Thrivner ThoughtCast | Pandemic Procrastination
Purpose: To examine how procrastination has affected work performance during the pandemic and offer solutions to overcome it.
Note: For some people, procrastination is a sign of a serious underlying health issue, e.g., ADHD, OCD, anxiety, and depression. If you, or someone you know, suffer from debilitating procrastination, please seek the advice of a trained professional.
Myriad variations of this scene have come to life as the pandemic forced many professionals out of the office and into their homes. Productivity took a hit while people made adjustments, and readjustments, to accommodate this new lifestyle. With the best of intentions and the belief the crisis would be short-lived, to-do lists grew along with the anxiety and exhaustion of living through a global pandemic. Silent shame accompanied every line on the list that remained uncrossed.
Although indecisiveness and procrastination are not new behaviors, they have become more common this past year, affecting a broad population of normally productive, efficient, and high-achieving employees. Even with the promise of a vaccine, it has become harder to shake off the sense of loss, loneliness, grief, and disinterest that has surfaced during this emotional time, causing many to struggle to stay motivated. This lack of motivation can lead to delaying tasks that are viewed as boring, complex, or due to a sudden fear of failure. The situation is compounded by being literally surrounded by family, pets, and household obligations that deserve, sometimes immediate, attention. In these demanding situations, it feels better to choose rote, easier, or more appealing tasks. Unfortunately, the assigned work task does not go away, and then self-recrimination and regret take hold along with the added stress and strain of an encroaching deadline. This self-sabotaging coping strategy is not due to poor time management skills, laziness, or weak morals, as once thought, but an emotional one.1 Unless an intentional change of attitude, habits, and routines occurs, this vicious cycle against your best self-interest will persist.
“Nothing is as fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” – William James, American Philosopher
Adjusting Your Mindset
Why bother planning for anything? Our minds have been conditioned this past year to postpone, cancel or avoid events and interactions among fears of getting COVID or spreading it. Many states discouraged gatherings and travel and imposed quarantine regulations. The steady stream of bad news, the inconvenience and discomfort of wearing a mask out in public, and the economic strain have led to increased despondency. Mourning this sustained loss of normalcy has affected the ability to focus and concentrate on work projects. Fortunately, some steps can be taken to regain purpose, passion, and pride in the work before us.
Moving forward begins with acknowledging this collective grief. While these pandemic challenges might not have easy solutions, you can still learn and grow from the experience. Your mindset will play a critical role in how you process, approach, and persevere through these challenges.
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset2
Growth Mindset: Those who aspire to learn. | Fixed Mindset: Those who aspire to look smart.
|1. View challenges as opportunities
|1. Avoid Challenges
|2. Persist in the face of setbacks
|2. Give up easily
|3. Work to develop and strengthen intelligence and talent vigorously and consistently
|3. Remain static with unrealized intelligence and talent
|4. Think of learning as “brain training”
|4. Regard effort as unfruitful
|5. Prioritize learning over seeking approval
|5. Fail to carry out any actions without seeking approval
|6. Learn to give and receive constructive criticism
|6. Lack the capacity to handle criticism or feedback
|7. Acknowledge and embrace weaknesses
|7. Eschew trying something new and shies away from things unknown
|8. Focus on the process instead of the end result
|8. Focus on proving oneself
|9. Feeling inspired by the success of others
|9. Feel threatened by the success of others
|10. Understand failure as an opportunity to grow
|10. Understand failure as the limit of ability
Your mindset influences every aspect of your life, outlook, attitudes, and relationships. Neuroscience shows that our brain continues to develop and change even as adults. Therefore, it is never too late to retrain your brain with new habits, particularly rewiring your thought habits to believe you control your abilities to learn and improve. Possessing a growth mindset has allowed people to prosper and flourish, even during some of life’s most challenging times.
