What it is and how to stop it
Do you delay everything until the last possible moment?
Is procrastination your only response to every obligation?
Can’t get anything done?
All of us procrastinate once in a while. Sometimes it’s for a good reason, like waiting until we have more information before making a decision, but more often than not, this isn’t the case.
Once procrastination becomes too serious and is your only answer to obligations, it can develop into a chronic, paralyzing, life-ruining habit.
What is chronic procrastination?
Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing something.
Everyone looks at procrastination as THE problem. If only I hadn’t procrastinated...
Except what almost no one realizes is that procrastination is not the issue, it’s actually a symptom of deeper issues. It’s an unfortunate habitual response to stress caused by something else.
Simply put, procrastination is a habit. Chronic procrastination is a strong habit. Fortunately, like any other habit it can be unlearned.
Imagine you have a task to do, like studying for a test or preparing a presentation for work. These tasks raise your stress levels. If you procrastinate, it immediately lowers your stress levels by avoiding the task. For example, you have a snack or watch a TV show to avoid a stressful task (for now) and you feel better.
Our brains learn that procrastination makes you feel better through a process called positive reinforcement. You get an instant reward (lowered stress) for your behavior. Your brain associates this reward with the act of procrastinating, which makes you want to keep doing it.
If you do this often, it becomes a habit. Whenever you feel stressed and you decide to escape it by procrastination, you reinforce the habit. If you start doing it a lot, your procrastination develops into chronic procrastination.
However, that’s not all. Procrastination feels better in the short term, but usually makes you feel worse in the long run by way of missed deadlines, failed promises to both others and yourself, unreliability, and many other consequences. The temporary bliss we feel from procrastinating is far outweighed by its long term effects on our lives.
All these consequences lower your self-confidence. This, in turn, makes you more vulnerable to your insecurities (the fear of criticism, failure, or rejection) which leads to even higher stress levels that you hide from by procrastinating even more. When you feel like a failure, your next challenge will only be more stressful because if you fail again, it will confirm those feelings.
What might be the signs of chronic procrastination?
- You have serious trouble getting anything done.
- You delay everything until it’s very close to or past the deadline.
- You never work on your important, but not urgent tasks because there are no deadlines.
- You procrastinate on setting your goals.
- You procrastinate every time you are supposed to start working or studying.
- Your life is full of “have to’s” and “shoulds.”
- You keep an impossibly long to-do list and you keep postponing everything or stop looking at it.
- You use distractions to not think about your life (drugs, games, TV, alcohol, news).
- You can’t enjoy most leisure activities because you don’t think you deserve it.
If these ring true to you, then you’re probably somewhere close to zero on the Productivity Spectrum.
How to stop chronic procrastination?
First, don’t procrastinate on this blog post. Finishing this blog post and putting it into action will help you immediately.
Second, your expectation that you’ll get anything done is low. Also, believe it or not, your self-confidence is very low. That means that you shouldn’t expect to become perfect in a day.
Instead, if you’re in a deep rut, start slowly and give yourself a week to get back on track. What matters in the next few days is getting small wins - working 10 minutes on something, not avoiding someone, creating the first slide out of 20. These little victories matter, so keep building on them.
Third, recognize that you don’t have to be perfect. The goal is to transform yourself from a procrastinator to a producer. You just have to get to so-called bearable procrastination. That means that you procrastinate sometimes, but it has no severe consequences in your life.
Practical Steps to getting rid of chronic procrastination
1. Realize that you can get something done (and get it done)
Find areas of your life where procrastination is not that bad and start producing there.
The thing is, you probably don’t procrastinate in everything. Your productivity spectrum in your studies might look like this:
But it probably looks like this in different endeavors:
Look for easier areas of life, even if they’re currently your means of procrastination. Produce something there, no matter how small.
- Watching movies? Post a review on IMDB.
- Playing games? Write a short guide about the game on an online forum.
- Watching sports? Comment about the game on Reddit.
- Do you have a hobby? Just write about it and publish on Medium.com
- Following news? Make a meme.
You could make videos, draw some pictures - the point is to get something done.
We know it sounds laughable because these things usually serve as distractions. However, if you’re a chronic procrastinator, your expectation that you’ll get anything done is very low. The idea is to move you from consuming all the time (passive) to producing something (active).
In this step, realize that you can get something done and do it.
2. Become more mindful of your fears and insecurities
Procrastination is not the issue, it’s a symptom. A symptom of what? There can be many causes, for example:
The first step to dealing with any of these fears is becoming aware of them.
Hi there, if you want to get a whole comprehensive guide about procrastination and learn about each fear deeply, check out our handbook.
We put hundreds of hours of research into it, so you don’t have to. And also we keep updating it often to give you the best, most concrete strategies for dealing with procrastination.
How to become more mindful of the fears?
- Learn what they feel and look like - read about them.
- Work on your mindfulness - meditate, journal about your thoughts and feelings, reflect on why your react to a task or a decision the way you do.
- Focus on your feelings before work and when working - name them, work with them, learn how to overcome them.
3. Spread your production efforts into other areas of your life
Can you write a review on IMDB, write your short tip, or post your thoughts on Reddit and survive the criticism? Good, that’s a step in the right direction.
Keep building your self-confidence and moving forward. This shouldn’t take you long, even if you’re in a deep rut.
When you feel ready, try to spread your efforts into areas that matter to you. How? Keep chipping away at endeavors that you have more trouble getting done. Find a bite-sized task and get it done. Then another. Then another.
4. Forgive yourself and then figure out a better way
When you fail, you must learn to forgive yourself. Chronic procrastination is a strong habit. If you built it subconsciously every day, over a period of 6 months or longer, you can’t expect yourself to break it overnight. If you do, you’ll disappoint yourself and be back at 0 or even worse off.
Beating yourself up over not working for 8 hours straight is not helpful. It only leads to more procrastination. Feeling bad usually leads to giving into temptations.
This doesn’t mean that you should accept constant failure. If you accept bad performance, day by day, you will lower your standards more and more and that will hurt your self-confidence and career in the long run.
What should you do instead? When you fail, analyze why you failed and formulate a plan on how to ensure that it won’t next time.
When you fail, accept it, reflect on it, and make a plan to get better.
5. Keep figuring it out
Figuring out how to be productive and avoiding procrastination is worth it and it’s best done as early in life as possible.
Imagine a life where you can get everything that matters to you done. What a career you would have! What relationships and experiences!
That might seem like a long way off but if you keep trying, analyzing, and improving your productivity, you will get there.
Once you figure this out and build better habits, you will need to maintain them, but that’s easier than procrastinating all the time.
If you’re a chronic procrastinator:
- Realize that you can get something done and get it done.
- Become more mindful of your fears and insecurities.
- Try to spread your production efforts into other areas of your life.
- If you fail, forgive yourself and then figure out a better way.
- Keep figuring it out.
Ready to start producing?