The book Procrastination consists of two parts. In the first part, the authors – two psychologists – analyze and describe many reasons of why people procrastinate. The authors then provide advice on how to deal with procrastination in the second part of the book.
This book is so far the best what I read about procrastination, and I was surprised about the complexity of the issue of procrastination.
One thing that could be improved in my opinion is the book's structure. Instead of separating the problem analyses and problem solutions in different parts, I would have preferred to have the problem analyses combined with their respective solutions. This would also eliminate some of the redundancies in the book.
The emotional roots of procrastination involve inner feelings, fears, hopes, memories, dreams, doubts, and pressures. But many procrastinators don't recognize all that's going on under the surface, because they use procrastination to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Underneath the disorganization and delay, most procrastinators are afraid they are unacceptable in some basic way.
When you know what you feel and understand why you feel it, you are likely to be more confident, solid, at ease with yourself, and then able to proceed without procrastinating.
Another root of procrastination is the procrastinator's complicated relationship to time. Procrastinators often have a "wishful thinking" approach to time or see it as an opponent to outwit, outmaneuver, or outlive. This attitude toward time fuels more procrastination.
The biological roots of procrastination include your body, your brain, and your genetic inheritance. All play a role in your procrastination.
What happens in your brain influences what you avoid, and what you avoid (or don't avoid) affects the structure and function of your brain. Because of this "neuroplasticity", the brain is always changing, and therefore your biological tendencies do not have to be a fixed impediment to your progress.
The interpersonal roots of procrastination encompass your family history, your social relationships, and your place in your current culture. Family dynamics from your past probably continue into the present and play a role in maintaining a dynamic of procrastination that no longer serves you. Social and cultural concerns may also contribute to your tendency to procrastinate, and it's important to understand their influence on your sense of yourself and your relationship with others.
Procrastination: Nuisance or Nemesis?
One cause can be put to rest: research has shown that intelligence bears no relationship to procrastination, so you can forget the idea that you're putting things off until your brilliance kicks in, or that being a procrastinator means you're stupid.
One way to tell whether procrastination is a problem for you is whether you find it troublesome.
At times, people deliberately choose to procrastinate. They might decide to put something off because it's low on their priority list or because they want to think things over before making a decision or taking action. They use procrastination to give themselves time to reflect, to clarify options, or to focus on what seems most important.
People who procrastinate may suffer internal consequences, feelings that range from irritation and regret to intense self-condemnation and despair. To an outside observer, many of these people appear to be doing just fine. But inside they feel miserable. They are frustrated and angry with themselves because procrastinating has prevented them from doing all they think they are capable of.
Procrastination may lead not only to internal suffering but to significant external consequences.
When they anticipate starting a project and then work toward its completion, procrastinators undergo a sequence of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that is so common that we call it the "cycle of procrastination":
- "I'll start early this time"
- "I've got to start soon"
- "What if I don't start?"
- "There's still time"
- "There's something wrong with me"
- The Final Choice: To Do or Not to Do
- "I'll never procrastinate again!"
It is extremely common for procrastinators to do everything and anything except the avoided project. The urge to reorganize the desk, clean the apartment, or try out new recipes suddenly becomes irresistible. Previously avoided but less onerous tasks cry out to be done now. In no time you are busy accomplishing things, happily absorbed in any activity that is not it, soothed by the rationalization, "Well, at least I'm getting something done!"
Many procrastinators try to distract themselves with pleasurable, immediately rewarding activities.
The cultural definition of success means having lots of money, power, prestige, beauty, brilliance – having it all. In short, success is defined in terms of perfection. But the implicit message is, "If you don't have it all, there's something wrong with you."
Experiences at the hands of one's peers can have a powerful effect on a person's academic and social confidence.
Procrastination is based on deeply held beliefs about life. We have heard these ideas expressed so often that we call them the "Procrastinator's Code":
- I must be perfect.
- Everything I do should go easily and without effort.
- It's safer to do nothing than to take a risk and fail.
- I should have no limitations.
- If it's not done right, it's not worth doing at all.
- I must avoid being challenged.
- If I succeed, someone will get hurt.
- If I do well this time, I must always do well.
- Following someone else's rules means that I'm giving in and I'm not in control.
- I can't afford to let go of anything or anyone.
- If I show my real self, people won't like me.
- There is a right answer, and I'll wait until I find it.
The beliefs that make up the Procrastinator's Code reflect a way of thinking that keeps procrastinators from making progress. Self-critical, apprehensive and catastrophic thoughts can make it impossible to move beyond the inevitable obstacles of daily living. Realizing that you are thinking unrealistically is one step toward overcoming procrastination.
Fear of Failure: The Procrastinator on Trial
Many people who procrastinate are apprehensive about being judged by others or by the critic who dwells within. They fear they will be found lacking, their best efforts won't be good enough, and they won't meet the mark. This concern reflects a fear of failure, and we believe that procrastination may function as a strategy for coping with this fear.
People who have inhibited themselves because of their fear of failing tend to define "failure" in a very broad way. When they are disappointed by their performance on a task, they think not only that they have failed on that task, but also that they have failed as a person.
People who fear failure may be living with a set of assumptions that turn striving for accomplishment into a frightening risk. These assumptions are: what I produce is a direct reflection of how much ability I have, and my level of ability determines how worthwhile I am as a person – that is, the higher my ability, the higher my sense of self-worth. Thus, what I produce reflects my worth as a person.
For many people, ability refers to intellectual competence, so they want everything they do to reflect how smart they are. However ability may be defined, a problem occurs when it is the sole determinant of one's self-worth. The performance becomes the only measure of the person; nothing else is taken into account. An outstanding performance means an outstanding person; a mediocre performance means a mediocre person.
Procrastination allows people to take comfort in believing that their ability is greater than their performance indicates, perhaps even maintaining the belief that they are brilliant or unlimited in their potential to do well. As long as you procrastinate, you never have to confront the real limits of your ability, whatever those limits are.
Some people would rather suffer the consequences of procrastination than the humiliation of trying and not doing as well as they had hoped. It is more tolerable to blame themselves for being disorganized, lazy, or uncooperative than to view themselves as being inadequate and unworthy – the failure they fear so deeply. And it is the fear of this failure that is eased by procrastination.
Often without realizing it, people who procrastinate are perfectionists.
Most procrastinators don't understand how they could possibly be considered perfectionists when everywhere they turn they find evidence of how they have messed up.
Psychologists have identified two types of perfectionists, adaptive and maladaptive. If you are an adaptive perfectionist, you have high standards, and you believe your performance lives up to them. This kind of successful perfectionism feels like an essential part of your identity and is a basis for self-esteem. However, if you are a maladaptive perfectionist, you, too, have high standards, but you are disappointed in yourself. In maladaptive perfectionism, there is a discrepancy between your standards and the way you view your performance, so you are prone to be self-critical and are more vulnerable to feeling depressed and having low self-esteem.
An important question to ask yourself is: Are you setting standards for yourself that enable you to make progress, or do your standards lead you to become discouraged, frustrated, and stuck?
For some procrastinators the thought of being ordinary can be so intolerable that they want everything they do to be outstanding. If you expect your everyday performance to be up to the level of your ideal picture of yourself, then whatever you do is bound to seem mediocre in comparison.
