Procrastination and Emotional Regulation

Most people struggle with procrastination. Procrastination is when you put off important tasks for a later mythical time where you will be highly productive, and in the zone to do the particular task. 

I love putting things off but time and again I have learned that I am figuratively shooting myself in the foot by procrastinating. Surprise!

I constantly convince myself that I just can’t do it right now – for whatever reason. I have other things to do, or to be frank I just don’t feel like it. I decide on a future date that I’m going to buckle down to do this particular task, but when THAT times comes, I either 1) don’t feel like it again, or 2) something goes wrong. Something always seems to happen! Sometimes, I get sick, and sometimes I have other things come up. Sometimes the week just tires me so much, and I have nothing else to give. For real, this time. 

One of my biggest issues has always been responding to email in a timely manner. I was never too sure of what to say or how to say it, so I waited till…well, later. Then I forgot about it. Big oops!

Now when I get an email, I try to answer the question(s) asked, say what I need to say and add no more if it’s not necessary. I am becoming okay with imperfection. This is one of the obstacles that you have to overcome if you want to get things done quickly or be more efficient. 

 And if I start a task, I am going to either complete it, or work on it for at least 25 minutes. The Pomodoro Technique is an effective technique to get work done. You work for 25 minutes straight on one task, and nothing else. At the end of the 25 minutes, you take a 5-minute break. You can continue for another 25 minutes or you can call it a day. 

Thinking you’ll do it later when the time is right just doesn’t work. The perfect time just doesn’t exist – at least not for me. Most of the time I am waiting for inspiration to strike, but the muse is so elusive, it just doesn’t appear when I want it to.

I’ve always thought that I don’t get started on a task right away because I don’t feel like it. But I’ve realized that’s a little too simplistic. There is actually something more to it. I’ve been reading about the emotional aspect of procrastination.  For example, when I have to grade, I resent the time that I have to take outside of my workday to grade. I don’t get enough time at work to do the grading that I need, and when I go home after work, I don’t want to do work stuff. I just want to be able to do other things with my life, like spend time with my son. I just hadn’t made peace with the fact that since this was a central aspect of my job, I had to take time outside of work to do it, and that I had to actively regulate my emotions as well as my attitude about my work. 

The emotional linkage to procrastination is about the negative emotions that accompany the task, and our desire to avoid them. 

There is something about the thought of doing this task that is making me feel bad. Like anyone, I don’t like feeling bad, so I avoid doing it, and thus avoid feeling bad about it. But now I feel bad about not doing this important thing that needs to be done. More time passes, and the deadline gets closer, and closer, and my anxiety rises, because when the deadline hits, I actually have to deliver. 

And round and round we go : task makes me feel bad, I don’t want to feel bad, so I put it off, but then more time passes, deadlines comes closer, anxiety swells up, and now I have to produce something, so I finally sit down and do it, because you know, now I have NO choice, but to deliver, and I realize, “wow, that wasn’t so hard at all! It didn’t even take that much time.”

It’s important to just get started without ruminating on it for too long. That is the key to getting work done. Just get on with it. I know that is easier said than done. Some days you have to self-asses and see what is going on emotionally that is causing you to not get to it. What is holding you back? Why do you feel dread about the task you’re about to do? You know that once you’re done you will feel better, and its one thing off your seemingly never ending to do list. Some of the feeling of dread could be being resentful of all the work that you have to do, and how life is supposed to be about more than work. Figure out what’s holding YOU back.

Okay, but what about projects that you’re passionate about? I have a google doc full of ideas that *someday* I am going to implement. When that someday is going to come, I do not know, because I’ve put it off for so long that at this point, I think its moot. Why do I feel bad about projects that I am actually passionate about?

Insecurity. Imposter Syndrome. 

The feeling that I am just not capable is holding me back and so instead of creating something not so great, I’d rather not put anything out there at all for people to critique. Well, I’m done with that, because the truth is no matter what you do, people will always talk. And for some people you will never do anything that pleases them. That’s okay. Make peace with that.

Day by day, I am making peace with imperfection, and embracing progress over perfection. 

So, ask yourself; what is really holding you back from reaching your potential? Dig deep, and just get on with it. Write that paper. Take that class. Start learning a new skill. Record your podcast episode. Record your video. Get on YouTube and learn the skills you need to edit. You got this! 

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