How To Avoid & Overcome Procrastination | Iris Reading

How To Avoid & Overcome Procrastination

Putting things off until it is time to hit the panic button happens more than we would like to admit. Procrastination is not a habit of being lazy and unmotivated. Some of the most highly motivated and intelligent people can suffer from the effects of it. Procrastination hits those in some of the most coveted professions, too. Lawyers, university professors, prolific authors, and successful executives are all subject to it.

Procrastination can strike in the middle of an otherwise productive project. The simplest answer seems to be “just get it done.” Often, it just isn’t that easy. If it were as simple as telling one’s self to just get over it and get to it, procrastination would not be the paralyzing problem that it is. While procrastination may seem like a product of the modern age, it has been around for centuries. An ancient Greek poet cautioned against the evils of putting what can be done today for the next day. Through the ages, adages have developed parsing out advice for those in the habit of putting things off. “You may delay, but time will not,” Benjamin Franklin stated. Even wise-cracking Mark Twain had something to add. “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done the day after tomorrow just as well,” he said.

Procrastination is defined simply as the delay or postponement of something that is required to be done. As simple as the concept is, procrastination is a deeply complex and troubling challenge. Despite a clear understanding of how important finishing the task at hand may be, sometimes there just is no getting things done. 

The trouble is, merely powering through procrastination is not the answer. Even the best routines cannot keep the delay at bay. Many procrastinators are extremely productive in other parts of their lives. Nearly everyone has trouble finishing tasks once in a while. However, chronic procrastinators find themselves frustrated when they want to complete projects that are the nearest and dear to them.

A study by the American Psychological Association revealed that a whopping 80 to 95 percent of college students procrastinate at some point in their school careers. An average of 70 percent of college students considers themselves chronic procrastinators. Fifty percent of those students report that their procrastination rises to the level of being problematic.

While college students struggle with procrastination, a quarter of adults procrastinate often enough that they believe it is a defining part of their personalities. The internet gets the blame for many adults’ procrastination habits. 


Reasons People Procrastinate

While there have been those who hail the benefits of procrastination, the fact is the habit can have a negative effect on stress levels and productivity. If procrastination is a chronic problem that leads to more negative effects, why do people put off the things they must do? The reasons are complex and have little to do with poor time management skills.

As it turns out, humans rely a lot on their self-control in order to accomplish the tasks before us. The problem begins when that self-control lacks the motivation to complete the job. Motivation is subject to other issues, like fearing failure, anxiety, and exhaustion.

Motivation is affected by a number of things. For example, people who suffer from conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) deal with the inability to focus on the tasks before them. Anxiety and depression sufferers face similar issues. Others deal with a fear of failure and performance anxiety. Each of these factors makes it difficult to push through and finish. The following is a more in-depth look at the characteristics that lead to procrastination.

Inability to persevere – Sometimes the issue comes from the inability to move beyond a difficult stage of a project. Often, this lack of perseverance occurs when the individual is unable to see beyond the current level of difficulty. In other words, progress stops when the person disconnects from the future version of the goal and focuses solely on the difficulty at hand.

ADHD-related issues – It may seem like a no-brainer to expect ADHD sufferers to deal with procrastination issues, but the source of the problem may not be expected. While for some the hyperactivity and lack of impulse control can have a direct effect on completing tasks, for others the difficulty to maintain attention contributes to the problem. ADHD makes it hard to maintain focus on the project at hand.

Depression – The symptoms of depression alone make it hard to complete tasks. Add any factor of difficulty, and chronic depression sufferers face an uphill battle. Depression makes it hard to concentrate. Depression can also cause physical symptoms like severe fatigue that zap mental energy.

Imposter syndrome – High-achieving individuals sometimes hit a wall of emotion that prevents them from performing further. This emotional wall, imposter syndrome, is the feeling of being a fraud despite the evidence that shows high achievement. Despite feedback to the contrary, people with imposter syndrome often delay tasks they worry might expose them as frauds.

Impulse control – People with low impulse control are associated with procrastination. Losing focus in favor of some short-term distraction causes a delay in the completion of the most important tasks. Certain learning disabilities like ADHD can lead to poor impulse control. Sometimes, distractions like the internet and social media apps are to blame.

Short-term emotional delays – Focusing on negative emotions in the present can lead to a delay in completing the job at hand. For example, a depressive mood or temporary exhaustion may make it difficult to focus. Procrastination occurs when these factors create a distraction from the overall goal. Sometimes, the delay boils down to the desire to do something fun instead of something difficult. While this is associated with impulse control, it is sometimes caused by deeper, underlying emotional factors.

Low mental energy – Feeling mentally overwhelmed is one sure way to zap any mental motivation to finish a project. Low mental energy can be the result of doing too much without taking the time to refill emotional reserves. 

