Procrastination

Procrastinators will tell you that it is hard to live like they do. Cycles of delay and cramming leave procrastinators feeling worn out and hopeless. I’ve been putting off learning a computer system I need to know for a class because it feels utterly defeating to ever get started. If I wait too long, I will have a long night of cramming myself!

Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, told Psychological Science. “To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.” Many folks will say it’s poor time management or laziness that makes a procrastinator procrastinate. No wonder procrastinators can get so down on themselves! Like most long-term issues, the fixes aren’t usually quick and easy. Making a schedule doesn’t unmake a procrastinator.

“In the last few years……scientists have begun to think that procrastination might have less to do with time than emotions. Procrastination ‘really has nothing to do with time management,’ Joseph Ferrari adds.” Click here for the full Atlantic article. So, are you wondering what the culprits are? The same professor and others say that the two basic reasons for procrastination are:

1—We delay action because we feel like we’re in the wrong mood to complete a task, and

2—We assume that our mood will change in the near future.

These reasons confirm how our moods can tend to shape our actions. Who hasn’t slept in because then they might feel more up for work later? Or rearranged their desk so that the more favorable work environment will open up more creative energy? It can be really subtle or blatantly ridiculous—if I eat half a cake now, I’ll get all my binging out of my system and I’ll feel ready for this diet. We all do it, but chronic procrastinators do it a lot. And the lack of task completion builds guilt and anxiety and shame, which can make accessing one’s resources even more difficult. So, it builds on itself.

This article concludes that the most helpful way out of procrastination is having an external deadline. But when that isn’t possible, I’m wondering if part of the answer lies in really understanding the myth behind the reasons for procrastination listed above.

1—We think we need to or are entitled to feel a certain way to do things.

2—We falsely believe the right feeling or mood will come along eventually.

What if we got underneath these false beliefs and came to the realization that to be the person we want to be, we need to develop the skill of feeling bad and doing stuff anyway. I talk about this skill with clients a lot and struggle to apply it myself.

Who has had success in this area? I’d love to hear your stories.

5 comments


  • Jesseca

    I’m a chronic procrastinator, and regularly experience shame and anxiety. However, I’ve never missed a deadline and I’ve never turned in shoddy work. In fact, I receive regular accolades, which embarrass me because I don’t feel deserving. After all, I did the work last minute.

    I believe my personal procrastination begins with a fear of failure, especially when the task is new or takes analysis. And then when facing certain failure if I do nothing, my panic becomes motivation. And it’s an endless cycle that I cannot seem to break. It’s not “entitlement” or because I’m not in the mood. It’s much deeper than that, and I know others who feel the same way.

    Now when it comes to procrastinating on chores, yeah – it’s because I’m not in the mood.

    April 23, 2015
  • barbara

    I live by lists. Some lists are for each day of the week. Some are for preparing for an event…complete with a shopping list, things to complete days before, and an hourly list for the day of the event. It’s the only way I can function. It feels great to cross things off my list. and things usually flow smoothly. However, I live with a procrastinator, and I have often stressed out when important things have been left to the last minute. To all the procrastionators out there…consider your spouse, co-workers, and friends. Do what needs to be done…make a list.

    April 23, 2015
  • Carl Robbins

    I really want to make a comment, but I don’t feel ready. I’ll get back to you later.

    April 23, 2015
    • Jay

      Ha! Nice. I didn’t get the joke at first, and then a few seconds later, it hit me. Kind of like the book about apathy that I’ve been thinking about writing. I just can’t seem to get excited about it, though.

      April 23, 2015
  • Rob Zeigler

    I am also a procrastinator and resonate with the article. Working from home, with no meaningful supervision, it’s easy to put off stuff especially when the deadlines are soft. I am a great list maker, but not a good follower.
    Like Jesseca I sometimes avoid tasks because I fear failing. Mostly, I simply want to play when I should work. Having a deadline helps, but I have missed deadlines and paid for it. Like Barbara, I have a spouse who is an excellent planner and I have wounded her with my failure.

    This last Aug, I was so far behind in my work that I felt lots of anxiety and really didn’t want to get up each day. I finally got sick of living that way and not actually being the person I wanted to be in this area. So, literally, everyday, when I wanted to delay something, I repeated a small little mantra, “Grow up”. At 50, you’d think I had grown up, but not in this area.
    By October I was caught up and haven’t been behind since. Anxiety gone and love going to work again. It has spilled into other areas also.

    Ultimately, I think Janice’s last lines about “feeling bad and doing stuff anyway” nailed it. That is what “adults” do. And now, so do I.

    thanks Janice.

    April 23, 2015

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