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How to Avoid the Dangerous Effects of Procrastination

Jan 14, 2023
(updated: Jan 13, 2023)
Lesson duration: 5 min

Procrastination is a common affliction that can have dangerous effects on your work and well-being. In this article, you will learn about the causes of procrastination, including low self-confidence, perfectionism, and underlying mental health conditions. You will also discover the negative effects of procrastination, including limiting beliefs, missed opportunities, sabotaged goals, and damaged careers. By understanding the causes and consequences of procrastination, you can take steps to overcome this common challenge and be more productive in your freelancing life.

Procrastination can become a vicious cycle that has many negative consequences, so don't put off reading about how you can overcome this common affliction and be more productive in your freelancing life!

The causes of procrastination

No time like the present! We've all heard that phrase, but it's oh-so-easy to take the other perspective. This is what is meant by procrastination.

Chronic procrastination is when we are always putting off tasks and not just getting on with our work.

At least 25% of adults say that procrastination is a defining personality trait for them. That's a whole lot of important tasks that are getting put off every day. So why does it happen? Let's look at some of the most common causes.

Low self-confidence/self-esteem - Fear of poor performance is at the heart of a lot of procrastination. Low self-esteem means that you might be put off starting a task as you anticipate the poor reception towards the end result. Procrastination leads to lowered self-esteem because you will beat yourself up for your lack of progress. This can feed into further procrastination and the cycle can be hard to break.

Perfectionism - Procrastination affects perfectionists most of all, you could argue. You might always be waiting for the time when you feel less tired, most inspired, free from distractions, or with ample time on your hands. All this will do is become a constant stress as perfect working conditions are rarely experienced. It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and taking that step is important when it comes to your work as well. If you think only of the enormity of the task at hand, you will never begin. Fear of failure will override everything.

The causes of procrastination

Underlying mental health conditions - Often, a serial procrastinator will be experiencing mental health issues of some kind, be it depression, anxiety, or ADHD. When you find it hard to concentrate, stay calm, or feel positive about your work, it may hint at a condition that is making you procrastinate. If you find it hard to overcome procrastination over a long period of time, it may be worth speaking to a mental health professional to see if there is something at the root of this procrastination behavior.

The negative effects of procrastination

Every negative effect of procrastination is harmful to your stress levels and leads to wasting precious time. Here are some of those negative effects:

Creating limiting beliefs

One procrastination effect is how it limits belief in your own abilities. When you put something off, you will not have the satisfaction that comes from knowing you have completed it. Therefore your self-belief gets less, and procrastination is likely to increase as a result. If you lose faith in yourself, it can be hard to get it back, so managing procrastination is crucial.

Blowing opportunities

Chronic procrastinators will miss opportunity after opportunity because they will not just go for it when one comes up. You might think an opportunity could be good for you but you will let it slip by because you keep thinking you will act on it later. Later will quickly become too late if you don't get in the driving seat and seize control.

Sabotaging your goals

Poor decision-making is the bane of many lives. Often it's just a case of figuring out how to aim for your goals. It's easy to let time go by and wonder why you aren't where you want to be in your career. In the end, you have to foster a positive attitude by making things happen.

Ruining your career

If you chronically procrastinate, you are likely to often fail to complete tasks within the deadline. Over time, this will negatively affect your career as people tend to want to work with someone they can rely on. You may feel overwhelmed, so you delay tasks, but clients will only have so much patience with you. Time management skills are important because procrastination can become a downward spiral that makes you lose income and struggle to gain new clients.

Avoiding procrastination

Lowering your self-esteem

Often people procrastinate because of low self-esteem; they avoid tasks because they don't think they will be able to complete them to a high enough level. This is a form of self-sabotage and will only decrease self-esteem further in the long term. Often, just by getting on with a task and doing it to the best of your ability, you will find it is more than adequate.

Making poor decisions

When you procrastinate, you will end up having to make last-minute decisions, which will not lead to the best outcomes. The decisions you make will come from negative emotions like stress, anxiety, and upset. To avoid this, you need to develop self-control to plan your approach to a task early on. For each important task, make a to-do list of steps that will help you achieve it. Set realistic goals you know you will be able to stick to with a bit of self-discipline. This way, you will see the long-term benefits.

