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Last Updated on August 26, 2021

Procrastination Is a Matter of Emotion, Here’s How to Stop It

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Procrastination Is a Matter of Emotion, Here’s How to Stop It

Procrastination is in a human’s biological makeup. Thanks to our limbic system, the neurological powerhouse that controls our emotions and memory, we are inclined to feel before we think. To avoid experiencing negative feelings, we keep away from tasks that may overwhelm or inconvenience us.

Because we are inclined to seek and enjoy pleasure first, we tend to give in to things that make us happy instantly. It is so instant that we don’t see a point in neglecting ourselves. But it blinds us from viewing the consequences due to procrastination — more than 3 hours go missing every single day, and about 55 days — almost 2 months are lost every year.

It All Comes down to Our Emotions

The essential way to overcome procrastination is by regulating these emotions. When obligations are dreadful, they drag our feet to complete them. Most people tend to confuse work with emotional suffering because the task at hand may appear to be complicated or difficult; which can cause anxiety or despair.

The more complicated or challenging the work may be, the more challenge-averse we become. All of these negative feelings and reservations add up, making people avoid the tasks altogether to keep from experiencing suffering or negativity.

Dealing with procrastination

1. Break your tasks down

Difficult or complicated tasks tend to easily overwhelm people, causing them to lose interest in the project and faith in themselves.

The key is to make these tasks more manageable.

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How do you do this? By breaking them up into smaller, digestible elements that will eventually add up to complete the big picture. This way, a lot of the strain is lifted, and you can find a little more enjoyment in your work.

Before breaking down the tasks, as a whole they appear to be time consuming and challenging.  Small, manageable parts you can take action on immediately.  The smaller the tasks, the easier you will find them to manage.  So it’s good to break down your tasks into elements that will only take you 45 minutes or less to complete.

2. Focus on one thing at a time

Keep the big picture in mind, but keep your workload light and only focus on one small task at a time. When you commit your attention to one element at a time, you are gradually making your way towards the larger goal.

3. Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements

Since we are inclined to seek out things that bring us pleasure, small rewards can go a long way to help to satisfy our need for pleasure and positivity.  Rewards give you small goals to work towards, which will help to keep you motivated. Even if you aren’t able to physically reward yourself, still celebrate the progress you’ve made along the way.

Celebrate the completion of each small step to encourage morale. Keep up momentum throughout the entire project, and tiny celebrations will help you to do just that. Expecting to see results of the task at hand immediately is unrealistic. Accomplishments are measured by the differences you have made along the way, not the end result.

Imagine holding an event at work.  You must find a venue, caterer, and entertainment.  You also need to come up with a theme, and decorate the venue and table settings.  This is a huge project.  Break it down into smaller parts.  For example, maybe focus on deciding on a theme first.

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When you’ve completed that, give yourself a small break as a reward before moving on to the next part.  One thing at a time and reward yourself to stay motivated.  Then the big project will not overwhelm you.

4. Don’t be too hard on yourself

If you have a long history of procrastination, you should stop beating yourself about it. Accepting yourself the way you are can go a long way in eliminating negative self-talk, thus reducing the chances of procrastination.

Start paying attention to the way you talk to yourself. Instead of using phrases such as “have to” or “need to”, consider saying, “I get to” or “I choose to”. Taking ownership of your goals and work will make you feel in control of your life. Keep in mind that behind every word, there’s a thought. And thoughts are things.

5. Eliminate distractions

Distractions are among the biggest killers of productivity. And the leading cause of procrastination. Most people have gotten used to distractions in their environment that they actively look for small and large disruptions during the workday.

You can set yourself up for success by taking the time to identify key distractions and avoid them. For instance, if a family member or friend is always texting or calling you during the workday, you should consider silencing your phone for a couple of hours.

If your computer is always popping email and social media notifications, consider turning the notifications off. Find a quiet place to work and block all kinds of distractions to get things done.

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6. Tackle things right now

When you keep postponing things, they will eventually pile up and overwhelm you. If you don’t want this to happen, try tackling your tasks at the moment. You can bundle up small tasks such as sending emails and making phone calls so that you can take care of them at a go.

Set an hour aside every day and commit to tackling small tasks so that they don’t stress you out in the long run. Setting clear goals and intentions every week will help you know exactly what is supposed to be done. Creating a schedule and having a clear plan is one of the best ways to deal with procrastination.

