Win the War Against Procrastination

Win the War Against Procrastination

By Kathy Simmons

” Procrastination: A hardening of the oughteries.” – Anonymous

Ask anyone you know if they struggle with procrastination and you will most likely get a similar reaction–a sheepish smile and affirmative nod of the head. We all can relate to the temptation of putting things off–particularly those tasks we don’t enjoy. Sometimes we even attempt to present this nasty habit as a respectable choice!

How many times have you claimed to “work better under pressure,” or promised yourself to finish a task when you were “in the mood?” These rationalizations sound good on the surface, but in reality you’re delving in self-deception.

Sure, the adrenaline rush of waiting until the last minute might be exciting. Don’t forget, however, these unwelcome procrastination by-products (none of which will enhance your career success): a higher chance for errors with less time to correct them, increased likelihood that unplanned events will throw off your plans, and less peace of mind as you carry the burden of unfinished business.

Although procrastination can be an ongoing battle, there are several weapons you can use to limit its influence.

Although there are many reasons for procrastination, including perfectionist tendencies, anger, and lack of discipline, the two simple culprits—lack of sleep and over-commitment–can be combated for quick results, states psychiatrist John Talmadge. “Not getting proper rest increases the chances we won’t feel ready to face challenging tasks,” explains the Dallas, TX-based doctor.

“At the same time, good people over-promise what they can deliver; and then simply don’t have the passion to give the commitment 100% effort.” The solution, of course, is to get enough rest, and make promises to others sparingly. You’ll please them more with less commitment–if you consistently deliver on them.

Procrastinators play negative tapes in their heads when considering unpleasant tasks. “I really should do this”, or “I must finish this project.” Sound familiar?

Human beings are naturally rebellious when it comes to having to do anything. If someone barks out instructions to you in no uncertain terms, and you clearly have no say in the matter, your inclination may be to do a less than enthusiastic job–with more than a little resentment! It’s no different with self-talk.

Begin by phrasing a project presentation to yourself more positively. For example, instead of saying “I have to do this”, try thinking in this manner, “If I complete this school project early, I’m going to feel so relieved. . . my professor will be pleased, and I’ll be able to move on to other things–with a clear conscience.” You’ll find yourself operating much better with this positive approach.

It’s human nature to put off activities that seem large and unmanageable. Dr. Michael R. Edelstein, clinical psychologist and author of Three Minute Therapy: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, puts it this way, “We overwhelm ourselves with expectations of completing an entire task in one sitting. Consequently, we defeat ourselves even before we begin.”

Lisa Rasch had avoided finishing her degree for several years. She considered returning to school many times, but would always end up feeling exhausted just thinking about the work ahead. Although the idea of tackling the course work that stood between her and a degree nagged at her continually, she never could seem to muster the motivation to jump in and get started. Until she began breaking the entire task down into manageable milestones, that is.

By focusing on taking one or two classes each semester as opposed to obsessing about the amount of work ahead of her, Rasch was able to punch away her procrastination demon.

Although this new goal allowed for slow progress, it was progress nonetheless. Lisa has no regrets about returning to school. After one year, she is enjoying milestones such as completing her core curriculum and moving to sophomore status that reinforce her feeling of progress and accomplishment.

The moral here? Sometimes the only way we can eventually complete a large job is to divide and conquer it!

Often, the most difficult part of finishing is often simply beginning. Procrastinators tend to focus on the immediate pleasure of avoiding unpleasant tasks. What they don’t think about is the pain they will experience later!

According to Kevin Polk, Ph.D., a Maine-based organizational psychologist and time management expert, “Procrastination is all about short-term pleasure up against long-term gain. (Putting it off) feels good now, hard work might lead to benefits later.”

Accept the fact that you will never be “in the mood” to do some things. Maturity and discipline are evident when we rise above ambivalent feelings and take responsibility, regardless of how tempting it is to wait until tomorrow.

Challenge yourself with the following self-talk: “I won’t ever feel like beginning this project, so I’m not going to wait until it appeals to me. I resolve to start on it now, with a smile!”

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that disorganization is a breeding ground for procrastination. Being unable to find that needed report or reference book is a handy excuse for not getting started. In fact, we may often remain disorganized unconsciously in order to assist us in our avoidance.

Remove this crutch away from yourself immediately. Take simple steps toward organizing your life—keep a daily planner, dispose of unnecessary paper as soon as you get it, invest in a simple diary system to remind yourself of events. You can do wonders for uncluttering your mind and life; in reality, a cluttered work area manifests slow productivity, and less job satisfaction. Even if organization does not come easily for you, concentrate on overcoming your natural tendencies. New habits really can be learned, if you set your mind to it.

Regardless of how much procrastination has affected your career or your efforts to enhance your education, you can turn the tide now. Remember, above all else, procrastination is a choice. You have complete control over how much you let it affect and disrupt your life. Consider the stress associated with maintaining procrastination. Is it worth it? Does it help your career? You know the answers!

The price of procrastination is always too high. The next step is up to you. What are you waiting for? After all, as Edward Young, a 17th century English poet articulated, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”

There are many reasons people procrastinate, writes Mark Goulston, M.D., in his book Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior; among them, self-doubt, fear of failure, and the feeling of being unready or unprepared to take action. But these feelings, by themselves, says Goulston, do not necessarily lead to procrastination.

“Often what tips the scales is working through such obstacles along–with no one to help you, bolster you, or cheer you on, he explains. “You may curse yourself for being lazy, cowardly, or lacking in confidence, but your real obstacle might be loneliness, especially if you procrastinate mainly on solitary tasks.” The key to overcoming this breed of procrastination is to enlist the support of other people.

Through research for his book and in his role as a life skills expert at, Goulston cam across many cases of loneliness-based procrastination.

“Every morning at 9 a.m., I phoned a woman who had delayed work on her Ph.D. dissertation for three years and asked her questions such as, “Are you at your desk? What are you going to do next? What will you do when that’s finished?”

Whereas you might think it unnecessary to treat a responsible adult this way, says Goulston, it worked. “Like most of us,” he explains, “she didn’t mind putting up with some duress as long as she did not have to endure it alone.”

Getting yourself to do something involves “selling” yourself on the benefits, says Polk. “Think about it. . .a salesperson wants you to buy (take action) and you want to make yourself work (take action),” he says.

While salespeople talk about benefits to get you to buy, the key to avoiding procrastination, Polk explains, is to sell yourself on the benefits of getting things done. Here are some examples of good things to think of when you start to procrastinate:

– Housecleaning: “I can invite people over whenever I want;” or “I will have peace of mind.”

– Homework: “I won’t have to worry about it;” or “I will feel great for making a good grade.”

– Taxes: “The longer I put them off the worse I feel, so I will get them done and feel good.”

And don’t worry if you have to think these thoughts a few times before you stop procrastinating; it’s a common fact among those in-the-know about how messages sink in (i.e., advertising executives): A sales pitch must often be heard several times before it works.

“The good news is this,” says Polk: “After only a bit of practicing these thoughts, you’re sure to get a lot more done!”