Step-by-step Guide to Overcoming Chronic Procrastination

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We are all too familiar with those moments when we’ve avoided doing something we didn’t feel like doing and casually brushed it off as “procrastination.” But for some people, it’s more than just an occasional lazy day. Chronic procrastination becomes a deeply ingrained behavior that can impact every aspect of life, including our health. As hard as it may sound, there can be some positives to it too. 

The Positive Side to Procrastination

Don’t roll your eyes just yet. Of course, we know procastination often seen in a negative light, but there can be some advantages too, we promise. Especially for individuals with high intelligence or original thinking. Here’s why putting things off can have a positive side:

Creativity and innovation: Writer and director Aaron Sorkin once said, “You call it procrastinating, I call it thinking.” This perspective resonates with psychologist and author Adam Grant, who explains in his TED talk, “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers,” that procrastination can actually fuel creativity and generate innovative ideas. For certain individuals, whom Grant refers to as “the Originals,” allowing some degree of procrastination can result in unique and out-of-the-box thinking.

The “sweet spot” of moderate procrastination: It’s important to note that the positive effects of procrastination occur in a specific range—moderate procrastination rather than severe procrastination. In the case of “the Originals,” their projects are never completely forgotten or ignored. While they may allow themselves some distraction, their work remains simmering in the back of their minds, allowing ideas to percolate and insights to emerge.

However, it’s essential to strike a balance. Excessive and severe procrastination without the creative element can lead to detrimental effects on productivity and well-being. Simply avoiding deadlines or projects altogether without engaging in productive thinking is not conducive to positive outcomes.

So, if you’re in the high IQ category or consider yourself an original thinker, embracing a moderate level of procrastination may offer you the space and freedom for creative exploration, leading to fresh ideas and innovative solutions. Maintaining awareness of your deadlines and responsibilities while allowing your mind to wander and generate those original thoughts.

Which One Are You?

Don’t know or you’re not sure whether you’re a chronic sufferer or not? Here are some signs to watch out for:

 It brings feelings of failure

Deep down, chronic procrastination can make you feel like a failure. You might experience shame, knowing that others find your habit frustrating or look down on you for it.

You’re always “busy”  

Contrary to the assumption that chronic procrastinators are simply lazy, they often appear busy. They’re constantly engaged in various tasks, just not the ones that truly need to be done. Whether it’s hanging the laundry, organizing their inbox, or researching a vacuum cleaner they want to buy, they find themselves occupied with everything else except the task at hand, like an untouched dissertation.

It impacts your daily life 

Chronic procrastination affects your ability to cope with daily tasks. You’re constantly walking the tightrope of barely keeping things together and meeting deadlines, even if others perceive you as successful. As a result, you often feel tired, forgetful, and your social life may suffer. Last-minute cancellations and frustrating your partner with your procrastination habits become all too common.

It’s a never-ending cycle

Occasional procrastination can happen to anyone, maybe due to a bad day or disliking a particular task. But chronic procrastination takes it to another level. If you find yourself consistently putting off important tasks multiple times a week, or even daily, for a significant period of time, then you might be dealing with chronic procrastination.

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You can’t break free from it

Despite your best efforts, you just can’t seem to stop procrastinating. Friends and loved ones might offer you their tried-and-true organization tips, but nothing seems to work. It’s like you’re trapped in a pattern that you can’t escape.

If you resonate with these signs, it might be time to address your chronic procrastination and find strategies to overcome it.

Is Procrastination a Mental Illness?

The short answer is no. However, it can significantly increase your risk of developing mental health issues. Here’s how:

Procrastination can be a real self-esteem killer. Constantly putting things off and not meeting deadlines can take a toll on your confidence and self-worth. This, in turn, can contribute to feelings of depression, leading to bouts of sadness or even what’s known as “walking depression,” where you may experience a persistent low mood.

Additionally, the stress caused by procrastination can manifest in various ways. It can trigger anxiety, making you feel constantly on edge and worried about the consequences of delaying important tasks. This stress can also disrupt your sleep patterns, leading to sleep problems and further exacerbating your mental well-being. In some cases, procrastination can even become a gateway to developing addictive behaviors as a coping mechanism.

When Chronic Procrastination Becomes Toxic

It goes beyond mere laziness and can have real-life implications. Here’s why it’s a big deal.

Impact on Performance 

Chronic procrastination can hinder your performance, even if you’re highly intelligent and smart. Despite your potential, constantly delaying tasks can lead to underachievement at work or in other areas of life.

Financial Consequences

 Procrastination can have a negative impact on your financial situation. 

Constantly putting off important tasks like filing taxes or creating a budget can lead to financial instability and missed opportunities.

Physical Toll

 Procrastinators often live in a state of constant stress and anxiety. This chronic stress, coupled with the aforementioned poor sleep patterns, can take a toll on your physical health. It may contribute to health issues such as high blood pressure and other stress-related conditions.

Understanding the impact of procrastination can serve as a catalyst for finding effective strategies to overcome it and lead a more productive and balanced life.

Ever Wondered Why You Procrastinate No Matter How Hard You Tried Not to?

While these are some potential reasons behind procrastination, understanding the underlying factors can help you identify strategies and techniques to overcome chronic procrastination and improve productivity.

Here are common factors why you might find yourself procrastinating. 

Negative Thought Patterns 

Negative beliefs about yourself, such as feeling “no good,” can fuel procrastination as a way to prove these beliefs true. Core beliefs, often established in childhood, can unconsciously influence your decision-making process, even if they are negative, as your brain works to validate them.

 Perfectionism

Striving for perfection can lead to procrastination. Fear of not getting things “right” or continuously revising work until the last minute can trigger panic as deadlines approach.

