It may be time to learn how to stop procrastinating when …
You’ve got 138 unread emails in your inbox, a sink full of dirty dishes, and a big presentation tomorrow morning that’s only half-done (OK, almost a quarter-done).
But maybe you’ll just sneak a quick nap before your next Zoom (naps are healthy, right?!).
We all procrastinate in different ways and for various reasons.
“Procrastination is a knee-jerk coping strategy that rarely helps, yet we can convince ourselves it’s the way to go,” explains therapist Angela Ficken, LICSW, who specializes in stress and anxiety.
“When faced with something stressful, we decide to deal with it later. Then later comes, and we kick the can down the road until the last minute, ” she adds.
It feels like we’re pushing the anxiety away, but the task or responsibility is still there. It lingers. The dread builds rather than goes away.
The more you procrastinate, the higher your stress level goes.
We may procrastinate in all facets of our lives, whether it’s finding the motivation to work out, avoiding a difficult conversation with a partner, scrolling through social media instead of practicing mindfulness, or doing our taxes.
However, it’s also important to note that there’s a difference between procrastinating and legitimately needing a break for some self-care.
The Different Types of Procrastinators
“There are many different types of procrastinators,” says Ficken. But here are a few categories we tend to fit into (any of these sound familiar?):
You procrastinate by always being too busy doing “other stuff” to do anything on your very, very, very long list of Things To Do.
If it’s not perfect, it will have to wait. “I don’t have time to clean my entire kitchen, so I’m just gonna wait until I have enough time.”
“There’s plenty of time to get this done. I’m just going to quickly do [insert something else that doesn’t need to be done] …”
The Pressure Junkie
These procrastinators claim to do their “best work” under the gun. (Hint: If you ever wrote a 10-page final term paper the night before it was due in college, this is you.)
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Often, we know what we need to do, but for reasons we can’t quite explain, we just aren’t doing it.
“We procrastinate because we’re anxious about a negative outcome or we don’t feel motivated,” says Alisha Powell, Ph.D., LCSW.
“It can also be a lack of confidence in our abilities and not wanting to let others down,” she adds. “Procrastination can be closely tied to anxiety because there’s an underlying fear that we may not be able to complete the task or responsibility within the allotted time period. There can also be a fear of failure that can feel paralyzing.”
If you need to learn how to stop procrastinating, here are a few tips:
1. Break big tasks into smaller jobs
“Instead of seeing it as one big task, breaking it into smaller slivers can help you see a way through,” recommends Ficken.
2. Start with the lightest lifts
Getting through the easiest things you need to do can put you back on track for ticking off your list — just make sure you aren’t doing “busy work” to avoid real work.
3. Set dates to get things done
“Seeing it on your schedule can help make it more manageable, and having a visual can hold us accountable,” says Ficken.
4. Enlist a friend or colleague
Having an accountability partner can help you stay motivated, explains Powell.
5. Take a break
Stepping back to assess what you’re doing can help you “evaluate your process and plan more effectively,” says Powell.
What Is the 2-Minute Rule?
The two-minute rule is: If it takes two minutes, do it now.
This rule is primarily attributed to productivity guru David Allen and his best-selling book, “Getting Things Done.”
If it takes two minutes to load the dishwasher or wash your lunch plates, do it right after you eat, especially if you hate doing dishes.
If answering an email takes two minutes, do it.
It’s basically eliminating all the tiny things we procrastinate on before they pile up.
“We can do lots of things for two minutes, including tasks we are dreading,” explains Ficken. “Doing things in small increments can help you get to the finish line faster and with more ease than procrastination.”