The Secret to Overcoming Procrastination: Manage your emotions, not your time.

Battling procrastination?

The truth is you don’t need more time management strategies, you need to start managing the emotions that lead you down that path.

It’s said that the Dalai Lama had often procrastinated in his student days. The now great spiritual leader would leave his studies until the last possible moment because he was an unmotivated student: “Only in the face of a difficult challenge or an urgent deadline would I study and work without laziness.”.

We could argue that beyond a lack of motivation, he lacked purpose. Today he has a clear mission, devoted to a bigger purpose, where procrastination has no room.

Why is this important?

According to a UK research from January 2021, 84% of adults are affected to some degree by procrastination and 1 in 5 procrastinate every single day.

With thousands of time-management articles and strategies available and easily accessible, you’d think that we’d be getting to grips with procrastination by this point. But statistics say that the numbers are increasing. In 1978, 5% of the population admitted to being chronic procrastinators compared to roughly 26% of the population today (Steele, 2007).

This, despite evidence suggesting that the habit of leaving things until the last minute generally results in low-quality work performance and reduced well-being (Tice and Baumeister, 1997).

It seems that procrastination is not a time management issue, but rather an emotion management issue.

Research suggests that procrastination actually functions as an emotion-regulation strategy that provides short-term mood repair.

For that short time, while you’re distracted, you’ll get a hit of dopamine, a reward for not doing the task that you’re supposed to because this distracting activity feels better for your brain.

Procrastination – while effectively distracting in the short-term – can lead to guilt, which ultimately compounds the initial stress.

According to research by DePaul University, we procrastinate when our brains become overwhelmed with conflicting emotions. Our feelings can take over:

  • Fear: we worry about the result
  • Denial: we don’t like certain tasks so we simply try to erase them from our mind
  • Impulsiveness: we get distracted by other activities that reward our brain with dopamine in the short-term
  • Rebelliousness: when we feel forced to do something, we just fight back and resist.

So what are some things that you can do to manage your emotions and win the battle over procrastination?

  1. Be kind to yourself

Would it shock you to find out that self-described procrastinators have lower levels of self-compassion and higher levels of stress?

Oftentimes we can put more pressure on ourselves than anyone else would. So when you find yourself procrastinating, the best thing you can do for yourself is to choose to be kind to yourself and accept what’s happening without judgement.

What would you do if it was your best friend sitting next to you asking for advice on how to get on with their task? Would you start by shaming them or harshly judge them for it? Probably not. So be as kind to yourself as you would be with a friend and then take your own advice.

  1. Breathe

Something else you can do to accept the situation and regulate your emotions is to breathe. You may engage in meditation, yoga, breathing exercises or you simply take a mindful minute.

It’s often a technique used when people are angry, but actually, it’s useful overall to regulate your emotions. Breathing can be a powerful tool for your peace of mind, especially if you make it a habit.

  1. Count backwards from 5

Mel Robbins’ famous 5-second ruleis a great technique to use when you’re in a pinch because it moves the brain from the ‘autopilot’ mode. By counting backwards from 5 – 5,4,3,2,1, go – you engage parts of the brain that give you back control.

You know that feeling when you find yourself scrolling on your phone again? You’re probably in autopilot mode so this is a great technique to put you back into control and move forward with your task.

  1. Reflect

Many times we procrastinate out of habit, and as we know all habits have triggers. So what is triggering you to reach for procrastination? Take some time to reflect on the situation you find yourself in and ask yourself – what is happening right now?

Is it fear of failure taking over? Do you feel that someone is taking advantage of you with this task? Is it that you’re actually afraid of success, that you might achieve your dreams and you will have to leave your comfort zone?

It’s best to reflect for a minute the moment you catch yourself being triggered into procrastination but you might find that meditating on it, journaling about it or even having conversations with friends will help you get to the bottom and avoid procrastination.

  1. Reframe

Reframing is a fantastic NLP technique and if you have enrolled in our Professional Coach ICF plus NLP Practitioner Certificate you will know what we’re talking about. Reframing is changing the meaning of something by putting it in a different setting, context or frame. Essentially it’s changing your point of view.

At the heart of reframing rests the assumption that there is no inherent meaning to anything and things mean what we make them mean on the inside. You can become more flexible when you’re conscious of the fact that you really can assign new meaning to anything – including that task you’ve been putting off.

  1. Know your why

Many times when we start something new in our lives, its excitement lies in its novelty. But once that novelty ends, so does the motivation. Knowing your why can offer a long-term source of motivation and a new purpose – why have you started on this path in the first place?

Connecting with your why often will help you keep it at the forefront of the mind and it’s less likely that you will let negative emotions take over and lead you into procrastination.

What is your mission? Many coaches are on a mission to empower people and help them live their best lives. Employed professionals often align their mission with that of their company. Whatever your mission is, keep it in mind and you’ll find that procrastination will have a rare presence in your life.

  1. Shift your focus from you to them

Another great way to regulate your emotions is to stop focusing on yourself. As with many things, it sounds good in theory but how do you put it into practice?

We might argue that the easiest way to do it is to shift your focus from yourself onto someone else – this might be your client who will benefit from your guidance and confidence during your coaching session; your virtual audience will learn so much from hearing you speak on this topic that you are so passionate about; the people you help will be grateful that you put in all that time and energy to become the best coach possible.

Shift your focus from yourself to others and you might find that it’s so easy to do the most boring tasks for someone else’s benefit.

Once the first step is made towards a task, following through becomes easier. Start by managing your emotions in a new way so your mind doesn’t have to resort to procrastination and you will find that the battle will be easier to win every time.

Interested in helping others battle procrastination?

Life coaching might be the path you are looking for. Find out how you could start a new career as a life coach, or add life coaching skills to your current work by contacting one of The Life Coaching Academy Team members on or our Free Call 1800 032 151

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