Conquer Procrastination…Now!

by Robert H. Phillips, Ph.D.

Read this article now. Don’t put if off until tomorrow- or you’re procrastinating! We’ve all been guilty of procrastinating at certain times in our lives. For some people, it happens often. Others may find that it only occurs occasionally, and is probably related to certain “avoidable” parts of their lives. But regardless of when you procrastinate, or how often, the results are usually the same– wasted time, missed opportunities, less than desirable performance, decreased self-esteem, or increased stress.

When you procrastinate, you let lower-priority tasks get in the way of higher-priority ones. For example, how often have you socialized with colleagues, even though you know that important work needed to be done? How often have you watched TV instead of doing household chores? How often have you avoided going to the doctor, telling yourself, “Everything will be O.K.”? Or how often have you talked about superficial things with your partner, rather than discussing important relationship issues?

When you enjoy doing something, and want to do it, things usually proceed “on schedule.” But, when activities or responsibilities are seen as difficult, inconvenient, or frightening, procrastination may be more likely to occur. People who procrastinate have very clever ways of fooling themselves. Have you ever used any of the following excuses?

  • I’ll wait until I’m in the mood to do it.
  • It’s O.K. to binge today…, I’ll start my diet tomorrow.
  • My health problem isn’t that bad. Time will make things better.
  • There’s plenty of time to get it done.
  • I’ve got too many things to do first.
  • I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t know where to begin.
  • I work better under pressure so I don’t need to do it right now.

When you look at these excuses in black and white, these statements don’t sound so convincing. But, when you privately use these excuses as a rationalization to put something off, they seem quite believable. Don’t be fooled by how innocent they sound. They often result in the postponement of important tasks and duties.

What Causes Procrastination?

Procrastination is a bad habit. Like most other bad habits, there are two general causes: your behavioral patterns, and the “distorted” thinking you may employ to justify your behavior.

The first cause is behavioral patterns. Getting started on an unpleasant or difficult task may seem impossible. When you’re considering doing something you don’t want to do, procrastination seems similar to the physics concept of inertia– a mass at rest tends to stay at rest. You need greater forces to start change than to keep it going. Another example is that it’s a lot harder to start pushing a broken-down car then it is to keep it moving once it’s rolling. Not only is it hard to get started, but avoiding tasks reinforces the whole idea of procrastination. This makes it even harder to get things going. You may be stuck, too, not by the lack of desire, but by not knowing what to do.

The second cause, “distorted” thinking, includes three major issues that are part of procrastination: perfectionism, inadequacy, and discomfort. You may feel that it’s so essential for you to complete a job perfectly that you’ll wait until all available elements of the job have been correctly dealt with. Or you’ll endlessly rewrite draft after draft of a report to make sure it’s perfect. Sometimes, worrying about producing the perfect project can prevent you from finishing on time (or even starting!). Feelings of inadequacy can also cause delays. If you believe that you can’t do well on a particular project, this may “justify” your not even starting. Procrastinating will avoid the unpleasantness of having your skills “put to the test.” Not wanting to be uncomfortable doing something may be another reason for putting a stop to what needs to be done. Yet, the more we delay, the worse the discomforting problem (for example, a toothache) becomes.

What Can Be Done About Procrastination?

There are a number of things you can do (today, not tomorrow!) to conquer procrastination. Some of them involve changing your behavior patterns; others work on your thinking. See which work for you.

1. Set Priorities. Write down all the things that need to be done. Then arrange them in order of importance. The greater the importance or urgency of the item, the higher the priority number should be. Keep distraction activities lower on your list. Start at the top of the list and work your way down.

2. Set Smaller, More Do-Able Goals. Big projects feel overwhelming. Having goals too big can keep you from starting. Break them down into smaller, more manageable components. You’ll get more done if you can do it piece by piece. The satisfaction you get by completing each part serves as a motivation to continue working toward the end result. For example, make an outline for a written report before you start “fleshing it out,” and then work on it section by section. Or do a small portion of your chores rather then feeling you have to do everything at once. This strategy works especially well with unpleasant jobs. It’s easier to handle activities you dislike as long as you know you’re only doing them for a short time. Design clear goals. Think about what you want and what needs to be done. Be specific.

3. Get Organized. Have all your materials ready before you begin a task. Use a daily schedule and have it with you all the time. Realistically list the tasks that need to be done each day or week. Check off the tasks when you have completed them.

4. Commit Yourself. Create a commitment to doing the task. Write yourself a “contract” and sign it. Better still, tell a family member, friend, partner, or supervisor about your plans.

5. Remind Yourself. Write reminders to yourself and put them in conspicuous places. Where? Leave notes on the TV, refrigerator, bathroom mirror, front door, a car dashboard, for example. The more you remind yourself, the greater the likelihood you’ll follow through with your plans.

6. Reward Yourself. Self-reinforcement has a powerful effect on developing a “do it now” attitude. Determine realistically what rewards will increase your motivation to follow through with your list. In addition, celebrate, pat yourself on the back, smile, and let yourself enjoy the completion of even the smallest of tasks. Don’t minimize your accomplishments.

7. Clobber Those Excuses. Those old excuses really don’t hold up to careful, rational inspection. Use a “two-column technique” to help yourself. Write down all of your excuses on one side of a piece of paper. Then identify the faulty reasoning behind any of these excuses. Write down your more realistic thoughts on the opposite side of the paper, next to each excuse.

8. Use Positive Self-Statements. Learn to include any of a number of self-motivating statements into your normal thoughts. For example,

  • There’s no time like the present.
  • The sooner I get done, the sooner I can do what I want.
  • There’s no such thing as perfectionism. Let me just do the best I can.
  • It’s less expensive and less painful if I take care of this now rather than waiting until it gets worse.

9. Don’t Fear the Worst. Jumping to the conclusion that you will fail or that you are no good at something will probably stop you right in your tracks. Remember: Your negative predictions are not facts. Focus on the present. Ask yourself what positive steps you can take toward reaching your goals.

Well, you’ve finished this article. Hopefully this proves that there are certain things you won’t procrastinate about! Now see what you can do about the goals that always seem to be put off. Use the suggestions in the article. If you’re still having trouble with procrastination after trying the suggestions above, you may wish to consult a professional. Don’t procrastinate here, please! This may be what you need to solve the problem. So go ahead. Get started. Now!

How Can We Help?

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