The perfectionist believes that if one is truly outstanding, even difficult things should be easy.
Perfectionists often feel they should do everything by themselves, believing it's a sign of weakness to get help of any kind.
There is a right way. This is one of the most cherished notions held by perfectionists. They believe there is one correct solution to a problem, and it is their responsibility to find it. Until they've discovered the right solution, they are reluctant to take any course of action or commit themselves to anything. So, rather than take the risk of making the wrong choice, they do nothing.
Many perfectionists hate losing so much that they avoid any activity that would bring them into direct competition with others.
The all-or-nothing view of life is common among perfectionists who procrastinate. A person who believes that he must do everything usually has difficulty appreciating any progress made toward a goal: as long as the project is incomplete, it seems that nothing at all has been accomplished.
With an all-or-nothing attitude, you can become discouraged for many reasons, including:
- You don't accomplish everything you set out to do.
- You don't do things exactly as you had planned.
- You do something well but not perfectly.
- You don't get as much recognition as you feel you deserve.
If you can only be satisfied with perfection, you are doomed to be disappointed. After all, going after perfection is like chasing the horizon: you keep going, but you can never really get there.
Carol Dweck's research on how people cope with failure led her to identify two different mindsets, the Fixed Mindset and the Growth Mindset.
The perspective of a Fixed Mindset is that intelligence and talent are attributes you are born with; they are fixed and permanent. Success is all about proving your ability, validating that you are smart or talented. And it's something you have to prove over and over again, as each new set of challenges enters your life. If you have a Fixed Mindset, there is no room for mistakes in any situation, because mistakes are evidence of failure that prove you're not really smart or talented after all.
The central belief in the Growth Mindset is that abilities can be developed; with hard work and effort you can get smarter and better over time. From this perspective, you don't have to be good at something immediately. In fact, it's more interesting to do things you're not good at, because that's a way to stretch yourself and to learn.
It is often both interesting and helpful for procrastinators to articulate the nameless fantasies of dread that haunt them. Ask yourself the question, "What would happen if I weren't perfect?"
The next time you find yourself slipping into a paralysis of perfectionism, consider playing out your worst-case scenario for that situation. Perhaps as you do, you can remind yourself that, although these fantasies are your fears, they are almost certainly exaggerated. And if you can take your thoughts a step further to shift from Fixed to Growth Mindset, you might begin to see that you can view imperfection in an entirely new light – as an impetus to improve or to learn something new, instead of as a death warrant.
Fear of Success: Hello Procrastination, Good-bye Success
Do you sometimes slow down on a project that's going well? Do you feel anxious when you receive a lot of recognition? When your manager suggests a promotion, do you start to wish you were invisible? Do compliments embarrass you or leave you feeling apprehensive and wary? If you are successful in one area of your life, do you mess up in another? When things are going just fine, do you assume the other shoe is about to drop? If you have more opportunities to be successful than others in your family, do you worry about losing your connection to your relatives? These are just a few experiences that point to a fear of success.
Most people who fear success want to do well, but because of unconscious worries, the desire fails to turn into reality.
People who are afraid of failure choose not to compete because they are afraid of losing or being exposed as weak or inadequate. People who are afraid of success, however, choose not to compete because they are afraid of winning. They procrastinate to hide their ambition, because they think there's something wrong with being competitive in the first place.
The worry about escalating expectations is a common anxiety for those who fear the pressures of success. One procrastinator expressed it vividly: "It's like being a competitive high jumper. You train for months, get yourself ready physically and mentally, you keep trying over and over to clear the bar and break the record. Then, when you finally do jump higher than you ever have before, what do they do? They raise the bar."
An indirect method of staying out of the spotlight and avoiding competition is to delay making commitments. If you don't commit, you can't move forward in any one direction, and you can't rush headlong into success.
Some procrastinators who fear success worry that if they stop fooling around and get down to work, they will work all the time and never be free to fool around again.
Many people who procrastinate to avoid success expect to be punished for their desire to win. You may fear you will be criticized, accused of being "selfish" or "full of yourself".
Fear of causing harm and being harmed can be a powerful inhibitor to doing your best and may become an invitation to procrastinate, as you keep your competitive desires hidden from others, or more importantly, from yourself.
When you assume that being successful means that you are hurting someone else, success becomes equated with aggression. You may use procrastination to hold yourself back, so that you won't have to live with guilt.
Success can bring both joy and pain to those you love. For example, it may be difficult to let yourself be successful when you expect that your success will carry you away from your family and culture.
One danger many people foresee in achieving success is that they would get what they want – and then would be attacked. Someone, somewhere, will challenge or criticize them, and they don't feel strong enough to fight back.
Some people have such a low opinion of themselves that they can't incorporate success into their self-image. Feeling inadequate, unprepared, or unappealing, they don't expect to succeed at anything, so they simply don't try in the first place.
There are people who worry that if they stop procrastinating and go full speed ahead toward success, it would come to them too easily. They would have "everything", but they would achieve it with so little effort that they would be the object of everyone's envy.
As you consider the relationship between your procrastination and your fear of success, try to stand back and take a more objective look at your situation. It may help to remind yourself that just because you fear something doesn't mean it's true now and forever. If you can challenge the assumption that at the first sign of success everyone will leave you, then you may be surprised to notice that there are some people who will not use your success against you. They will delight in your success and celebrate it with you.
It's natural to feel apprehensive when you're making a change in your life, even when the change is for the better.
Change may feel risky. When you make a change, you encounter the unknown in yourself, in your relationships, and in the world.
The Procrastinator in Combat: Fear of Losing the Battle
While it is important for all of us to feel that we have some control over our lives, it is also important that we be able to follow rules that are not of our own making and accommodate the requirements of others. People who are particularly sensitive to feeling controlled may rebel against every rule and resist every request; for some, procrastination becomes their way to feel they are in control.
Procrastination is a way to say, "No! You can't make me do this!"
Rules come in the form of restrictions or expectations imposed on us by external forces. If you feel that following a rule somehow makes you unimportant or indistinguishable from others, then you may feel compelled to break it.
Rules can also come from principles you have internalized from important people in your life. These "rules to live by" can remain in effect long after they were created and long beyond their usefulness, but they remain battlegrounds for procrastination.
Battle-by-procrastination also occurs in situations where there is a formal hierarchy of power – and you aren't on top. The very fact that there is someone in a position of authority over you may leave you feeling small and helpless. This reaction is common in highly authoritarian corporate, academic, and family settings where, to enhance their own sense of power, subordinates delay responding to their superiors.
You feel you have more control because you've done things on your terms – late.
There are times when a person feels restricted not so much by rules or someone else's power but by a sense of intrusion. Procrastination becomes a way to resist that intrusion.
A simple request can feel like an intrusion if you don't believe you can refuse it; procrastination may seem to be the only way you can say "No".
There are times when procrastination increases a person's enjoyment of danger and risk. They feel elated when they take a situation to its limits and emerge victorious.
Procrastination can also sweeten the victory of revenge. If you feel hurt, angered, slighted, or betrayed by someone, you can use procrastination to retaliate. Procrastination can become your means of inflicting some pain or discomfort on those who hurt you.