7. Say No to reduce your workload

Most frequent procrastinators say yes to almost everything. Saying yes to everything will make you spread yourself too thin. And you’ll end up pushing things off. To have more time for your most important tasks at work, yourself, and your loved ones, you need to learn to say no. Say no to tasks and projects that don’t align with your goals. If you have to do everything, consider delegating a couple of tasks to a capable team so that you can find time to plan, work and relax.

8. Promise someone you respect

Most of the time, you make promises to yourself but you end up breaking them. You can avoid this by promising someone you respect that you’ll complete your tasks at a specified time. When you promise someone you respect, they’ll hold you accountable for the tasks that you procrastinate on.

9. Identify activities that make you productive

Do you need to create an outline before you start working? Is there a song that inspires you to take the next step? Do you generate brilliant ideas after taking an afternoon nap? You need to find out the practices that boost your productivity and integrate them into your schedule. Working on tasks that you are passionate about can help you feel more positive and energized.

10. Try mindfulness techniques

Chronic procrastinators usually experience increased stress and anxiety. To address anxious thoughts and healthily reframe them, you should try mindfulness techniques such as meditation. It’s one of the best ways to calm your mind and work with intention.

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Dealing with dreadful tasks

What if no matter how small or big the task is, it’s still dreadful?  No job is perfect. You will always at some point find yourself faced with tedious and uninteresting tasks that you must complete. Sometimes you just need to suck it up and push through.

To stay motivated, plan to complete positive tasks along with the negative ones.  This will regulate your emotions, and ensure that you don’t only do the things that you “feel like” doing.  Always remember to keep your eye on the big picture, which will give meaning to all of your tasks (even the tedious ones).

When you alter your attitude towards your obligations, it will make the tasks seem less tedious.  It takes a lot of practice and reinforcement, but eventually it will change your work ethic.

Bottom Line

Numerous research studies suggest that procrastination is a problem of managing emotions. However, most people think that it’s a time management issue. Poor time management is but a symptom of the problem; not the problem itself.

Emotions influence how people feel. And this affects how they behave. People procrastinate for a wide range of reasons such as frustration, fear of failure, anxiety, and self-doubt. By putting the tips that we’ve discussed into practical use, you’ll gradually gain control over your emotions, thoughts, and life.

Learn more tips about how to stop procrastinating: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

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Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on January 14, 2022

How to Break the Perfectionism-Procrastination Loop

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How to Break the Perfectionism-Procrastination Loop

You’re probably full of the usual impetus to make changes in your life as the new year lies before us. At the time of writing, we’re at the dawn of a new year. Bellies full and rife with lethargy, we’re all likely sat around (in the West at any rate) contemplating our moves for the next 12 months.

This is, of course, prompted by our arm-chair assessment of the year just gone. Did we achieve the goals we set out for ourselves this time last year as we nurse our splitting sides and slip into yet another food coma?

No! Of course we didn’t, and I’m not speaking from a hyperbolic or purely anecdotal point of view. According to a 2016 study, of the 41% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, by the end of the year, only 9% feel they are successful in keeping them.[1]

Is it because of procrastination or perfectionism?

Is Perfectionism And Procrastination Holding You Back From Achieving Goals?

The failing rate of New Year’s resolutions is 91%! A big part of that is how we set our goals. What these studies often cite as a predominant reason for failure is the setting of unrealistic goals. But I think this speaks to something else, namely that we’re not properly connecting to or aligning with our goals — this is where perfectionism and procrastination come in.

Perfectionism is just fear manifesting itself as a mental block. Not fear of failure and/or social ostracisation, so much as fear of change. Our subconscious is set up to favor the status quo. All it knows is that your choices, up until now, have resulted in your survival. Change is just rocking the boat and risking an unknowable outcome (or so it thinks).

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This is what’s at the root cause of your perfectionism and procrastination. You might claim to be a perfectionist, but what does that really mean? Do you mean that you won’t stop working on something until it is, in your opinion, perfect? Or do you mean that you don’t embark upon an endeavor until you can guarantee that the outcome will be perfect?

If you fall into the latter camp, you might consider that this perfectionism-procrastination loop is just an excuse—a manifestation of your deeply rooted subconscious fear of change.

Put it this way:

I think you could substitute the word “unrealistic” for the word “vague,” and you’d have a more accurate assessment of the problem. People often say that they want to make more money, lose more weight, eat more healthy food, etc., but they don’t define what that actually means. Setting out with such an ill-defined destination means that you can’t set an accurate course towards it, and without that, you’re just wandering around in the wilderness.

Think about a time when you’ve performed a task so mundane that it barely registered in your mind. It could be doing the grocery shopping or the laundry. Something that you do, not necessarily every day, but with regularity and (crucially) purpose. If you don’t go to the food store, you won’t have food. If you don’t have food, you can’t eat. If you don’t eat, you die. That’s a pretty clear purpose.