Recognize the Symptoms
“Active” procrastination is utilized by individuals who thrive under pressure and deliberately delay starting one thing to focus on more compelling tasks. This method can increase motivation in the user to get things done. The most significant harm in this technique is to a user’s team, who may be subjected to unnecessary and undesired pressure. It has been touted that “active” procrastination is another way of describing the “deep thinking ” process associated with successful entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs. This process is a source of intense pride to the user and their admirers and is credited with breakthroughs and advances in creativity and innovation.3
“Avoidance” procrastination, or intentionally choosing to do something else instead of the priority task, can quickly develop into a habit with severe consequences, such as job loss. 95% of people procrastinate to some degree4, but chronically giving in to avoidance behaviors can result in reduced productivity and missed opportunities to reach your goals. This year, there have been many factors that would cause a delay in performing tasks; now would be an ideal time to recognize the damaging effects of this type of behavior, work out why it exists, and adopt strategies to overcome it.
Tomorrow (noun) – A mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation, and achievement is stored. –Author Unknown
Work Out Why
People employ procrastination techniques when coping with negative moods and challenging emotions ranging from boredom, frustration, and dread, to much deeper feelings such as insecurity, resentment, and self-doubt. Task ambiguity, lack of structure, and an absence of personal meaning are other reasons for postponing work on a project. An alternative activity that will provide immediate satisfaction is frequently chosen rather than enjoying the intrinsic rewards that completing a task would bring. However, delaying the inevitable can lead to feelings of guilt, anxiety, and depression. It also damages self-esteem and one’s sense of peace. Procrastinators are usually aware of task avoidance and admit that it is probably a bad idea, yet they do it anyway. It also tends not to be a one-off behavior but a destructive decision-making pattern.
Chronic procrastination is almost always based on some kind of fear or insecurity. Ask yourself, what are you really avoiding? What do you fear will be exposed: failure, success, disorganization, imperfection, incompetency, ignorance? Fear can wield incredible power. You need to understand the root cause behind why you are procrastinating before you can begin to solve it. Take a moment for introspection to answer what is driving your avoidance. Break down the task you are sidestepping into smaller test samples and complete them, gradually gaining enough information to determine if your fears are rational or baseless. Once these fears are brought to light, they lose their power, and you gain control of the outcome.
Three Procrastinator Types
Strategies for Change
Procrastination is a habit deeply ingrained into your standard operating procedure. It is an internal battle between logical and emotional choices. Give yourself some grace after everything that you have endured this past year. Then, accept responsibility and forgive yourself for past procrastinating behaviors and commit to making different choices. Start small to give yourself the best chance of success and work within your resistance level (15-20 minutes) to take active steps towards change. Defy the urge to procrastinate by consistently practicing one or more of the anti-procrastination strategies listed below:
- REPHRASE your self-talk.
- Think “I choose to” instead of “I need to” or “I have to.”
- Acknowledge any emotions that could derail your productivity, label them, accept them, and with intention, set them aside.
- HIGHLIGHT the greater benefits, both personally and professionally, of completing the task versus the negative consequences of delaying (e.g., responsibility, stress, finances, health, etc.).
- LIST your most common procrastination outlets (e.g., television, social media, busy-work, etc.).
- Use these activities as rewards for task completion.
- OWN the project.
- Believe you are in control of your workload.
- Identify the long-term benefits of completing the task rather than the short-term benefits of avoidance.
- Attach personal meaning and relevance to the task.
- BUILD uninterrupted time blocks into your schedule.
- Minimize intrusive sounds and visual stimuli that could cause distractions so you can fully create and concentrate.
- LEVERAGE peak energy times.
- Complete the tasks that you deem most difficult at the time you are most effective.
- ESTABLISH an accountability partner.
- Ask someone trustworthy to check in with you.
- BREAK goals down into specific, achievable, and realistic tasks.
- Make a shortlist and prioritize.
- Create BEGINNING and ending timelines.
- Kick-off your day with a stream of consciousness writing to sweep away any mental clutter.
- Dive into a task within 20-minute time blocks with scheduled breaks to reduce your resistance and increase your confidence. (Schedule edits, revisions, or refinements at a later time.)
- Create rewards and consequences regarding task completion or avoidance.
- For additional details on task management, check out How to Stay on Top of Tasks.
- GET organized.
- Keep a short to-do list.
- Keep a pad and pen nearby to record any unrelated thoughts that stray into your mind tempting you to multitask.
- Don’t confuse the urgent with the important.
