People who are chronic procrastinators often display these 9 avoidance tactics (without realizing it)

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If procrastination were an Olympic sport, I’d have won several medals by now

Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow, am I right?

The trouble is that delaying only makes us feel worse in the long run.

Getting things done feels so good, but that doesn’t stop me from finding 1001 excuses for why it can wait.

If you can relate, maybe you will recognize plenty of the avoidance tactics used by chronic procrastinators.

So let’s dive in and explore them in more detail.

1) Justifying their choices

When we know that we really should be busy doing something, we feel pretty guilty.

So it’s natural to want to convince yourself that it’s not so bad.

Deep down it may not work to alleviate that sense of dread we have, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try to justify our lack of action.

That’s why excuses are commonplace for chronic procrastinators.

As explained by Christopher Dwyer Ph.D. in Psychology Today, even when we know something probably isn’t a good idea, we often feel the need to rationalize it:

“It’s about protecting our ego, protecting the manner in which we perceive ourselves and how we feel about ourselves. With that, a good way of looking at rationalisation is as a defense mechanism used to facilitate what we want or how we want to feel, while at the same time preserving positive self-perception in the face of a poor decision.”

So when it comes to procrastination, we can often find a reason why it’s okay to wait a little longer or why we aren’t ready just yet.

We can waste a lot of energy and time talking ourselves out of something.

The irony is that we can use up way more emotional energy trying to get out of what we need to do than if we just rolled up our sleeves and got it done.

2) Reworking their schedule…again

Does any of this sound familiar:

You carved out the allotted time in your schedule to get something done.

Maybe it’s a project you’re working on or a special task that needs your attention.

But when it arrives, a heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach suddenly makes it feel like the most unappealing thing in the world.

So, you check your calendar again.

Sure, it will take shifting things around, perhaps even making some cancellations along the way. But the important thing is, you can rework things so that you don’t have to do it right now.

It’s still in the diary. So it’s not like you’ve abandoned the idea. Yet you don’t have to tackle it today.

This, along with the next few things on our list, is how procrastinators manage to bounce plans around for months on end.

3) Making lists

I love making a list.

Sometimes I spend more time writing lists and making hypothetical plans about working than I spend doing the actual work itself.

What can I say, being a procrastinator and self-employed isn’t always ideal.

I know exactly why a list gives me an instant sense of calm. Because there is something about organizing that makes you feel like you are still in control.

Even though this is often just an illusion, especially if you’re all plan and no action.

Research backs this up, showing that list-making helps to temper our stress and anxiety.

But whilst lists can be effective tools to help with productivity, they become an avoidance tactic when you don’t do anything with them.

You are simply using it to try to make yourself feel better rather than get everything in order.

There’s another way that lists can trip you up, as we’re about to see.

4) Ticking off the least important jobs on your to-do list

I’ve been guilty of this one more times than I care to remember.

It goes something like this:

You wake up already feeling uneasy about everything that you need to get done that day.

So you fall back on your trusty list.

On it are around 5 or 6 tasks that you want to complete, and you think you should have enough time to get most of it done.

But where to start?

For a chronic procrastinator, the answer is with the easiest things.

They are the ones that give us a quick dopamine reward hit yet don’t feel challenging in any way.

The problem is, these are usually the most irrelevant and unimportant jobs too.  

Because of the emotional discomfort involved with our important to-dos, we tend to avoid these and save them until last.

As the day rolls on we’ve picked up the dry cleaning, unblocked the kitchen sink, and gone for a run.

In fact, we’ve ticked off plenty of our to-do’s, yet the only one that remains is the one that matters the most.

Productive people on the other hand take the “first things first” approach. They get straight to work on the most important things and know that the rest can wait.

5) Doing more research

I’m all for doing your due diligence.

When we’re making a decision, it pays to put in the research first. But there is a point where research merely becomes procrastination.

We convince ourselves that we still need to know more or do more before we can make the best choice.

Or we keep telling ourselves that we have so much more to prepare before we are ready to take action.

When we’re scared to make a start it’s very tempting to get lost in the theory and never get around to the practical.

6) Cleaning the house, or doing some other chore

I’m a bit of a clean freak. So my go-to procrastination when I really don’t want to make a start is to tidy.

It makes sense too.

As highlighted by Oxford CBT the “physical activity of cleaning combined with the result of a cleaner home helps reduce stress, feelings of anxiety, and depressive symptoms.”

It releases endorphins that trigger positive emotions. So the cleaning buzz is real!

I don’t want to offer my fellow procrastinators any ammunition to justify their ways, but there is even some evidence that having a clean space can boost your productivity.

Yet deep down, we’re just looking for ways to seek out those feel-good triggers and avoid the negative feelings associated with whatever we should be doing instead.

7) Denial

This is perhaps the trickiest avoidance tactic to overcome.

Because how can you change your behavior without the self-awareness to see it in the first place?

You can’t.

Some chronic procrastinators get stuck in their ways because they refuse to acknowledge what they’re doing.

They argue that life’s too short to get hung up on responsibilities.

Perhaps they don’t see it as such a big deal. But this attitude of denial is just another form of self-justification.

We become experts at avoiding reality and keeping ourselves in the dark.

8) Starting but never finishing

Some chronic procrastinators don’t have a problem starting, it’s finishing that they really struggle with.

The initial motivation and momentum could spur them on to enthusiastically get going with a wide array of projects, hobbies, or side hustles.

But when it comes to seeing them through, that’s when they fall short.

As soon as something begins to feel challenging, and so emotionally uncomfortable, that’s when the procrastination rears its head.

You may convince yourself that you gave it a try, but it’s not really your thing.

Sometimes this can be true. But we’re never going to learn anything or grow as people if we always give up at the first hurdle.

9) Turning to pleasant distractions like social media or TV

We all carry around with us these days the perfect travel-sized distraction.

Small enough to hold in the palm of your hand and there to offer entertainment 24-7 whenever you need it.

Phones may have revolutionized the way we communicate, but they are a non-stop temptation for a chronic procrastinator.

As soon as you start to feel bored, disinclined to make a start, or downright awkward at the thought of doing a task, social media is guaranteed to offer you an alternative.

It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole and spend hours mindlessly scrolling for this reason.

Similarly, TV can suck you in and offer a cozy feeling sanctuary to hide away from the task at hand.

You’re not lazy, chances are the real problem is that you’re too hard on yourself

I spent years thinking I was such an idle person until I finally understood the true psychology behind why we procrastinate.

We’re not running from the task, we’re hiding from the negative emotions that we associate with it.

Often it’s perfectionists who suffer the most from chronic procrastination for that reason. They’re so afraid of getting it wrong that they’d rather not make a start.

It becomes a vicious cycle though as the more we avoid, the worse we end up feeling.

Luckily, seeing your own avoidance tactics for what they are is how you can start to make a difference.

That way we can consciously choose to put down the excuses and find a better way with some practical tools to kick procrastination into touch once and for all.

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Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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