What is procrastination, methods of combating it?

“And I have five sheets of reasons for that.” How a psychologist struggles with procrastination and what advice to others

There is no such thing as laziness. Everyone puts things off. In every other case, perfectionism is to blame. All this is fraught with a personality crisis and depression. To cope, you need to praise yourself and live playfully. Unexpected? These and other insights are in the EMAILMATRIX interview with Maria Zhigan, one of the leading experts on procrastination in the former Soviet Union.

Maria Zhigan is a practicing psychologist and business coach. Winner of the title “Silver Coach” at the Battle of the B2B Master Coaches 2017. She teaches personal growth training, creativity training, teamwork, customer service, and sales.

– How long have you been working with procrastination and why did you take up this topic?

– This is a problem that I encountered personally. About 12 years ago in an attempt to understand why I was so lazy, I started looking for answers – and I plunged in for a long time. Now I know a lot about procrastination, but even now I continue to struggle with it within myself.

– Procrastination is like love: everyone understands it differently. In short and simple words – what is it?

– Procrastination. When you want or need to do something, and you do not do it. You have to understand that procrastination is impossible to see from the outside. If I am, for example, currently sitting on Facebook, it is impossible to understand whether I am procrastinating or not. In essence, procrastination is a process of doing nothing, and any other thing can be placed in the non-doing. This is why it is difficult to work with, as if it has to be unpacked.

– Who is at risk?

– Everyone puts things off in one form or another. The risk groups are the people who have minimal external motivation to do something. Those who are self-employed in their work: freelancers, self-employed, people with passive income, who do not have an urgent need to earn money for tomorrow. Young mothers on maternity leave, or simply housewives who do not need to run to work right now if their husband provides for the family.

– Is it even right to consider procrastination a problem? Maybe it’s okay? You can’t work without a break.

– It becomes a problem when a person has some task – work or personal (make an appointment with the doctor, make repairs, go somewhere with the kids) – but does not approach it.

– So maybe it’s just laziness? Veiled or not so veiled.

– I don’t believe in laziness. If we know how to do something, if we don’t have internal fears, conflicts, fatigue, burnout – we do it easily.

– Well, that’s interesting. So I can breathe out and not blame myself for being lazy?

– You don’t blame yourself; you have to figure out why. Unless, of course, you want to solve the problem, and not just sprinkle your head with ashes. Procrastination is just a way to get rid of internal tension. And this tension can create a web of reasons.

– Let’s look into it. What are the reasons?

– First, all sorts of fears. Fear of criticism, evaluation, judgment, error, failure. A high level of anxiety when there is a task and I don’t know how to do it. Not coping with uncertainty.

Second, internal conflicts between our different desires. One part of the personality says: you must do it, and the other part says: no, I don’t need it. As a rule, we are not aware of these internal dialogues, but we are all subject to them to varying degrees.

Third, learned helplessness. A person once tried and tried, he did not succeed, and now he simply does not believe in his own strength. He formally sets himself tasks, but does not start because he is convinced inside that he will not succeed.

There are narcissistic reasons: I consider myself a super-professional and am not ready to admit that I don’t know how to do it on a high level yet. And that I need to start at a beginner’s level and slowly move forward.

A very common reason is perfectionism. I think that I have to do perfectly, or else I will be sued. According to my observations, half of all cases of procrastination have their roots in perfectionism.

Maybe there’s an infantile child inside who wants things to work themselves out. Or, on the contrary, a hyper-responsible person who takes on too much – and banally does not make it, falls down without energy.

The reasons are myriad. Over the years I have accumulated five sheets, if I were to describe them. Even the same person will have different reasons for each of the cases. Procrastination has a thousand heads: cut off one and another will appear, like a hydra.

– Is there a way to understand your own reason, or should you go straight to a specialist, a psychologist, and sort it out together with him?

– The first thing I always advise is writing diary practice, freelancing. You take the task that you are putting off, and write down what thoughts you have about this task. Anything at all, no filtering. To basically unfold what’s going on inside of you when you think about this task.

You write – a lot of things become clear. If you are worn out or burned out, you won’t get anything else out of it except the fact that you have to lie down and rest for a week. If you have fears, they will come right out. And so on.

– Am I right in thinking that procrastination is like a swamp? The farther you go, the more you get bogged down and the harder it is to get out.

– If you’re at risk – that is, there’s no external stimulus to action – that’s exactly what it is. When you keep putting things off, your “action muscles” atrophy. So do physical muscles if we don’t exert ourselves. This pattern of behavior – “well then, well then” – is fixed at the level of neural connections. It takes a great deal of effort to break this pattern in order to get off the beaten path, to break the pattern.

