Does it take you forever to make a doctor’s appointment, clean out your garage, or do your taxes? Putting off something that needs to be done is called procrastination. We all do it sometimes.
But if you constantly struggle to finish tasks, there may be a bigger problem at play.
Once you figure out your reasons, you can work on making the most of your time.
Are You Stressed?
When you’re facing something you don’t want to do, it can make you feel tense. Putting off that dreaded chore is a way to get some short-term relief. The downside is that you’ll still have to tackle your task in the future, which may make you feel guilty or angry -- and cause your stress to rise more.
If the tension is bad enough to keep you from getting things done, you might notice it affects you in other ways, too, like:
- Trouble sleeping
- Racing thoughts
- Lack of energy or trouble focusing
- Headaches or muscle tension
Keep your mood in check with regular exercise, limit alcohol and caffeine (which can make stress worse), and get enough sleep. Talk to a friend or counselor about what’s on your mind, too.
Could It Be ADHD?
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder affects behavior. People who have it often have trouble making decisions or getting tasks done before a deadline. Some get too distracted with other activities around them. Others find it hard to plan ahead, or they get frustrated easily and give up.
Other symptoms of ADHD include:
- Forgetting or losing things
- Making careless mistakes or taking unsafe risks
- Squirming or fidgeting
Medications can often help control many symptoms of the disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps identify and change negative thought patterns, also can help many people with the condition better manage their time.
Are You Tired?
The amount of willpower you have changes every day and depends on many things, including whether you’ve had enough sleep. If you’ve had less than 6 hours, it’s harder for your brain to tune out distractions and focus long enough to finish what you need to do.
Other signs that you need more shut-eye include:
- Falling asleep while watching TV or reading a book
- Feeling irritable
- Sleeping longer on weekends
- Trouble waking up in the mornings
To get a good night’s rest, keep the same bedtime and wake time. Don’t smoke, and steer clear of alcohol, caffeine, and heavy meals for a few hours before bed, since they can disrupt your Zzz's.
Could It Be Anxiety?
This condition means your brain overreacts to negative emotions. You expect the worst, even when there’s nothing to fear. Some people with anxiety spend so much energy worrying about family, health, money, or work that they find it hard to carry out everyday tasks.
You might also have:
- Muscle tension
- Trouble sleeping
To stop anxious feelings, take 10 slow, deep breaths, or replace a negative thought with a positive one. It’s also important to get enough rest, exercise regularly, and make sure you don’t skip meals. Keep a journal to help you learn what triggers your anxiety. Some people need medications or talk therapy to get the condition under control.
Could You Be Depressed?
Depression alters your brain’s chemistry. You may have very little energy, even for hobbies and activities you love. It’s also common to feel helpless and self-critical, which can cause someone with the condition to “shut down.”
Other symptoms of depression include:
- A feeling of sadness that doesn’t go away
- Low appetite and weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
- Restlessness or feeling irritable
- Thoughts of suicide or death
Call 911 if you’re thinking about hurting yourself or others. Even if not, talk to a counselor or therapist if you have any of these other symptoms. Your doctor is a good resource as well. Some people also find relief from their depression with antidepressant medicine.
Could It Be Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
If you have this disorder, your brain can’t signal when you’re doing something correctly. Instead, you have a nagging sense that your actions aren’t “just right.” Rather than finish a task, people with OCD get stuck looking for a “perfect” solution.
Other symptoms include:
- A lot of unwanted thoughts or images
- Feeling helpless to stop the thoughts
- Rituals like hand washing
- Spending at least 1 hour a day on these thoughts and rituals
Anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants can often improve OCD symptoms. Many people also use cognitive-behavioral therapy or exposure therapy, in which they learn to slowly face their fears.
What You Can Do
Be honest with yourself about what might be holding you back from getting a task done. Then think of realistic ways you can get past it.
If you think you’re stuck because of a more serious health problem, talk to your doctor to make sure you get the right diagnosis and treatment.
If good old-fashioned procrastination is your issue, break big projects into smaller ones you can do more easily. You can set deadlines to stay on track. Some people also find it helpful to reward themselves when they make progress.
When you catch yourself wasting time, forgive yourself rather than feeling ashamed or angry. You may be less likely to procrastinate again if you go easy on yourself.