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Procrastination can become a vicious cycle. Trying to achieve something and failing to act on your intentions can feel frustrating and depressing, and this can then lead to even more procrastination. Research on procrastination confirms that it’s related to negative outcomes – people who are inclined to more procrastination tend to have lower life satisfaction, lower achievement and poorer health.
Another particularly important distinction to make is between ‘strategic delay’ and procrastination – the two are often confused. Strategic delay entails deliberately putting off a task as a way to generate time pressure as a source of motivation. However, it’s a risky strategy because you might run out of time. It also consumes a lot of energy and can lead to a dip after a deadline in which you feel exhausted
Procrastination is arguably even more irrational than strategic delay because the person will often be fully aware that delaying a task will have bad consequences, yet they still choose to delay. Procrastination describes this type of delay, where there is a striking gap or mismatch between your intention and the actual action you take, and you feel incapable of overcoming it.
The psychological explanation for this common but irrational behaviour is that, by avoiding the emotional discomfort of engaging in the behaviour, procrastination provides a temporary relief or escape.
Create an overview of upcoming tasks and set yourself rules for prioritising. Although this won’t address your emotional discomfort, it can serve a preventative role. By increasing your sense of control, you’ll calm your emotional state.
There is a risk with creating time-management schedules that the transparency of what you need to do creates panic and feelings of being more burdened.
Start on small tasks and working on them in a regimented way: set a short time-frame, take a break, then register how much you got done (or if you ended up doing something else instead). Let’s say you choose to work on an essay for 15 minutes. If you succeed in staying focused for that time, then you could consider doubling the session next time.
This approach of setting yourself small tasks might be especially helpful for long-term projects that lack intermediary deadline.
Procrastination is avoidance due to emotional discomfort. Try keeping a daily journal for a week or more, to help you become more aware.
Unfortunately, recognising avoidance and trying to find solutions external to yourself is often not enough to stop procrastinating. To progress, you will have to confront your avoidance.
To beat procrastination, you need to go against your feelings. Start making a small dent into the avoided activity and if you manage to get started, this one small step in the right direction helps to build confidence for a next step. Be happy when you avoid avoidance, celebrate your achievement in getting going.
Be compassionate to yourself: instead of being harsh and hating yourself for not doing something, also consider what you’ve done well so far, or what can be done better next time without judging yourself too harshly.
Having confronted your avoidance and begun the task, you can work on improving your mood while doing this activity that you dislike or have feared. For example, listen to music and dance while cleaning.
Giving up can sometimes be an option and a relief. Be conscious of the reasons for your decisions.
Procrastination could possibly a sign of a broader pattern of problematic avoidance. If you not only procrastinate, but also avoid many things in life from close relationships to career promotions, then it’s possible your procrastination is part of a pattern that underlies many of your decisions, and the causes might be deeply rooted.
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