Maree's Blog

Procrastination? An Emotional, not a Time Management Issue.

businessman with a big headache (isolated on with with copyspace)

I have recently read two excellent articles on research done at Stockholm University on Procrastination which had some refreshing insights in them. One was from Inc.com – 5 Ways to Cure Chronic Procrastination, the other from The Wall Street Journal – To Stop Procrastinating, Start by Understanding the Emotions Involved. They reminded me of how significant a problem procrastination is for many people, which is why I’m taking time here to talk about it.

Is Procrastination Really A Time Management Issue?

Procrastination is usually identified as a time management issue. It was the great management guru, Brian Tracy, who applied the “Eat That Frog!” time management strategy to counteracting procrastination. He stole it from Mark Twain who suggested that if we ate a live frog first thing every morning, we could go through the day knowing that nothing worse would happen. What Tracy taught was that you select the most difficult task you have to do each day and set aside the first 45-90 minutes and just work on it.

Tracy had two rules for frog eating. The first was that if you have two live frogs, eat the ugliest first. His second rule was, if you have to eat a live frog at all, it doesn’t pay to sit and look at it for too long. For many people the task they are procrastinating about feels as bad as eating a live frog! If you want to know more about how to eat the live frog, register for my free Time Management for Busy Professionals online course. It is Strategy No. 6 of 20 strategies.

Is Procrastination A Delaying Tactic For You Or A Chronic “Disability”?

If procrastination is more a delaying tactic for you, then you will be able to focus yourself, be self-disciplined and as Richard Branson so famously says: Just Do It! This article is not really for you. It is for those of you for whom procrastination is chronic. It causes you immense stress and mental anguish. It keeps you awake at night. It overwhelms you with a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness. It can even trigger depression. You are the people, sitting and watching the live frog endlessly and becoming increasingly anxious and impotent.

New Research on Procrastination.

Stockholm University recently did research on procrastination, producing some less traditional explanations. Here are some of the most important ones.
Procrastination is much more than a time management strategy. It is an emotional strategy for managing stress.

While procrastination is often seen as the problem of the perfectionist, the research found quite the opposite. It is motivated by impulsiveness – the tendency to immediately act on urges, in other words, as soon as an anxious, or any negative feeling emerges about  the task before them, they flee from it. But the feeling remains. That feeling they cannot flee from and it is that which makes procrastination a chronic condition.

Chronic procrastinators need to understand the emotions behind their procrastinating, and learn to regulate those emotions better, take control of them. I would say that they need to develop their emotional intelligence because it is also clear that the relationships of procrastinators at every level are impacted by their inabilities in this area.

Chronic procrastinators probably need the help of a therapist or life coach to resolve their procrastinating.It is unlikely to be resolved with time management  tips and strategies when the reasons behind it run deep.

Both articles above are worth reading and both have suggestions for overcoming chronic procrastination.

You may like to also check out articles I have written in the past that make suggestions that resonate with these two articles.
Understanding Procrastination – The Art of Stuffing Around.
Overcoming Procrastination – The Time Stealer.

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3 Comments

  1. Bronwyn on October 29, 2015 at 11:41 am

    Thanks for sharing those articles Maree. Procrastination is one of the most destructive practices for entrepreneurs, and it is extremely difficult to overcome. I will read them with interest.

    • Maree on October 29, 2015 at 12:17 pm

      Bronwyn, thanks for joining the conversation. I have worked with people over many years on this and was well aware that it was a chronic problem for many people, but this research from Stockholm University is very helpful for both me as a coach and mentor and for the great procrastinators. However, my experience has been that many professionals while challenged by their chronic procrastination are really not willing to do the hard yards to address it but would rather play around with some time management tips and strategies that band-aid the problem but don’t fix it. What this research is saying is that the anxiety, stress, depression that chronic procrastination causes is an emotional problem and needs to be resolved at a much deeper level than tips and strategies. Many professionals fear to go there. It is about the title of my book ; Soft Skills, the hard stuff of success.

      • Suzanne on October 29, 2015 at 12:51 pm

        Great article Maree! Probably only going to increase bearing in mind the attention span of people now, particularly if something that needs to be done takes more than 2 minutes.

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