Procrastination. At the beginning of every year, we promise ourselves that we'll slay this beast. We make lists, buy journals, try new apps, but no matter what, we often wind up falling into the same cycle of delay and avoidance — putting things off, day after day.
If you've resolved to quit procrastinating, it might help to know there's more to it than just delaying tasks. Therapist Anastasia Locklin describes chronic procrastination as "an inability to regulate negative or fearful emotions or feelings." Research shows that people tend to prioritize short-term mood over long-term goals and that they're more likely to put off tasks that don't have quick rewards. As Locklin says, "Your present self often values immediate gratification over the long-term goals."
Procrastination and perfectionism often go hand in hand. As some researchers have concluded, perfectionists "experience a chronic sense of falling short of their own personal standards," triggering their procrastination. Locklin says the mental narrative goes something like this: "I'll just wait until I'm in a setting or situation where I can be completely perfect at it."
Culture is to blame for some forms of procrastination. Black women tend to put off self-care activities — like vacations and doctor's appointments — because they're often taught (and expected) to prioritize caring for others. "I know personally, for myself as a woman of color, some of the things that I've been told is that if you care for yourself and only care about yourself, then you're selfish," Locklin shares.
Black women can also feel like they have to work twice as hard to be recognized in their careers. "I think sometimes we attach our self-worth to our own productivity and [feel] we're only as valuable as how successful we are," Locklin explains. "That makes us almost put our own self-care and self-preservation on the back burner."
To combat procrastination — on the big things and the little things — here's what Locklin recommends.
Identify small goals
Set a goal to work on something for a short, fixed amount of time — say, 10 minutes.
If you need more structure, Locklin recommends trying the Ivy Lee method. At the end of each workday, make a list of six things to work on the following day. List them out in order of true importance. Tackle those things and only those things the next day.
Use natural patterns to your advantage
Next, if you're trying to figure out the best way to prioritize tasks, use natural patterns to your advantage: If you're a morning person, do important tasks in the morning. If you have midday slumps, take that time to organize and create your list for the next day.
Don't be too hard on yourself
Research shows self-compassion can help you cope with procrastination-related stress. Remember every success is just that: a success!
If you're procrastinating wellness and rest, plan ahead and delegate! Block out vacations in advance and put systems in place with co-workers so that you can work toward your time away and feel secure that all your goals at work are met.
Meet with a therapist
Finally, if you're having trouble addressing procrastination on your own, meet with a therapist. One treatment approach, called cognitive behavioral therapy, can help improve coping skills by focusing on current barriers and solutions to those problems.
If you need help finding a therapist, check out this episode of Life Kit.
The podcast version of this story was produced by Audrey Nguyen. It was engineered by Patrick Murray, and the digital version was produced by Clare Lombardo.
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