The Meaning of Procrastination

There was much concern about the issue of procrastination during the Hoarding workshop so it seems like this might be a topic of greater interest than the original plan.

Procrastination is a catch-all word, like miscellaneous but applied to time management. It doesn’t really tell you anything – labeling behavior as procrastination stops thinking without offering any insight as to the cause. Most of you probably beat yourselves up constantly for procrastinating on tasks, often in the hope that such harsh judgment will lead to no longer putting things off. But, alas, self-punishment is not an effective motivator. Usually, the more you beat yourself up, the less you get done.


Because berating yourself only leads to depression and lowered self-image and self-esteem, none of which inspires the clear thinking needed to get things done.

If you want to be able to check things off your to-do list and feel a sense of accomplishment, you need to stop beating yourself up, and recognize that you, like most (all?) human beings, work best from feeling inspired.

Inspiration creates a sense of lightness, of eagerness to get on with one’s day and work, and confidence that you can cope with difficulties. Inspiration only arises during periods of calm, but you can learn to carry that calm into your day.

So if you find yourself procrastinating on any task, relax and look beyond the surface of that unhelpful, pejorative label to find the reasons for your avoidance. There is always a reason and you cannot remove the barrier until you identify it and solve the need or concern it raises. Once you know the cause for your resistance, you can look for the solution.

For people with entrenched clutter or hoarding, the barrier is often feeling overwhelmed – where to begin? Although in one sense it doesn’t matter because all progress is good, the best place to begin might be with the place that will relieve the greatest source of pressure. If you are having financial difficulties, you might need to start by clearing out storage facilities as these are a continual drain with no real benefit (i.e., you are not using the items, therefore you do not need them). If your clutter is causing health issues, beginning by addressing the clutter sources of the health problems (such as dust, mold, or space for exercise) would likely be most beneficial.

People often put off tasks such as getting health checkups or studying their financial situation because they fear what they will learn. Few such situations improve by being postponed, but the opportunity to keep a problem from getting worse may be lost. While there is always a possibility of getting good news, living in fear to avoid bad news doesn’t really work and is very unpleasant. So you have to ask yourself whether you pay a greater price from fear or from reality.

Sometimes procrastination results from setting a goal too high. If we perceive that we do not stand a chance of meeting an expectation, we are more likely to give up on all of it (or make ourselves crazy in the process of trying to do it all). Task lists need to be reasonable: just include things that actually can be done in a single day on your to-do list for each day. Beware of giving yourself artificial deadlines that will increase your stress.

Every form of so-called procrastination is like this – there is a message behind it. The trick to being in charge of your life is to ask the question – why am I avoiding this? – and to use the answer to identify solutions. They are always there.

What do you need to do to remove barriers and motivate yourself to do what is needed to move your life forward? Focus on the relief you will feel when a task is no longer hanging over your head. Think about how good you will feel about yourself when the task is done to get the motivational push you need. Above all else, be as compassionate with yourself as you would be with someone else who is struggling while you search for the answers and solutions.


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