Is there something that you’ve been putting off lately? Maybe a work project that’s been hanging over your head or that pile of clothes in the corner of your closet that you’ve been meaning to organize for weeks? We get it — it’s totally normal to say, “Eh I’ll do it later” and we’re certainly not here to add to the shame or blame.
We’re here to look at why we have the tendency to procrastinate and how we can actually learn to overcome it so that we feel more confident and less stressed.
What is the procrastination cycle?
Procrastination, the act of delaying or postponing something, doesn’t have to do with laziness or lack of willpower. It’s actually a way that some of us have learned to cope with the more difficult emotions that we associate with certain tasks, including anxiety, insecurity, boredom, or resentment.
For example, you may have been putting off writing a paper about a difficult topic because you feel like you’re in over your head and are afraid of failing. Or you may delay doing the dishes because you find the task boring, or you resent the other members of the household for not tackling them.
Sure, we’re likely to initially feel relieved when we say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” But when we put things off…. and put them off…. it tends to compound the negative emotions we’ve associated with the task in the first place.
So, not only are we bored by the idea of doing the dishes, but now we also feel added stress or self-blame for letting them pile up in the sink. And then, it becomes a cycle in which we procrastinate even more to further avoid these negative emotions.
How to break the “I’ll do it later” habit
It’s not easy to just snap out of the habit of procrastination, no matter how hard we may want to. And it doesn’t always help to make to-do lists or tap into productivity apps.
Remember that procrastination is about emotions, not productivity, so taking a deep dive into our experience can help us to understand why we do what we do. Then we can begin to take steps towards establishing healthier habits and behaviors. The next time you feel yourself wanting to put off an unavoidable task, try a few of these suggestions and see how they work for you.
- Get curious. If you’re tempted to procrastinate, take a few moments to just check in with yourself to better understand what’s going on. What feelings are coming up when you think about getting started? Where do you feel them in your body? Is your stomach in knots or is your chest tight? Just notice and maybe take a few minutes to journal out what’s coming up.
- Offer up some self-compassion. Beating yourself up when you procrastinate only compounds all of the negative emotions that you’re already experiencing. Instead of going into a, “What’s wrong with me?!?” spiral, try offering yourself a pep talk or at just a moment of understanding, like you would give to a friend. When you notice self-blame coming up, try placing a hand on your heart or stomach and saying something like, “It’s okay. I understand that this is hard for you.” Being kind to ourselves can actually boost motivation and help us to feel more optimistic about daunting tasks. You can also try our latest Get Inspired Collection to build some motivation.
- Cut out the obstacles. It’s easy to put off less appealing tasks when we always have social media feeds and bingeable reality shows at our fingertips. We’re not saying cut off your access to technology, but rather make it a little less available when you need to focus on other tasks. Maybe you delete the Instagram app from your phone for a few hours or go to a coffee shop to focus on that work project. Identify what your obstacles are and make them a little less easy to tap into.
- Reward yourself. This one is fun! We’re more likely to stick with new, healthier habits if they involve some sort of positive incentive. For example, if you’ve been putting off going to the gym, maybe you download a riveting audiobook that you only listen to while exercising. Or you get a pedicure while tackling that tough work task. Or you celebrate finally having that difficult conversation by taking yourself out for a special dinner.
- Take baby steps. Try breaking down the items on your “have to-do” list into smaller, more manageable steps so that you’re less likely to get overwhelmed. For example, instead of saying “I need to organize my entire house. It’s a mess!” Try making a list of little tasks and setting achievable goals for yourself. On day one, tackle one messy drawer in the kitchen. And sit with how it feels to get it done, taking time to feel proud of yourself. The next day you’ll be more likely to gain momentum because the overall goal of organizing your home feels approachable (we have a tool that can help!).
We can all fall into the trap of procrastination and that doesn’t mean that we’re lazy or incapable of achieving great things. Above all, be patient with yourself and know that you’re certainly not the only one avoiding boring or difficult tasks. When we’re able to move through procrastination, and notice the small wins, it adds up to big results — a happier, more confident version of you.
By Katie Nave, Copywriter at Sanvello
Katie is a writer and mental health advocate living in Brooklyn, New York. Her essays have been featured in publications including Newsweek, Elle, Glamour, Business Insider, and Motherly. She has served as a producer for the National Women’s March and worked with organizations like Girls Inc. She is currently the Copywriter at Sanvello and you can follow her on Instagram: @kathryn.e.nave.