5 steps to conquering procrastination
The world is full of chronic procrastinators, people who put off undesirable tasks and then make excuses for doing so.
“‘I work better under pressure’ is a common myth or excuse about procrastination,” says Gwynne McGraw, a licensed professional counselor at Gwynne McGraw Counseling and Consulting LLC, and a psychology instructor for the College of Social Sciences at the University of Phoenix Kansas City Campus. “While there are times that we do work well under pressure, for the most part we do better work when we have adequate time to do our best work,” she says.
Some people also “place barriers in front of their behavior so they will have an excuse as to why they did not succeed,” says Brian Garavaglia, a former therapist who now teaches psychology and sociology at the University of Phoenix Detroit Campus. Students, for example, may wait too long to study for a test. “This becomes a wonderful way for students to justify their poor grade without directly harming their own feelings of self,” he says. So how can chronic procrastinators overcome this habit? Experts offer these tips:
1. Recognize the myths.
The concept of “working better under pressure” may be the largest myth, but there are plenty of others, according to McGraw. “Another myth is that procrastinators often say they ‘need to get X done so that we can concentrate on Y,’” she says. “Often this will revolve around chores that ultimately have no deadline, but we rationalize that if our environment is in order we will be better able to focus on the task that we are avoiding.”
2. Admit you have a problem.
In procrastination, as in so many areas of life, you can’t solve a problem that you haven’t identified. It’s this acknowledgement that will allow you to make the necessary adjustments, says Garavaglia. Lifestyle and behavioral changes, he explains, “have to be made with the person being mindful that procrastination is a problem that exists for them. Otherwise, without their acknowledging the issue, they will not be able to address the 'problem' in a clear manner, and not be able to explicitly change their approach to a particular situation."
3. Face the true causes.
McGraw and Garavaglia say the real reasons for procrastination include anxiety, lack of confidence, fear of failure or feelings of being overwhelmed, perfectionism, disorganization — and even depression. Once you identify the cause, you can move forward. “Becoming more self-aware of when and why you are procrastinating is a great place to start,” explains McGraw.
4. Just get started.
Prioritize your tasks, cutting items from your to-do list if necessary. Some experts advocate doing the most difficult and important things first, saving the easier tasks for the afternoon when energy or motivation may be waning. “Providing adequate time is the best recipe for a quality job,” McGraw says.
5. Seek help if you need it.
If the situation is severe, therapy may be necessary to help break the procrastination habit. “Many people can and do benefit from … cognitive behavioral therapy, which appears to work best in this area,” Garavaglia explains.