Managing Procrastination: Take Back Your Time & Energy

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Managing Procrastination:

Do you procrastinate and despite your best efforts, quickly fall back into allowing distractions dominate your day?

Are your breaks lasting longer than your focused work session and limiting the progress you’re making?

Are you avoiding taking the action you need to do – not being consistent with your content, or putting off creating your new offer?

If this sounds a little familiar to how you’re feeling right now, please know you are absolutely not alone with this.

This blog is one of many that explores tips and tools for managing procrastination and becoming more productive.

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If you have any questions, reach out for a chat [email protected] or check out my other blogs

What is Procrastination?

“Procrastination is the act of delaying or putting off tasks until the last minute, or past their deadline. Some researchers define procrastination as a “form of self-regulation failure characterised by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences” (Prem et al., 2018).

Prem et al., 2018

Everyone will put off doing things from time to time – we’re human and there are some things we like to do more than others. 

But when you continually put off or avoid doing something that you know you need to do, it’s likely you’re procrastinating.

Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily putting off a task or making a decision, even if doing so could lead to a negative outcome. (See quote above).

For example, you have been given an assignment to complete with plenty of time to get it done. But, you leave it until the very last moment which causes you to feel stressed and probably lose out on a night's sleep to submit it on time.

It was completely avoidable, but you put off  taking the action needed because perhaps you didn’t want to do it, or you wanted to do something else.

It’s likely that putting off making a start on this made you feel bad, and there were repeated promises to make a start, but it never happened. 

The putting off part gives a little bit of relief, but once that’s warn off, the worrying begins in the back of your mind.

Full transparency here – this was me. Back in 2007 when I was completing my PGCE, I pulled an all-nighter to get the final part of my coursework – the portfolio of evidence, together. 

It included hundreds of pages of answering single questions that involved having to link to all of the course work I’d completed across the year. It wasn’t difficult – but it was ridiculously boring and repetitive and took so much time!

Yes, I was very busy in between studying, teaching placements and being a single mum of two young boys, but I could have worked on it now and then to lessen the load.

It was a vital part of the coursework that had to be completed, and knew it took longer than we thought – we were warned 😂.

I knew there was also a bit of “what if I get it wrong” added into my reluctance to begin as well. But instead of this knowledge spurring me to do it, it had the opposite and I just put it off until it was almost impossible to finish it.

Also please bear in mind this was back when tech wasn’t as hot and quick as it is now – these were paper files – no cutting and pasting here…!

What Causes Us To Procrastinate?

There can be many reasons why people choose consciously or subconsciously to put things off. Like my example above, it was a job that I was not only dreading, but knew I wouldn’t enjoy it.

I also think, despite the warnings, I didn’t really think it would take as long as it did.

Take a look at some common reasons for procrastination:

  • Overestimating how much time you have
  • Underestimating how long something will actually take to complete
  • Relying on motivation
  • Fear of doing it wrong / being judged / perfectionism / 
  • Over-promising 
  • Waiting for your mindset to be ready to get going
  • It feels better to not do something that's challenging or mundane
  • Rest or doing something fun is much more appealing
  • Mental health reasons – simple tasks like housework feel too overwhelming
  • Not knowing what or how to do something & not wanting or knowing how to seek support

Scan the list above again. Do you notice a common theme with these examples?

Most procrastinators will fall into three areas, and by identifying these triggers, you will be able to move past the blocks and take the action you need.

The impact that procrastination – especially long-term / chronic procrastination, has can vary from increasing stress a little when the deadline is suddenly here, or potentially lead to missed opportunities in work and life, and ultimately an impact on your overall welling and level of satisfaction in life.

Three of the main themes that drives procrastination are:

  • Fear & Perfectionism
  • Overwhelm & Feeling Stuck
  • Lack of Planning

#1 Fear

Fear is one of the main drivers of procrastination. The fear could be based around the outcome of doing the task or fear of taking the action to do it.

If you experience anxiety, procrastination can be an issue for you, often due to the fear of getting things wrong or being judged by what you do.

Perfectionism often shows up in this kind of situation, being overly harsh on yourself and what you are capable of doing. Or, not trusting your own judgement enough to complete the task in hand.

Your fear could also be related to the potential success that would come with completing a task. Even though it’s something you may want and dream of, the consequences of this success may lead you to become fearful of the changes that could happen.

