So now you have to implement your shiny new resolutions or catch up on all those things you put off doing during the holidays.
Have you ever had an item on your to-do list for weeks, or dare I say months, and when you finally get around to crossing it off your list, you realize that it took less than five minutes to complete?
Now you know what it’s like to procrastinate.
Some might say that procrastination is just laziness, but it’s deeper than that. Procrastination occurs due to negative associations with a task. For instance, maybe you avoid cleaning out your closet because you know that you gained weight and seeing your “skinny” clothes makes you feel bad. Or making that doctor appointment because you know it’ll lead to health lectures. Other factors can also lead to procrastination, such as boredom, anxiety, and perfectionism.
If you have the tendency to put things off that are having an impact on the basic elements of survival like work, health, or nutrition, then here are a few effective workarounds to refocus and get yourself out of procrastination mode.
Prioritize Your Tasks – You can sort new tasks as they come in by organizing them into four categories:
Do – tasks that need to be done right away.
Defer – tasks that can be scheduled for later or need more time to incubate.
Delegate – tasks that can be outsourced to someone else.
Delete – tasks that aren’t a priority, or you don’t have time to take them on.
In doing so, you can help diffuse procrastination before it starts by leaving little time for self-destructive feelings to kick in.
Resize Your Tasks – If you feel overwhelmed and almost paralyzed at the thought of taking on a specific task, break it down into even smaller tasks until each one feels manageable. This puts you in a position of control and builds a sense of confidence & momentum. Controlling procrastination isn’t just about reducing each task or project into manageable portions on your to-do list but also making sure that each task fits within your personal stress limits.
Identify the Feeling – Putting your feelings into words. Defining yourself as feeling bored, frustrated, or overwhelmed by the task you’re procrastinating on can lessen the hold those feelings have on you. In scientific terms, decreasing amygdala activity and increasing activity in the prefrontal cortex, makes it easier for you to get back on track.
Nothing to See Here…Move Along – Once you’ve identified the feeling, analyze if it’s logical and helpful to be led by it. Then start a task. Accept that these feelings will not change and allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Studies have shown that when people thought they could improve their mood, they procrastinated, but didn’t procrastinate when they were led to believe their mood was fixed.
Take a Breather (Literally) – When we feel anxious, we’re susceptible to catastrophic thinking and concocting worst-case scenarios in our minds. Racing thoughts and being on edge makes it difficult to focus on the task at hand, thus enabling the cycle of procrastination. Deep breathing and meditation can help keep your focus on the task at hand helping attack that task from a standpoint of strength and calm, rather than fear and threat, which happens when we’re overwhelmed.
Act Before You Think – If a task will take a minute or so, do it right away before your brain can “pressure you” into procrastinating. Just imagine a few dishes to wash that turn into a major project after a few days.
It’s Okay Not to Finish It – Not completing a task can create an internal pressure that makes you want to pick up the task the next day to finish it. You’ll be more motivated knowing you’re close to finishing the task instead of the daunting feeling of starting the day with the entire task ahead of you. (Remember: resize your tasks). This may seem counterintuitive, but research suggests that leaving the task a little unfinished at the end of the day can have a positive effect on your motivation to continue working on your project the following day. The positive feeling of crossing off something from your to-do list sooner can motivate you to jump to the next task or better yet, the satisfaction of being done.
Reward Yourself – Don’t forget to acknowledge the good feeling of satisfaction when you complete a task. With every completion of a task, pick something you want to do as your reward. The instant gratification of your want-to-do may prolong your motivation to plod through the tasks on your need-to-do list.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with life’s to-do list, don’t wait! Call (407) 644-7671 or complete our online form to request an appointment today. JFS therapists can help. Telehealth counseling is available. Medicare, Medicaid, and most insurances accepted, and a sliding fee scale for those who do not have insurance.
Ashlyn Douglass-Barnes, LCSW is the Clinical Director and a licensed clinical social worker at JFS Orlando. Ashlyn has worked in a variety of settings including outpatient community based mental health, inpatient/admission psychiatric hospital, substance abuse/DUI, dialysis/medical, and in home/office outpatient therapy.
Each month, JFS Orlando’s Beyond the Counseling Couch tries to provide you with timely and relevant advice to help you along your wellness journey. Are there any topics YOU would like us to cover? Let us know your ideas or questions! Email JFS Clinical Director, Ashlyn Douglass-Barnes, at Ashlyn@JFSorlando.org or comment below.