Almost every relationship has been affected by procrastination at one time or another–when one or both partners put responsibilities off to another day or time, only to endlessly delay completing the task at hand. For some people it is a persistent problem, while for others it happens only in certain areas of their lives such as their relationship.
It can cause suffering in a committed relationship, when one partner delays or avoids keeping promises or agreements, putting the relationship at risk. And relationships outside the home also requiring teamwork such as friendships; at work and in the community, can suffer. Being unreliable can jeopardize one’s personal reputation, making a partner, friend or coworker lose trust in the procrastinator. There are better ways of dealing with the demands of our everyday lives with needs of our partner, friends and coworkers, once we accept that we are a procrastinator and make a commitment to change.
There is a relationship between anxiety and procrastination. It is no surprise that people who fear failure have the problem, as well as people with low self-esteem. People who are easily frustrated or need instant gratification or cannot concentrate all have difficulty completing tasks. Those who have conflicts with authority figures and are rebellious are inclined to procrastinate.
Procrastinators make excuses. When we procrastinate, we are neither carrying out things that need to be done nor are we confronting the underlying reasons for our procrastination. So, what do we tell ourselves to justify our behavior? We may use any of several excuses – and here are some common ones:
Getting Bogged Down in Trivia
We spend our time on easy tasks and say that we are so busy that we cannot get to the major project. We might answer phone calls, read e-mails, clean the living room, have lunch – anything that we find simple and are emotionally prepared to do – rather than facing the task that we really have to do. We tell ourselves that we simply had to clear up these trivial tasks before tackling our project and there was no time left. Thus, we gain some satisfaction from busying ourselves and alleviating our guilt, but the major task is never finished.
Putting the Blame Elsewhere
It is easy to externalize blame.
“If only I had gotten that promotion, then I would be more involved in my job.”
“If only my partner would take out the garbage, I would have time to do the things I need to do.”
“If I had a faster computer, I would find more enjoyment in sitting down to write the report.”
“This isn’t that important. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
The problem here is that we selectively focus on one excuse and ignore the reality of the total situation. The simple truth is that we have a project to do and we must consider everything that helps or impedes us, and then move on from there. We also need to consider the impact that blaming can on our relationship.
Letting Emotions Interfere with Productivity
Writing a report might bring up feelings of anxiety. After all, we must think of the right words, organize it logically and look up relevant information. We might feel overwhelmed because of our past experiences with writing reports. If we are working from home, knowing that there are unfinished chores can distract us from our work and break our concentration.
We might feel angry that chores have to be done, especially when our partner keeps harping on us to get it done (in which case the anger is based in being told what to do, not the chores). Passive aggressive behavior is common in conflicted relationships and procrastination can be a great way to even the score. Alternately, expecting to be criticized no matter what you do can affect your motivation.
Setting up Roadblocks
“I’ll diet after the holidays.”
“I’ll wait until I’m in the mood to call my old friend.”
“I’ll buy new clothes when I lose twenty pounds.”
“I’ll wait until next payday to talk with my partner about money.”
Although there may be some logic to all these strategies, they illustrate a major cause of procrastination. We set up artificial barriers which may have little do with completing the task at hand. When we place limitations on our ability to work, it makes completing the task more difficult.
Being Perfect…or Nothing at All
“If I can’t do the best job possible, I’ll do nothing at all – or at least not until I absolutely have to.” Perfectionism has its place. After all, it can help motivate us to get started and to do the best job we can. But taken to the extreme, perfectionism can also inhibit our efforts completely and we can end up feeling like a failure. We may imagine the other person expects perfection when what they are asking of us is much less.
When to Seek Professional Help
Procrastination may be such an ingrained pattern that it seems impossible to change it. When our efforts to change our behavior and/or our thinking are not effective, it may help to see if procrastination is a symptom of some of an underlying personality issues and seek professional help.