For example, you’re working towards your PHD but you know that once finished you’re going to have to present this at the end in a Viva (Thesis Defence Presentation). This may cause you to delay completing the work, or from starting your PHD in the first place.

Fear of the unknown, of failure and of success can stop you from being able to take any action at all. Procrastination then adds to the pressure and worry already felt, resulting in this inability to move forward and do tasks that you’re more than capable of doing.

How to overcome fear?

There are a few things you can do to move past this fear-based inaction and managing procrastination.

  • Identify the root of the fear
  • Challenge negative or unhelpful thinking patterns and beliefs
  • Reframe to positive growth-based beliefs
  • Look for the evidence
  • Do it anyway! 

Identify the root of the fear – Awareness is your superpower. Once you are aware of the fear-based belief that is holding you back, you can work on changing things.

Challenge thoughts – The next step is to challenge those thoughts and beliefs that are making you believe that you’re not good enough, or that you’ll never be able to do the thing!

“What if..?” is a brilliant tool for this. The next time you think “What if I get it wrong and I look like a total idiot”, you swap it for “What if it all works out?” 

Reframe – This is like the example above, it’s about challenging and reframing the longstanding beliefs you have. My favourite CBT-based tools I use for this include thought shifting (I have a free download for this).

Anxiety / worrying can lead to all or nothing thinking. Imagine yourself doing the thing that you’re avoiding, and you’re telling yourself “I will never be able to do that” “It’s too difficult, I can’t do it so why bother trying?”

This thinking distortion may stop you from even attempting to do it. But if you can challenge it by not only reframing it to things like “This is going to be difficult, but I can try my best and if I get stuck I can ask for help” or, “I know this is going to be difficult, but if I break it down then it will be more manageable”.

It releases some of the pressure, and allows you to take those first steps.

Look for Evidence – Another favourite of mine to use with clients (and myself when needed!). A key thing to remember is that thoughts are not facts.

That’s what you need to remember when you’re in a situation and you’re feeling like everything is going wrong, or that you never do anything right.

Spend a little time looking for evidence that disproves these thoughts and beliefs. Much like the thought shifting, it’s a way to get you to think about what is actually true.

For example, think of a time where you achieved something that you didn’t think you could. Apply these examples whenever you get these kind of doubts – it’s honestly so helpful!

Do it anyway – The reason why anxiety can hold us as prisoners is because it keeps you in the place of thinking about what could happen. This means your imagination is free to visualise the worst case scenario.

Once you actually start doing the thing – it’s often not as bad as those thoughts that had been holding you hostage and racing around your mind.

You can use visualisation techniques, where you imagine yourself doing the work or achieving your goals. Some people find that affirmations can help train your mind to improve your self confidence. For example “I am good enough” or, “I am capable and confident in myself”.

#2 Overwhelm

I separated this from fear, but as with most things there are plenty of overlaps between the causes of procrastination.

Overwhelm can also be linked to a few on the list above – including over estimating the time you have or under estimating the complexity of the task. It can also be linked to how you work with time, as well as some fear creeping in there!

When you feel overwhelmed it’s common to just feel stuck. Analysis paralysis can kick in – where self doubt makes you question if what you’re doing is right. Or, lack of planning has meant you don’t know what you’re going to focus on.

Some key tips when dealing with overwhelm and managing procrastination are:

  • Take a Break
  • Brain Dump
  • Break Down Tasks

Take a break – Do something completely different. Give your mind a total rest from thinking about it. This may seem like a weird tip when we’re talking about procrastinating, but a full mind with racing thoughts is not going to let you get on with things.

Brain Dump – I am a big fan of a good old brain dump! You can use it for anything that’s currently happening. Clearing your mind to allow you to absorb new information and get the task done is essential.

A brain dump is where you literally empty everything that’s on your mind. You can either use a blank page, or a worksheet that guides you with a little more structure.

Start by just getting all of the things you’re currently thinking about – jobs, meetings, things on your to-do list etc. onto the paper.

Then add in all of the things you’re worrying about – the specific fears and worries. If you have time, you could journal in more depth around the individual thoughts to help you process them.

Take a little break then come back to your brain dump. Whenever I do this I instantly begin to feel better. I notice I’m not clenching my jaw as tightly, and I’m feeling a little less drained. All from getting those thoughts from my head onto paper!

