The REAL Reason You Procrastinate — And How To Fix It

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woman procrastinating

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Karen Schneider, PMP®, PMI-ACP®, CSM®27
Experienced Project/Program Manager
June 14, 2024 at 8:55PM UTC
I've been known to be a master of procrastination.
I have a level of skill that could easily rival a ninja. I stall, duck, and dodge items on my to-do list with grace and ease. All seems to be well as I blissfully ignore my responsibilities and tasks. It's all fun and games — that is, until a deadline is looming. Then, I feel my anxiety shoot into overdrive. I can't stand the pressure at the eleventh hour, feeling rushed and overwhelmed to complete whatever task I once again decided to put off.  Time and time again, I wonder, why did I wait so long to tackle this... why do I always do this... what is WRONG with me?
It turns out there's an answer to that question: 
Self sabotage.
It's a coping mechanism as a result of anxiety, and it's more common than you might realize. In fact, this article by Psychology Today indicates there are at least SIX (count 'em, six!) different kinds of anxiety-related procrastination. With odds like that, it sounds like many of us are bound to suffer from time to time.
With all we have on our plates, it's normal to feel overwhelmed by the ever-growing to-do lists we have. So how do you combat this tricky habit/behavior? 
1. Learn to exercise the ability to say "no" in a disciplined pursuit of less. 
Ask yourself what the most effective use of your time and energy is. If it's not a resounding yes (or if it's an emphatic NO), it doesn't belong on your list. 
2. Get real with yourself and plan better. 
For me, this means being honest about the types of habits I know I am prone to. I.e. I can tell myself if I put Netflix on I will just watch one episode, but I'll likely binge-watch five without blinking an eye. Productive? I think not. Figure out what your triggers are and stay away from them until you've checked off all of your to-do's.  
3. Break up your to-do list.
Make a list of what you need to get done, and then break your tasks up into smaller tasks. Not only does it seem less overwhelming, it also is oddly satisfying — and motivating — to be able to check items off of your list. 
4. Just start.
The next step is to just do it, and start somewhere — even if you don't feel like it. Sometimes the idea of a task can be much more overwhelming than when you actually sit down to begin. 
5. Reward yourself accordingly.
After you complete one of your tasks, allow yourself a small reward to help motivate you to continue along the path of productivity. 
6. Still feeling blocked?
Breaks are warranted from time to time, and we all feel refreshed after a walk in the fresh air, or even a good night's sleep. If you're trying to force yourself to finish a project that calls for some creativity, step away for a bit to get a renewed vision.
7. Most of all — be kind to yourself.
Sometimes the hardest part of procrastination is how hard we can be on ourselves for procrastinating to begin with. Show yourself empathy, and vow to be aware and cognizant of your habits. Continue refining your routine that best suits you, and you are sure to find a more productive (and less anxious) you. 
Karen Schneider works for bareMinerals in Global Packaging + Creative Services and has worked in a variety of industries over the span of her career, including digital media, fashion & apparel, and wine & spirits. She is currently a contributor to The Muse and Career Contessa and has been featured on Business Insider and Harvard Business Review for her career advice. She's obsessed with learning, life, and career/self-improvement.

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