Symptoms can include low self-esteem, poor self-confidence, fear of rejection or abandonment or harsh self-criticism. Also, what looks like procrastination may be a sign of depression, since lack of motivation, low energy and losing interest in things we usually enjoy are among the symptoms. If one partner has undiagnosed ADHD or OCD, they may be involved with another task related to these disorders, which can be misunderstood as procrastination. Fear of failure and fear of success can also impair our ability to keep commitments. Finally, harsh parenting can impair a child’s (and later the adult’s) ability to take initiative, be overly self-critical or have unrealistic expectations of their partner.
In therapy, one or both partners can explore why getting the job done is difficult. And when an old habit is too hard to break or there is not enough time to work through an underlying issues, clinical hypnosis is often and effective to reduce or eliminate unwanted behavior.
You can change uncomfortable patterns of behavior, and procrastination, fortunately, is one of those habits most amenable to change. But do not put it off. Just to it. The following (14) tips can help, especially when partners review and think about these ideas separately and then discuss them together:
(14) Tips for Overcoming Procrastination
- Examine unrealistic expectations. Examples include self-talk that begin with “I should”“They should” or “She/he should” or “I ought to” or “I must” or “I have to”. When we feel obligated to someone else, we may feel inhibited. Change these statements to “wants,” and then you assume responsibility yourself for doing a task. Rather than saying, “I should call my son’s teacher,” change it to “I want to call my son’s teacher”. Talk to your partner about what you think they require of you. You may realize that you are projecting the voice of a critical parent into the relationship or trying to replay an old, ineffective family pattern.
- Look at your excuses rationally. In fact, make up a list of the excuses you use which prevent you from getting a job done. Then examine each excuse and beside it, write out a more realistic thought. For example, “I’m not in the mood”can be reinterpreted as “Mood doesn’t get the job done.”
- Use self-motivating statements. How we define a task can alter our motivation for completing it. Many people repeat phrases to themselves, or even post notes in visible places, which serve to spur them on. Try out phrases like, “The sooner I’m done, the sooner I’m free,”or “There’s no time like the present.”
- Make up a To Do List. Write out a list of things you need to do this week (or day – or month) and then cross them off, one by one, when they are done. With this list you can see exactly what needs to be done, and you can get a feeling of fulfillment as the list gets whittled down.
- Set priorities. On your ‘To Do’ list, rank the jobs that need to be done in order of their importance. Then focus on only one job at a time.
- Break the task down into smaller pieces. This is one of the most important ways to combat procrastination. Write down all the steps involved in your project and see each step as a manageable job that can get done with little effort. Even if we dislike some duties, we can handle them if they last only for a short time.
- Look at time. We sometimes have a poor conception of how much time it takes to complete a task. Rather than panicking at the thought that you only have a week to get that profit and loss statement together, break the parts of the task down into real time. You may find that this is only a two-hour job.
- Take a stand. Write yourself a contract to complete a job and sign it. Tell your partner that you plan to finish a job by a certain date. Make your project a public or family endeavor rather than keeping it to yourself. Gaining the support of others helps when you feel stymied.
- Organize. Make sure you have a clean work area and all your materials in front of you. Drop distractions like the TV blaring in the background if you need to concentrate. Warn others that you will be unavailable (or unbearable) during a certain time.
- Manage your stress. There are several techniques one can use to deal with anxiety – mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, visualization, physical exercise, relaxation tapes, self-hypnosis, humor, and music. These techniques can be learned in therapy.
- Just get started. You do not have to wait until you feel inspired to write that speech. Just write whatever comes to mind, and you can revise it later. Whatever steps you take your partner will sense see you are committed. Even the longest journey begins with one small step.
- Reward yourself when you carry out a small goal. Rather than procrastinating a whole afternoon by calling friends, call a friend only when you have written a page of the report as a way of rewarding yourself.
- Look at all you have done. Rather than punishing yourself for not having done enough, take the more positive approach of examining all that you have done. Is the glass half empty or half full?
- Celebrate the completion of your task. Knowing you will be rewarded for a job well done can be quiet motivating. Couples can enjoy developing their own little reward system or decide on a reward specific to each task. Rewards can be proportional to the task – the bigger the task, the bigger the rewards. Sometimes a simple “thank you” is enough.
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