Get started
What we treat
Why online therapy
How it works
How it works
Meet the therapists
Wellbeing blog
Log in
Read our latest blog

How procrastination impacts your wellbeing & how to overcome it

March 27, 2023
Alexandra Hopkins

You sit at your desk, write a to-do list and intend to complete it. But, before you know it, you’ve reached for your phone and started to scroll. Even though you know how good it’ll feel to tick off those tasks, you just can’t bring yourself to get started.

Sound familiar? Rest assured, we all experience procrastination from time to time. And, for many people, periods of procrastination come and go without having an impact on their mental wellbeing. However, others may find it harder to forgive themselves for procrastinating. They might feel guilty for not spending their time productively, or draw the conclusion that they’re simply lazy.

It’s important to understand what procrastination is and why it happens so that we can address it. Does it mean that we’re just unmotivated, or is there a more complicated answer?

Alexandra, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner Lead and Supervisor, at ieso says, “Procrastination and mood can often be connected. Our mental state can have a huge impact upon a task that we are required to do. If we’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, we might find it more difficult to get on with something that requires a lot of focus, and telling ourselves to ‘just do it’ can make us feel even more overwhelmed and put unnecessary stress upon ourselves.”

What is procrastination?

To put it simply, procrastination is when you voluntarily put off doing a task, despite the knowledge that this could impact you negatively in the future. The task can be anything, from cleaning the house, to writing an essay or scheduling a meeting at work.

Although avoiding the task feels preferable in the short term, in the long term it can make you feel more stressed. Procrastinating every now and then is normal, but when we develop a habit of continually avoiding tasks so that they pile up, this can affect our wellbeing.  

Why do we procrastinate?

There are lots of reasons why we might procrastinate. It could be circumstantial, like feeling bored or tired. Or, it might be due to an emotional issue. Perhaps you don’t believe in your own abilities, and therefore you don’t want to attempt a task as you think you’ll fail, or you experience perfectionism and intentionally delay doing something unless you believe that you can carry it out perfectly.  

Another reason that people may procrastinate is due to fear and anxiety. For example, if you have social anxiety, you may put off doing something that involves communicating with people. Similarly, if a task involves navigating a specific phobia that you deem dangerous or unpleasant, you will naturally be inclined to avoid it. Typically, the more anxiety we have around something, the more likely we are to put it off.  

How does procrastination impact our mental health?

Procrastination and mental health are closely linked. Procrastination can be a symptom of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. However, procrastination can also cause people to feel anxious and have negative thoughts about themselves. Sometimes, people become stuck in a cycle where procrastination and mental health issues impact each other, and it can be difficult to identify which problem came first.

Our mood can affect how likely we are to procrastinate. For example, if we’re going through a challenging time, we may find it harder to concentrate on a task, and therefore delay doing it. However, by avoiding the task, we can actually increase our stress levels. We’re also denying ourselves the positive feelings of completing a task, like success, accomplishment and fulfilment.

When is procrastination a problem?

If you find yourself procrastinating often and it’s starting to negatively impact your life, relationships or work, it could be time to look at ways of managing the situation.

It’s important to remember that procrastinating doesn’t mean that you’re lazy or have poor time management skills. Sometimes, it’s not as simple as just ‘getting on with’ the task at hand, as there may be deep-rooted issues or irrational beliefs that need to be understood and addressed.  

It’s worth considering that procrastination can be a result of an emotional problem. If you can't face a task because you feel incapable or inadequate, or because you’re afraid that you won’t be able to do it ‘perfectly’, you may be struggling to cope with a mental health issue.

Tips for overcoming procrastination:  

  1. Acknowledge why you’re procrastinating.

If you find yourself procrastinating often, it could be a good time to check in with your mental health and assess how you’re feeling. Is there an underlying emotional issue that you need to resolve, and if so how can you do that?

  1. Make a to-do list.

Make a plan for the week or for the next few days. If this seems too overwhelming, try separating your day by morning, afternoon and evening instead. You could prioritise your tasks and write realistic deadlines next to them if you think that will help, taking care not to overload each day. Scheduling time for your tasks, and rearranging if things crop up, will mean that you’re more likely to complete them. Ticking them off can also give you a sense of accomplishment which will encourage you to continue being productive.

  1. Break your tasks down into manageable steps.

If you’re faced with a big task, like writing a dissertation or completing a house project, you may feel intimidated by the amount of work that needs to be done and not know where to start. Try breaking the task down into stages that you can complete gradually. This will help the project to seem more manageable, as all of the smaller steps will eventually add up.

  1. Use the five minute rule

Plan to spend just five minutes on the task that you’re putting off. You may feel that it’s easier to tolerate five minutes, rather than doing the whole thing at once. When five minutes is over, you may have made progress and feel more engaged with the task, and find yourself wanting to continue with it.  

  1. Remove technological distractions

With so much technology around us, it’s very easy to be distracted by a text, news alert or a social media status. To stay focused, assign yourself a period of time where you turn off the TV, put your phone in another room, or even delete your social media apps from it temporarily. During this time, focus solely on the task at hand.

  1. Reward yourself for making progress.

When you complete a task, make sure that you take the time to reward yourself by doing something that you enjoy. Maybe that’s watching an episode of a TV show, calling a friend or going for a walk. You’ll enjoy these things even more without the stress of the task hanging over you.

  1. Seek professional help.

If you find that procrastination is affecting your mental wellbeing, or you’re stuck in a negative cycle, it could be time to seek professional help. ieso offers Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which helps you to manage your mental health, challenge unhelpful thoughts and develop copy strategies.  

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
Awareness Days
6 Mins
October 9, 2023

Mental health affects us all. This means it's essential that mental health services are equally available to everyone, everywhere. This World Mental Health Day, 10th October, we explore the right to access care.

Awareness Days
5 mins
October 2, 2023

This week is National Work Life Week, a campaign led by the charity, Working Families, to get people talking about wellbeing at work and work-life balance.

Online CBT
8 Mins
September 25, 2023

Have you noticed a change in a friend or family member’s behaviour or mindset? Maybe they’re isolating themselves, worrying more than usual or acting erratically. Here are some tips on how you can support them.