Mastering Procrastination: A Modern Guide for Professional Women

Procrastination is the act of postponing or delaying work. It is the force that prevents us from following through with our tasks. Mastering procrastination will allow for a more satisfying and fulfilling life.

When we are not doing what we need to do, we are setting ourselves up to fall behind on our projects or potentially abandon them altogether. We often become less productive.

Needing to implement crunch time to finish the task creates more added stress and pressure. Likewise, If we don’t follow through on something we desire, guilt can set in.

Procrastination is a trap that many of us fall into.

This might surprise you, but it is not your inability to manage time or a unique character flaw. Procrastination is an active process of choosing to do something else rather than the task we need to do. It also has nothing to do with laziness.

We might get sucked into scrolling through social media instead of starting or finishing a project. Retail therapy is way more fun than having to wait around to get that oil changed. In contrast, laziness is inactivity, and the unwillingness to act.

Having incomplete tasks looming over our heads is stressful and emotionally draining.

Finding a way to relieve our challenging feelings in the present moment would serve the success of our future selves. Mastering procrastination is vital.

Signs I Might Be a Procrastinator

  • Fill your day with low-priority tasks
  • Avoid a high priority task, for a long time
  • Wait to be in the “right mood” to tackle a task
  • Start an important project and then go off to get a latte
  • Often feel overwhelmed
  • Have uncertain goals
  • Struggle with following through with projects
  • Have a hard time meeting deadlines
  • Easily distracted
  • Often make excuses for not getting things done
  • Struggle with fear of failure, Are you a perfectionist?

Why We Procrastinate

What causes us to sabotage our best intentions? Why do we avoid or put off the things we most want to achieve or need to do?

At its core, procrastination is a form of stress relief. It is a way of avoiding emotional discomfort, such as boredom, frustration, anxiety, guilt and self-doubt.

However, this is a double-edged sword. When we choose not to do the high priority task, (easing the stress in the short-term), long term we experience the consequences of using avoidance as a coping mechanism.

“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.”

-Dr. Tim Pychyl,
Professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Isn’t it ironic that we procrastinate to avoid negative feelings, but end up feeling even worse?

When reaching for our dreams, we feel the most resistance and the urge to procrastinate

Whenever we want to do anything that moves us to the next level in our lives, the more resistance we will feel. Often it’s the more important task that causes us to retreat rather than to jump in and move it forward.

Our brain interprets change (anything new) as a threat. When perceiving a threat, (even a psychological one), the primal part of our brain, which is hard-wired for safety, survival and familiarity, releases stress hormones. This enables us to cope with the perceived threat (any change) by immobilizing the fight or flight response.

Yeah, Our brains actually resist our actions towards our dreams. Like WHAAAT?!

So, mastering procrastination is key to accomplishing our goals and dreams.

What Happens in the Brain?

When our brain is activated in response to psychological stress, our emotions take over and our ability to think clearly diminishes. This is called “ Amygdala Hijack,” a term coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence.”

The amygdala is part of the limbic system, a set of brain structures that help regulate our emotional and behavioral responses. The amygdala serves a variety of purposes, (such as detecting threats and processing positive emotions,) though it’s probably best known for its role in the fight or flight response.

An amygdala hijack occurs when any strong emotion such as anger, anxiety, fear, or even extreme excitement impairs the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive functioning and regulating rational thought.

At any given moment we are ultimately desiring to feel good. When we encounter stress we have an urge to diminish the bad feelings. There are many ways to cope with stress, both negative and positive.

It would be important to find healthier ways to regulate emotions and manage stress rather than using the hindering approach of procrastination.

Managing Our Emotions In a Healthier Way

Since we now know that procrastination is about emotions and not productivity, the solution does not involve self-control strategies or better time management skills. Although at some point these can be helpful, the first step to master procrastination has more to do with managing our emotions in a new and better way.

Emotions are a normal part of everyday life. We procrastinate when we bump up against certain uncomfortable emotions. It takes self-awareness to identify how we are feeling when we procrastinate.

Step-by Step Tips to Help Regulate Emotions

  1. Identify how you are feeling.
  2. Name it: Is it boredom, anxiety, fear, guilt, etc…
  3. Accept your emotions.
  4. Pause and take 3-5 deep, slow, belly breaths (inhaling through the nose) and exhaling slowly. This will relax your nervous system immediately.
  5. Notice your thoughts, are they negative?
  6. Move your body, (like do 5 jumping jacks or take a down dog pose) as this helps to quickly change your mental state.
  7. Shift your focus and engage in positive self talk.
  8. Managing your everyday stress helps you to cope with emotions better.
  • Get enough sleep
  • Hydrate (drink at leat 8 glasses of fresh water per day)
  • Eat healthy so you have vibrant energy
  • Make time to connect and laugh with loved ones
  • Exercise
  • Spend time in nature
  • Schedule time for relaxation and activities that bring you joy

After getting a better handle on identifying and managing the emotions that hold you back from being productive, here are some tips to further master procrastination.

Mastering Procrastination

Motivation follows action. Don’t wait to be in the mood to do a certain task. Get started, and you’ll find your motivation follows.

Remember that imperfect action is better than no action.

15 Top Anti-Procrastination Tips

  1. At the start of any given task, simply focus on your next step.
  2. Set goals that are clear, achievable and meaningful.
  3. Break large tasks into small, easily digestible, actionable pieces.
  4. Create deadlines for yourself.
  5. Eliminate distractions from your work environment.
  6. Get started by only committing to work for only 10 minutes.
  7. Reward yourself for you accomplishments.
  8. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
  9. Show yourself some compassion. Be kind and understanding in the face of your mistakes.
  10. “Eat the frog” -get your least pleasant, high priority tasks done first thing to get them out of the way and avoid procrastinating. Rip off the band-aide, just do it.
  11. Identify which are the times of the day when you’re most productive, and then plan your schedule so that most of your work is scheduled for those time periods.
  12. Focus more on you goals, and how great it will feel to accomplish them, rather than your tasks.
  13. Visualize your successful future self.
  14. Forgive yourself for procrastinating and move on.
  15. Get an ‘accountability buddy’ … like a life coach. 🙂

In order to overcome the resistance that leads to procrastination, we need to show up and do the work, one step at a time. I love this quote:

“Put your ass where your heart wants to be.”

-Steven Pressfield, Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way

One More thing…

Trusting yourself to take that next step when you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed is not an easy task. Being able to have the clarity and awareness of why procrastination shows up in your life is an important first step to mastering procrastination.
Need help with this? Let’s chat!

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