Procrastination and ACT

What is procrastination?

Procrastination refers to the act of delaying or postponing tasks or activities, often to the point of experiencing negative consequences or increased stress. It involves voluntarily choosing to put off tasks that need to be accomplished, despite knowing that they are important or have deadlines. Procrastination can manifest in various ways, such as engaging in distractions, finding excuses, or engaging in less important or more enjoyable activities instead of tackling the task at hand. It is a common behaviour that affects people in different areas of their lives, including work, education, personal goals, and daily responsibilities. While everyone may procrastinate occasionally, chronic or excessive procrastination can lead to detrimental effects on productivity, time management, and overall wellbeing. It can result in increased stress, missed deadlines, poor performance, and a cycle of guilt and self-criticism.

Procrastination can have multiple underlying causes, including fear of failure, perfectionism, lack of motivation, poor time management skills, feeling overwhelmed, or a preference for immediate gratification. Overcoming procrastination often involves developing effective strategies for managing time, setting realistic goals, breaking tasks into smaller, manageable parts, and addressing any underlying psychological factors that contribute to the behaviour.

Core characteristics of procrastination

The core characteristics of someone who procrastinates can vary from person to person, but there are some common traits often associated with this behaviour. Here are a few key of them:

  • Delaying tasks: Procrastinators tend to postpone or delay tasks that require immediate attention or have deadlines. They may tend to put off starting or completing assignments, projects, or responsibilities.
  • Difficulty initiating tasks: Procrastinators often struggle with initiating tasks, finding it challenging to get started on the work at hand. They may engage in various avoidance behaviours or distractions to delay starting the task.
  • Poor time management: Procrastinators typically struggle with managing their time effectively. They may underestimate the time required to complete tasks or have difficulty prioritising and allocating time appropriately.
  • Perfectionism or fear of failure: Procrastination can be linked to perfectionism, where individuals feel the need for tasks to be perfect or fear failure if they fall short of their own expectations. This fear can lead to avoidance and delay in starting tasks.
  • Lack of motivation: Procrastinators often experience a lack of motivation or difficulty in sustaining motivation for tasks they find challenging, uninteresting, or overwhelming. They may need external pressure or looming deadlines to spur them into action.
  • Focus on short-term gratification: Procrastinators may prioritise immediate gratification or engage in activities that provide instant pleasure or distraction, such as scrolling through social media, watching TV, or engaging in hobbies, instead of working on important tasks.
  • Increased stress and guilt: Procrastination can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and guilt as deadlines approach or tasks pile up. Procrastinators may experience a cycle of negative emotions and self-criticism due to their avoidance behaviours.

It’s important to remember that procrastination is a behaviour that can be changed with awareness, self-reflection, and the implementation of effective strategies for time management and task initiation.

Can procrastination result in anything positive?

While procrastination is generally seen as a negative behaviour, there are a few potential positives that can be associated with procrastination in certain circumstances:

  • Reduced stress in non-essential tasks: Procrastination can allow individuals to prioritise and focus on more pressing or essential tasks, resulting in reduced stress for less important or non-urgent activities.
  • Improved decision-making: Procrastination can provide additional time for reflection and consideration, allowing individuals to gather more information, weigh options, and make thoughtful decisions.
  • Enhanced creativity: Some individuals may find that they generate their best ideas or solutions under the pressure of impending deadlines. Procrastination can create a sense of urgency that stimulates creative thinking and problem-solving.
  • Increased motivation under pressure: For some individuals, the looming deadline associated with procrastination can generate a surge of motivation and energy, enabling them to work more efficiently and effectively.

These potential benefits are situational and may not apply to everyone. Moreover, the positives associated with procrastination are often outweighed by the negative consequences, such as increased stress, decreased productivity, and missed opportunities. Developing effective time management skills and avoiding chronic or excessive procrastination is generally recommended for optimal productivity and wellbeing.

How ACT can help manage procrastination

Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on accepting one’s thoughts and emotions while taking action that is aligned with personal values. ACT enhances psychological flexibility, which involves being open to experiences, adapting to changing circumstances, and acting in line with values, even when faced with discomfort. It can help individuals better navigate the challenges associated with procrastination.

Here’s some examples of how ACT therapy can support people who procrastinate:

  • Self-compassion: Procrastination often leads to self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy. Practicing mindful self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, recognising that everyone struggles at times which in turn reduces the negative impact of procrastination on their self-esteem. Becoming more sympathetic to procrastination tendencies and the underlying thoughts and emotions that drive the behaviour can boost emotional resilience and confidence in oneself.
  • Defusion from unhelpful thoughts: Procrastinators often experience negative or self-defeating thoughts that can contribute to their tendency to avoid tasks or delay action. These thoughts may include beliefs such as “I’m not good enough,” “I’ll never be able to do it perfectly,” or “I’ll fail anyway, so there’s no point in starting.” These thoughts can create a cycle of self-doubt and anxiety, leading to a reluctance to engage in the task at hand. Cognitive defusion exercises help individuals observe their thoughts without getting entangled in them, allowing them to create distance and reduce their influence on behaviour.
  • Creating an action plan: By identifying what truly matters to them in various domains of life (e.g., work, relationships, personal growth), individuals can establish meaningful and motivating goals. This focus helps increase intrinsic motivation and provides a sense of purpose, making it easier to overcome procrastination. Therapists work with individuals to break down tasks into smaller, manageable steps, establish timelines, and create accountability structures. This approach helps individuals develop a clear plan of action and provides support and encouragement to follow through. By consciously dedicating time to meaningful activities, individuals can enhance their sense of fulfilment and reduce the tendency to procrastinate.
  • Longer term preparation: ACT therapy helps people develop skills to prevent relapse into procrastination patterns. Therapists work with individuals to anticipate challenges and develop strategies to overcome obstacles that may arise along the way. This includes identifying potential triggers, developing coping mechanisms, and creating a supportive environment to maintain progress.

ACT therapy is typically conducted by a trained mental health professional who can tailor the treatment approach to individual needs. They can provide guidance, support, and specific interventions to address procrastination and its underlying factors. Through regular sessions and practice outside of therapy, individuals can develop new habits and ways of thinking that support proactive action and goal attainment.

For individuals:

Working with an ACT trained therapist can support you in addressing procrastination

For professionals:

We offer a range of live training and on-demand courses covering how ACT therapy can be used to support procrastination. We also include additional reading and insight on our blog and in our resources.



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