Why do we put off for tomorrow that which can be accomplished today? It’s not as though we can enjoy the time spent relaxing or engaging in leisure activities. In fact, procrastination is almost always followed by guilt and the nagging sense that we are wasting our time that would be better spent on necessary work.

So, why do we do it? There are a few dynamics at play when we procrastinate, and they have the same solutions.

The first is perfectionism. Perfectionists feel burdened by the need to complete tasks and make decisions, well, perfectly. This means that they may spend their time ruminating on the tasks and decisions that must be completed, ensuring there are no mistakes, and that all efforts excel. Perfectionists may also worry about the best way to proceed, anxious over every decision at every step. It is often better to simply not make the attempt rather than to try and fail. Procrastination for perfectionists is anxiety hijacking their executive functioning, sabotaging all efforts, and leading to feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. It is an unnecessary burden to carry, as perfectionism is already difficult enough to navigate on its own.

The second is simply feeling overwhelmed. Those that are exhausted and overloaded are unsure of how to begin the necessary task because they see multiple tasks as one. For example, we may know we need to tidy our garden, but when looking at the garden we see that the lawn must be mowed, the hedges trimmed, soil aerated, weeds pulled, seeds and bulbs planted, etc. And it must all be done immediately. This feeling of being overburdened can freeze us in our tracks, making it impossible to even begin a project, let alone finish it.

Procrastination, either from perfectionism or being overwhelmed, leaves us feeling as though we are trying to eat a pineapple in a single bite – leaves and all. And it is impossible! We have to first trim the pineapple and cut it into small pieces. The same is true for those tasks and decisions we avoid and procrastinate.

  1. We have to first break down the work we avoid into smaller, attainable goals. Seeing the work that has to be done as a series of small incremental steps that can be taken over a period of time makes approaching (and starting) much easier.
  2. Know that we don’t have to complete the task immediately. For example, if we have a sink full of dishes, it is much easier to wash a few rather than all of them. Keep this up for a week and the task is done! The same works for making decisions. We can spend our time researching, asking trusted friends for advice, or making a pros and cons list.
  3. Limit the number of tasks to be done or decisions to be made. By planning ahead that we will only complete one, two, or three things off of our to-do list we can easily cross them off without feeling immobilized by the enormity of what must still be completed.
  4. And, finally, don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. Good enough is almost always good enough. Desiring to do our best is a worthwhile goal, but not when it sabotages our own success, happiness, and well-being. For those that may struggle with perfectionism, please remember it is always possible to improve upon work or projects that actually exist. And when it comes to decisions, we can always change our mind and find new options or solutions.

By simply seeing the decisions, projects, or tasks that paralyze us into inactivity as smaller and simpler we can free ourselves from the guilt and shame of procrastination. We can enjoy our down-time without being preoccupied by the messages we have to reply to, or the bills we have to pay, or that doctor’s appointment we have to make.

And if procrastination has consistently sabotaged us, help is available. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a trained mental health professional to get the help to overcome the self-sabotage that is procrastination.

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