get motivated to do things even though putting it off makes it more difficult in the long run.
Sometimes I just need to get things done, and on time.  I can try giving it a go —it may actually take less time and energy than I imagined.  Besides, I’d probably waste more energy by putting it off and worrying about it.
I can't seem to get motivated to do things even though I know putting it off will make it more difficult for me. Sometimes I just need to get started. Think of how good it will feel if I can get it completed and on time so I can do more pleasant things. 
I always wait until I feel “in the mood” to do a task, or feel like I have the energy to tackle it later on, especially if it’s a difficult or unpleasant task.
I can still get things done even if I don’t feel “ready”.  Even if the task is unpleasant, I can still be effective in it.  Belief is half of achievement.
I get overwhelmed and apprehensive where there is an unpleasant task or decision. I usually try to avoid it for as long as I can.I know that if I put it off it will just make me feel worse in the long run. I can deal with a little bit of discomfort in the short term from the unpleasant task so that I get the benefits in the long-term (no pain, no gain)
It's difficult for me to make a decision until I have all of the information.
I may not be able to get every piece of information to make a “perfect” choice.   Sometimes it is better to make a decision now, based on current circumstances. I can adjust later if new information comes to hand.



How can I do things differently?


Being uncomfortable doesn't have to stop me from getting things done

We often shy away from tasks and decisions because they are unpleasant—our instinct is to avoid any discomfort.  We may wait until we feel “ready” to face these situations: we postpone until we feel “in the mood” - waiting for our energy levels to be full, our skills capable, and our confidence high.  It’s as though we believe we can’t function properly until we’re comfortable.  However, being uncomfortable isn't the same as it being unbearable, and discomfort is not the same thing as danger - and avoiding things until we’re at ease won’t get our tasks completed.

Instead, we can choose to work within our discomfort, managing our distress whilst getting things done—dealing with our short-term pain for long-term gain.  There are many techniques for relaxation and sitting mindfully with discomfort.  If feeling overwhelmed, step back to acknowledge your distress, prepare to deal with it, and then step forward to achieve your tasks.
Explore:      Relaxation techniques; managing worry; distress tolerance; discomfort tolerance; mindfulness; Acceptance and Commitment Therapy; approach-avoidance motivation; positive psychology.


Uncertainty and a fear of mistakes won’t stop me from starting

We often look for certainty before we make choices or take action.  We  fear making mistakes or doing the wrong thing, and we feel indecisive and constantly doubt our actions. As such, we do as little as possible so that we can avoid errors—we procrastinate until we’re sure we can act “perfectly”.

When we are unsure, it can be hard to move forward, so try creating a bit of certainty: test a decision or action to reduce the ambiguity.  Try things out—take small risks and test different options, allowing for mistakes.  This will provide feedback about what works and what doesn’t, and the small steps allows chances to learn and adjust.  These explorations give you practice, helping you to feel more certain, and it’s more likely you’ll do the tasks well.

Explore:      Indecisiveness; decision-making; fear of failure; perfectionism; positive risk-taking.


Giving it a go—moving from “I’ll do it later” to “now is the time”

We may not yet have the confidence or know-how to consistently get things done on time.  However, with persistence, knowledge, and self-belief, there is much we can achieve.  We can choose to be proactive rather than reactive.

Plan to “get things done”:  start earlier than you need to, and give yourself time to understand what’s involved in the upcoming task or decision—what’s the big picture and how can it be broken down into smaller steps?  A mountain is not climbed in one leap!  Achievement requires action—start small and keep moving, gaining confidence from every step you complete. 

Explore:       Goal-setting and SMART goals; planning; time management; achievement.



Self esteem and the need for approval

We may delay and avoid because we don't feel we have the competence to do a task or make a decision. We feel that others will look down on us or we will upset them if we do poorly on a task. We want others to value us so we procrastinate because we don't believe we're "good enough" to achieve without losing face.  However, we are often our own worst critics, being overly critical of our performances and doubting our ability to get things done.  Being perfect or free from error won’t make others love us—acceptance comes from within. 

Explore:      Self-esteem; self-worth; self-acceptance; assertiveness; positive psychology.



Perspectives on procrastination


The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now
Chinese proverb
You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again
Benjamin Franklin
Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week
Spanish proverb
Procrastination is opportunity's natural assassin
Victor Kiam
Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried
Unknown
Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday and avoiding today
Wayne Dyer
If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it
Olin Miller
That which matters the most should never give way to that which matters the leastLulu Lemon
It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark
Howard Ruff
The maxim, "Nothing prevails but perfection," may be spelled PARALYSIS
Winston Churchill
If you look for perfection, you'll never be content
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
We learn from failure, not from success!
Bram Stoker, Dracula
Why would anyone want perfection when growth comes from flaws?
Shannon L. Alder
The only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything
Theodore Roosevelt
A person who makes few mistakes makes little progress.
Bryant H. McGill
The greatest mistake you can make in life is continually fearing you will make one
Elbert Hubbard
The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake - you can't learn anything from being perfect
Adam Osborne







 Helpful Resources


Mental Health Professionals

You might find it helpful to discuss your procrastination experiences with a health professional who can provide insight and perspective on the issues. Some therapists specialise in dealing with procrastination and will be able to provide tips and techniques for managing problematic aspects of procrastination.




Courses and Workshops

  • ADAVIC runs lectures and workshops for managing procrastination. Please see our current events.



Peer Support

You might like to share your experiences and seek support from fellow 'procrastinators'. ADAVIC can link you in with others who understand your experience, via our:




Websites


Test Yourself
Articles and Research
Peer Support
Online Learning
Tools and Techniques




Books






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Acknowledgements

This webpage on procrastination was made possible through the support of Community Enterprise Foundation™, Rotary Club of Balwyn and City of Boroondara via the project; “Practical tools for overcoming perfectionism and procrastination”.

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