It seems like there’s never a dull moment these days. From managing our social calendar to juggling responsibilities at home and work, it might be hard to focus on knocking off things on your to-do list because you feel inundated with responsibilities. The feeling of being overwhelmed can quickly lead to procrastination, causing you not to finish essential tasks, ultimately adding more stress and negatively impacting your life. According to the “Procrastination in Daily Working Life: A Diary Study on Within-Person Processes That Link Work Characteristics to Workplace Procrastination,” procrastination is delaying or putting off tasks until the last minute or past their deadline.
So, why do we put off tasks for the last minute, knowing it’ll add more stress for us later? Meghan Watson, psychotherapist and founder of Bloom Psychology, says procrastination is an avoidance response to overwhelming thoughts and feelings related to activities, goals, or tasks that need to be done.
She notes that an excellent example of this might be trying to finish an important project at work. If you’re worried about presenting this project to your boss or feeling like what you’ve done so far isn’t good enough, these intensely emotional experiences might lead you to avoid doing the work at all or completing the task at the very last minute. Watson says, “This pattern ends up being a harmful cycle, because working in this way might produce outcomes that don’t show your actual capacity, leading to self-fulfilling prophecies, which drive further avoidance.”
In her work, she’s noticed procrastination isn’t just in our minds; it can also result from bodily experiences. “I’ve seen procrastination show up in people who are chronically tired, physically burnt out, or experiencing constant pain and exhaustion. Sometimes procrastination is our body’s way of telling us to slow down, even in the face of a mounting to-do list. Our bodies know how to put those brakes in place to protect us from overextending ourselves, even if it comes up at inconvenient times,” Watson states.
As Black women, we know emotional and physical burnout all too well. According to Black Women Thriving Research, 88% of Black women sometimes have, often deal with, or always experience burnout. Watson believes Black women are more susceptible to procrastination because we’re usually placed in environments where we are expected to manage an abundance of emotional labor (caregiving, encouraging, supporting, being the shoulder to cry on), leading to emotional burnout. That can be all-encompassing, and avoiding negative feelings is a coping response used to manage that. She suggests, “When you’re constantly put in a position to meet the emotional needs of everyone around you, addressing the feelings that get in the way of achieving your goals is sidelined.”
Another reason Black women may suffer from chronic procrastination is imposter syndrome. According to Oxford, imposter syndrome is the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved due to one’s efforts or skills. “They will discover I’m a fraud!” research study highlights people who experience imposter syndrome may use procrastination as a coping strategy to deal with anxiety and psychological distress of not feeling deserving or good enough. Watson believes the symbiotic relationship between imposter syndrome and procrastination makes sense. “If you’re constantly worried that you’re not deserving of success, those negative emotions can push you into an anxiety-fueled paralysis,” she says.
Lauren Michelle Jackson, LCPC, CDVP, certified life coach, and owner of mental health private practice Cultivate Your Essence, believes that procrastination can also show up as perfectionism and fear of failure for Black women. “Due to the numerous demands placed on Black women, there is often an innate feeling that we must be perfect and well put together in every aspect of our lives. This leads to avoiding tasks due to the possible negative self-talk we give ourselves that only reinforces these harmful cognitions,” she states.
So how can we limit procrastination to become more productive and confident? Jackson offers The Restore Framework to help her clients not only confront procrastination but also to help them reprioritize their daily responsibilities. The Restore Method includes the following:
Reset your mindset.
This can be through deep breathing, meditating, or participating in whatever activity helps bring you back to your “normal state.”
Examine your relationship with yourself.
What is causing you to doubt yourself or your ability to perform the task before you?
Satisfy yourself during this time.
Give yourself what you need at this moment. This can be a hug, a positive affirmation, a reminder of things you have accomplished in the past, etc.
Trust this will be over soon.
Remember, tasks and deadlines are a part of life. This task will be over soon, and your standard of excellence will complete it.
Operate in your flow.
Understand how you work at your best without criticism or comparison of others.
Rest while you restructure obligations in your life.
Rest is a crucial part of getting things done. When your mind is at rest, you can approach various demands with clarity and peace versus an anxious state.
Execute a new normal that operates from authenticity. Sometimes things need to be tweaked to get the best results. However, identifying your authentic flow can help you understand how you best work and design a plan that helps you approach tasks with less stress and more confidence in your abilities to complete them on time.
Watson suggests the following tips to keep procrastination at bay:
Break up your tasks.
If the task you’re avoiding requires multiple steps or smaller parts, break up each task so that you’re not looking at it necessarily as a whole but as its parts. Addressing smaller tasks may not be as difficult.
Don’t wait for motivation to move you forward. People feel unmotivated and conflate the task with that feeling. Motivation isn’t a consistent enough emotion to power through everything we need to get done. Focus instead on your commitment and your values. Leaning into the meaning behind a task is a great way to circumvent motivation and do things because they matter, not just because you’re energized at that moment.