The most profound of all battles-by-procrastination is the battle against reality. Some of us are simply unwilling to accept that what is, is. We can't stand limits; we can't stand that we can't control other people; we can't stand that we're not going to be rescued. Sometimes people invent how they think things should be and then live according to their vision, as if it were reality. Some people just cannot accept the facts of their situations, and their procrastination is a fight against a reality they don't like.
Procrastination is often a declaration of one's independence, a way of saying, "I am a person in my own right. I can act in the way I choose for myself. I do not have to go along with your rules and your demands." People who use procrastination to resist control may be trying to preserve their sense of individuality and reassure themselves that they are living life on their own terms.
When we understand that procrastination is a battle for more than just control, that it is a battle for self-worth and self-respect, we can understand why losing the battle evokes such intense and powerful fear – and why these procrastinators are so stubbornly resistant to change. If your sense of self-worth is based on your ability to defy influence by others, every encounter can take on exaggerated importance. A single, small defeat can leave you feeling as though you have compromised yourself, that your ability to be an autonomous individual is in doubt.
For procrastinators who fear losing the battle, exposing what they want, think, or feel leaves them feeling vulnerable to others. Their concern is not that, once exposed, they will be judged as lacking ability or as being too successful but rather that they will be disempowered, their weaknesses ruthlessly probed.
Procrastinating on decisions and commitments can be an indirect way of protecting yourself, since people can't get a clear idea of where you stand and so can't pin you down. As soon as you make a decision or commitment, however, you may begin to feel trapped or exposed.
Procrastinators who avoid fighting out in the open don't want to let anyone know that they are vying for power because if they do, they risk exposing their weakness and vulnerability, thus increasing the risk of losing. And, when you fight secretly, your opponent doesn't know that a battle is on and so has less chance to mobilize his efforts against you. Your chances of winning improve.
If you fight indirectly, even if someone does confront you about your behavior by saying that you're making things difficult or that you're being hostile, you can deny it. After all, you haven't actually done anything overtly hostile or competitive: You were just late.
If you could be on time, you would, but procrastination always seems to get the better of you. It's not your fault! It's because of procrastination!
For the embattled procrastinator, uncertainty lurks everywhere. Relationships with other people are not to be trusted. You never know whether someone will encourage and support you, or attempt to control and manipulate you. Rather than allow yourself to be lured into believing the best, you feel safer if you simply assume the worst.
The person who fights by procrastinating often feels powerless in relation to someone who is strong. But if you interpret someone else's strength as automatically meaning that you are weak, you are exaggerating the other's power in your own mind.
For some, the mere idea of cooperating evokes a feeling that you are surrendering yourself and a fear that you might be giving up your power. Going along with someone else's rules or agreeing to do something someone asks of you makes you feel that you are capitulating.
Thwarting your opponent can become such a primary concern that it outweighs all other considerations, including getting what you want for yourself. You get more satisfaction from frustrating or defying someone else than from accomplishing what is important for your own life.
If you are compelled to fight every battle that comes along, you are not truly free or powerful. To be truly free, you must be able to choose which battles to fight and which to cede. Herein lies authentic power and the sense of being your own person.
The Comfort Zone: Fear of Separation and Fear of Intimacy
Procrastination can do more than protect a person from judgement or provide a covert way to engage in battle. Delay and postponement can also regulate the degree of closeness a person maintains with other people, preserving whatever interpersonal distance seems safest and most comfortable.
When people feel unsure of the validity of their ideas, or feel unable to generate ideas of their own, they depend on the ideas of others. We're not referring to brainstorming with someone or getting feedback, but rather relying on another person to provide a viewpoint or a structure that can be adopted as one's own.
People may feel they need the presence of another person go get going. They are afraid that without a partnership, they can't activate themselves.
Some people feel comfortable in a secondary position under someone else's wing. They are looking for a guide, a mentor, a cheerleader, someone to make them feel safe. They avoid doing things that would propel them into the number one position, where they fear feeling too separate and alone.
People may also procrastinate when they don't want to leave the boss who first mentored them in the workplace, or the person with whom they first had a serious relationship because they don't feel confident that they can survive independently. This is particularly lamentable when a relationship actually offers little in the way of protection, support, guidance, or nurturance. Although they may actually be diminishing their lives by remaining in the relationship, it seems preferable to be with someone than to be alone in the world. Fear of separation prevents them from making a break that might ultimately be in their own best interests.
Some people use procrastination to dig themselves into a deep hole in the hope that someone else will come along and dig them out. They create a procrastination emergency as a way to ask for help. The ultimate rescue for a procrastinator is to have someone else do your work for you.
However procrastination functions for you, to the extent that it keeps you in familiar patterns and reenacts your usual relations with other people, it mitigates the feeling of being separate. This procrastinating pattern keeps the past alive in the present.
While procrastination can be a constant burden, it can also be a constant companion in your life, reminding you of all you have to do. In this way, it may keep you from feeling lonely or abandoned, since you are always accompanied by mental lists of projects that you neither complete nor let go.
People who fear separation derive great security from being close. In contrast, people who fear intimacy are more comfortable keeping their distance.
Some people believe that relationships will drain them. They fear that others will never be satisfied and will demand more and more, until they are eventually depleted.
Some procrastinators expect that, at the culmination of all their hard work and effort, someone else will take the credit. For them, being robbed of their deserved credit is so painful and upsetting, they would rather procrastinate than give someone else the opportunity to steal what rightfully belongs to them. Because their sense of self is so intimately tied to their accomplishments, being robbed of the credit feels like being robbed of their identity.
Procrastination can be used as a protection from having your interest appropriated by someone else.
Some people postpone getting involved in relationships because they have decided that they will not risk repeating bad experiences from the past.
There are those who worry about the kind of person they will turn into under the pressure of an intimate relationship. You might reveal a dark side of your nature that most people get close enough to observe.
People who avoid intimate relationships may not let themselves know just how much they long for closeness. If they let themselves develop a close relationship, they might discover how emotionally needy they really are.
Whether your anxiety stems from a fear of separation or fear of Intimacy, procrastination may be your way of maintaining the boundaries of your comfort zone.
All relationships involve issues of boundaries and intimacy that have to be worked out. You can approach these issues as opportunities for growth. Resolving differences can be a way to learn and stretch yourself, both as an individual and as a partner in a relationship. Procrastination may keep other people at the comfortable distance you feel you need, but it prevents you from growing as a person.
You may find that it is possible to be both dependent and independent in a relationship – in fact, it is important to be both. What makes a good relationship reassuring is that it provides a reliable, safe place to obtain comfort. What makes it fulfilling is that it permits, indeed encourages, each person to develop and grow as a separate individual. A good relationship needs a balance.
Do You Know What Time (It) Is?
Many procrastinators live within their own versions of the passage of time, and often, the procrastinator's ideas about time do not match "clock time".
Most procrastinators would love for time to be an illusion, because time is what brings deadlines closer.
Even if the present goal is less important than the long-term goal, people are more likely to do what's immediate rather than what's important for the future. This is called "future discounting", and it is a part of the human experience that makes procrastination so compelling.
One function of procrastinating – doing things in your own way on your own schedule, feeling in charge of your own time no matter the consequences – is to create an illusion of omnipotence over time, over others, and over reality.