– And how can you realize at an early stage that you are beginning to get sucked in and take action in time?

– It’s like with any addiction: at first, the person doesn’t realize that there’s a problem. He thinks that at any moment he can change his behavior: “All right, I’m going to lie down and rest a little longer, and tomorrow I’ll definitely do it all over again. But this “tomorrow” migrates from Monday to Monday for a year, another year, another year… And the person is still sure that he is his own master.

At some point, he finally realizes that that’s it, I can’t. As with alcoholism, the moment of admitting one’s helplessness is painful and at the same time enlightening. The person realizes that he has a huge gap between the idea of himself – how super cool he is and can do everything at the highest level – and his real condition, when he cannot even get up and put things in the washing machine.

But the period of unawareness of the problem can last a very long time. And during this period the person is usually deaf to all the warning signals.

As a diagnostic, I suggest looking at how many things you have planned to do. If you do at least half of them, that’s still good. But if you have written yourself ten items for the day, and have done two, it means that you are beginning to roll rapidly downhill. With the proviso, of course, that you look at things realistically and plan for what one is capable of doing in a day.

– But if you do not have anything critical in procrastination (for example, you do not have to work, your husband provides) – then, maybe, and God be with him?

– If you’ve chosen a way of life that you don’t plan and don’t intend to do anything – then nothing critical. And if you have aspirations and plans, but you put them off – then the consequences, alas, will be.

– They are different for different types of procrastination. I distinguish two of these types: situational procrastination – which ends with a deadline, and delayed procrastination – if there is no deadline and it never ends.

In the first case, a person postpones-postpones, but in the end does it all, because the deadline. It is possible to prepare for the report in advance and calmly – but you do it in the last night, on nerves, coffee and energy drinks. Time after time, this leads to health consequences-insomnia, neurosis, heart rhythm failures, and so on.

The delayed one has more complicated consequences. Let’s go back to the fact that procrastination is based on avoidance behavior. That is, we replace difficult experiences with easier or more pleasant ones. Which means we can easily become addicted to social media, food, alcohol, games.

Delayed procrastination can easily end in a personal crisis. If I want something, but do not achieve anything, then a feeling is formed that life is incomplete, I am not realized, I am a failure. This crisis leads to depression.

You should also understand that the less we do, the less energy is released to us. I call it a downward spiral. On each turn, we have less and less energy, and in the end a person comes to the point of complete exhaustion, when he can do nothing.

– Now let’s move on to the most important thing of all-how do we spin this spiral backwards?

– Purely technically – as we were going down in small steps, the same small steps to go up. Trying to take – and p-p-p-put – to become at once so effective and not postpone anything – is impossible. The inner voice that pushes us to do this, I call “the drunk at the corporate party.” On a wave of euphoria, he promises to take everyone to Turkey next week at his own expense, and when it comes to fulfillment of obligations, quickly deflates.

If we have been procrastinating for a long time, we should not start with giant plans, but with small things. But often this turns out to be humiliatingly small, and so the person refuses to go that way. This is where infantilism and avoidance of the solution takes place. It is easier to say to yourself: “The problem is worthless, but I cannot even cope with it, which means that I am such a worthless person. And put your hands down.

And the right way is to admit to yourself that it really is a problem, that it needs a resource that we don’t have yet. And this means that you have to break the problem down into its components and solve it in little pieces.

– And how do you do that, can you give me an algorithm?

– Make yourself a bunch of micro-tasks that give you micro-wins. They help me feel that I’m not as bottom as I think I am.

Plus add a large number of positive activities that energize you energetically, give you a resource. These are, first of all, physical activities. Just as depression cannot be treated without physical activity, I would also make physical activity a mandatory part of the treatment for prolonged procrastination. When I lie like a vegetable on the couch, it’s a state of non-flowing energy. But if I got up, sat down at least a couple of times, danced for 3-4 minutes, that is turned on my body, I already get a burst of energy.

It is imperative to find a source of resource that fills you with the feeling of “I can do it, I can do it, I’m awesome. Drawing, cross-stitching, blogging, cooking – any activity that you love, that you are passionate about.

– But it begs the question: I used to run a corporation, and now I do cross-stitch. And this is an achievement?!

– That’s right: we often devalue our micro-successes. You have to understand that I was then and I am now, I am at the top of the spiral and I am at the bottom of the spiral – these are two different people. With different amounts of resources. And it’s perfectly normal that for me to make an elementary phone call to make a doctor’s appointment now can be a big accomplishment – given the amount of resource I have now.

If we praise ourselves for this achievement, the resource is added, and next time we can handle a more difficult task. If we devalue it, the resource shrinks even more.

The second point: in order to do these things, they must be of value to us. If we fragment, even into very small parts, a task that we don’t need or aren’t interested in, we will abandon it sooner or later anyway.

