The Vicious Procrastination Cycle

Because I have a tight deadline, and I also need to go to bed early for a race I’m running in the morning, I am going to re-run a popular article from a few years ago on the procrastination cycle. It will bear repeating!

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There’s more to dealing with procrastination than snarling at yourself to “just do it!” I know because I’ve been snarling that line at myself for ten days. Today I feel like snarling at everybody else too! I’m caught in the procrastination trap and trying to get out.

I read something helpful about it last night. Did you know procrastination is a cycle with predictable stages? It isn’t just one feeling with one cause. That’s the bad news. I think the good news is that you can interrupt that cycle. The “how-to” depends on what part of the cycle you’re in.

Stages of Procrastination

The vicious cycle of putting things off goes like this:

  • starts with feeling overwhelmed
  • pressure mounts
  • we fear failing at whatever we’re putting off
  • we buckle down and try harder
  • we work longer hours
  • we feel resentful
  • we get tired and lose motivation
  • and then we procrastinate

Wow! I always thought the “buckle down and try harder and work longer hours” part was good! It’s how I’ve survived all these years. I certainly never considered it part of a procrastination habit or cycle.

But the cycle rings true for me–and is really giving me something to think about. “The cycle starts with the pressure of being overwhelmed and ends with an attempt to escape through procrastination,” says Neil Fiore, Ph.D. in The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play. “As long as you’re caught in the cycle, there is no escape.”

Warning Signs of Procrastination

“But I don’t procrastinate,” you may say. Maybe. Maybe not. As I read through the list of thirty-five symptoms in the book, I realized with great shock that I responded yes to about three-fourths of the questions! (It was a shock because for thirty years, people have told me what a hard worker I was, how organized I was, etc.) But I had not considered these behaviors as symptoms of procrastination.

Things like…

  • Do you keep an impossibly long “to do” list?
  • Do you talk to yourself in “shoulds”?
  • Are you often late arriving at meetings and dinners?
  • Do you have difficulty knowing what you really WANT for yourself, but are clear about what you SHOULD want?
  • Do you find that you’re never satisfied with what you accomplish?
  • Do you feel deprived–always working or feeling guilty about not working?
  • Do you demand perfection even on low-priority work?
  • Do you feel ineffective in controlling your life?

In my book Writer’s First Aid, I maintained that you can’t find a solution to a writing problem until you’ve correctly identified the problem, and then the root cause. If someone had told me that I was a procrastinator, I would have laughed until recently. But I have to admit that the questions hit home, and I definitely recognize that cycle of feelings! Could it be that the burn-out I’ve felt this year comes from a life lived in the procrastination cycle?

I’ll be exploring the ideas for correcting this habit in coming weeks. The idea of not living in that cycle of pressure puts a little spring in my step today!

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2 Responses to The Vicious Procrastination Cycle

  1. Angela says:

    I am excited to hear more about what you discover. In all honesty, this has plagued me for quite sometime (years). Others identified it before I was willing to acknowledge it. Through a writers prompt, to write a eulogy for an inanimate object, I thought a bit ‘out-of-the-box’ and wrote a eulogy for Procrastination. You might enjoy it. I will copy and paste it here, if I can. (No, it wouldn’t let me paste here, but I will try to send it to you by e-mail).

    Recently it donned on me that the devil is constantly trying to tempt us, or misdirect our paths, the thought crossed my mind that the devil may be making me procrastinate. I know that sounds like an excuse. But, similar to temptation, its possible. Thinking that may be possible, would I continue to let him have that kind of control. ??!?! It was enough to make me stop and think about it. Now, I want to change things and eek him out of control. Right away.

    I will be watching for your follow-up. Thank you Kristi.

    Angela

    • kwpadmin says:

      Angela, I’m glad you found the blog post helpful. I was astounded when I first read about this, and how some of my coping mechanisms that I thought were so good…were actually just part of a bad cycle I was in. And yes, temptation comes in all shapes and forms (the temptation to put things off, to not feel good enough, to not feel like we deserve to write until everyone’s needs are taken care of…) whether the problem originates with the world, the flesh, or the devil. I will look for your piece in my email!

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