High IQ and Seeking Stimulation 

Surprisingly, individuals with high IQs tend to procrastinate more than others. They may engage in procrastination as they know they can still manage to meet expectations. Some people with high IQs may also have a natural inclination for seeking challenges and may find procrastination provides an energetic rush when other tasks seem too easy or mundane.

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ADHD

If you struggle with constant distractions, daydreaming, impulsivity, restlessness, and have experienced these challenges since childhood, it could be linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Chronic procrastination often goes hand in hand with ADHD, where you may experience “hyper focus” on the wrong tasks, causing delays in important responsibilities.

Low Self-worth 

Procrastination and self-worth can form a cycle. Feeling inadequate because you consistently leave things to the last minute can lead to further procrastination, as you aim to avoid facing feelings of incompetence once again.

Anxiety Disorder

Whether anxiety is a result of your procrastination habit or a preexisting condition, it can make meeting deadlines challenging. Intrusive and irrational thoughts can hijack your mind, making it difficult to gather the motivation and focus needed to complete tasks on time.

Complex PTSD

Childhood trauma, such as neglect or abuse, can result in symptoms similar to ADHD, including distractibility, impulsivity, and restlessness. If you can relate to these ADHD-related traits and have endured childhood trauma, it’s possible that complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could be a contributing factor to your procrastination.

Procrastination May be the Outcome of Nurtured Habit

It seems that, for many of us, it can be more influenced by our upbringing than our inherent nature. While there are exceptions like high IQ individuals who use procrastination to their advantage or those with ADHD brains, the development of procrastination as a habit is often shaped by our environment.

If we grew up either micromanaged or spoiled by our parents, we may have grown up without a clear understanding of how to prioritize our time and accomplish tasks efficiently. This can have an impact on the prefrontal cortex, (the area of the brain responsible for functions such as planning, impulse control, and attention). If we were never taught to meet deadlines and view rewards as something earned through effort, the activation of our prefrontal cortex may be low. As a result, we struggle to filter out distracting stimuli, leading to chronic procrastination.

Conversely, if our parents were overly controlling and authoritarian, we may find ourselves as adults constantly procrastinating as a form of unconscious rebellion against the rigidity and strictness of our upbringing.

In both cases, the habits and behaviors we observe and experience during our formative years can greatly influence our tendency to procrastinate. However, it’s important to note that learned habits can be unlearned and replaced with more productive approaches to time management and task completion. By understanding the underlying factors that contribute to our procrastination, we can actively work towards breaking the cycle and developing healthier habits.

 

Practical Steps to Overcoming Procrastination 

Overcoming chronic procrastination requires reprogramming your brain and adopting a new perspective on yourself. You need to be ready to fail a lot but with as long as you persist, you can achieve your goals. Here are lists of steps to help you get started.

Remove emotional barriers 

Waiting for the “right mood” or wanting to “feel good” about a project will only prolong procrastination. Flip this belief system and remind yourself that the worst you feel, the more perfect the time is to start. Taking action often leads to improved mood and motivation.

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Embrace imperfection

If perfectionism contributes to your chronic procrastination, challenge yourself by engaging in activities where being perfect is not the goal. Try something new that you don’t expect to excel at, like an art class or dance lessons. Embrace the liberating feeling of not needing to meet high standards, which can break the cycle of stalling.

Lean on others for support

Procrastination thrives in isolation. Sharing your goals and tasks with others can increase accountability and motivation. If you’re overwhelmed or lack certain skills to complete a task, consider delegating or hiring someone who can assist you.

Don’t be Afraid to Lean on Others for Support

Procrastination thrives in isolation. Sharing your goals and tasks with others can increase accountability and motivation. If you’re overwhelmed or lack certain skills to complete a task, consider delegating or hiring someone who can assist you.

Schedule Downtime

 Allocate specific slots in your day for relaxation and leisure activities. By consciously planning and accepting these breaks, your usual delay tactics become intentional choices. This can minimize sabotage when it’s time to work and make overcoming procrastination easier.

Prioritize Yourself

Seek counseling or coaching to address feelings of guilt when putting yourself first. Start by creating a list of reasons why you deserve a calm and organized life and why you are capable of overcoming procrastination.

Recognize the Costs

Take a moment to reflect on what procrastination is costing you. Create a comprehensive list of all the negative impacts it has on your life, which can serve as a reality check and motivation for change.

Try Self-compassion

Procrastination often stems from a lack of self-worth. Counteract this self-sabotage by creating a list of reasons why you are a good person and achievements you are proud of. Continuously add to this list to build self-appreciation.

Gain Time Awareness

Chronic procrastinators often have a distorted sense of time. Spend a few days tracking the time it takes for various activities, from breakfast to work tasks. Understand where your time is actually going and use this awareness to create a realistic schedule and stay on track.

Assess Your Passion

If you are constantly delaying work tasks due to a lack of interest or dislike for your job, be honest with yourself. As an adult, you have the power to explore new career paths or make changes that align with your passions.

Think Small

Procrastinators often struggle with overwhelming tasks. Break them down into smaller, manageable steps. Dissect each task into its smallest components and start with the smallest step. Gradually work your way through the process.

Differentiate Urgency and Importance

Train yourself to distinguish between urgent and important tasks. Use techniques like Stephen R. Covey’s Four Quadrants method, categorizing tasks into not urgent and not important, urgent and not important, not urgent and important, and urgent and important.

Minimize Technology Distractions

Turn off your phone and internet for focused work sessions. Try timed intervals, like 45 minutes of focused work followed by a 15-minute break. Consider reducing social media usage to create a more conducive environment for deep work.

Overcoming procrastination takes time and effort. Experiment with these techniques and find what works best for you. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way.

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