Is the Pandemic to Blame for Your Procrastination Problem?

We've all experienced days when the to-do list feels endless, but instead of addressing it, you spend an hour scrolling your social media feed or binge-watching the new season of your favorite show. You find reasons to do everything except tackle the work project with a looming deadline or the clutter on your desk that's in desperate need of organizing.

Some days, procrastination rears its ugly head more than others. Are there certain periods in your life when you feel like you're on it, being productive and meeting expectations, and other times where you're just trying to keep your head above water? If you're struggling right now, there could be more to it than just a simple lack of motivation.    

Why Now? What to Do?

"With everyone stuck at home and the world seemingly in a state of constant chaos, it becomes difficult to believe that we are, in fact, still moving toward our goals," explains Kyle Greenfield, founder of The Joy Within. "When we confront this belief day in and day out, it drains us, and we become physically unable to take the right actions."

Greenfield believes that the solution is to step back, clear our minds and reset our intentions. "There are many great meditation and mindfulness practices [to help with this.] When we can clear our minds of the negative clutter, we start to see ourselves in relation to our goals once again, and we are more likely to feel motivated to take productive action." 

Jessica Lim, the human resources manager for LiveCareer, believes that more people working from home is another reason procrastination has become an issue. "Remote work saves us all a lot of time. We avoid traffic, rarely commute and often have the freedom to start and finish our work whenever we want," she points out. "Shouldn't that mean that we are more productive because we are free to manage our time? In theory, that makes perfect sense, but the reality is often far distant from that scenario."
While you may be at home, that doesn't mean your to-do list is any emptier, and Lim believes many people aren't focusing on the right things. "We try to do many tasks at a time and squeeze in 'in-between activities' wherever we can. What's the problem with attending a video call with your teammates, doing laundry right after, then calling your bank while preparing lunch? [This kind of] multitasking will make you go crazy!" she explains.

Lim advises her employees to draw a line between their work and personal lives. "This involves creating a shutdown ritual to signal the end of the workday, which helps them be more productive during work time and reduces the stress connected with excessive busyness."

Life coach Danny Greeves attributes the increase in procrastination to uncertainty.  "As a result of the recent pandemic, uncertainty, anxiety and stress have been at their highest rates ever," he says. The mental health struggles seem to stem from the uncertain timeline and conflicting information about things like mask mandates in the community, return to school and work plans, and sanitizing protocols. "People are unable to pin down a specific plan because no one knows how things are going to turn out. This resulting lack of clarity is preventing people from making clear plans, so procrastination is taking over." 

Greeves recommends developing a strategic plan to move forward. "Start by listing the things that are certain in your life [such as daily tasks or work assignments] and begin planning around them. When you have certainty you will procrastinate less, so by starting here you will be more engaged. When things change, rather than being paralyzed by uncertainty, you will be able to change gears faster and get moving again."

Breaking the Procrastination Habit

For a chronic procrastinator, it can be a challenge to break the cycle and develop better habits. Grant yourself the grace to take it one step at a time with these three tips from clinical psychologist Dr. Brian Wind, Ph.D.
  1. Forgive yourself for procrastinating. Procrastinating can lead to more negative feelings, which leads to more avoidance behavior and more procrastination. 
  2. Break down your tasks into simple steps. These are things you can do no matter your mood that day. Completing mini tasks can bolster your confidence and lead to positive feelings so eventually you don't have to procrastinate to feel better. 
  3. Connect to your future self. This can be done by setting goals for yourself in six months or one year and visualizing the result you want to achieve in that timeframe. You'll feel a lot more connected to your future self and be able to work on longer-term goals that don't bring instant relief or gratification.
Instead of beating yourself up that you've put off an important task once again, consider what's causing the issue. When you can get to the root of the problem, it's much easier to brainstorm solutions so that "I'll get to that eventually" becomes "Let me take care of that now."