How to Stop Procrastinating Right Now
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Have you ever handed in a paper still warm from the printer, panting and sweaty from your sprint across campus?
Or selected a gift from the aisles of a gas station, en route to the baby shower you’ve known about for months?
Do you find that, no matter how much time you have to complete a project, you’re still working on it up until the deadline? Or maybe even past it?
If so, you have my wholehearted empathy and understanding, because we are kindred spirits: We are procrastinators.
A procrastinator is someone who habitually delays getting started on important tasks, and scrambles around to get things done at the last minute, often under a great deal of stress. If you have a tendency to procrastinate, you know it’s a habit that leaves you feeling harried, ineffective, and bad about yourself. You also know that not procrastinating is easier said than done.
But, as someone who has gone to battle with her own procrastination demons, and helped many coaching and counseling clients do the same, I know you can build new skills that will help you become more productive, more effective, and to do it all in a timely manner, with serenity and grace… (ok, still working on that last part).
That’s what we’re discussing on today’s episode of the podcast. I’m going to be exploring the real reasons you procrastinate, how procrastination affects your life, and the positive changes you can make today to overcome procrastination and start working toward your goals in a steady, intentional way.
I hope you’ll join me, on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
All the best,
There really are some people who glide through their to-do list, devoting a reasonable amount of time to each item, passing by black holes of distraction without a second glance, and routinely completing projects with plenty of time to spare.
For the rest of us, procrastination is a real and ever-present threat. When procrastinating is a way of life for you, getting things done takes some thoughtful maneuvering.
Procrastination is a tough habit to break, despite its sometimes serious consequences. Here are just a few of the effects of procrastination, which I’m sure you’ve lived firsthand if you’re a real-deal procrastinator:
It’s incredible what a human being can do when the panic of an approaching deadline sets in. You might stay up until dawn writing a paper, or complete a project that was supposed to take months over the course of a long, terrible weekend.
You may even feel a little swell of pride when these flurries of work generate halfway decent results — a B+ paper, a good-enough project review. “Imagine what I could do if I didn’t procrastinate,” you may think.
But that’s the tragedy of chronic procrastination: You’ll never know what you’re capable of if you do everything at the last minute, in an adrenaline-fueled panic. To reach your full potential at school, at work, or in any area of life that calls for consistent effort over time, you’ll need to overcome procrastination.
Stress is quite literally a killer, and nothing adds unnecessary stress to your life like a habit of procrastination.
In fact, procrastinators need stress. It focuses the mind, making it possible to prioritize tasks and take action toward our goals. Without the looming threat of a missed deadline, a failed class, or letting down the people who are counting on us, it’s too easy to convince ourselves that watching TikTok dance routines or rearranging our bookshelves is the correct use of our time.
So procrastinators learn to live with stress, and to leverage it to get things done. But that doesn’t stop stress from taking a toll on your mind and your body, putting you at greater risk of burnout, and generally making you feel crummy.
If you complete a large job in a few frenzied hours, the client isn’t getting your best work. If you end up at a burger joint because you put off making a reservation, your partner isn’t getting the “anniversary dinner” treatment.
Procrastination can look to others like you just don’t care enough to try — when in fact you care so much that getting started feels overwhelming. But regardless of your true feelings, perceived apathy can feel insulting and hurtful to others, and can take a toll on your relationships.
Finally, procrastination makes you feel bad about yourself.
You might recognize that you’re capable of more, and feel lazy when you reflect on your history of underachieving. You might feel less-than when you compare yourself to others who seem to manage their time more effectively. You might feel shame and guilt about letting down friends, partners, or coworkers because of procrastination.
Worse, you may feel helpless to do anything about it. But luckily, procrastinating is entirely within your power to change, and understanding why you procrastinate is the first step in changing it.
Every procrastinator has their own unique reasons for putting things off, but here are a few of the common culprits that may be behind your procrastination (and ideas for tackling each):
Sometimes we think we have a problem with procrastination, when in fact we have a problem with taking on too many tasks, particularly tasks that aren’t interesting to us, or necessary, or that someone else could do better (and be happy about it!).
I don’t enjoy bookkeeping. I can do it, and as a small business owner, I used to: begrudgingly, and usually at the last minute. But when Growing Self grew to a certain point, I was more than happy to hand that task off to a professional, a magical unicorn who actually enjoys tracking expenses, creating financial statements, and submitting tax forms.