Procrastination helps people escape from unbearable discomfort and emotional pain in the moment, such as the humiliation of not being good at something and feeling stupid, the crushing disappointment of a poor first attempt, the empty isolation of working alone at the computer. Instead of sticking it out, you find ways to exercise a level of control. Even though procrastination may lead to painful consequences in the future, at these moments, thinking about consequences is about as irrelevant as tomorrow's breakfast is to a hungry baby tonight.
Procrastinators live with the fantasy of the infinite – infinite time, infinite possibilities, infinite achievements, always more time to make up for all that has been put off. Coming to terms with the finiteness of time is a central psychological task of middle age: What have I done with my time so far? How much time do I have left? How do I want to spend that time? It can be difficult to look back and accept what you have chosen to do (or not) with your life and to look forward at the limitations as well as the possibilities for what lies ahead.
Many procrastinators ignore the possible future repercussions of their delaying in the present, but at some point, the unproductive present becomes the past, and the unexpected future becomes the present.
In order to change how things are going, you first have to accept the experiences that make up your life. Then, you have to accept that it's the Same Old You who is in charge of making changes. And, paradoxically, when you accept the Same Old You, you are starting where you truly are, and this makes it more possible to become a New You.
Memories of past glories or fantasies of future success can function as a soothing buffer against the pain of real life or a stalled life.
Delaying forestalls a confrontation with some of the certainties associated with time: Time is passing; the future is coming; you are getting older; there are limits to what you will accomplish in your lifetime; and most starkly inevitable of all, eventually you will die.
Everything we experience occurs in the present moment. When you remember a time in the past, you are remembering it in the present, so your present state can color your memories of the past. When you look ahead to the future, the anticipation is happening in the present. The past, present, and future cannot be separated from each other; they are always intertwined.
In the present, you are a product of your past.
Our past is always with us, registered in our brains, in our bodies, in our psyches. People may try to reinvent themselves, cut themselves off from their past relationships and past experiences, but history can't be changed; it can only be reinterpreted and learned from in the present.
Procrastination may be a sign that something from your past is intruding into the present, because hesitation to move forward usually has a lot to do with past experiences.
Your past is your past, whether you like it or not, whether you remember it consciously or not, whether you take responsibility for it or not. Many of the things that happened in the past were not your fault – maybe they weren't anybody's fault, maybe some were your fault – but the events in your life are yours and always will be. You can't go back and change them, even if they feel unfinished and unfair.
Time is neither good nor bad, neither fast nor slow, neither friend nor foe. It just is. Your job is to figure out how to work with it and to live as fully as you can within its bounds, rather than spend your life battling against it.
Current Neuroscience: The Big Ideas
We now understand enough about the workings of the brain to say with confidence that indeed there are biological factors that contribute to procrastination. Some are general factors, integral to how the brain works, develops, and changes over time, which indirectly relate to putting things off. Other factors involve specific functions (or dysfunctions) that lead quite directly to procrastination.
Research has shown that your brain is a dynamic, living system that is constantly changing and being rewired until the day you die. The brain's ability to reorganize, break old neural links, and form new neural connections throughout life is referred to as "neuroplasticity". What you do today, for good or ill, affects the structure and function of your brain tomorrow.
The more you do something, the more your brain responds to support that activity; it learns to do what is asked of it faster and better (whether it's good for you or not).
The brain is always changing. The good news is that it can generate new, flexible behavior. The bad news is that it can also strengthen old, rigid behavior.
We can think about procrastination as an attempt not just to avoid particular tasks but to avoid the feelings that are somehow associated with those tasks.
In order to stop procrastinating, you will have to tolerate some uncomfortable feelings in your body, such as fear and anxiety.
If you procrastinate on a task but can't pinpoint exactly what makes you fearful or uncomfortable, chances are an "implicit" memory has been activated. What this means is that you may not remember the experience itself, but your brain and body respond to it nonetheless, generating a cascade of emotional distress that leads you to avoid the task.
With the help of the thinking parts of your brain, you can "override" the activation of your implicit memories, creating alternative neural circuits and changing your brain, allowing you to act instead of procrastinating, paralyzed by fear.
Low self-esteem contributes to procrastination.
Being able to calm yourself and treat yourself with compassion and kindness has everything to do with your being able to face tasks or situations that frighten, anger, threaten, or bore you. Unless you break the patterns of negativity that produce procrastination and replace them with something positive, you are likely to stay stuck in that old rut.
Procrastination and Your Brain
The executive part of your brain coordinates, regulates, and integrates the different structures and systems of your brain to give you a smooth, ongoing sense of yourself with your personality, goals, values, and skills. Your inner executive takes in information from your senses, your history, your thoughts, and uses this information in a goal-directed way to enable you to accomplish what is important to you.
A person with poor executive function may struggle with important life skills in spite of possessing many mental strengths. Perhaps you know someone (maybe even yourself?) who is smart and has good ideas, but who is "terminally disorganized" and never seems to have the right papers or materials, can't remember what was planned or decided, and loses track of the steps necessary for the completion of a task.
ADD is characterized by three core symptoms of distractability, impulsivity, and restlessness.
When you can remember that something is important to you in the future and that what happens in the future is linked to what you do in the present, you are more able to inhibit your urges to respond to immediate desires.
Rather than seeing ADD as brain damage, a moral failing, or a character flaw, we can look at it as a condition caused by a host of complex genetic, biological, and environmental factors.
What depressive conditions have in common is that you feel less energized, engaged, or connected to life than you'd like, less interested, motivated, or optimistic than usual. If you're consumed by sadness, feel hopeless, or don't care about life, you're probably not going to care about doing a good job at work, doing well in school, getting together with friends, doing your taxes, or taking care of your body. If you're depressed, you're probably procrastinating on something (maybe a lot of things) important to you.
If your procrastination takes the form of feeling sluggish, lethargic, and unable to motivate yourself to get going during winter months, you may suffer from seasonal affective disorder.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can contribute to procrastination: while people with OCD are making lists of pros and cons or checking that the stove is turned off, nothing else is getting accomplished. They repeat thoughts and behaviors because their brains are stuck in a process it can't stop.
You don't have to have OCD to experience brain lock. Procrastinators can be so anxious about making mistakes that they become paralyzed.
While most of us probably have more clutter than we would like, some people procrastinate so much on clearing it out that their quality of life is compromised significantly. Because it is so difficult to make decisions about what to keep and what to discard, they put off cleaning out. Everything must be kept "just in case".
Most procrastinators know that putting things off can be very stressful: you worry about what there is to do, yet don't do it; when you finally gear up to meet a deadline, the intensity of the last-minute push stresses you out even more. Chronic procrastination can mean chronic stress, which is not good for your brain or your body.
Stress is magnified when we procrastinate. It's a vicious circle: procrastination produces stress, and stress can produce procrastination. When your body is bearing the effects of a stressful life, you have less creative energy available for things that need to be done or things you would enjoy doing.
When you're not sleeping well, your brain can't work well, and you're likely to experience the typical problems of insufficient sleep: low frustration tolerance, inability to concentrate, low energy, irritability – and procrastination.
Whatever your struggles with procrastination, there is always a biological component to what you experience. Somewhere in the process of delaying, your brain perceives danger, and procrastination is your response and your protection.
