Coping techniques: Procrastination

Please note that you should always consult with your physician before making any changes in your diet, your level of exercise and activity, medication or behaviors related to substance use.

The best way to make use of these techniques is to read through them, select three that stand out to you and practice them. I would be glad to hear from you on your responses.

  1. Acknowledge that you’re procrastinating. Procrastination can look like doing less important tasks in order to avoid the more important ones. Or interrupting yourself soon after you begin to work in order to get a cup of coffee, or check your texts. Or telling yourself that you need to wait for the right mood before you begin work.
  2. Prioritize what needs to be done. What’s most important? What has the soonest deadline? Make a list so that you can see this clearly.
  3. Break daunting tasks down into smaller steps. Work on the task for five minutes and then stop. If you decide to, you can work on the task for a second five-minute interval, or not. This is sometimes called limiting exposure.
  4. One way to separate tasks or to break a large task down is to assess how long you’ll need to devote for each one. To see that something– such as paying a utility bill– will actually only five minutes, can relieve anxiety, making it easier to address. And to realize that something, such as preparing a report for work or studying for an exam, will require several days can act as a motivator.
  5. In this regard using a day planner can be very helpful. It lets you schedule time for your work, acts as a reminder on a daily basis and as well can show you realistically how much time you need to complete your work. And it can also provide you with a sense of mastery of the tasks to see when you will be working on them. It saves you the time of remembering what you need to do today, so that you have more energy available to the actual doing of it. And not least, it externalizes the tasks so that you aren’t engaging in the cycle of remembering, repressing, remembering them.
  6. As you complete the steps or tasks you’ve entered in your day planner, check them off. This simple action provides a powerful reinforcement, and lets you acknowledge your accomplishments.
  7. Because memory often plays a part in procrastination, provide visual cues for yourself. These can be as simple as a post-it on your computer screen, a reminder you program into your phone or some object that you place on your desk or carry in your pocket.
  8. In order to further separate out tasks and/or steps of a large task, take brief breaks between them. Consider alternating tasks when you have several. For instance, study for twenty or thirty minutes. Take a brief break. Put a load of laundry into the washing machine.
  9. Consider doing the worst thing first. Often avoiding this is the reason you’re putting off doing anything at all.
  10. Another option is to do the part of the task you like best first. This can create a sense of momentum making it easier to continue on to the next portion.
  11. Schedule your worktime. When are you at your sharpest and most energetic—first thing in the morning? After you’ve had your coffee? In the evening?
  12. Select the best environment for what you need to do. Does that mean the kitchen table or your desk at work? The library or a coffee house? Do you need peace and quiet or the stimulation of other people around you in order to work?
  13. Notice what you’re thinking in relationship to what you have to do. If you’re telling yourself “this needs to be perfect,” one effect of that might be that you feel intimidated, and therefore you put off working on your project. Similarly, thinking “I’m no good” can make you feel really bad, and most of us try to avoid things that make us feel bad. Therefore, if you find yourself entertaining negative thoughts, first acknowledge that you are and interrupt them without “arguing” with them or trying to bring them to any conclusion. Then deliberately tell yourself something positive. That might be “This doesn’t need to be perfect, and I can do this.” Or “I’m good enough.”
  14. When you remember that you haven’t done something, do some part of it in that moment, even if it’s a very small part. Because often it’s a lot easier to continue doing something than to start doing it.
  15. Plan rewards for yourself for working, and carry them out. This acts to positively reinforce the behaviors you have as your goal so that they become more habitual. It also can make the work period more “transparent” and less unpleasant if you can see a reward immediately on its other side. And please remember that it’s a reward if you access it after you work. If you access it instead of working it’s a distraction.
  16. Therefore notice your distractions. Do you check your email, social media, newsfeed? Play with the dog, fix yourself a snack? By scheduling these enjoyable activities for after you work they will support the work instead of interfering with it.