I have a confession: I procrastinated badly on this article. Instead of writing, I rearranged my living room, cleaned my house, planned a vacation, and napped. Like most procrastinators, I wasn’t idle—I was just doing something else. I’m not alone. “Everyone procrastinates. Everyone,” says Joseph Ferrari, PhD, of DePaul University in Chicago, a leader in research about procrastination. “It’s a rather prevalent lifestyle.”
Most of us procrastinate occasionally, though we each have that special something we tend to avoid. (You might put off cleaning, for instance; I put off writing articles.) But 15 to 20 percent of us are chronic procrastinators who constantly put off most tasks at work and in our personal lives, Ferrari explains. Some of us procrastinate proudly, on purpose. “People may think that they do better under time pressure, but they actually do worse,” he says.
In fact, no matter your stall style, it’s a damaging way of life that only increases your stress. “A lot of procrastinators develop a low-level anxiety that builds to feel like depression,” says Susan O’Doherty, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of the forthcoming Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: Outsmarting Obstacles to Living a Creative Life.
This spring, let’s clean up our waiting ways. If you’re a chronic procrastinator, you might need therapy to help you alter your thinking and behavior. But if you’re looking for a little self-help, try these expert-approved strategies:
Go 21 days delay-free.
Behavioral psychologists know that if you practice a new behavior for about 3 weeks, you tend to stick to it long term.
Take small bites.
Today, you’re not cleaning the entire garage; you’re cleaning just one shelf.
Do something each day.
If you procrastinate on long-term or ongoing tasks, make yourself spend just 20 minutes on a project each day.
Envision the end.
What will the final project look like? How will you feel when you’re done? “Ask yourself often, and you’ll start assuming that you will finish,” O’Doherty says.
“Surround yourself with people who don’t hinder you,” Ferrari says. “You want people who say, ‘You have to get this done now.’”