– And if the task is necessary-that is, objectively, I understand it-but not interesting?

– This is a very common situation. Most of the things we put off are tasks that do not bring us joy. The way out is to find a thousand and one ways to entertain ourselves while doing them and enjoy the result. Incorporate gamification. For instance, I’ll go to the dentist to see how far technology has gone and how teeth are treated now. At the same time I will set the right example for my child, I will be a good parent.

At the same time be sure to make a list of long-term negative consequences that will lead not to do this case. I will not go to the dentist now – sooner or later all my teeth will fall out, and I’ll have to spend a fortune on implants.

That is positive and negative reinforcement, paired together.

Joint action works well, too, when we support each other in what we do. Alone with ourselves, the fears are always greater and it’s always harder to accelerate.

There’s usually a strong critical voice in us that tells us how terrible we are – and very little supportive voice. One that says, “Even if you don’t do something, you can do it. Yes, you may be ashamed, hurt, bad – but we’ll get through it.”

That’s why it’s great to organize yourself a support group: agree, for example, with a friend. You will give him an account of their micro-achievements, and he will praise you. And at the same time, it disciplines you: no matter how hard it is, and still have to report. Find cheerful, positive people around you – and make the most of them.

I myself now want to cooperate with someone, so that we can support each other, say how good we are: did some things that we put off.

– Okay, I did freerunning, realized a reason, allocated a resource, broke the task down into small pieces, started executing that plan and…blew it. Took one, two, three steps, and I lost all motivation, all energy. There’s no way I can take the fourth step. What to do?

– I don’t really believe in the idea of “starting work and not stopping. We are all living people. One step forward – two steps back, or two steps forward – one step back, it’s completely natural. Today I’m full of energy, tomorrow I’m upset about something – I lie there crying.

The important thing here is not to devalue myself or pass judgment: not to say that if I’m tired, I’ll never get anything done again. Here I have planned things for myself – I did some, some I didn’t. But I’m still doing great. Demanding that you have a smooth path to the top is an idea that is doomed to failure.

The main thing is the overall positive momentum. I haven’t conquered the world yet, but in general the number of things being done has increased. And the trend suggests that I’m doing more than I’m not. That’s what matters.

– It probably also helps well to keep track of what you’ve done. Because we’re good at remembering what we didn’t do, but we often don’t notice what we did.

– Yes! When I’m not in the mood for work, I write down not a to-do list, but an I-done list. What I did today. Even if it’s a small thing: I washed the dishes – I wrote it down, I took things apart – I wrote it down. We don’t record much of what we do regularly – but we do! And knowing that you’ve done a lot of stuff, even if it’s just little things, helps a lot to feel like a resource.

And it also helps a lot to finish any unfinished business. Left undone, they, like running applications on the computer, eat up RAM. As soon as we finish them, the “RAM” is freed and the resource is restored.

– It turns out that procrastination is an indicator of how well you have organized your life. If you have the right, inspiring life goals, an adequate assessment of your abilities, no internal fears, and you give yourself time to recover, then you will have no desire to “rush” your work. That is, by “pulling” procrastination, we essentially go into the deep work of building identity.

– Yes, that’s right. First, on understanding our personality. And then to adjust it. That’s why it sometimes takes years. But in the end, life becomes meaningful and fulfilling.

Procrastination: 6 causes and 12 ways to combat it

If there is real laziness in the world, its name is procrastination. More precisely, there is a serious psychological disease in which a person can constantly put off things for later, even something as simple as brushing your teeth. But this requires serious treatment. But to varying degrees, procrastination and laziness are inherent in all, even quite productive people.

And it also has advantages.

Before you figure out how to get rid of procrastination, you can try to find its benefits.

  • First , you deprive yourself of the opportunity to think too much and remake everything for a few times if you thought you did something wrong. And this saves a lot of effort and time.
  • Secondly, you give yourself a little extra time to gather information about the task you are going to perform. And finally, procrastination allows bad ideas to fade away on their own. Do you agree that sometimes you can not take up something, because in the back of your mind you realize that the idea is bad and the game is not worth the candle?

The causes of the phenomenon and what to do with them

To understand what procrastination is and how to deal with it, you need to understand its causes. They will tell you what to do with it.