As you head out the door to the supermarket though, that precipitous chain of catastrophic events isn’t weighing on your mind. It’s just a case of making sure that you get everything on the shopping list. There is no doubt in your mind that you’ll make it back with what you need, though. You’ve already mentally and energetically connected, albeit subconsciously, to the outcome of “bringing home the bacon” (or meat-free bacon substitute, if you’re vegan).

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You’ve already achieved your goal mentally. Now, it’s just a case of physically going through the motions. You probably don’t even have to think that much about what you’re doing as you go round the store!

How to Break the Perfectionism-Procrastination Loop

1. Recognize the Loop

The first thing you can do to break this perfectionism-procrastination loop is to recognize it. Bring your awareness to what is really going on and consider what lies behind your claims of perfectionism. Be honest but gentle with yourself. Try, if you can, not to bring judgment into the equation.

Judgment and overly harsh self-criticism can be just as debilitating as your subconscious fear of change, so try not to introduce it in the first place. Consider yourself, as best you can, an impartial observer. You’re just there in the first instance to witness what’s going on.

2. Set Intentions Properly

Armed with that knowledge, you will find that your approach to your goals starts to shift naturally anyway, but you also need to learn how to set intentions properly. If you are one of the aforementioned New Years’ resolution setters who winds up making claims of perfectionism while not taking any action, you ought really to ask yourself:

“If I’m such a perfectionist, why do I keep setting such vague goals?”

Would a perfectionist set out to make “more money” this year and leave it at that?! Would somebody so obsessed with perfection in all things, looking to reach their ideal weight and body shape, really set a goal of simply “lose more weight”?

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You might think, genuinely, that the possibility of not hitting your target dead-on is a reason not to even start. But what are you aiming at in the first place?

Let’s back up the truck for a second, and assess what we mean by procrastination. Procrastination, as defined by researchers, is:[2]

“a form of self-regulation failure characterized by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.”

So far, we’ve spoken about procrastination as if it is simply “never doing something,” which it is, over time. But really, it’s the delaying of something for no reason. When it comes to achieving goals, procrastination in and of itself isn’t what keeps you from achieving them. It’s procrastination over time. As the Spanish would say, it’s “mañana” thinking.

If you put something off till tomorrow because you just don’t want to do it today, that might still be procrastinatory behavior. But if you then actually do it tomorrow, what’s the harm? It’s the consistent putting off of something based on irrationally (or subconsciously) held beliefs that, over time, means that you never get there. This might seem blindingly obvious, but it’s important to lock down exactly what we mean before seeking to make changes.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, hopefully, it shifts your thinking on what procrastination is enough so that you can accurately assess whether or not your procrastination is hindering your progress. It should help you not to sit in judgment of your procrastination, too.

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3. Try Reaching Out for Help and Mentorship

You can’t expand in a vacuum. You need others to support your journey and provide you with objective feedback. How else are you going to realistically assess whether or not your outcome is perfect anyway?

Find others who have walked the path before you, and reach out to them. Unless they’re huge names with layers of people around them, you’ll probably find that they are willing to help. Even if they are hard to reach, check out interviews with them or look for guidance that they’ve put out publicly in the past.

Part of the problem you’ve been facing is that you can only see what the perfect outcome should look like as filtered through you. By understanding what the wider community (and market) consider to be an ideal outcome for something, you’ll get a much clearer, realistic idea of what you need to be aiming for. From there, you can identify what you’re lacking and therefore, what gaps you need to plug.

Get used to defining your terms better. Think about the language you’re using, both when you talk to others and with your internal monologue. What are you telling yourself?

Is the Narrative You’re Running On True?

Perfectionism is a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable after all.[3] What does that have to do with an irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences? From a literal point of view, perfectionism should provoke a desire to continue to take action long past the point of an acceptable outcome, not irrationally abstain from taking any!

So, check yourself the next time you utter the words “I’m just a perfectionist” as a pretext for why you haven’t done something, whether it’s to yourself or somebody else. You don’t really mean that, but that’s okay! You’re just afraid to change, as we all are predisposed to be.

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Don’t beat yourself up. See it for what it is, and start to shift the stories (belief systems) that you’re running on.

Featured photo credit: Nubelson Fernandes via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Discover Happy Habits: New Year’s Resolution Statistics (2021 Updated)
[2] SpringerLink: Procrastination and Task Avoidance
[3] Merriam-Webster: perfectionism

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