We all procrastinate from time to time, especially to avoid difficult or uninteresting tasks. Procrastination can affect any aspect of our life: our work, our social life, relationship or academia. It is important to note that it is in fact normal and very common. However, procrastinating can be more problematic when considering the severity of the consequences, and the impact on our mental health.
What is procrastinating?
This is sometimes used interchangeably with “laziness”. However, their motivators are different. The definition of procrastination is delaying the completion of a task or goal and deciding to do something unrelated or of lesser importance. Notably, we make this decision regardless of the negative consequences of avoiding. Laziness is simply the lack of willingness to exert energy. Procrastination, however, is used as a tool to avoid negative feelings like stress, and relates to a fear of failure.
There are a few unhelpful, justifying thoughts and excuses that help us procrastinate. For example:
- Being tired: ‘I’ll do it when I have more energy‘
- The deadline is far off: ‘I have loads of time, I can do it later‘
- Missing out on fun: ‘I’ll start after I’ve seen my friends.’
- Low self-efficacy: ‘I can’t do it, I need to wait until I understand it better‘.
What are the negatives and positives of procrastinating?
There are a few positive outcomes of procrastination (although they arguably do not outweigh the negatives!) that help explain why we procrastinate:
- Working under pressure. You could argue that leaving things last minute provides practice for working under pressure.
- Emotional benefit. A temporary feeling of happiness is achieved, as well as a sense of relaxation. However, this really is temporary, and you can not fully relax in the knowledge that a task is being avoided.
- Delayed decision-making. It can mean processing information longer, leading to a better understanding and outcome of a task.
Negative consequences include:
- Link to poor mental health. Procrastination can either be a risk factor or a symptom of poor mental health. It is related to unresolved emotional issues, low-self-esteem, a fear of failure and perfectionism. It can lead to symptoms of depression such as low mood and distress.
- Emotional consequence. When avoiding a task, we really can’t fully relax, so the emotional advantage is short-lived. Instead stress and a feeling of dread replaces it; leading to burnout unnecessarily.
- Poor work ethic and performance. It could contribute to a rushed attempt at completing a task and poor performance due to a self-restricted timeframe by leaving it last minute. We also may not meet the goals and objectives set by ourselves or others.
- Missing out on opportunities. It can mean missing out on progressing within your career, as well as social and relationship opportunities.
How do we stop?
So now we know what it is and the consequences, how do we actually stop procrastinating? Here are a few tips and tricks to help get you back on track:
- Prime work time. Everyone has a time of day they are most productive. Figure out when that is for you, and plan to complete work then.
- 5-minute rule. Sometimes when you are faced with hours worth of work to do, procrastination is the most tempting. Breaking up work into just 5-minute sessions can help as this is less daunting. After 5-minutes, reassess how you feel, and see if you can do another 5 minutes, and so on.
- Act on reminders. If you have forgotten to do a task, do it the moment you remember. This stops tasks piling up, and builds a positive habit.
- Lists and priortising. Sometimes writing everything you need to do down helps make it less daunting. It means you can begin to take practical steps towards working down the list.
How to challenge those unhelpful, justifying thoughts:
- ‘I am too tired’. Instead of ‘I’ll wait until I’m more energised‘ challenge with ”I’ll do a little now just to make a start‘.
- ‘The deadline is ages away.’ Instead of ‘I have loads of time i’ll do it later‘ challenge with ‘ I should start now rather than be stressed when doing it last minute later‘.
- ‘Missing out on fun‘. Instead of ‘I should prioritise fun and do this later‘, challenge with ‘I’ll make a start now and reward myself with other fun afterwards’.
- ‘I can not do this, it is too hard‘. Instead of ‘I’ll just leave it, and worry about it later‘, challenge with ‘I’ll have a go, and ask for help if I’m really stuck‘.
Can Brighter Life Therapy help?
As discussed, procrastination does have links to mental health issues, and sometimes everyday techniques are not enough.
If you believe you require professional help, feel free to contact us. We provide fast access to CBT and counselling treatment, which you can read about here. Please do not hesitate to contact us on 0118 40 50 108, or by emailing email@example.com.