How to Manage Procrastination
Do you ever have those days when doing what needs to be done feels impossible? Maybe it’s a task at work, a phone call you’ve been needing to make, or getting some exercise in. Sometimes we put off our responsibilities or obligations until the last second possible.
Many of us procrastinate like this every once in a while. But what if it shows up more often? Some of us find ourselves consistently procrastinating on important or necessary things - to the point where it derails our daily lives and goals.
Unfortunately, procrastination has a bad reputation and is often associated with things such as laziness, poor time management, or a lack of caring. Due to this, those of us who struggle with procrastination tend to feel guilty or shameful about this behavior.
However, many people do not realize that this reputation is mostly inaccurate - and that our reasons for procrastinating are often more complex or deeper than we realize.
So, why do we procrastinate? Below are some reasons people might procrastinate - along with some helpful tips on how to approach these issues.
Perfectionism and procrastination often come in a pair. Those of us who are perfectionists tend to spend a lot of time and effort on everything we do. Due to this, sometimes we avoid starting on tasks or addressing certain situations because we know (based on past experience), how difficult or time-consuming it will be, due to our self-imposed standards.
It is important to recognize this cycle; by addressing our perfectionism, we address our procrastination.
In this situation, one thing you can try is to lower your expectations of yourself for that specific thing you are putting off. For example, if you’re putting off writing a cover letter, write a “bad” cover letter. Chances are, it won’t end up being bad. And even if it is, you can just edit it later.
Another example might be doing the dishes. Maybe you can’t bear the thought of doing the dishes because you really don’t want to wash, dry and put away - every single one of them. So instead, you could just wash them and put them away later.
Oftentimes, once we get started on a task, we’ll continue to work away at it - no matter how daunting it may seem. Starting is often the hardest part, so do whatever you need to do to get started - and "perfect" or finish it later, if needed!
Sometimes when we can’t seem to get started on something, it’s simply because we don’t want to do it. While that might seem obvious, if you find yourself consistently procrastinating on things having to do with a certain obligation or part of your life, it could be a sign of dissatisfaction.
For example, maybe you continue to lag behind in your tasks at work because you’re just not passionate about what you’re doing. Or maybe you’re a student falling behind in class because you’re not interested in the subject.
There are multiple routes to take in this situation. For one, you could just quit your job - or drop out of school. But I think most would agree that these are quite intense responses (though sometimes this could be the right answer in certain situations).
However, before considering that, another thing you can do is try to get reconnected with your “why.” Why did you take that job in the first place? Why did you take that class?
For many of us, the answer may be, “because I had to.” Even in this case, why did you have to? Did you take that job so that you could support yourself or your family financially? Or were there aspects of the job that you really appreciated or were excited about when you first started? Did you decide to go to college because you’re passionate about a certain topic - or because you want a particular job in the future?
Reconnect with all the reasons that led you to the position you are in now. It’s possible you just lost sight of your “why” and can reinspire yourself. Or perhaps this will make you realize that you need a change.
At the very least, you will be aware of why you are putting things off in a certain area of your life - rather than blaming it on your own virtues. When you love what you’re doing, you’re likely not going to put it off.
Lack of Energy Management
Like I mentioned earlier, some days, doing what needs to be done feels impossible. It’s easy to procrastinate when we’re low on energy.
When we don’t take the time to understand and manage our energy, we can run out at inconvenient and stressful times - causing us to procrastinate in the hope that we’ll regain enough energy at some point to do what we need to do.
This situation makes it hard for us to make commitments and fulfill our responsibilities - as our ability to show up is unpredictable. Eventually, this can lead to burnout and withdrawal - or sadness around not being able to achieve and participate in the things we want to.
For example, maybe you are committed to too many activities and do not have much time to rest. For example, as highly sensitive people, we often care a lot about others - so we might volunteer to take on extra responsibilities in certain areas of our lives.
While it may seem like you’re being productive, you will eventually need to rest. Otherwise, you’ll burn out and need to withdraw from everything.
Before that happens, when your energy levels start to deplete, you will likely begin procrastinating on certain tasks and not have the energy to show up as your best self in the things that you do.
Exercising Control / Boundaries
For those of us who struggle to manage our energy, procrastination can also show up as a way to exercise control. When we feel out of control in our lives due to a lack of boundaries or energy management, we might procrastinate in order to feel like we are in control of our energy and time. In reality, this is only an illusion of control and is just another sign of needing to be mindful of where we are directing our energy.
If you notice yourself procrastinating a task due to feeling exhausted, ask yourself, what made you so tired? Is this something that is a consistent energy drain in your life? Or have you just been overworking yourself lately and not been mindful of it? What can you do in the future to avoid this to ensure that you have the energy to do everything you need to? Once we make time for ourselves to do everything that needs to be done, in a way that is effective and supportive of our energy, we are much less likely to procrastinate.
If you are someone who could use some help in managing your tendency to procrastinate, start by identifying why you procrastinate (using the above examples as a guide). Some questions to ask yourself when you notice yourself procrastinating are: What are you feeling? What do you need? Are you avoiding something, and if so, what?
Remember, procrastination is often a symptom of a deeper issue, and is not a reflection of your work ethic or worth. By resolving these issues, you can begin to take back the time and energy you use to procrastinate, and instead put it towards fulfilling your full potential and reaching your goals.