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  • Vanessa Barajas, MPH

How to Avoid Chronic Procrastination

Everyone has put things off from time to time, but for some of us, managing chronic procrastination is a constant battle, in fact 1 in 5 of us are chronic procrastinators. Twenty-five percent of adults say that procrastination is a defining characteristic of their personality. One study with over 2,000 participants, revealed 88% of those individuals procrastinate for at least an hour a day at work.

Chronic procrastinators put off tasks nearly every chance they get. This behavior does a lot more damage than you might think. Whenever you decide to put off a task that you need to do, you set an all-out battle in your brain. Your prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that sets long-term goals and regulates self-control. It tells you that the report you’re not doing isn’t going to write itself, so get to it! The limbic system, on the other hand, deals with pleasure and reward, telling you that writing that report is boring and you’ll enjoy doing something else. This is how procrastination puts your brain in a happy place, but just because it feels good doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

Procrastinators among college students have been found to get sick more. Additionally procrastinators feel more guilt and anxiety when choosing to put off tasks. If procrastination continues, it’s been shown to increase low self-confidence, low energy and depression. Overall your quality of life would be better if you listen to your prefrontal cortex. If this sounds like you, don’t worry. Not all hope is lost. Researchers have found that how you think about tasks can make a difference in how likely you are to procrastinate.

Some things you can do to avoid procrastination are:

Start with what you enjoy most. If you have a long list of things to do, it can be overwhelming just thinking about it and in turn you could end up doing none of it. In this situation you may find it more motivating to begin with what you enjoy most. Once you get to work, you begin to create a workflow that will get you in the zone to complete the rest of the tasks at hand.

Start small. If you have to do something you don’t enjoy, sometimes the hardest part is to start the task. If you have a presentation coming up, tell yourself to complete three slides, or if you have a report to put together, write for 10 minutes. Most of the time you’ll break through your feelings of resistance and you’ll want to continue working.

Use a calendar. I personally like having a planner that I can physically write in and assign chunks of time for doing each task. In the past I’ve also found digital calendars to be useful since most digital calendars allow you to receive a notification of when an event is coming up.

Limit distractions. Phones and social media are huge distractions. If you don’t need your phone or social media for work. Then turn off your social media notifications and place your phone somewhere that you cannot easily access. If you do need your phone then turn off any unnecessary notifications. If you need social media, set a timer on your phone before accessing the app so you know when to give yourself a break and move onto another task, otherwise you can get stuck on the app unaware of how much time you’ve just spent on it.

While self-control can be a contributing factor to procrastination, it's possible that chronic or extreme procrastination is caused by fear of failure, perfectionism, learned helplessness or an irrational belief. Fear of failure could stem from the fear of rejection or humiliation so you avoid finishing that project. Perfectionism is that voice in your head saying whatever you do it won’t be enough, discouraging you from finishing that task. Learned helplessness is thinking nothing you do matters, and the irrational belief could be believing you don’t deserve to succeed. Identifying and understanding your reason for delaying that task can empower you to make the next step forward.

Our thoughts and feelings are very powerful. Just as you can think negative thoughts, you can also think positively. When you talk to yourself in a positive and gentle way and remind yourself of your recent successes, it can be easier to take action.

While procrastination might not be something you can avoid entirely, becoming cognizant of the reasons why you procrastinate and how to overcome those tendencies can help. By implementing these strategies, you might find that it is easier to get started on those important tasks.


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