Damaging your reputation

If you do not deliver on your promises, then clients will start to lose faith in you. This, in turn, will lower your self-esteem and make you more likely to procrastinate further, as people will just be expecting it from you anyway, right? Well, if you have damaged your reputation, then it will be a pleasant surprise if you turn things around. Make the extra effort to ensure tasks are done on time and with good quality. This way, a client's faith in you will be restored, and they will think there must have been external factors that stopped this from happening last time. Just make sure you stay on point going forward.

Procrastination can damaged your reputation

Risking your mental health

By procrastinating, you are actually inviting stress into your life. When you put things off, they will only cause you worry and anxiety later on, so by procrastinating, you are choosing poor health. You need to manage distractions and prioritize your main tasks. That way, you have earned relaxation time and will not have the fear of work still outstanding.

Risking your physical health

It is not just your mental health that is at risk when you procrastinate. The stress that comes with it can increase the likelihood of all kinds of physical health issues. You may get insomnia because your outstanding tasks are playing on your mind. You could get tension headaches from the stress, or even cardiovascular disease if you are constantly on edge. There is nothing more precious in life than your health, so seeking professional help for your procrastination may be wise if you just can't seem to stop it.

Losing precious time

If you are spending hours doing anything other than the task at hand, those hours can easily become days, weeks, months... you get the picture! Severe cases of procrastination can mean lost years that you can't get back. It is a terrible feeling for five years to have passed and nothing in life to have changed because you didn't put a plan in motion. You might still be struggling to make enough money or get enough clients because you kept thinking there was always tomorrow.

Ruining relationships as the result of procrastination

Ruining relationships

If you are always putting off the next task, then you will often find yourself having to rush through it when you have plans with a partner, friends, or family members. If you keep having to cancel plans because of procrastination, then relationships will suffer. People will wonder why you don't consider them to be a priority.

All of these things may seem pretty severe. So how do you deal with the underlying issue? How can you stop yourself from procrastinating? Here are some tips, but you are advised to start putting them into practice NOW - don't leave it until tomorrow....

Strategies for overcoming procrastination

Do the most challenging task first

If you want to stay motivated, it's a good idea to get your biggest task out of the way first. Then you can move on with confidence and tackle the simpler tasks without that elephant in the room. Often you will have more energy early in the day, so set yourself a time limit and get that important task done!

Do the most challenging task first

Limit distractions

If you are easily distracted, then you will always find an excuse not to press on with a task. You need to remove all distractions you can - close down your emails, turn off notifications on your phone, and create an environment where you can work in peace. Also, try to keep your workspace as tidy as you can; it's amazing how much of a distraction a few out-of-place items can be.

Don’t try to be perfect

Perfectionism is one of the main causes of procrastination, so you must always go into each task with the mantra that your best is good enough. Just get the task done; you can always spend time making it better later on. Don't allow perfectionism to stop you from making any progress.

Reward yourself

Removing the stress of a task not being done is a reward in itself, but it somehow doesn't seem quite enough. Set yourself a reward for each task you will complete. If it's a small task, maybe let yourself have that tasty snack you've been wanting. If it's the main task of the week, then think of something awesome you can do to celebrate getting it done. Not everyone will consider the same things to be a reward, so what would motivate YOU to get a task done?

Use 'Do it now' phrase

Say the words “Do It Now”

Self-regulation is key to overcoming procrastination, so tell yourself, "Do it now!" until this becomes ingrained as a habit. Whenever you feel yourself starting to put something off, just say it out loud if you need to. "Do it now!" Before long, you will find you are putting it into practice.

Change your thinking

It's time to stop beating yourself up about the times you procrastinated. Instead, focus on a time you got an important task done straight away. You are capable of doing it, so you will time and time again. Focus on the positives and allow them to be the way you approach things from now on.

