Brisbane City Psychologists - 10 Tips to Stop Procrastinating by Clinical Psychologist Dr Dawn Proctor

How do I stop Procrastinating? Ten Tips from Brisbane Psychologist Dawn Proctor

Do you ever get frustrated by a seemingly endless list of tasks? Maybe you have a tendency to put things off at work or in your home life? Despite the negative effects of procrastinating, it is a fairly common issue and, in a sample of adults researched, 20% were identified as ‘chronic procrastinators’.

Procrastination is defined as delaying a task, choosing instead to do a less important activity, despite the negative consequences. As with most things, this starts to become problematic if it is impacting your work, home or social life. Importantly, putting tasks off can increase stress and affect mood, increasing the likelihood that depression and anxiety could also develop.

Why Do We Put Things Off?

We can procrastinate for a whole host of reasons. Sometimes, people put things off because they are overly concerned by the views of others (e.g. not starting an assignment because of not wanting themselves or their work to be negatively evaluated). Others might have a fear of failing, experience discomfort and make excuses in their own minds that it is ‘okay’ to waste time doing an unrelated task (e.g. telling themselves “the deadline isn’t for another two weeks”).

For all people who have found themselves in the procrastination habit, the realisation can finally hit that the task is incomplete and the deadline is looming. This realisation can lead to a huge increase in anxiety, a drop in mood, and may impact negatively on the quality of the work produced.

How Can You Stop Procrastination?

Psychologists can provide assistance, helping you to explore your own pattern of procrastination and getting you started on breaking this cycle. However, there are also some things you can start to put into practice at home. Some tips are outlined below:

  • Break the task into manageable steps and estimate the time needed to complete each step. Schedule the time and date for completion of each task. You could use a scheduling app or map this out on paper.

  • Use momentum to get you going on a task – schedule an easy task that you feel comfortable to tackle first, then switch over to the tougher task after 5 or 10 minutes.

  • Make the initial step so small that it is easy to make a start and difficult to make excuses, e.g. if you want to get to the gym then just set the initial task of putting your gym gear on. After completing the first step you can give yourself the option or ‘out’ of not going any further e.g. taking the gym gear off again if you still don’t feel like it. However, if you feel like taking more steps towards the end goal of getting to the gym, you keep moving.

  • Turn off the excuses – challenge them. Is it really true that you will feel more able to do this tomorrow? What makes tomorrow a better day to do this task? Is it really true that you don’t know enough to make a start on the smallest step?

  • Carry a card in your wallet with simple statements to ‘get started’. Use statements that have helped you to tackle and get started on difficult tasks before.

  • Get a friend, colleague or family member to hold you accountable. The effects of social consequences in getting you to stick to your commitments should not be under-rated, as research has shown that making your commitments public helps you to follow through on them.

  • Face and manage the discomfort. You might try some mindfulness meditation to help you build acceptance of difficult feelings that often arise. A great place to start is the 8 week self-guided course by Mark Williams and Dann Penman “Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World

  • Reward yourself for each step of the way. Use rewards that are meaningful to you and will build your motivation.

  • Encourage yourself with positive words.

  • Use technology in the right way – e.g. timers to keep you on task.

If you have identified this as an issue in one or more areas of your life then a Psychologist could provide some guidance based on the latest research. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is a collaborative approach where you work alongside a therapist to identify your pattern of putting tasks off. Sessions focus on behaviour change to break tasks down, schedule manageable goals and reverse patterns of avoidance. In addition, cognitive techniques identify and challenge unhelpful assumptions that could be maintaining the procrastination. Psychologists can also work with you to better tolerate negative emotions, such as anxiety, without acting on urges to avoid tasks.

If you have been struggling for a while, the benefit of working with a psychologist on the issue is that a treatment plan can be tailored to fit your individual needs. Your therapist can provide you with education, opportunities to practice strategies, and also regular ‘check-ins’ to hold you accountable in working towards reaching your goals.

 

Dr Dawn Proctor
Dr Dawn ProctorClinical Psychologist at Brisbane City Psychologists
Dawn is a Clinical Psychologist experienced in working with young people and adults presenting with a range of psychological difficulties. She also combines her training in both organisational and clinical psychology to assist executives and business clients.