- Keep reminders of your achievements and daily “wins.”
- RECHARGE your energy.
- Regularly distance yourself from your work with short breaks (e.g., step outside, stretch, meditate, grab a snack, etc.).
- INCREASE gratitude.
- Identify three things you are grateful for each morning to center yourself mentally.
- Develop the sensitivity to appreciate everyday things.
- AIM to ACT
- Be present in the moment.
- Focus on active behaviors, not avoiding behaviors.
- Get the tasks that you find least pleasant out of the way early so you can spend the remainder of the day on work you enjoy.
- Revel in the joy and all the good feelings of getting a task accomplished.
- REPHRASE your self-talk.
“It doesn’t matter where you start. Only that you begin.” -Robin S. Sharma, Leadership Expert
Another form of procrastination that has seen a rise during the pandemic is revenge bedtime procrastination. Writer Daphne K. Lee defines revenge bedtime procrastination as “a phenomenon in which people who don’t have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom during late night hours.” Some of the mundane daily moments taken for granted pre-pandemic provided some unconscious benefits: water cooler chats provided social and networking opportunities, team interactions provided situations for collaboration and bonding, seeing the boss provided accountability, and even the commute provided time for mental preparation in the morning or to decompress in the evening. Claiming “me time” for self-indulgent, low-demand activities becomes more important, plus it is more fun than getting restorative sleep. It is a way of exerting control over an uncontrollable situation, an action of retaliation against life (hence the revenge.) However, consistent lack of sleep has harmful repercussions, such as slowing down the ability to retain information, and dulling alertness, reasoning, and reaction times, besides making you just plain grumpy. More serious side effects, such as weakening the immune system, anxiety, and depression, can also develop with prolonged sleep deprivation. Instead of resisting bedtime, plan for it. To prepare the brain and body for sleep, consider using the following technique:
The Power-Down Hour5
- First 20 Minutes: Dedicated to things that need to be completed before morning (e.g., start the dishwasher, plan next-day meals, check your calendar, etc.).
- Second 20 Minutes: Dedicated to self-care (e.g., brushing your teeth, washing your face, changing into sleepwear, etc.).
- Third 20 Minutes: Dedicated to relaxing (e.g., meditation, prayer, journaling, reading with a book light, etc.).
TIP: Set an alarm for your bedtime!
Schedule “me time” rather than risking your health and well-being. Instead of losing track of time and wondering, “How did it get so late?” you will be resetting your circadian rhythm and getting the ample amount of sleep you need to face the next day energized and refreshed (with no revenge necessary).
Benjamin Franklin advises, “Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” However, that is easier said than done when overwhelmed, frustrated, and weary, especially during the long haul of the COVID pandemic. Procrastination behaviors have increased due, in part, to pandemic anxiety, social isolation, and distractions caused by the blending of workspaces with home spaces resulting in a breakdown in motivation and the flow of productivity. It is simply more convenient to say, “ I’ll do that later.” Although there is a collective and cautious sigh of relief being released with the increase in vaccinations, it will still take some time before a true sense of normalcy will return. In the meantime, if you recognize procrastination as your go-to pandemic behavior, then examine your reasons why, readjust your mindset, and practice some overcoming strategies to gain a fresh perspective to start producing. Getting started is everything!
- Horton, A. (2019, May 30). Procrastination is an emotional problem. Retrieved May 07, 2021, from https://www.fastcompany.com/90357248/procrastination-is-an-emotional-problem
- Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Ballantine.
- Gillett, R. (2016, February 01). Steve jobs was one of the GREATEST procrastinators ever – Here’s how that helped him become so successful. Retrieved May 07, 2021, from https://www.businessinsider.com/how-procrastination-helped-steve-jobs-become-so-successful-2016-2
- Bailey, C. (2017, October 04). 5 research-based strategies for overcoming procrastination. Retrieved May 07, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2017/10/5-research-based-strategies-for-overcoming-procrastination
- Breus, D. (2011, November 17). Sleep tips: Power down for sleep. Retrieved May 07, 2021, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sleep-tips-power-down-for_b_574264#:~:text=The%20Power%20Down%20Hour%E2%84%A2,out%20for%20your%20nightly%20routine