Procrastination or anxiety?

Are you putting off an important task you know you have to get done? If so, are you busy scolding yourself for procrastinating yet again? Stop scolding, and ask yourself a simple question: Are you putting off this task because something about it frightens you?

Are you “procrastinating” over tasks or projects because you’re really afraid to get started on them? According to Boyes, here are a few tell-tale signs that you are:

1. You’re blaming someone else for your delay.

You would have gotten that work done, but your partner kept interrupting you. Or your co-worker hasn’t yet supplied the latest data. So you focus on your annoyance at the people you live or work with instead of acknowledging that you there are things you can do to prevent or limit interruptions or that you could write the report with earlier data and then tweak it when the new data arrives.

2. You’ve done this before, but now something’s changed.

Sometimes a simple job that you’ve done many times before becomes frightening because the stakes are different than usual. You’re working with a new customer that you really want to keep, or you know you’re being evaluated for a possible promotion. Because you’re experienced at this task, you might not recognize your fear and mistake it for procrastination instead. Again, ask yourself honestly if there’s something different this time around that’s making a familiar task frightening this time around.

3. You’re trying to make it absolutely perfect.

Sometimes perfectionism is fear in disguise. If you’re trying to make sure something is done perfectly right, ask yourself honestly if that level of perfection is really needed. Then ask if something might be making you anxious you and preventing you from getting the job done.

Awareness is the first step.

You may have noticed a pattern here–the first step is always to stop and ask yourself what’s really going on. There’s a reason for that. “Once you’ve labeled a problem as anxiety-related, then you can use your anxiety management strategies,” Boyes writes. “For instance, you might break a task down into smaller chunks to make it more manageable. 

Self-compassion is the second step.

Once you realize that fear, rather than laziness or self-sabotage is holding you back from doing something that needs to get done, you can change how you think about it and how you talk to yourself about it. It should be clear that yelling at yourself for screwing up probably won’t help the situation. If you were dealing with a frightened child, you wouldn’t yell at that child to just get on with things. You’d offer comfort, provide some gentle encouragement, and help the child get past those fears. You would probably be patient and not try to rush things.

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