Procrastination is about managing emotions, not time

Procrastination is about managing emotions, not time

I, along with my fellow procrastinators, have a time management problem. By this view, I haven’t fully appreciated how long my assignment is going to take and I’m not paying enough attention to how much time I’m currently wasting on ‘cyberloafing’. With better scheduling and a better grip on time, so the logic goes, I will stop procrastinating and get on with my work.

This has long been the accepted view on procrastination. It leads to the idea that procrastination is simply a matter of planning and willpower – that one simply needs to buckle down and do it. This often leads to people taking extreme behaviors of forcing themselves to study/work in unhealthy and unhelpful ways – then beating ourselves up with guilt, fear, anxiety, depression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms when we fail to stay on task.

Instead, what if procrastination was more of an emotional regulation problem? Studies are showing that often if a task makes us feel bad – perhaps it’s boring, too difficult, or we’re worried about failing – we make ourselves feel better in the moment by doing something else. While somewhat intuitive, this view is getting some confirmation by empirical studies. If true, it means procrastination is not so much a question of poor willpower as much as it’s a question of poor emotional regulation skills.

This leads to some very interesting treatment techniques that have been developed by cognitive behavior therapy for emotional intelligence and emotional regulation. What are some of those methods?

Just get start

ACT/Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (a part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is a treatment method that helps patients to tolerate uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, staying in the present moment in spite of them, and prioritize choices and actions that help them get closer to what they most value in life.

Tim Pychyl of Carleton University says, ” When someone finally recognizes that procrastination isn’t a time management problem but is instead an emotion regulation problem, then they are ready to embrace my favorite tip: The next time you’re tempted to procrastinate, “make your focus as simple as ‘What’s the next action – a simple next step – I would take on this task if I were to get started on it now?’” Doing this, he says, takes your mind off your feelings and onto easily achievable action. “Our research and lived experience show very clearly that once we get started, we’re typically able to keep going. Getting started is everything.”

This takes your mind off the feelings and into an easily achievable action. Research shows that once you get started, we’re typically able to keep going. Getting started is everything.

Read the article from BBC here.

Other resources from the article:

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