January 24, 2023
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Photography by Valentina Barreto/Stocksy United
Putting things off can make my depression worse. That’s why I’ve come up with some ways to help me get things done, especially when I don’t want to.
It’s 10:27 p.m. on a Sunday night, and I’m just now sitting down to write this article, which, for the record, was due last week. Sure, I have two toddlers and have been traveling with them all over the East Coast for the holidays, but did that prevent me from streaming Hallmark movies or using my Marshall’s gift card I got for Christmas to buy a new pair of skinny jeans? (I don’t care what anyone says, they will always be in style.) No way.
For me, procrastination is a road I go down when I get too in my head. I’ll write a half dozen articles and be on a roll, and then, suddenly, I doubt myself, lose momentum, and off to TJ Maxx I go.
And the real rub is not doing the thing I need to do just makes my depression worse. I start picking at the skin on my hands, and the stench from my stress sweating becomes particularly potent. It’s a cycle I know all too well.
The fact is, whenever I put something off, particularly the things I really care about like working on an article draft or an overdue rewrite, I feel awful. It conjures up all those feelings of inadequacy and just doom, and there I am again feeling depressed and hopeless.
So, what exactly is the link between procrastination and depression? According to a 2023 study, there’s a clear correlation between procrastinating and a litany of mental and physical health issues.
For example, the study found that students with higher procrastination rates also showed higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. On top of that, procrastination was linked to unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, like poor sleep, lack of physical activity, and drug use.
This might explain why I get an irritated stomach when I watch multiple episodes of something on Netflix instead of working on a pending project. Hence, finding ways to prevent or curb your procrastination habits isn’t just about improving efficiency but also helping your overall well-being.
And it’s not just about putting off the hard stuff — people who procrastinate can feel depressed because of it, which leads to postponing the good stuff, too, like seeing friends or going out.
So, it’s hard to say whether procrastination is a cause or a symptom of depression, but they certainly overlap and seem to impact each other. In short, procrastination has the potential to negatively impact your happiness, so getting in front of your “I’ll do it later” tendencies could make a huge difference in your life. Here are some tips that have helped me combat my procrastination.
Whenever I’m putting something off, I make a list of five reasons why I wanted to do it in the first place. I use the Notes app on my phone as I feel the wave of avoidance coming on and jot down what excites me about the task I’m avoiding.
For example, I had a pitch for an article due before the end of the year. It was a few days after Christmas, and the clock was ticking. Reminding myself how fun it would be to write about the topic I wanted to pitch and the people I would get to interview if it was greenlit gave me the jolt I needed to write a pithy proposal.
For me, it’s my favorite stand-up comedy. I love Bob Newhart. When I’m in a dark place and avoiding life, he helps me to see the light. Seriously, he’s so funny and reminds me of my dad. There’s just something about listening to his “Driving Instructor” bit that helps me breathe and focus. He inspires me to start a project in a way only a good laugh can.
For so many of us, the greatest challenge is just starting. I can talk myself out of starting now because I won’t have time to finish before I have to pick up my kids or go to a doctor’s appointment. But when I set the timer on my phone for 30 minutes and force myself to write as much as I can in that time, I’m usually able to get somewhere in my work.
I do this for lots of things in my life, like raking the leaves or cleaning the house. Once you commit, it’s amazing how much you can get done, even in 30 minutes.
Again, I grab my timer. I set a timer and grab my $2 jump rope and get to it. I don’t stop, except maybe when I trip on the rope — which has been happening less and less. Short bursts of exercise are a great way to get you going. After I’m done jumping rope, my mind is more focused and excited to get ‘er done.
Friends and family are great resources to help you stay accountable, but I find when I tell my therapist I have a deadline looming and we arrange for her to check in on me the following day, it keeps me motivated. In this respect, she’s acting as my life coach. It keeps me empowered and excited because I know she will be checking up on me, and I’m eager to provide her with a positive update.
The more I care about a project, the harder it can be to begin. I worry I’m not enough, or it won’t be right, causing me to avoid the task altogether. But when I break it down into small, manageable parts, the pit in my stomach dissipates, and enthusiasm takes over.
It’s not always immediate, and I have setbacks. But without fail, I feel so much better when the task I’ve been avoiding has been completed, wondering why I ever even put it off in the first place.
Medically reviewed on January 24, 2023
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