Procrastination Outside the Office: Getting Back on Track With Personal Life

5 min read
Evidence based
Psychiatrist and Sensa consultant dr. Monisha Vasa
By Monisha Vasa, MD Updated on 2024 Jan 22

Procrastination often creeps up unexpectedly – you deliberately plan your day and write down to-do lists, but certain hesitation prevents you from following your agenda.

And it doesn’t only happen at work! Household chores, personal projects, and even relationships can cause setbacks. Sadly, any area of life can become affected by procrastination and force feelings of shame and guilt upon you.

Fortunately, by understanding why you procrastinate on various things, you can regain control and rebuild a healthy, fruitful relationship with work and personal life.

The Reasons Behind Procrastination 

It’s a common misconception that procrastination is just a fancy word for laziness. However, that’s not the case.

Procrastination is often directly related to emotional regulation. Certain tasks at work, household chores, or other obligations make you feel physical or mental discomfort. Because of that, you avoid these tasks even if they’re urgent.

But, in most cases, you still have to complete these assignments! So, you procrastinate till the last minute, make excuses, and feel guilty until you finally do it.

Usually, people tend to repeat these actions, leading to a vicious cycle called “the procrastination cycle.” In order to get back control of your life and decisions, you need to break it. 

Great expectations

Many procrastinate because they have developed a set of unhelpful assumptions – they expect a lot from themselves. There are several assumptions or rules that force you to avoid the task at hand:

  • Fear of failure. You procrastinate because you want the completed task to be perfect. However, this unrealistic expectation makes you avoid assignments.
  • Fear of disapproval. You delay working on your tasks because you’re afraid others will not approve.
  • Need to be in charge. Sometimes we procrastinate on specific tasks because we don’t want to do them – they are boring, tedious, or require too much energy. You avoid doing these tasks because you want to stay in control of your feelings and time.
  • Low self-esteem. If you’re struggling with poor self-image, you might believe that anything you do is not good enough. Therefore, you procrastinate on tasks because you think you can’t do them correctly, making you feel miserable.

These assumptions make you uncomfortable and raise many unpleasant emotions, and surely, nobody wants to feel rough. These feelings force you to continue the procrastination cycle.

So, how do you break it?

#1 The 5-Minute Rule

One of the simplest ways to tackle procrastination is by applying a 5-minute rule. Basically, if the task at hand can be done in 5 minutes or less, do it immediately.

Need to do laundry? Put it in the washer. Just had dinner, and some dishes need washing? Do them right away instead of waiting for the pots and pans to pile up. If you can make an appointment with your physician or bank, or call to check up on a friend, don’t wait and do the activity immediately.

The longer you wait to start a task, the longer it will take to complete it because things will begin to accrue. 

This rule can be applied in many areas and work with most tasks. If you believe the job will take longer, check if you can somehow divide it into smaller, bite-sized chores.

For example, if you have a massive pile of dishes waiting to be washed, take 5 minutes to soak the pans, then wash the utensils, plates, mugs, and everything else. Take short breaks if you feel you have to, but completing the job will become much more manageable once you start.

#2 Have an Accountability Partner

If you live with your significant other or a roommate, this can be especially helpful with parenting and household chores. However, even if you live alone, you can find an accountability partner among your friends or relatives to help you challenge your procrastination.

Promise your accountability partner to do something, like clean the apartment, at a specific time – it will make you feel obligated to do this task. 

In order for this to work, you’ll need to provide “evidence” for your accountability partner that you actually cleaned the apartment.

If you live together, that’s probably not an issue, but if not, invite them for coffee or at least send pictures of the cleaned apartment. In some time, you’ll learn to do specific tasks without feeling obliged.

#3 Think About Your Long-Term Needs

When we procrastinate, we avoid uncomfortable feelings by doing something pleasurable instead – we prioritize our short-term needs instead of long-term ones. This action is called instant gratification.

Instant gratification is highly linked with fear and addiction. When you’re afraid of failure, you proactively avoid the task you feel incompetent to complete. However, when it comes to addiction, we prioritize instant satisfaction instead of working on assignments.

When you choose to do something pleasurable instead of an urgent assignment, ask yourself:

  • What am I getting from this apart from the temporary satisfaction?
  • Will this help me solve my existing problems, or will it create more problems instead?

These questions will help you get back in the moment and consciously think about your choices. You can also think about how completing a tedious task can benefit you in the long run. 

For example, if you’ve been procrastinating on an important call to your physician, think about what benefits it will bring – it might provide clarity on your health situation and develop a plan for improving or maintaining it. Or, if you find yourself unable to cook, think about how much money you’ll be able to save if you prepare your meal at home instead of ordering takeout. 

All the Small Things

The size of the task at hand does not matter when it comes to procrastination. Sometimes, we can find ourselves procrastinating on sending a short message to someone, right? But by applying the techniques listed above, you can become more conscious about your procrastination.

Don’t be afraid to start small – procrastination cannot be fixed overnight. However, even the smallest changes make a big difference.

Believe in yourself, and get back in control!

Psychiatrist and Sensa consultant dr. Monisha Vasa

Dr. Monisha Vasa is a board-certified psychiatrist and wellness consultant with a thriving private practice in Newport Beach, California. She’s actively engaged in supporting physician mental health at UC Irvine and City of Hope National Cancer Center.