  • No motivation . Or the inspiration, the fire to sit down and do an unnecessary thing. What to do in this case? Make up your own motivation. Promise yourself that if you do this difficult task today, you will definitely go to your favorite cafe in the evening.
  • Fear of failure . This is possible if before such cases for you ended in defeat. What to do about it? Try to convince yourself that it will not happen again. If before you lacked knowledge, now you have it. Well, and think about the fact that if you do the task again in a hurry, you can fail again. So, do everything with feeling, with thought and consideration.
  • Dislike the task. This is not indifference, as in the first case, but a real rejection. How to get rid of procrastination in this case? The easiest way is to change jobs. If this is unrealistic, look for the pluses in your task – at least something you will like about it.
  • Lack of choice, duty. Unfortunately, most of the things we have to do, someone imposed. In this case, things are put off precisely out of a sense of contradiction. How to stop putting things off in this case? Try to convince yourself that it was you who made the decision to do this thing. Cut down the thoughts and phrases “I must” or “I must”. Instead, use the phrases “I want to,” or “I would like to.
  • Fear of doing too much . There’s a simple technique to stop putting things off if fear lives in you: eat that big elephant one small piece at a time. We divide the big work into many small ones. Already after the first bite the case will no longer seem so big and scary.
  • Trying to push yourself . It’s quite possible that you find it easier to work when you’re pressed for time and can’t get to work until you’re pressed for time. It’s probably easier for you to stress yourself out for a short time. How do you get rid of procrastination in this case? Make deadlines in days, or even hours, rather than weeks or months. Purely psychologically, it’s easier to procrastinate if you have three weeks rather than 21 days. Moreover, if you only have two days, it’s better to set yourself a deadline of 48 hours rather than two days.

Other ways to fight

GTD There is a method called Getting Things Done, aka GTD. It consists of:

  1. Focusing on what needs your attention;
  2. Determining exactly what needs to be done;
  3. Tidying up what you’re working on;
  4. Thinking about and reviewing the state of things;
  5. Acting on your priorities.

By the way, you can also use this method if you are afraid of too much work. It’s easier to eat an elephant in pieces with this sauce.

The tomato method

This method proposes to break up your work time into periods of 25 minutes each. They are called tomatoes. During the tomato, we work on our task. We don’t drop it and don’t interrupt it for anything. After 25 minutes, we take a small pause. After four tomatoes we take a long break. The length of the “tomato” can be adjusted. For example, about 50 minutes, or reduce it to a quarter of an hour.


Learn to choose exactly what to do. In the morning choose three tasks, which should be finished by the evening. You may not be able to cope with them in the evening, but the very possibility to choose relaxes you and charges with positive energy.

Remove distractions

Avid procrastinators can spend hours watching stupid cartoons on YouTube, or texting with friends. Here you need to put site blockers that steal your time, log out of all social networks and messengers. The thought of having to log in again will bring you back to the fact that you have to work. Among the most well-known blockers are Quitter and Cold Turkey. If you work in an office, ask your colleagues not to distract you for coffee and smoke breaks. If at home, work in the farthest corner.

The whip method

Punish yourself for slacking off and fooling around. Did not cope with the work – do not go to a cafe with friends.

You can also do something unpleasant when you realize that you are procrastinating. For example, it hurts to pinch yourself in the arm.

Try to really do nothing.

If there is no desire to do a chore, do nothing. Just stand up straight, hands at your seams, and stand doing nothing. Or do nothing while sitting. You can even turn away from the computer. Believe me, in 10 minutes you’ll have the urge to create.

Make a to-do list.

But not a simple one, but one that causes the most fear was in the first place. Instead, do what you put in second place, or third. Still, it is better to do something necessary than useless.

Allocate ten minutes to an unpleasant task.

Right now, distracted and exactly ten minutes to immerse yourself in what you do not like. You can even set your alarm clock. As soon as it rings, you can dive back into YouTube or social media. Well, or do some more enjoyable work. Just promise that you’ll be back to the unpleasant task in 30 minutes. So in a few ten minutes you will be able to deal with this case (or part of it).

Begin to prepare for the work you don’t want to do.

But not morally, but really prepare: gather information, lay the groundwork for a future project. You may find that it’s not so scary and difficult.

Manage your energy

Indeed, there are times when there is simply no energy, and it turns into procrastination. First of all, you need to find something that really replenishes your energy. Secondly, you have to manage it properly.

So, if the week is going to be very difficult, it is better to schedule all the most difficult things at the beginning of it. Keep an eye on what time of day you have more energy. Maybe you come to life only in the evening. Then it is in the evening leave the tasks that require a high concentration. It is better not to start important projects, if you have a cold.

Find yourself a mentor

Surely among your colleagues or acquaintances you have workaholics and responsible people. Ask them under your wing and allow them to supervise your work process. It is better to contact only responsible and hardworking people.

Don’t give up on procrastination.

Instead, you can procrastinate with a plan. Make a work plan for each day, and between items set aside space for breaks to fool around.

Just rest.

Fatigue may be the reason you procrastinate. Don’t put off rest and take care of your health.

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