How You Came to Be a Procrastinator
If there isn't a good fit between what you were born with and how you are responded to, it's hard to develop solid confidence in yourself, and lacking confidence is one of the main factors that contribute to procrastination.
Parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, neighbors, and even people you're read or heard about become models for how to live. Sometimes they are models of the kind of person you would like to be. There are also people who may be models of what you do not want to be.
Who were your models for "success"? What about them made you think they were successful? What were they like? How did others view them? How did they treat you? How did they treat themselves? How did you internalize them? Now, think of the people who may have been models of "failure". What was it about them that made you think they were failures? How did they behave toward others and treat themselves? How did they impact you? Consider how these models have affected you and your procrastination.
When the assumptions and rules we learned in our families automatically govern our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, without our evaluating or challenging them, we can be headed for trouble, particularly if the rule is a very rigid one that inhibits our development as capable, creative individuals.
Recall the messages you got from people in your early life – family, teachers, coaches, and other significant people. Originally, these messages came from the outside, but over time they become our inner voice.
When you consciously shift from a negative to a more positive emotional focus, you are disrupting ingrained brain patterns and creating new ones.
Procrastinators describe five primary family themes that go along with the fears that underlie procrastination: pressuring, doubting, controlling, clinging, and distancing.
The pressuring theme is apparent in families that are highly achievement-oriented. There may be a long lineage of accomplishment, or perhaps the parents are unsatisfied with their own lives and place their hopes for great achievement onto the children. In pressuring families, top-notch performance is the only thing that's appreciated.
You may not realize that most people will accept your normal human limitations more than you are accustomed to expect.
When the doubting theme is prominent in a family, the communication is, "You don't have what it takes." Doubts may be conveyed directly or indirectly, through lack of interest.
One way procrastinators respond to their doubting families is by rebelling, taking on the attitude, "I'll show them how wrong they are!" They push themselves hard, determined to succeed in spite of the doubts, but this determination can lead them straight into the trap of perfectionism, which can lead to procrastination.
Procrastinators who come from families that continually expressed doubt tend to assume that any failure, big or small, means that all those doubts are true.
The controlling theme comes through in efforts to take over and direct a child's life. A parent may make all decisions for the child – what to do, what to wear, how to act, whom to befriend – and give "advice" that the child is expected to follow without question.
When someone else is always directing your life, you may find relief in procrastination. By delaying and refusing to do things, you can exasperate a controlling or demanding parent and attempt to weaken their hold over you. Although in the long run procrastination may not have been in your best interests, this passive resistance was a relatively safe way to fight back at a time when direct, open rebellion was too dangerous. Procrastination may even have helped you preserve some sense of independence, which was more important than grades or praise.
Clinging families discourage family members from creating lives of their own and instead promote dependency and enmeshment. Parents become not just a source of support and encouragement for their children but a lifeline assumed to be necessary for the child's survival, as if the children need to be helped, protected, and taken care of into adulthood. Children who receive so much help may never discover what they can do for themselves or develop faith in their own capacities.
Procrastination may be used to keep you clinging to your family, as you avoid activities that could create a wedge. Or you may use procrastination to aid in the struggle for some sense of autonomy, an attempt to create distance between yourself and other people, avoiding entanglements.
The distancing theme is evident in families in which the members are unable to develop emotional closeness, physical affection, attentive interest, or protective comfort. Whether or not they give the appearance of being a "close" family, each person lives within a separate world.
When you procrastinate on a task, all of your history is alive in you at that moment. You might consciously know what makes you so fearful or uncomfortable. But even if you don't, you can bet that an old memory related to your self-esteem has been activated.
Looking Ahead to Success
Procrastination represents a complex interweaving of psychological roots, biological factors, and a lifetime of experiences.
It will take courage to give up the familiarity and the usefulness of procrastination.
Many people assume that after conquering procrastination they'll be happy, successful, and relaxed. But they don't realize that making progress also means confronting the fears they've been avoiding.
If you stop procrastinating, what new problems or situations would you have to face that you don't have to contend with now?
Some of the dangers of improvement:
- My illusions could be shattered
- There's always more to do
- My relationships would change and not for the better
- I'd lose control over my life
- Life would seem boring
- I'd be completely responsible for myself
- I wouldn't be a nice person anymore
- Maybe I don't deserve this
If you stop procrastinating, things will change. Even though they change for the better, you may feel you're on unfamiliar and dangerous ground. Until now, procrastination has seemed the lesser of many evils by offering refuge in spite of its costs and restrictions. Your new, un-procrastinating self is unknown and therefore represents a risk. One of the greatest dangers of improvement will be finding a new way to define yourself.
One way people deal with procrastination is to treat it as a joke – and then build an identity around it. They may use their experiences with procrastination as comic material: entertaining friends with tales of their latest close call, or making jokes as they arrive hours late for dinner.
Some people add purpose and direction to their lives by taking care others' needs while procrastinating on their own. Of course, there will be times when you want to help your family and friends, but constant caretaking can distract you from the fact that, in your own life, you may be quite stuck. You may make yourself so available to others that you never have time to take care of your own priorities.
Some procrastinators create an identity based on knowing something about everything. They want their lives to encompass every dimension of human interest, from politics, philosophy, and technology to exercise physiology and basket weaving. Often, these people are unable to use their considerable talents to their own benefit. The need to be well versed in everything prevents them from pursuing anything.
Procrastination can produce last-minute chaos and disaster, and some people thrive on making a heroic effort to save the day. Often, the crises these people are heralded for resolving are of their own making. Disaster is imminent only because they've procrastinated themselves into a corner. Without their delay, they would have no problem to solve, no miracle to work in the first place.
Procrastination can camouflage the fact that you may not be very clear about who you are and what you want for yourself. It may look as if you haven't achieved your goals because of your problem with procrastination, but perhaps you haven't come to grips with what your priorities are in the first place: What are your interests, preferences, values, needs, and goals? Without more self-knowledge, even if you were to stop procrastinating, you might not know what to do with your newfound ability to make progress.
Procrastination gets in the way of knowing yourself. When you are preoccupied with procrastination, you can't really think clearly about important issues. You're busy presenting an image to the world, maybe even lying about how you spend your time, hiding the truth of what you go through. Procrastination breeds feelings of fraudulence, a precarious way to live.
It's important to know yourself apart from your procrastination. Then you can begin to accept yourself as you are, not as you wish you were or think you should be.
Many people believe that feeling uncomfortable is a good reason to procrastinate. But the assumption that you can take action only if you are comfortable is very limiting.
Your procrastination may be warning you that you are trying to pursue a course that raises some moral or ethical questions for you.
Procrastinators tend to judge their feelings and actions harshly and rigidly. They constantly compare themselves with some standard that seems to reflect the right way of being a person and the right way of doing things – as if there were in reality one (and only one) right way.
An alternative to the Procrastinator's Code, the Freedom from Procrastination Code:
- It is not possible to be perfect.
- Making an effort is a good thing. It is not a sign of stupidity or weakness.
- Failure is not dangerous. Failure is an ordinary part of every life.
- The real failure is not living.
- Everyone has limitations, including me.
- If it's worth doing, it's worth making mistakes along the way.
- Challenge will help me grow.
- I'm entitled to succeed, and I can deal with other people's reactions to my success.
- If I do well this time, I still have a choice about next time.
