The Surprising Truth About Procrastination

Is your New Year's Resolution to stop procrastinating? Here's a hint: procrastination isn’t about poor time management!

Spending more time at home should offer us the perfect opportunity to catch up on all those little things that we have been putting off, right?

We should have time to mail that overdue bill, pay that $8 library fine from last year, re-pot that wilting plant on the windowsill, or even just replace the lightbulb in that lamp that burned out 3 months ago.

Be honest—how many times have you put off a task for days, weeks, or months, when it could have taken just a few minutes to complete? And while you may start thinking that you are lazy or disorganized, maybe consider that it may not actually be the task at hand that you are avoiding at all! In fact, procrastination actually has very little to do with time management, but it does have everything to do with mood management!

Dr. Joseph Ferrari, author of “Still Procrastinating?: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done” and professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago states that procrastination is a complicated concept, and more than anything else, it is a strategy we use to avoid experiencing negative emotions.

Here are just a few reasons why we trick ourselves into putting things off, and in return feel much worse about it in the long run…

1. There’s No Reason Not To

While some tasks have very real professional, financial, or personal consequences, sometimes there is just no reason to actually complete the task in a timely manner. Our society is structured around deadlines- we are punished for being late, but rarely rewarded for being early. When that message is internalized, it makes us believe that there is pretty much no point in doing anything before it is absolutely necessary. Instead of being incentivized by outside sources, we need to rely on ourselves to focus on the good feelings we have when we accomplish tasks, rather than the negative feelings of completing the task itself. One way to do this is to start a “to-do list”. Even if you have completed a task, write it down and cross it off! Treating every task as a win, no matter how small, can actually create positive feelings about task completion and fuel an upward spiral into a more productive existence.

2. The Task Itself Makes You Feel Some Kind of Way

Since procrastination is essentially avoiding a negative emotional experience, it is possible that the task itself makes you feel bad. This is especially common when the task is unfamiliar or feels super important- like tweaking your resume because you found a listing for your dream job, applying for a credit card, or writing a paper that is worth 50% of your final grade. The less confident you feel about your ability to complete the task successfully, the more avoidant you may become. Even the fear that others will judge you, or that you will be seen as a screw-up if you don’t do the task perfectly can create a lot of negative feelings about completing a task. Instead of focusing on all of the things that could go wrong, try to remember a time you completed a similar task and things went right and focus on how accomplished you felt. It may ease the anxiety surrounding failure.

3. You’re Stuck in a Shame Spiral

If you already feel negative about completing a task, you may start to feel guilty about that, which can feed into your procrastination and make the task harder to complete. Your inner critic can become increasingly mean, and what started out as “Why didn’t you already do this?” can turn into “Why are you a complete and utter screw-up?!”. Self-criticism only generates more negative emotions towards the task, which results in you wanting to avoid it even more! Instead of asking things like “what is wrong with me”, try asking yourself “what is it about this task that is making it so difficult to complete?”

4. You Might Need Help, but You’re Afraid to Ask For It

You are definitely not alone in your struggle to overcome procrastination- so you shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask for help when you need it. Talking about a task can even help you push through and just do it! Having emotional social support can be a lifeline when you feel like you’re drowning. Procrastination is normal, but unfortunately in a society where time is money and certain stigmas exist around asking for help, it can be difficult to reach out for that lifeline.

If procrastinating behavior has become a regular occurrence—one that is causing distress in your personal and professional life or is preventing you from reaching your goals—it might be time to talk to a professional. Chronic procrastination can be a symptom of anxiety disorders, depression, and ADHD; a counselor at Lifeologie can tell you more, and assist you in creating ways to manage it.


About Lifeologie

Lifeologie Counseling was founded in 2000 with one goal in mind — to bring a fresh, innovative approach to the everyday problems of life. Creative solutions to stuck problems®. With our unique multi-specialty, collaborative approach, Lifeologie Counseling helps individuals and families heal their wounds and break out of old, unhealthy patterns.