If procrastination is your vice, 2020 has been the ultimate enabler. From working from home to stressful current events, this year has slowly stripped away every guardrail procrastinators rely on to keep themselves in check.
Without a consistent daily routine, a flesh-and-blood boss who stops by your desk, and a dedicated office that requires a commute, you’re truly left to your own devices. One can’t help but succumb to the many distractions masquerading as “productive” tasks, from doing the dishes to refreshing their news feeds every 15 seconds.
“Between the pandemic, the civil unrest, and the [past] election, most of us are experiencing a steady undercurrent of low-grade stress at all times,” says Allison Johnsen, LCPC, manager of Behavioral Health Services at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. “This can take a toll on your energy, focus, and motivation, even if you don’t realize it.”
If this sounds all too familiar, you’re certainly not alone. Ahead, find Johnsen’s advice for curbing procrastination at home, from identifying root causes to setting realistic goals.
The Common Reasons For Procrastination
First and foremost, everyone puts things off to a certain extent. “It’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of,” says Johnsen. Whether you simply find the task boring or don’t want to disappoint your boss, procrastination is just something humans experience.
With that said, procrastination can be considered “chronic” when you continue to repeat the behavior, even when you know it’s hurting you. “It’s no different than compulsive eating or chronic drinking — it’s a vice.” She adds that procrastination can also be a response to underlying mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, and ADD. “It’s both a symptom and a cause of these conditions,” she adds. “Anxiety can make you procrastinate, but the procrastination only causes more anxiety.”
First and foremost, Johnsen suggests identifying the reasons and thought patterns that underlie your procrastination habit. Find her thought starters below:
- Fear of failure or lack of confidence in abilities: Many people are simply afraid of failing at something and don’t believe they have the skills or talent to do it, whether it’s moving to an intimidating new city or asking for a raise.
- Perfectionism: Wanting to complete a task to the absolute best of your ability can also spur procrastination. This manifests as, “This will never be as good as I want it to be, so I don’t even want to start.”
- Complete and utter overwhelm: If your stress and anxiety are at an all-time high, you may find yourself bouncing from task to task and accomplishing nothing substantive. It’s the mental equivalent of having too many tabs open in Google Chrome.
- The task feels too daunting: If the goal feels completely insurmountable and your stomach sinks at the thought of it, you naturally want to put it off. Of course, this feeling of dread only grows the longer you procrastinate.
- Boredom or lack of interest: Putting something off because it’s straight-up mind-numbing or uninteresting is also common. Johnsen notes that this is especially prevalent in people with ADD, as they tend to seek stimulation and gratification.
- Lack of motivation and energy: Lethargy and listlessness can also contribute to a lack of motivation and by extension, procrastination. Johnsen notes that this general lack of interest in day-to-day activities may be a symptom of depression.
- Fear of embarrassment: If the task requires any sort of vulnerability, fear of embarrassment or of what others might think can engender procrastination. This is common when attempting a creative or personal goal, like writing a book or starting a side project.
- Lack of deadlines and consequences: Productivity requires self-control and discipline. If you currently lack that in your life, professionally or otherwise, it’s much easier to procrastinate. This can be common among freelancers or people who serve as their own boss, and therefore determine structure and consequences.
How To Curb Procrastination At Home
Figure Out Your “Why”
“If you don’t understand why you’re procrastinating in the first place, it’s that much harder to beat,” explains Johnsen. Ask yourself, “Why am I putting off this task?” If you’re afraid of disappointing your boss, ask yourself, “Why am I afraid of disappointing my boss?” Continue this self-interrogation until you get to the root of the issue. “A therapist or even a close friend can help you do the exploration needed to get to the bottom of your habit,” she adds. Referencing the above list of common reasons is a good starting point.
Create Realistic Deadlines & Stick to Them
Procrastination runs rampant when coupled with a lack of self-control and discipline. To cope, Johnsen recommends setting hard, realistic deadlines, breaking down tasks into manageable chunks, and creating daily to-do lists that you can actually accomplish.
Bake Small Rewards Into Your Day
Giving yourself small rewards for completing dreaded tasks can help spur motivation. For example, reward yourself with 15 minutes of TV after working for a solid hour, or, work until noon and then take a nice leisurely lunch.
Think of How You’ll Feel Once the Task is Complete
The stress and anxiety that comes with continually putting off tasks can start to catch up with you. When you want to take another unnecessary break, remember how good it will feel to finally check that task off your to-do list and force yourself to buckle down.
Remove Distractions and Change Your Environment
Of course, this is complicated in the age of COVID-19. But Johnsen recommends small shifts, like creating a distraction-free WFH setup or working from a socially-distanced coffee shop, to help combat procrastination. Working from the couch in your pajamas may be tempting, but it doesn’t help in the long run.
“Biohack” Your Schedule Down to the Hour
Forgive the Silicon Valley jargon, but this essentially means taking note of when you’re most productive and scheduling all of your most dreaded, difficult tasks during those energetic hours. “For example, if you feel hyper-focused around 10 a.m. each morning and again around 4 p.m., tackle that 50-slide powerpoint or 25-page research paper during that time period,” explains Johnsen.
Try to Break the Cycle
It’s not enough to focus on completing the tasks you’re putting off — you need to put effort into overcoming procrastination itself. Johnsen suggests creating a routine that will help you address the issue, whether it’s talking things out with a therapist or journaling about your “why.” “Learning to break the cycle is a deliberate effort,” she adds.