Perfectionism – Fear of making a mistake can lead to inaction. Perfectionists can become hyper-focused on an aspect of their performance they feel is lacking and then become stalled in moving forward. For example, an author with multiple literary successes can become focused on a line of text they deem imperfect. Instead of moving on, the writer shuts down all progress over a single line in a draft. Perfectionists fail to see the overall picture and focus instead on a single, often inconsequential, part.


Tips to Overcome Procrastination

With so many factors that lead to procrastination, what can be done to move beyond it? Despite the reasons behind procrastination, sometimes it is important to find ways to just get down to business. The following methods can help beat procrastination in the short term.

Address Underlying Issues – If depression and anxiety or disabilities like ADHD account for a tendency to procrastinate, figuring out ways to cope with the overall issue can help prevent procrastination. If current treatment methods fail to prevent procrastination, it may be time to change directions and find new treatment methods.


Turn to Tomatoes

Back in the 1980s, an Italian university student developed a time management method based on timed bursts of productivity followed by short breaks. He called the technique “The Pomodoro Method” after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to time the intervals. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. Now available in app form on smartphones and other devices, this technique allows users to begin with the first task on the to-do list and simply work in timed intervals until it is completed.

The intervals are usually divided up into 25-minute work intervals followed by five- or ten-minute breaks. After a couple of hours or four blocks of work intervals, the rest period increases. Users of this method enjoy the adaptability to life circumstances. Work is accomplished in blocks of time between other big tasks. This method also leads to feeling accomplished after short working periods. Breaking down tasks into small time intervals helps prevent burnout.

Hedge Your Bets – Sometimes moving past the underlying issues and focusing on temporary methods of motivation just to get the job done. One way is to set up an accountability partnership with a friend. Place a bet with a set reward with the accountability partner to complete a task at a certain time. If the task is completed, the reward is earned. If not, there is a consequence.

Working with an accountability partner adds an aspect of fun to the project. Making task completion fun can work against distraction issues and emotional delays. In fact, setting small goals with a reward for completion is a good way to move beyond most procrastination issues. However, it is wise to avoid too many negative consequences because the reasons for procrastination in the first place are set in deeper emotional issues.


Prioritize Wisely

Sometimes, having too much to do can be the lion’s share of the problem. Regular evaluation of priorities can pare down an overwhelming list. Allowing tasks of lesser importance to go by the wayside can increase the productivity of the most important jobs. Realizing that it is not only okay but optimal to let go of certain projects that do not add to the overall goal focuses energy on what is most important.

Focus on the Negative – Sometimes the best way to kick motivation into high gear is to remember the consequences of inaction. Shift the focus to what happens if the task isn’t completed. 

Break Tasks into Actionable Steps – Along with time management tricks like the Pomodoro Method, breaking larger projects down into smaller steps can help build motivation toward the end goal. For those who procrastinate due to issues like imposter syndrome, negative self-talk, or perfectionism, seeing accomplishments in small steps can help overcome the fear of failing. 

Get Moving – When mental fatigue is a factor in procrastination, sometimes the best way to move forward is to simply move. Walking away from the project for a short time in favor of physical activity can help reinvigorate focus. A change of scenery is a good way to clear the mind of the clutter that prevents focus. Exercise also increases the happy hormones, like serotonin and dopamine, which fight depression and anxiety.

Walk Away – While walking away may seem counterproductive, regular breaks are important for long-term emotional and mental health. Turn off the internet, put the phone away, and switch off the streaming service in favor of time in nature, with family, or simply time alone. Unplugging from social media and other obstacles works immediately to remove the temptation to be distracted. Longer-term, building regular periods of rest into your schedule by shutting out the electronic noise is effective in recharging the brain. 

Create Systems – Sometimes, it is the distraction of the regular, mundane tasks of life that can contribute to procrastination. Creating systems for these tasks can help remove the extra brain power needed to complete them. For example, a household that runs like a well-oiled machine takes less mental energy than one that operates in constant chaos. Parents who work from home are often overwhelmed by trying to make a living in an environment that is already cluttered with day-to-day tasks. Systems may include a simplified household chore schedule, cooking meals ahead of time, or employing child care help. 

Acceptance as a Mindset – Finding time to practice mindfulness is a good way to refill spent emotional reserves. Work toward acceptance of the idea that no effort will ever be perfect or that perfection is an impossible goal. Learn to accept the best efforts as good enough. The act of giving one’s self permission to just get the job done can help overcome the obstacles that lead to procrastination.

Just as there is no single cause of procrastination, there is no single cure. Instead, finding different methods to combat procrastination daily can help lead to small successes and increase motivation. In the long term, however, it may be important to address deeper issues that lead to chronic procrastination.

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