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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

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

How to Overcome Procrastination and Start Doing What Truly Matters

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How to Overcome Procrastination and Start Doing What Truly Matters

Before we can solve the problem of procrastination, we must understand why we do it. There are a few basic reasons:

  • Feeling overwhelmed with a situation.
  • Given up hope that a situation can be changed or affected.
  • Afraid of failing.
  • Too “busy” to get the really important things done.
  • Can’t make a decision.
  • Overworked, tired.
  • Want to avoid work you don’t like.

Each of these can be reduced down to the pleasure/pain principle which says that we do things to gain pleasure and to avoid pain.

So how to overcome procrastination? Overcoming procrastination can be less challenging if you follow the methods below. Start doing things that matter, and jettison excess baggage in your to-do list that only serves to weigh you down:

1. Get Clear About What You Want in Life

Procrastinators, you’ll love this!

Take 20-30 minutes to do this quick goal planning exercise.

Write down all your goals in some or all of these categories: career, education, relationships, financial, physical, mindset, creative, spiritual, public service, travel, leisure, and other.

Once you have your list, then whittle it down to your top 10, then down to your top 5, and then your top 3.

Do this by asking yourself, “Can I live without this?”

Let your less important goals lie dormant on a “maybe” list that you can check on again in a few months. Focus on the important tasks first.

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Here’re some questions to inspire you to think about what you want: 7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

2. Tidy up Your To-Do List

Delete or delegate from your to-do list those things that don’t relate to your top 3-5 goals.

Just say bye bye. And don’t look back!

This is important to better time management because with limited time, it’s important to do only things that matter most, but not every single task at hand.

3. Link Tasks You Don’t Like to Your Goals

It helps to mentally (and in writing) tie these tasks to one of your main goals or values. This helps you to remind yourself how each task is related to the big picture.

For example, “Keeping a tidy and clean home and desk allows me to have clarity of mind which is something I highly value. By having clarity of mind I will be better able to work on my goals and have less anxiety.”

By linking the task to the pleasure of being able to think clearly, I now have a reason that will motivate me to take action.

4. Plan Your Day Each Day

This is not a big task. It should only take about 10-15 minutes of quiet time.

Do the most difficult and most important things first and work your way down to the easier stuff in the afternoon. You’ll feel really good if you do this.

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Focus on that to motivate you to wait to check email and such until after you’ve finished your first big task.

This article about setting daily goals can help you:

How Setting Small Daily Goals Makes You Achieve Big Success

5. Plan Your Week Just Enough

Plan your week just enough  to loosely schedule in some of the big things you know you want to get done.

Sometimes procrastination happens simply because a task is not scheduled.

Scrum could be a great method for you to try, so you can plan your week right.

6. Allow for Cheats and Get Rest

When you’re tired or have low motivation, take a break.

Don’t be so hard on yourself about the timing of a task and then you won’t try to escape through procrastination so hard in the future. Just reschedule and get back on track later or tomorrow.

Also, remember to check if the task relates to one of your goals. See #1,2, and 3 again!

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7. Just Do It, but Don’t Over Do It

We often put pressure on ourselves to do certain tasks more often than we really need to, such as cleaning, tidying and laundry etc. So give yourself a break and set a schedule for these things that is not overwhelming.

Do thing on a “need to do” basis and let go of the notion that you need to keep up with some perfect schedule. Ever heard of the business concept “just in time” inventory, well this is “just in time” task management.

8. Break Down Big Tasks Into Smaller Components

We procrastinate on tasks that are vague and nebulous because we don’t have clear instructions what to do next.

Take a few moments to think about how to break down a larger task and schedule it into your calendar in pieces. This is good for when you are feeling overwhelmed.

9. Get Help Making Decisions

Decisions are tough for me. I like to use the pro/con method and assign points.

I also recommend getting help from a friend that you know is good with making decisions.

Once you’ve made your decision, then break it down into tasks and schedule into your calendar.

10. Believe in Yourself and in Your Ability to Accomplish Anything You Want

If you’ve lost hope, know that you can turn things around.

Release the fear of failure. Failure is just a learning experience.

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Slow and steady wins the race. A little bit done every day adds up to a lot over a year.

If you have to, just fake your belief until it becomes real. Remember, you can do it!

11. Trick and Treat Yourself

Do you keep avoiding cleaning up your desk or some other big task, even though you know will make you feel good to get it done? If so, do this:

Invite a friend or family member over for a date to “tackle the dreaded task.”

All your friend has to do is sit in the room with you and make sure that you do the task.

If you want, you can let them help you, but it’s not necessary. After the task is done, you can treat you and your friend to either coffee, dessert, meal or movie, whatever!

Summing It Up

It’s useless to read through this article if you’re not taking any actions right after reading it!

So here’s a recap for you:

  • Know your most important goals and values.
  • Only do tasks that contribute to those goals and values.
  • Mentally link tasks to the pleasurable outcomes you seek.
  • Plan your day & week.
  • Do, but don’t overdo. Rest when needed.
  • Break down big tasks.
  • Get help making decisions.
  • Believe in yourself!
  • Trick  and treat!

And now, start with the first one on the list, what’s your goals and what do you value?

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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