4 Questions You Should Ask Yourself to Stop Procrastinating

December 22nd 2016

Laura Donovan

If you find yourself consistently putting off work, consider the advice of psychologist Dr. Patrick Keelan. He argues that asking yourself four specific questions could help you conquer procrastination tendencies.

1. "Have I made an action plan?"

"The first question I have my clients ask in addressing their procrastination is: 'Have I made an action plan?'" Keelan wrote on his site. "If the answer is no, I have them make one. An action plan involves identifying the goal you want to accomplish and the specific actions to move you toward the goal along with specific days and times assigned to take those actions."

Though having an action plan is important, it is also important to make sure the actions are realistic, as Keelan notes in his second suggested question.

2. "Are the actions in my action plan small enough?"

"Make the action small enough and you’re less likely to procrastinate," Keelan wrote. "For example, the action plan for getting my taxes submitted involves accomplishing small tasks on specific days such as, 'Add up charitable donations for the year' and 'Calculate the total for professional workshop expenses.' Remind yourself that taking small steps on a regular basis adds up to significant progress on your goal over time."

3. "Have I used the five-minute rule when my motivation to take action is low?"

Keelan insists on allowing yourself five minutes for each plan of action:

"After five minutes, you can either stop or choose to keep going. The boost in motivation you receive from taking action for just five minutes will often result in your continuing beyond five minutes until you’ve completed the action. Even if you choose to stop after five minutes, you will have taken some action to the point that you can finish the scheduled action later."

4. "Have I addressed any rules driving my procrastination behavior?"

If you're still procrastinating after coming up with an action plan, spend some time thinking about what is driving this behavior in the first place, Keelan suggested:

"For example, some people procrastinate because it protects their self-esteem in case they don’t perform well on a task. That is, it gives them a built-in excuse for a bad performance which lets them avoid attributing the poor performance to their own lack of ability. This benefit can be summed up in the thought, 'It’s true I didn’t do well but I would have done great if I hadn’t procrastinated.'"

Procrastination and your mental health.

Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, told the American Psychological Association in 2010 that everyone procrastinates, but that his research shows only around 20 percent of people are chronic procrastinators. He said that procrastination is only a real issue if people procrastinate in all areas of life, and that this might be related to mental health issues such as ADHD and OCD:

"We have found some links with chronic procrastination and personality challenges like ADHD, passive-aggressive tendencies, revenge, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other areas that I cover in my new book. But let’s remember that while everyone puts off an occasional task, it is the person who does that habitually, always with plausible 'excuses' that has issues to address."

He added that for chronic procrastinators, "it is not a time management issue – it is a maladaptive lifestyle."

[H/T Lifehacker]