“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today” goes the saying. Procrastination, the action of delaying something, becomes a speciality of mine when there’s something important to do (like writing this when I have a big essay deadline!).
I often wonder why I would self sabotage in this way? Why is it so difficult to get on with something that is the top of the list of priorities? Why does sorting the cutlery drawer feel like an easier thing to do than that important phone call?
Well the truth is, procrastination isn’t always what we think it is. There is often something lurking underneath. Here are 3 things that can masquerade as procrastination.
Have a think about why you’re putting off that important task? It’s likely you know logically that it needs doing, but you just can’t motivate yourself to get it done. Quite often you may find that, deep down, there’s a fear there. A fear of failing perhaps. After all, if you don’t start you won’t be able to fail.
Or perhaps it’s a fear of things not being perfect? Maybe in your early life you felt pressured into always achieving, and got much praise for academic achievements. That could be very difficult to live up to even as an adult.
Conversely it could be a fear of actually being successful. Deep down you know that if you pass that essay, you’ll have to move on to the next step, one you’re not quite ready for.
So procrastinating actually becomes a sort of coping mechanism, a way of protecting us from something that we’re scared of.
To help work through some of these fears, get curious about them – what is the fear and what do you think you need for reassurance? You could try writing your feelings around this in a journal, talking to someone, or using other creative ways to help.
Sometimes life gets overwhelming. Too many demands on you, all at once, can lead to you feeling like it’s just too much. Perhaps your energy reserves are running low and you’re not quite ready to take on the next task. Procrastination can be your body’s way of stopping you doing too much and becoming overloaded.
Frustrating though it is when you’re trying to get things done, perhaps it’s your body’s way of telling you you need to have a rest. Watch out for signs of burnout if you’re continually taking on too much. Try taking some time out doing something that relaxes you, and see if being rested makes a difference.
For someone who might be neurodivergent, (that includes ADHD, Autism, dyslexic, Tourette’s, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and more), procrastination could actually be a bit more complex.
A key feature for many people who are neurodivergent is having difficulties in the area of executive functioning. This affects organising, planning, impulse control and prioritising among other actions.
So it’s not surprising then, that some everyday tasks (like starting an essay, or scheduling your day) could actually be very tricky.
What looks from the outside like procrastination, or even laziness, could actually just be the way your brain works. It may be that you need a little more time to process all of what you have to do. The ADHD Aware website has a good explanation of what neurodivergence is if you’d like to know more.
Tips for Tackling Procrastination
Some of the classic tips for procrastination include things like making lists, or prioritising your tasks. All possibly helpful but, what if procrastination becomes a feature of everyday life for you and these things don’t work? Read on for some different techniques for working with procrastination.
Firstly make sure your environment is conducive to the task. Maybe you need to minimise distractions, colours, noise or clutter around your work area. In contrast, you might need to set up your work area with some visually appealing stationery to keep you motivated. Think about how you work best and what you need.
Take a note of which times of the day your procrastination is strongest. Maybe it’s just before lunch, or in the afternoon when you feel it the most. After monitoring it for a week, make a plan to work on the boring tasks outside of these times. At the times you identify your procrastination is usually at its peak, schedule the more engaging tasks.
Breaks and Rewards
Taking breaks that take you away from the tasks for a short while can help you to reset. Try to include something physical like a walk, or some stretching.
Sometimes, if you’re not able to get started on a particular task, promising yourself a reward at the end can be enough to help motivate you. It can be a small reward like a cup of coffee or a larger reward like meeting a friend. For those with ADHD, dopamine often plays a big part, and visualising that reward can produce enough dopamine to get you kick started.
You may have heard of the Pomodoro technique – setting timers to schedule breaks at regular intervals. Often with neurodivergent people this doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s because hyper focus can strike at any time, throwing off the timings. Or sometimes just because of an executive functioning issue or a difficulty estimating the time a task takes.
Something different to try if you’re having difficulty getting started is the Reverse Pomodoro (below). Flipping the timings in this way and starting with the rest/fun activity allows you to ‘ride the dopamine wave’ into the next task. The hope is that it will get you kickstarted and you can move past your initial block. Experiment with the timings and what works for you.
Get To Know Your Procrastination
To really build your self awareness around this, get to know that procrastinating part of you that would rather do anything at all than get on with the task.
Spend some time getting curious. Ask this part of you what’s going on. How does it feel, what does it need. Show this part of you some acceptance and kindness. Remind this part of you that you’re safe and in control and that it can take a rest right now. Visualise a place that this part of you can go whilst you work.
And finally, mindfulness can help bring your awareness to the present moment, releasing some the of frustration and guilt you might be feeling over your procrastination. Try the quick body scan below, or check out my 3 Mindful Moments for some ideas.
Amy is a qualified counsellor working in Kent and online with adults and adolescents. Amy works with a range of issues and specialises in working with neurodivergent individuals and their families.
Contact Amy here for more details or to book a free consultation.