These people exist — thank goodness! My bookkeeper frees me up to focus on tasks that I’m actually good at, and that I don’t feel like hiding from indefinitely. Before you beat yourself up about putting something off, ask yourself if the task really needs to be done, and if you’re the right person to do it. Your time and energy may be better spent elsewhere.
When I first brainstormed this episode, I imagined sharing what I know about procrastination with you, like I was having a chat with a friend. But actually making the episode was a lot more complicated than that. It required research, moving meetings around so I could record, messing with equipment I don’t entirely understand, sending audio back and forth with my podcast editor, choosing a song, changing the song, writing this post, and a hundred other tiny steps that I won’t bore you with here.
You get the idea. The sheer number of steps involved in a complex task can be enough to paralyze you. You might anticipate getting stuck, or feeling overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, or any number of unpalatable feelings our brains would rather avoid.
When you take the time to plan and visualize each step of a complex task — what they’ll entail, how exactly you’ll do them, when you will do them, where you will do them — the process feels a bit more manageable. And even better, mentalizing the task is step one, so once you do this, you’re already over the “getting started” hump!
You might also be dreading the process because it is “cognitively heavy,” meaning it just takes a lot of brain power. I love to write, but it’s not something I can do while half paying attention, listening to a podcast, or keeping an eye on my kids. It requires my full brain, and an uninterrupted period of time. Afterwards, I feel a bit drained.
For “heavy” tasks, give your brain what it needs to do its best work. When do you feel your sharpest? Whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or evening, dedicate that time to your heavy tasks. Make sure you give yourself a large chunk of uninterrupted time — you can’t do deep work in fifteen-minute fragments between Zoom meetings. It takes time to enter a “flow” state.
When your brain gets to do its most demanding work under better conditions, you may not dread the process so much, and you may feel less inclined to procrastinate.
Distractions happen, and some of us are more distractible than others. I know I can sit down at my desk with an earnest intention to Get Stuff Done… and come to 20 minutes later on the Wikipedia page for El Chupacabra, wondering how I got there.
To head off distractions, construct your work environment with intention. Would it help to leave your cellphone in your bag, rather than keeping it on your desk? A tiny keystone habit like that can make a big difference. How about adjusting your notification settings, so a little box doesn’t pop into your visual field every time you get an email or a text? If noise tends to pull you out of flow, how about some noise-canceling headphones?
None of us are immune to distractions. But you can prevent many of them with some simple tweaks to your environment.
“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgment, and shame,” — Brené Brown
Striving to do your best is a good thing. But perfectionism is something else entirely, and can be a powerful form of procrastination that keeps you from actually getting things done.
Perfectionism can show up as a tendency to “overdo” things. If a hardcore perfectionist is having a dinner party, they might feel unable to do the big stuff (shopping for and preparing the food, setting the table) until they figure out the little stuff (like making hand-lettered place cards for each guest).
“And really I should take a calligraphy class first,” the perfectionist thinks, “so maybe it’s best to reschedule for next fall.” (Or, more likely, never).
If perfectionism is at the root of your procrastination, watch out for “scope creep.” Don’t let simple tasks grow out of control, taking on unwieldy ambitions that require you to clear your schedule. Instead, practice aiming to do a good-enough job. You’ll get more done, and you’ll have a better time doing it.
Finally, you may procrastinate because you simply never developed certain skills, and it’s holding you back from success.
We’re not born knowing how to create a reasonable schedule, devote an appropriate amount of time to a task, exercise self-control, or adapt to setbacks as they arise. All of these “executive functioning” skills take some practice, and once you develop them (something a good career coach can help you with), you’ll be able to work more effectively, and spend less time procrastinating.
You do a thousand little things every day. You feed the kids, floss your teeth, fill out the spreadsheet, send that “Thank You,” submit your invoice, return the call, pick up the prescription, fold the laundry.
But why? How do the things you do connect to your values and the goals you have for your life?
Ask yourself these questions about the items on your to-do list. If you can’t see the connection, cross it off. The items that will remain are the essential things that are actually serving your larger life’s purpose.
Now you know what to focus on. For the rest, you have permission to procrastinate.
Music in this episode is from The Wimps, with “Procrastination.”
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
If you’re ready to grow, we’re here to help. Connect with us, and let us know your hopes and goals. We’ll follow up with recommendations, and will help you schedule a first, free consultation.