There are many reasons why people procrastinate, but procrastination also can increase anxiety, hurt work performance and lower self-esteem.

Fear of Failure (and Success)

Failure can be threatening. Society often frames failure in a negative light. Additionally, many young people have been so shielded from failure that they don’t have the skills to tolerate it, so the first time they fail it is overwhelming, and they may not try again. Success can also be threatening because it “raises the bar.” People expect more.

Interventions

  • Explore what failure means. Find quotes from successful people about failure.
  • Avoid overgeneralization and personalization about failure.
  • Maintain a cheering squad
  • Remember past successes
  • Identify all of the other things in your life that make it worth living

Perfectionism often accompanies fear of failure

Perfectionists often either never get started or never finish a task… so it can never be evaluated. Perfectionism takes an inordinate amount of time which can lead to feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Perfectionists are never satisfied and maintain self anger for any imperfections, and may also have low self esteem and base their worth on what they do instead of who they are.

Interventions

  • Learn about the principles of diminishing returns. It is worth the effort to get an A+ or just settle for the A.
  • Practice purposeful action to improve life balance. Do you need to get this one thing perfect at the expense of other important things in your life?
  • Explore where the need to be perfect comes from. What does it mean if you are not perfect? Where did you learn that you are only lovable if you are perfect? Do you believe this and hold your friends to this?
  • Enhance your self-esteem so you are not looking for external validation. Who are you vs. What you do

Being Overwhelmed

Large projects can be daunting. Poor time management may also contribute to people feeling overwhelmed.

Interventions

  • For large projects, break it into manageable sub-projects–something you can do in an hour, day or week.
  • If there is too much else going on and you can’t find the time to get started, evaluate your time management.
  • Be mindful and have a laser focus

Laziness/Low Motivation

Motivation is your get up and go. Low motivation (procrastination) is impacted by

  • More rewarding competing activities (television, gym…)
  • No consequences/accountability for not getting started
  • Punishments for starting–The activity is not rewarding (i.e. paying bills, doing taxes)

Interventions

  • Eliminating more rewarding options
  • Break projects into smaller tasks with rewards
  • Premack—Combine the unpleasant activity with something pleasant
  • Make it fun (social, gamify)
  • Create consequences for lack of task completion

Uncertainty About How to Start

Sometimes the goal is too big or poorly defined. Other times you may not have or be able to generalize the skills.

Interventions:

  • Break goals down into Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time Limited chunks
  • Seek guidance on how to begin from people who have done it.
  • Think of similar situations you have encountered and what you did.

Additional Techniques

  • Create time limits for task completion (deadlines)
  • Do whatever it is for 15 minutes to help you get started.
  • Shorten the daily to-do list
  • Leverage peak energy times
  • Be accountable to someone
  • Increase distress tolerance skills & gratitude
  • Make a list of your most common time drains / procrastination outlets (eating, television, organizing, napping, social media…), and use those as rewards for task completion
  • Attend to temperament
  1. Extroverts may procrastinate things which are solitary and/or don’t have an accountability/discussion element (autobiography, homework, housework). Study at the library or coffee shop, do housework for a visitor, have homework reviewed
  2. Introverts may procrastinate things which are social (mixers, holiday shopping). Add rewards, get social support
  3.  iNtuitors may procrastinate things which are too detail oriented. Add rewards, Premack, chunk it
  4.  Sensors may procrastinate doing “meta-concepts” (collage of what happy means, finding a house). Pursue it through specific questions.
  5. Perceivers always think there is plenty of time and tend to get things done at the last minute. Set deadlines

To summarize…Procrastination often indicates that the effort seems to exceed the reward, the risk is not worth the reward, you feel disempowered, or you have a lack of clarity and direction about how to start or the end goal of a task. Interventions revolve around increasing motivation (adding consequences for not doing it and rewards for doing it), improving self-efficacy (confidence), developing distress tolerance skills, clearly defining the task and breaking it down into manageable small steps.

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