- Following someone else's rules does not mean I have absolutely no power.
- If I show my real self, I can have real relationships with people who like the real me.
- There are many possible answers, and I need to find what I feel is right.
You can learn a lot by asking: What specifically do I feel uncomfortable about? Is this touching on something from my past? Am I confronting something I usually try to push out of my mind? What makes me think I can't do this now?
When people observe their behavior and clarify what's behind their resistance, they may realize they are automatically reacting with old patterns and fears from the past, rather than responding to circumstances in the present situation.
The four factors that make procrastination more likely are:
- Low confidence in your ability to succeed
- Task aversiveness: Expecting that the process will be difficult or the outcome will be unpleasant
- The goal or reward is too far away to feel real or meaningful
- Difficulties in self-regulation, such as being impulsive and distractible
Finding a task difficult or unpleasant may have little to do with the task itself. A task is uncomfortable because it's related to an underlying fear or anxiety, and it is this discomfort that makes a task so aversive that you avoid it.
Remember, it's your procrastination. Nobody else can make you change it or change it for you.
Taking Stock: A Procrastination Inventory
An essential step toward managing procrastination is taking stock of your own personal way of postponing.
Think about what differentiates the things you put off from the things you do on time. What themes or patterns do you observe? What do they tell you about your procrastination? Do you put off minor chores, or do you postpone the most important things? Do you put off doing things for yourself, but not for others? Are the activities you put off in areas where you're expected to excel or areas where you have little experience? Are you aware of any fears or anxieties about the things you postpone?
Pay attention to your thoughts at those very moments when you put off something you want or need to do, the thoughts that provide you with a justification for waiting. It's a good way to become more aware of what goes on inside your mind and to observe how your thoughts affect your behavior.
Whatever your excuse, no matter how tired, uninspired, or busy you are, you can always spend just fifteen minutes working toward your goal. Keep in mind that people who don't procrastinate experience these difficulties, too, but they consider what they can do and get started.
Setting and Achieving Goals
By definition, procrastinators have difficulty achieving goals. Procrastination can interfere to such an extent that you rarely accomplish the goals you've set. Or you may ultimately attain your goals, but only after you've been through agonizing fits and starts.
It may not be as obvious that procrastinators also have difficulty setting goals, since they are busy setting (and resetting) goals all the time. But they almost always set ambiguous goals, such as, "I've got to get some work done today", or overly ambitious goals, such as, "I want to be number one in my field". Goals framed in this way are elusive and actually invite procrastination.
It is most helpful to define your goals in behavioral terms. Focusing on what you will be doing when you accomplish your objective helps you recognize where you're aiming to go. A behavioral goal has the following characteristics:
- it is observable by you and others
- it is specific and concrete
- it can be broken down into small steps
- the first step can be accomplished in just five minutes
People can't see how you are feeling or know what you are thinking, but they can see what you do. For your goal to be observable by you and others, it must be defined as an action.
Procrastinators are prone to thinking in such vague terms that they find it very difficult to be specific. What exactly will you be doing when you accomplish your goal? When specifically will you do it? Being specific about where you want to end up will facilitate your getting there.
The only way to achieve any goal, no matter how large or small, is step by step. A behavioral goal can be broken down into small, observable steps, and life the final goal, each of these steps should be observable and specific. You will end up with a series of minigoals that you can work on one by one. The advantage of aiming toward interim minigoals instead of the ultimate final goal is that each minigoal is more vivid than a distant goal and therefore more likely to be achieved.
Reassessing your time frame as you work with your goal is frequently part of the process. Breaking your goal down into smaller steps can help you clarify – for better or worse – the reality of the task you face.
Focusing on the steps you need to take will also serve as a reminder that you have to travel down the road in order to reach your destination. Most procrastinators think only about "being there" and have a hard time thinking about "getting there". Many are surprised to find that the process of getting there – accomplishing each step along the way – can be challenging and rewarding in its own right.
Procrastinators tend to be unrealistic about their goals because they often think in terms of an ideal situation, as if there were no limitations on their time or energy. As a way of establishing a more realistic goal, we ask procrastinators to consider what their minimal goal might be. What is the smallest goal you could set that would give you some sense of progress and accomplishment?
An excuse means you're at a choice point: you can procrastinate or you can act. Instead of delaying automatically, you can transform your excuse – change your conclusion of "So I'll do it later" to "So I'll just spend fifteen minutes on it now". You can always use your excuse as a reward after you've taken some steps toward your goal.
If you focus on one step at a time, you are shortening the length of time before reaching your interim goal, which is one of the important factors in reducing procrastination.
Procrastinators are likely to come to a halt when an obstacle can't be easily removed or overcome. Any snag, large or small, can become a source of frustration and humiliation if you take it as proof of your inadequacy and evidence of your failure. If you feel defeated by an obstacle, you will have trouble returning to the problem and grappling with it again. It is easier to work around an obstacle if you view it as an interesting puzzle to be solved or something that takes more effort, a reflection of the task – not of you. An obstacle is just an obstacle: it is not an indictment that you are completely stupid, incompetent, or unwanted.
Reward yourself after you've made some progress. The notion of giving yourself a reward may be foreign, because procrastinators are much more likely to punish themselves than to praise themselves.
Rewards are most effective when they occur just after the desired behavior. Rewards work as positive reinforcement, increasing the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated.
Revising your goal is not necessarily a sign of failure. In fact, it may be a sign that you are being flexible rather than rigid, an important characteristic of healthy, integrated functioning. Revising a goal can be a response to realistic constraints, indicating that you are able to evaluate what is actually possible and adjust to it, instead of holding onto an impossible ideal.
If you can let go of your need for perfection at each step along the way, you'll probably be able to accomplish a lot more in the long run. As you're waiting for the perfect time, hoping for the perfect outcome, remind yourself, "It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be done!"
A thoughtful looking back is an important form of self-monitoring – how else can you learn from your experience?
Learning How to Tell Time
Perhaps it is this aspect of time – that it is fixed, measurable, and finite – that is so difficult for procrastinators to accept. Procrastinators prefer to remain in the vague realms of potential and possibility and do not like to be concrete, measured, or limited.
When you plan ahead, you have the opportunity to use your brain in relative calm, before the panic of meeting an approaching deadline takes over.
People may resist planning because it seems to be about the future, and they want to live now, in the present. They can feel trapped by committing themselves to an activity in the future, as if their freedom is being constrained.
The un-schedule is a weekly calendar of all your committed activities. It can help you accomplish your goal in two ways. First, in looking ahead to see how much of your time is already committed, you will see the maximum amount of time you have left over to work toward your goal. Second, it helps you at the end of your week to look back and see where your time has actually gone, another example of self-monitoring.
Any step toward your goal is one more step than you would have taken if you'd continued to avoid it.
Delegating is one way to increase your time efficiency. If you give some of your workload to someone else, then your burden is reduced, and you are free to concentrate on other tasks. The process of delegating involves identifying tasks you alone don't have to do, finding the best person who could do it, making clear what needs to be done, and keeping track of how they're progressing.
You should be spending your personal time on the most important things that require your attention and delegating things that are not your top priority.
When you make lots of commitments, not only are you setting the stage for procrastination, but you're also giving yourself a ready excuse: "I'm not really procrastinating; I'm just too busy to get everything done on time."
