For All Procrastinators

When next week seems like next month and the time to study or to finish that project seems ample and endless, and if – besides – you think there is always a tomorrow, you may be a real procrastinator.

Procrastination is, most of the time, not just a simple issue of bad planning or being lazy. It is not getting on with the task at hand. Full stop. This is joined by the awareness that you are putting things off until the proverbial ‘tomorrow’, which is causing a lot of negative feelings. After all, it is one thing to not do work or exam-prep because you went out for the afternoon and had a fab time and plan to put in double the work tomorrow (and will) and another to sit at your desk all day without doing much and watching YouTube videos instead of studying and reproaching yourself for it, promising tomorrow will be different (but knowing it won’t).

What lies at the root of procrastination?

It is generally accepted that procrastination is a voluntary but totally irrational delay of a course of action. Irrationality is the key word as the known outcomes for starting too late, being late and missing deadlines and in general screwing up, will clearly not enhance feelings of self-worth. If you are a perfectionist or someone who questions their own abilities or competence, you may have a fear of being perceived as incompetent. Your procrastination in that case serves as your excuse; you tell yourself that the undesirable (unsatisfactory) outcome is not because of lack of ability, but a result of a poor strategy choice – i.e starting too late and being unprepared.

Setting yourself up to fail

Setting yourself up to fail is an irrationality that comes from low self-esteem; being always that little bit late for everything, often missing a deadline, starting exam prep at the very last minute and hence receiving a bad grade, all this confirms to you that you are not worthy and allows you to think that had you arrived on time, had you prepared, had you not missed the deadline, all would be good and results and outcomes would be better. This is so obvious a disastrous strategy that it begs the question how to avoid this negative cycle of behaviour? Procrastination will almost always lead to feelings of guilt, humiliation and shame and will lead you further down the path of avoidance and possible depression.

How to break the cycle?

Like anything that has the potential of getting out of hand and is creating increasingly bigger problems, the first step is to overcome the feeling of shame and guilt and speak to someone and ask for help and advice. You will have to start somewhere, and it will take time to overcome serious procrastination. But there are some things you CAN do, that help.

  1. Visualise good outcomes. Thinking about how you will feel when you receive that good mark; when you hand in a project on or before time and when you are not late to meet a friend. Visualise how much better you may then feel and hold on to this thought when procrastination roars its head gain.
  2. Set yourself a task you can accomplish with success, whether this concerns preparing for a study subject you are particularly good at, going for a run in the park you know you are physically able to achieve and finish or, even something very simple like preparing yourself some lunch. It is vital to put a few things on your to-do list that you can tick off to restore some sense of ability and control over your day.
  3. Try to understand when particularly – under what circumstances - you start procrastinating. Lack of motivation is often linked to finding things hard or impossible. If this regards a school subject, maybe get a temporary tutor to help you cross that first hurdle, or, when finding planning hard, use one of the many study planning and note-taking apps to give yourself structure.
  4. Telling your teachers about a possible struggle with a topic is a way of ‘onboarding’ them on your team and they will likely be very willing to help you get where you need to be and in that way remove some of the reasons to procrastinate (which is the difficulty of the subject..)

Procrastination is more serious and debilitating than the jokes we often make about it. Make sure yours does not get out of control and take steps to mitigate it. So, for all procrastinators out there, start somewhere, with anything and write down what you have done in the day, rather than beating yourself up about what you haven’t. Baby steps.

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