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Navigating Procrastination

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

Procrastination can often seem like an easy excuse of the lazy. I had a client describe himself as a lifelong procrastinator. As if it is a flaw of his character, one to be accepted as it is. Yet, procrastination can be a symptom of a larger problem, one that can be addressed and changed instead of begrudgingly accepted.

Procrastination is avoidance, a protective tool, usually from a feeling of overwhelm. Life can get overwhelming, our to do list never ends. To deal with the feelings of stress and overwhelm, we avoid the tasks we need to get done. We feel a temporary reprieve from the stress by distraction or dissociation. Yet, when we emerge from our distraction, we can feel even more stressed and overwhelmed because time has passed, and we have not gotten anything done! The only way to actually relive feeling overwhelmed is to accomplish our tasks. We need action.

Here are a few simple ways to move into action when feeling overwhelmed.

Think about it as if overwhelm is blocking action. We need to get overwhelm out of the way in order to move into action. The hardest part is getting started. To get started we need to make the task easy. We do that by cutting the task in half until it feels easy enough to just get started. For example, if you have to read 100 pages for class, you can start by setting a goal to read for half an hour. If that still feels like too much, you cut that in half. Read for 15 minutes. Repeat the process until you feel like yes, I can do that, even if it’s only 5 minutes.

Okay, I know what you are thinking. It’s not enough. I have too much to do to! 5 minutes is not enough! This tool is only meant to reduce the task enough that overwhelm will step aside and allow you to work on a task. Remember the hardest part is getting started, once you get started you can spend as much time as you want. Once you read for 5 minutes, you’ll realize how easy it was and maybe do a little more. You can also take a break, give yourself a reward, and set your 5-minute goal again. Reminding yourself 5 minutes is better than no minutes.

Apply this tool to any overwhelming task then, acknowledge you have accomplished your goal. Give yourself a pat on the back. This will encourage and motivate you to do more.

Remember: Accept your to-do list never ends. Break things down until they feel easy. Getting started is the hardest part!

Other quick tips:

Say I want, can, or am doing something instead of “I have to” or “I need to”. Small language shifts make a big impact!

Make a list. Choose 3 priorities for the day. The goal is to accomplish those three priorities. (if you don’t accomplish 3, cut it down to 1. When you accomplish it acknowledge job well done!) Make sure to cross those items off your list! This small act will encourage you and help you feel accomplished.

Written by

Jodi Salata, ALMFT

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