Overcoming the doldrums: How to reverse procrastination

25 March 2021

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It’s easy to feel listless and demotivated in the current climate.

We are stuck at home, many of us can’t get outside till the sun is below the horizon, and even if we can; beyond a brief walk round the local park, there is nothing to do!

Often this inner disquiet can be exhibited through procrastination: we prevaricate, make too much tea or wonder whether now really is the time to crack on with Gordan Ramsey’s latest and greatest 5-minute recipe? In other words, we bury our heads firmly in the proverbial sand.

Procrastination can be a debilitating experience too, it’s easy to feel like you are uniquely lazy or unmotivated. But it is important to realise that procrastination is a very common issue, affecting up to 84% of us according to Micro Biz Mag, with 20% of us procrastinating every day. You are not alone, and you are not lazy. Lazy means that you are unwilling to act or apathetic, whereas procrastination is an active process, you are doing something, just not the most optimal thing you could be doing.

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Signs that you are procrastinating

Being able to spot healthy vs unhealthy behaviour is important in defining procrastination, for example, briefly putting a project on hold to focus on something more immediate isn’t procrastination, just prioritisation, an important workplace skill.

You may be procrastinating if you:

  • Fill your day with low-priority tasks.

  • Leave an item on your To-Do list for a long time, even though it's important.

  • Read emails several times over without making a decision on what to do with them.

  • Start a high-priority task and then go do something else, like make coffee.

  • Fill your time with unimportant tasks that other people ask you to do, instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list.

  • Wait to be in "right mood," or wait for the "right time" to tackle a task. 

You are not the only one

Why you procrastinate is important. Right now, that may be you are just really fed up, which is totally normal. We are all suffering from the debilitating entrapment of life in lockdown.

A common problem is just finding certain tasks dull, a simple work around for this is to embrace the mindset of the child that won’t eat vegetables; eat them first before you tackle the rest of the meal, get that piece of work done, before you reward yourself with work you find more enjoyable. Simple reward systems like this go a long way to incentivising productivity.

Organisation is another piece of the puzzle, poor self-management can easily lead to a disordered or hectic work schedule. Having to-do lists or using task scheduling apps like Asana, help you prioritise your work by deadline and importance, and keep everything in one place.

Organisation allows you to plan what you have to do next. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by a task and keep putting it off. People can also fear greater workloads associated with actually being successful or have anxiety about completing a task imperfectly.

It is important to adopt a different mentality if you suffer from these fears, understand that we grow from change and unfamiliar situations, and embracing them is the best way we can progress not just in our careers, but in terms of self-development and life in general. 

How to reverse procrastination

Procrastination is usually a long-term habit that can be hard to shake off, but with a good strategy, patience, consistency, and determination, it can be overcome.

Here are some of the most effective strategies:

  • Forgive yourself -Forgiveness sounds like a strange way to begin a behaviour reversal, but it is exactly what is needed to end the cycle of self-punishment associated with procrastination behaviours. You have to make peace with the past before you can begin to address the future.

  • Inspiration -Many of us are unable to follow our usual passions and hobbies due to the national restrictions in place in many countries. Now is the time to try new activities you can do to try and re-energise. If you miss going to the pub with friends, perhaps now is the time to create a “virtual pub” via video calling software. If you miss the gym it’s time to innovate and find new ways to challenge yourself from home. Finding your new “you” thing is a great way to rejuvenate your creative energies.

  • Commitment -The hard part. It is essential to focus on action, not avoidance. Plan your daily schedule and set about completing and ticking off your tasks in a logical order.

  • Reward yourself- The easy part. When you have successfully completed a task on time, take a moment to just revel in the feeling of accomplishment. A little treat here and there doesn’t hurt either.

  • Peer pressure- Tell someone your plan and ask them to check up on you. It sounds simple but is a really effective tactic, just think of self-help groups.

  • Seize the moment- Tackle tasks as soon as they appear, rather than letting them build up.

  • Change your internal dialogue- Phrases like "need to" and "have to" imply a lack of control in what you do, which can lead to disempowerment and even self-sabotage. Phrases like “I choose to” empower you to feel in control of your workload.

  • Minimise Distractions- A no brainer, but can be hard to do, turn off unnecessary notifications, stay away from the tv, radio or anything else that grabs your attention away from the task at hand.

  • First the worst, second the best- As mentioned before, aim to get your least favourite tasks completed first, in order to setup a neat reward system to keep you going.

Integrating some or even all of the above strategies can help anyone experiencing the debilitating symptoms of procrastination, to turn around their relationship with work and beat the lockdown doldrums. However, sometimes lack of productivity is more than just procrastination, lack of motivation can come from other sources such as job that doesn’t inspire you, and if that is the case, it may be time to look elsewhere for your next career challenge


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