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Beyond Time Management: Why We Procrastinate


Many younger or newer job seekers need to understand the “why” behind their inability to start. Sometimes hacks work. Sometimes an article about how bad a procrastination habit kicks us into gear to get things done early for a change.

Procrastination is more about ’emotions’ than tendencies for laziness or just being ‘bad at deadlines’ – it’s an emotional reaction to whatever it is you’re avoiding. Putting off the task at hand avoids anxiety. People procrastinate to be happy in the moment — until they’re scrambling to meet the deadline they had weeks to prepare for. Research shows brains are wired to think about the present and the future separately – wired to care more about present comfort than future happiness/success.

Consider these eight strategies you can start using today to address the root cause of procrastination:


  1. Make getting started ridiculously easy: Make the baseline for getting started relatively low and just get started – often, starting a task is the biggest hurdle. Progress, no matter how small, can be a huge motivator to keeping going. Think about the task at hand, list one step at a time – soon, and you’re well into the task without pushing too hard.
  2. Do the right thing for the wrong reason: Negative emotions can cause procrastination, so learn to manage the negative emotions while working. Called ‘reward substitution,’ focus on positive things you can do now rather than doing something that will benefit you in the future. Do the right thing for the wrong reason. Humans aren’t wired to care about things that will happen in the future. While it would be in our best interests to think about the future, we focus on what makes us feel good now. Writing a list of your skills, education, and ideal jobs will benefit your long-term job search.
  3. Ask for help: When our work affects others, it’s harder to accept procrastination’s consequences. Think of asking a friend or colleague to help you get started – having someone else invested in what you’re doing can give you the extra motivation to keep going. This can be particularly helpful when you’re stressed. Discussing your feelings of stress can ease your feelings of anxiety rather than keeping it all to yourself.
  4. Imagine the future: Encouraging yourself also to imagine the future can help make better decisions now. Imagining being successful in getting a job if starting your job search is something you’ve been putting off. Realistically imagine how you’ll feel tomorrow, rather than the “I’ll feel like doing this tomorrow” excuse. It’s doubtful we will feel more motivated tomorrow, so stop relying on the “tomorrow” excuse and imagine future success.
  5. Reframe your task and its deadline: Reframing the task itself, rather than adjusting its deadline, is effective in helping procrastinators get to work. Reframe a task into a challenge. Can you get this work done today so that you have tomorrow free to do whatever you want? Or, what if you got this work done before lunchtime? You could go out somewhere new for lunch and not even worry about doing more work when you get home. Try it! Or, try a different location. You may have a great office setup but tend to procrastinate if you’re ‘working’ there. However, taking your laptop to the kitchen table, or sitting in bed with your iPad, makes it seem less like ‘real work.’ to write, it’s a lot harder to believe I’m doing “real work.” Changing your attitude can be helpful. Using internal motivation, think of the task as something you want to get done. Caring about it for your own sake – rather than someone else’s expectation – makes it easier to find the effort to get started.
  6. Let yourself avoid uncomfortable tasks: “Structured procrastination” is a clever way to stay productive even while you procrastinate. ‘Procrastination’ does not mean doing absolutely nothing! Instead of avoiding the big task by going on social media or Netflix, do something else productive – anything else from your task list. It reduces the guilt from not doing the big task by actually spending your time productively.
  7. Use a timer: Set a timer for 30 minutes. During that time, stay focused on your task. When the timer goes off, set it again for 10 minutes, and reward yourself with a fun activity like reading emails, watch a YouTube video, chat with a friend or read a book. After 10 minutes, reset your 30-minute timer and start back on your task. Be strict to your timer when you start and make your 10 minute breaks something you look forward to. If a timer is too restrictive, use something familiar – like the washing machine. Work until the washer is finished, then take a 10-minute break to unpack the dishwasher or take a shower. Doing something physical gives your body a break too.
  8. Forgive yourself: Forgiving yourself after procrastinating on doing a task will make it less likely you’ll do it again. It overcomes negative feelings about what you’ve avoided doing in the past so you can more easily approach new tasks. When confronting a daunting or new task, procrastination can seem almost inevitable. It’s not something most people can decide to stop doing through sheer force of will. But understanding why we’re prone to procrastination and how to work with that habit or around it can help avoid the worst consequences of avoiding work.


Job Skills has a menu of resources, programs and information topics that focus on the current and changing world of work and self-employment. Attend Job Skills’ online workshop on October 27th, “4 Practical Skills Coping With Stress,” from 2:00 – 3:00 pm. Links and resources are updated with the most up-to-date information

If you haven’t connected with an Employment Consultant at Job Skills, NOW is the time to get that one-on-one support you can use as you move through the new way of working. Call Job Skills toll-free at 1-866-592-6278 to connect to one of the Job Skills experts

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