You can bring more structure to your brain dump by putting them into sections (work / personal / business etc.). You can prioritise things, and possibly work out what things you could get others to do instead.

The process of clearing your mind can be a really effective way to allow your mind to once again focus on the task in hand and feel much less overwhelmed.

Break down tasks – Seems obvious, but often this can be a great way to get your mind to focus on what needs to get done. 

If you’re focusing on the project as a whole it can feel really scary. It doesn’t feel realistic or achievable. 

So by breaking them down into smaller tasks, you can get an idea of what you actually need to do to make progress. It feels much less intimidating!

Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

Martin Luther King Jr.

#3 Lack of Clarity

Following on from breaking down your tasks into manageable chunks, let’s talk about clarity and planning!

If you’re unclear on what needs to get done, you run the risk of becoming overwhelmed and stuck before you even start – cue procrastination…!

Having a clear plan of what you’re working towards, the steps you need to take and what you need to do to get there will save you so much time and energy.

If you don’t like more formal planning (like SMART goals), figure out what works for you.

Some prefer to create mind maps or brainstorming using a pen and piece of paper. Whatever your preference is, you need to:

  • Have clarity on the overall goal
  • Understand the steps that you need to take
  • How to break down these steps into manageable tasks
  • Be clear on prioritising 

As an ex-teacher, long, medium and short term planning is something I had to work with. As someone with a wandering mind – it wasn’t easy to adapt to, but rhe benefit of knowing the direction of where I (and the pupils) needed to go removed so much stress. 

Now I love planning – weird I know! But if you’re a fellow neuro-spicy person, please don’t worry – you don’t have to have a regimented schedule. That’s not what planning is about. Planning is about providing you with the roadmap, the step-by-step guide to achieve your goal.

Planning helps with managing procrastination because it removes some of the unknown and gives you a clear route to follow. No more decision fatigue where you spend an hour trying to decide on what you could work on – it’s right there in front of you!

I love to use a brain dump sheet or my journal to help me when I’m feeling a little lost. I also love the Eisenhower Matrix to help me prioritise what I need to focus on each day.

Tips and Tools To Help With Managing Procrastination

Practical Tips:

  • Time Management Techniques (Pomodoro Technique, Time Blocking)
  • Find an accountability partner
  • Declutter your workspace
  • Remove distractions (turn off notifications, put your phone on silent)
  • Choose dedicated time to check emails / socials

Build Positive Habits:

  • Take small and consistent actions
  • Celebrate milestones / daily wins (no matter how small)
  • Track your progress and review frequently

Tools:

Additional Support:

For accountability and support with getting your own blog up & running, check out Sadie at Passive Income Pathways.

Final Thoughts

The key is to take the action to move through the block. Start small and focus on progress over perfection. When you aim for ‘good enough’ to get started, it removes that pressure to get things perfect.

Always celebrate your wins – big and small. Create a list of rewards you can give to yourself. This could be an extended break where you take a walk or relax and watch some tv!

Procrastination usually has a driver, so once you’re able to identify it you can work on changing it. 

If you need additional support in getting started and moving through procrastination. Click the button below to get in touch – I have an exciting offer that I’m currently working on. I will be offering it free of charge to begin with – so if you’re interested let me know!

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Meet Lynsey

Lynsey Wall, Coach & Mentor at Coach Writes. About me - A headshot of Lynsey smiling. Wearing a black t-shirt, blue framed glasses. Office walls behind her.

Hey there! I'm Lynsey, a coach, counsellor, and mentor for low energy, introverted or low confident female coaches & small business owners. With over 5 years’ experience of running businesses, and over a decade as a tutor and trainer, I've learned the value of effective time management that energises you through working with your energy.

I've lived with chronic illness – ME/CFS since 2011 and since then I re-trained as a counsellor, and achieved a distinction for my MA in Counselling and Psychotherapy Practice; all while running 4 businesses! I want that for you as well & it is possible with the right support and pathway to success.

Improving your mindset, finding acceptance and developing a solution-focused approach to achieving your goals is my passion. Blending mental health support where needed, as well as a supportive space and methods to manage your work more effectively.

If you'd like to know more about working with me, you can email [email protected] or find me on socials (links in the menu)

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