Learning to Say Yes and No
Procrastination can be an indirect way to say no when we are unable to say no directly; it can also represent "stealing" time to spend on things we can't openly say yes to.
With this seemingly insatiable press for more, many of us end up feeling like we actually have less of what matters most: less downtime, less privacy, less opportunity to pursue our passions, less time with the people we love, less time for our creative pursuits. It is easy to get caught up in the push for more. Procrastination may be a reflection of our feeling overwhelmed by too much, or it may express a yearning for something we are missing. Instead of relying on procrastination, we think it is important to say yes consciously to what enhances life, to say no to what detracts from it, and to say it directly rather than using procrastination to say it for you.
Procrastinators are usually ambivalent about asking for support from others. They may feel ashamed of waiting until the last minute, so they believe they don't deserve help. Some people are so convinced they can and should do everything by themselves that relying on someone else feels like failure.
When you're looking for support, the first issue is to find the right people to help you. Look for people who are kind, encouraging, and nonjudgmental, but also realistic and able to focus on your task. Choose people who are on your side, who can see things from your point of view.
Tell people what you're working on and when you're aiming for completion. People are more serious about a public commitment than one they keep to themselves, and the more public the promise, the more reluctant they are to change it. Having to account to someone else makes it harder to abandon your goal or interrupt your steps toward that goal, because someone else knows your plan.
You can talk with another person to create a plan for action. If, like most procrastinators, you are vague about what you need to do, the simple act of articulating your plan to someone else can help clarify your thoughts.
Procrastinators get so focused on the dreaded tasks hanging over them or feel so guilty about all they haven't done, they often don't allow themselves to do things that give them joy. Whatever it is you love to do, do more of it.
It is as important to think about what you want to minimize or eliminate from your life as it is to think about what you want to include.
Learn to identify and say no to things that aren't helpful or connected to what really matters most. We all have things, people, and activities that weigh us down, tire us out, derail us, and diminish the quality of our lives. Yet for procrastinators, the prospect of getting rid of that which drags us down can be intimidating. Often we procrastinate by spending time on these peripheral or detrimental activities. More importantly, the process of deciding what to include and what to exclude can be difficult in and of itself, especially if you don't trust your judgment.
It's always worthwhile to ask yourself, "Should I be doing this right now?" and to say no to tasks that are trivial.
Being overcommitted provides an excuse for not doing everything – or anything – in a timely way. Unnecessary commitments infringe on the time we need for the most important things.
It can be hard to say no when other people ask us to do things – help them out, join their cause, provide a service. It boosts our ego when we are wanted and valued, especially if we're persuaded that we're the best person for the job, or the only person for the job. Sometimes we agree to do things because we want to please people, or we worry about offending them if we refuse. But agreeing to do things for the wrong reasons is ultimately unsatisfying and may lead to resentment and procrastination. Just say no.
It is important to spend your time with people you can be open with, laugh with, trust, and turn to in times of trouble. You probably know people who make you feel worse instead of better. Maybe they are angry, downcast, critical, or dismissive. When you're with them, you find yourself shutting down and feeling drained, inadequate, or unlovable. If you recognize people like this in your life, it's time to think about reducing their impact on you. Can you say no? Can you have less contact with them? You are not obligated to make time for every person who wants time with you.
If you have clutter that makes you feel heavy, weighed down, or discouraged when you see it, throw it out.
You can also look inside yourself for "things" to throw away. Are you holding on to old ideas, grudges, resentments, hopes, or dreams that don't fit who you are today? Are there regrets that fill your mind or disappointments that continue to haunt you? Are there beliefs about yourself, about other people, about success, failure, or life that no longer serve you? It's not easy to let go of emotional clutter, but when you finally give yourself permission to do so, you'll probably feel lighter, freer, and happier.
For periods of time, ban the internet, Blackberry, cell phone, and e-mail, and say no to distractions in your environment. Choosing to be disconnected for a few hours or days may be disorienting and even anxiety-arousing ("I might miss something important!"), but most people feel liberated once they unplug.
Do you really need to watch or listen to news reports four or five times a day? Do you really need to check the latest price comparisons on the internet? Do you need to have e-mail updates for retail promotions, political groups, or every good cause you support? Say no to e-clutter.
Using Your Body to Reduce Procrastination
When you're in a state of physical and mental harmony, you are more prepared to handle the unfinished projects that are waiting for you.
Walking more can help you feel better, sharpen your brain, and put you in a frame of mind to tackle those long-avoided tasks.
When you find yourself bogged down in a task or spinning your wheels fruitlessly trying to get started, take a short break. A break will interrupt the connections of a neural circuit that fills you with dread, anxiety, or self-loathing. What you do during your break matters, however. Instead of sitting down to watch your favorite TV program, find some way to get your body moving.
It does not matter how you exercise; picking something that's fun for you does matter because exercise will be hard to sustain over time if you hate every minute of it.
People who start exercising too aggressively are not only at greater risk for physical injury but more likely to abandon the effort. It's much better to start slowly and progress bit by bit.
Like your muscles, your brain strengthens with exercise. It responds especially powerfully to novel challenges that demand your full attention and concentration, and stretch you to perform at progressively higher levels.
Exercise gets your body moving, and that is one way to prime your brain to grapple with things you've been putting off. Another approach that helps prepare you for tackling delayed projects involves the exact opposite activity – slowing down so that you become "mindful".
Mindfulness refers to "paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally".
Practicing mindfulness is one way to develop a capacity to observe yourself with compassion rather than cruelty, to offer yourself gentle support rather than harsh demands, and to experience steady, balanced acceptance rather than anxious worry or guilt.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) begins with sitting in a comfortable position and focusing on your breathing. Just taking a moment to pay attention to this fundamental and essential activity of your body immediately takes you out of the automatic, pressured mental and physical activities most of us engage in throughout the day.
In mindful practice, you observe your thoughts, whatever they are, as they come and go, as they change from moment to moment. Paying attention to your thoughts in this gentle, observant manner will allow you to know more about yourself without a harsh attitude, and you might even feel gratitude just for the experience of being alive in mind and body.
One way to incorporate mindful awareness into tiny moments throughout your day is to make use of the "sacred pause". The idea is to stop for just a moment, deliberately and consciously, before engaging in an activity or taking the next step. For a few short seconds, pause and just notice your breathing and the sensations in your body. Reconnect as fully as you can to the present moment. For a few short seconds, you don't have to do anything else or be anywhere else, ruminating about the past or anticipating the future.
The sacred pause can be especially helpful for procrastinators. When you start to experience a buildup of anxiety, dread, guilt, self-blame, or terror, use the sacred pause to come back to the present moment.
Tips for Procrastinators with ADD and Executive Dysfunction
If you have habitual structures and routines in place, you greatly reduce the likelihood of getting off track, because you simply do what you always do. Rather than looking at structure and routine as a prison that deprives you of your freedom and creative individuality, try to think of it as a way to help you get the mundane parts of life taken care of, so that you can be free to be that unique, creative, spontaneous person you are.
Get your ideas and plans out of your head and down in writing in a place that works for you.
Even though dealing with details may seem boring, it is important so that the rest of your life will flow smoothly. Try to think of creative routines that will help you take care of those details, so you don't have to think about them, and they aren't subject of choice-point distractions.