30-day procrastination diet

Can you list 30 things you have been putting off doing? It makes sense to build good habits by focusing on one of these things each day and getting it done, so you can tick them off a list. This way, not only will you get better at avoiding procrastination, but you will have had the most productive month ever.

Try 30-day procrastination diet

Ban the words “should”, “have to” and “must”

Sometimes when people procrastinate, it is because they are subconsciously rebelling against being told what to do. Instead of thinking, "I have to get this done," think, "I could get this done today"; think of the rewards if you do and the negative impact if you don't. Then it becomes, "I want to get this done because if I do I will not be stressed about it anymore." Take ownership.

Feel the resistance

When you procrastinate and the stress starts to build about looming deadlines and poor job performance, you can take a few deep breaths. This will start to calm you, and the negative effects of procrastination will seem less imposing. Just try to release the tension from your body, and then it will ease from your mind.

Ask questions

Ask yourself what the impact will be if you put a task off. Better still, ask yourself what the reward will be if you get it done. Often, saying these things out loud can make them a reality, and you will be more motivated to get to work on what needs to be done.

Focus on completion and avoid procrastination

Focus on completion

Further to this, focus on how you will feel when a task is complete. A runner in a race might visualize the finish line to motivate them to keep going. This is what you need to do when getting a challenging task done.

Change your measurement of time

If you have already procrastinated and are thinking, "I have 1 day to get this done," it can seem very intimidating. Instead, think to yourself, "I have 24 hours to get this done." It's amazing what a difference it will make. When a task seems more manageable you will feel more motivated to get it done and will not just put it off further.

Have an accountability buddy

If you have a good friend or supportive partner who you can tell about the tasks you need to get done and your worries about putting them off, it can be a huge help. If there is someone else who can check up on your progress and you feel accountable to, you will know that you are not alone. This will help motivate you.

Break big tasks into smaller chunks

An important task can seem very daunting, so create a list of sub-tasks that will help you get it done. The root cause of procrastination can be focusing on the whole task rather than the various steps along the way that will allow you to complete it.

Break big tasks into smaller chunks

Don’t beat yourself up

If you do procrastinate, then there is nothing to be gained from being harsh on yourself about it. Instead, just use it as a learning experience and get going with the task at hand. If you punish yourself, you are still delaying the task's completion.

Have a Power Hour

Figure out the time of day when you are most productive. It may be first thing in the morning or maybe just after you've had dinner in the evening? Whenever it is, set aside an hour during the time to work on your most challenging task of the day. You will make progress this way.

Just do it

Often the best solutions are the most simple ones. The best way to get a task done is to just get on with it. Even if you spend a few minutes getting a small part of it done, it's better than no progress at all. It may seem very hard to just do it when this is the opposite of how you have approached things before, but it's the best way - no time like the present.

The importance of self-awareness in avoiding procrastination

If any of what you have read strikes a chord with you, then it is likely procrastination is a problem in your life. You have to be really honest with yourself now. Which of the causes of procrastination do you identify with? What impact is it having on your life? What could be some realistic methods for addressing this? The most important thing is to do something about it now.

The benefits of taking action and avoiding procrastination

Are you ready to feel more productive than you ever have? To see more positive results than you thought possible? This is what happens when you stop procrastinating and start to manage your time and energy well. Procrastination leads to broken dreams. Taking action and getting tasks done will empower you to control your procrastinatory tendencies. When it becomes a habit not to put things off, you will find it much easier to keep it going. The positive effects will be there to see in the ticks on your to-do list, the positive feedback from your clients, and the reduction in stress you feel.


So, a quick summary:

  • Procrastination is when perfectionism, low self-esteem, lack of energy, or other factors make us put off a task we know has to be completed.
  • The impact of this can be a vicious cycle of low self-esteem, anxiety, physical symptoms, and the breakdown of working and personal relationships.
  • To avoid procrastination, you need to take ownership of the root causes and make small steps toward getting tasks done.
  • When you stop procrastinating, you will start to see fantastic results.

Indy has lots of resources, tools, and information to help you manage your time effectively and start to overcome procrastination. Take that first step today! 

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