Have a set time each day (or week) to take care of routine tasks or activities.
Don't try to get good at what you're bad at. Get better at what you're good at.
Find partners whose strengths complement yours, so they can do (and enjoy) the things that are hard for you, and vice versa.
You don't have to be perfect; you only have to be good enough, doing just enough organizing to allow your life to work reasonably well. So rather than spending (wasting?) lots of time researching the ideal organizing system and figuring out how to implement it perfectly, make sure you have places for the really important stuff, that you have routines for handling that really important stuff, and then don't panic if you can't see the top of your desk for a while.
Find your strengths and follow them. Get better at the things you like and do well. Fill your life with people and activities that make you happy and give you a sense of meaning, purpose, and connection to the larger world around you.
Neither Here nor There: Procrastination and the Cross-Cultural Experience
Moving away marks a significant break from the past, and although there may be many positive feelings associated with the move, there are also significant feelings of loss. This is true whether you leave a country, a state, a city, or a neighborhood. The sense of loss may be intense if the people who remain behind are unable to relate to the person's experiences in the new culture. It's difficult to understand a different world if you've never been there.
Moving into a new culture is hard, often much harder than people expect. The discrepancy between the new life you imagined and the reality you encounter can be the first "obstacle" that sends you into a tailspin of delay.
Encountering more obstacles than you expect can plunge you into the depths of self-doubt. Self-doubt erodes your confidence and willingness to try new things and take risks. If you're plagued by fears that you're not smart enough and you're never going to be, you're likely to retreat from hard tasks – why study or take steps to get a job if you're convinced you're going to lose out anyway? On the other hand, if you expect to benefit from your experience, even if you don't pass the test or get the job, you will gain something.
The more isolated people are, the more likely they are to feel depressed and the greater their difficulty in achieving success in the new culture. If you have trouble with procrastination, being isolated will make it harder for you to overcome it.
Having a sense of belonging is a central human need. Social isolation and lack of motivation are more likely if you feel you don't belong. Look for social, religious, or interest groups in your neighborhood and join in.
Living and Working with Procrastinators
Living or working with a procrastinator is hard: their chronic lateness, inaction, failure to follow through on commitments – it's so exasperating and difficult to understand. It's also frustrating because procrastinators are often indirect about what they are – or are not – doing, so you can be fooled into thinking that things are better than they really are. The procrastinator either does not want to tell you or is unable to tell you what is really going on. This can leave you feeling deceived or betrayed, setting the stage for tension and conflict in your relationship.
The basic struggle always centers on one essential problem: you want the procrastinator to do something, and he doesn't do it.
When people first become aware that a procrastinator is having difficulty getting work done, they usually offer encouragement: "I know you can do it." Unfortunately, the procrastinator usually does not hear your encouragement as support. Instead, it may be taken as pressure to perform or interpreted as your attempt to be in control. You can't assume that your good intentions will be well received. This is particularly true for encouragement that reminds the procrastinator of her intelligence, talent, or skill. "You're so smart. Of course you will do a terrific job." Deep down, even the most talented procrastinator probably feels inadequate, and such statements, although well meant, reinforce this underlying insecurity.
Whether the procrastinator reacts to your support with apparent agreeableness, stymies you with a "Yes, but", or rejects your help altogether, the end result is that your encouragement usually fails to get the procrastinator moving.
When it becomes clear that your efforts to be helpful have not worked, it's easy to feel disappointed and let down. You might feel disappointed with yourself, thinking that the procrastinator would have been able to make progress if you had just done a better job of helping; you could have been more encouraging or thought of a better suggestion, or you could have been more available to help. In essence, you are taking on the burden of responsibility for the procrastinator's continued inaction. At this point, most people address the situation by trying even harder to help. They offer more encouragement and better advice, hoping that this will get the procrastinator moving and ease their own disappointment. It doesn't work. The procrastinator will sense your disappointment and feel worse than ever. In addition to worrying about facing the task itself, he now must worry about you.
Irritation and anger often follow on the heels of disappointment. You begin to view the procrastinator's inaction as being willfully motivated or directed against you.
It may make you feel better to scold your procrastinator for messing up, because at least you're doing something – even if it only makes things worse – and not just standing by helplessly.
When you say "just do it", you emphasize the procrastinator's inability to do what everyone else seems to be able to do, making the procrastinator feel worse.
When you continually remind a procrastinator about what needs to be done or check up on her progress, you will be perceived as a watchdog – and resented for it.
You may believe that if you shame procrastinators enough, especially in public, they will be motivated to start working. These kinds of comments do not help procrastinators take action. They only succeed in humiliating people who already feel ashamed of themselves, further eroding their confidence and prompting them to retreat from you and avoid tasks all the more.
You should never – except in rare cases – come to a procrastinator's rescue by doing the task yourself. In becoming the magic solution you only perpetuate the problem, reinforcing the expectation that you or someone else will come to the rescue at the last minute.
If indeed things turn out the way you predicted, you may be tempted to remind the procrastinator that you were right. But if you act on that impulse, it won't help. Whether or not she can admit it, the procrastinator already knows that you were right and feels bad.
You can provide a tremendous service to your procrastinator by combating Fixed Mindset thinking and advocating a Growth Mindset: cultivate and convey the attitude that life is about learning, that tasks are opportunities to practice and improve, and that it can be fun and exciting to challenge yourself.
You must remind yourself that your power over your procrastinator is limited. You can try to influence your procrastinator to do what you want, but you can never make him or her take action. Like it or not, he is his own separate person.
In order to offer your help and have it be accepted, you have to set up a two-way collaboration. You and your procrastinator can come to an agreement on your role and then you have to stick to it. Ask how you can be of help and provide only what is requested.
All too often, when a strategy has failed to yield the desired results, people try the same thing over and over again, with increased insistence. Instead, it would be more helpful to do something fundamentally different from previous efforts.
You have to decide what's most important for you and what matters most in your relationship with someone who is a chronic procrastinator. Then focus on that, rather than on trying to eliminate procrastination.
In your interactions with adult procrastinators, try to function as a consultant and not as a director. Offer your support, be a sounding board, and help procrastinators be realistic, but don't try to decide things for them or judge their moral character.
Establish clear, specific limits, deadlines, and consequences. It's best to do this collaboratively. Then, if the task isn't completed by the deadline, you can implement (nonpunitively) the consequences.
You can help your procrastinator think through a set of minigoals, a series of steps that must be accomplished in order to reach the larger, final goal.
Progress of any kind deserves to be recognized and rewarded. Effort counts, too – not only the outcome – so be sure to give lots of praise to any effort your procrastinator makes. You can also participate in activities that reward the procrastinator at points along the way. Your procrastinator will begin to value and appreciate what she has done, even before reaching the final goal. This is an invaluable lesson, because it makes working toward a goal a reinforcing experience rather than a demoralizing one.
There will certainly be times when the procrastinator's delaying irritates or frustrates you. Let the procrastinator know specifically what she has done that upsets you and discuss how the delay has affected you. Indirect expressions of anger such as sarcastic comments, emotional withdrawal, or nonverbal behaviors, such as rolling your eyes or using a harsh tone of voice, won't get you anywhere.