Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Reducing Procrastination By Addressing The Role of Anxiety

Most of us procrastinate about doing some things, some of the time. I may put off folding clothes and you may find yourself avoiding the mail, the boxes in the garage or the report due next week.  For 20% of men and women in the US, procrastination becomes a pervasive life style pattern that impairs quality of life by limiting success, compromising relationships and lowering self-esteem.boy sitting with dog

Procrastination and Anxiety

While there are many different reasons offered for procrastination, one dynamic that underscores many of them and much of the delaying or postponement of responsibilities is the difficulty regulating anxiety. In a sense, procrastination becomes a default position which offers a temporary fix but ultimately adds more anxiety.

Consider the Diverse Situations and Personal Issues in Which Anxiety Fuels Procrastination:

  • People put off checking out a medical concern because they worry they may have something serious.
  • There is the plan to call the person you met online–you just need some time.
  • You are so worried that you don’t understand the material in the course that you put off studying.

Perfectionism Often Heightens the Anxiety Associated with Procrastination

  • You can’t begin the essay until you come up with an idea that will win the contest–You end up waiting for next year.
  • You keep telling people you will have them over, but the thought of putting together a gourmet dinner and painting the bathroom stops you in your tracks.

The Nature of a Task Can Increase Procrastination

  • People are more likely to procrastinate on tasks for which consequences matter like a tax return; tasks that they anticipate will be complicated like medical forms; or tasks that are overshadowed with other people’s expectations like a business proposal, a Dissertation, even the special toast for a wedding.
  • Findings suggest that people who are chronic procrastinators worry more about social approval and judgment than those who proceed with tasks.

How Does Procrastination become a quick Fix to Anxiety?

The Illusion

Central to procrastination is the short term lowering of anxiety with the rationalization that you are not really risking failure, job loss, relationship tension or medical coverage by refusing to do what is needed– you are just going to do it later.

Time Distortion

  • According to Joseph Ferrari, author of Still Procrastinating, most procrastinators overestimate the time they have left to accomplish a task and underestimate the time it actually takes to complete a task.

Can you really do the shopping and re-tile the floor on Christmas Eve?

  •  There is the opposite tendency of overestimating the time needed for mundane or daily chores and the assumption they will cut into relaxation or more important tasks.

In reality, laundry and dishes only become time consuming when they are avoided, pile up and become mountains that take too much time.


  • Another illusion that perpetuates procrastination is the belief that tomorrow or next week you will be motivated.

Really? When would you ever wake up with the urge to clean the garage?

  • Some people maintain that they need the rush of the “ night before panic” as a motivator.  The reality is that this doesn’t work.

The victory of the “ all nighter” pales in the face of a full college course load and becomes a serious problem of time management, social approval and performance in the work world.


  • Procrastination is fueled by distraction. Sometimes anything but what we are supposed to do can work – Sorting the mail is desirable to doing dishes.
  • Most often the distraction is anything that we can turn to– be it surfing the net or checking emails etc. Essentially we are trying to regulate anxiety with distractions.
  • Even if we are playing instead of doing what we want, distraction has been called “ The Dark Playground” because any enjoyment is overshadowed by the awareness of what we are not doing.

Dealing with Procrastination

Most who have struggled with procrastination and particularly chronic procrastinators will confirm the interpersonal difficulties, low self-esteem, missed opportunities as well as physical stress that procrastination causes. Likened to an addiction, procrastination takes more and more and gives less and less.

Central to many of the solutions posed by experts, clinicians, and even those who have been procrastinators is stepping over the avoidance in a way that minimizes anxiety.

Here are Some Suggestions:

Small Steps

Dr. Lisa Juliano considers that everyone has their own procrastination profile worth contemplating and understanding. She suggests that once you identify something that you avoid, risk it in small steps.  Work on only a section of the assignment. Exercise for only ten minutes. The small steps carry with them mastery and movement.

It’s Only Practice

  • If you are stymied by the thought of a form or task that seems complicated or for which errors equate to consequences, get an extra form or make a copy and consider it your practice round.
  • Skip what you don’t know and keep on going.
  • Most people find that by entering into the task without worrying about mistakes, they relax more, realize what they can do, and  identify where they need help.

Change the Chores

  • If it is the mundane and boring chores that you resent, try timing how long it actually takes to wash dishes, make a bed, or clean a bathroom. You will be amazed how much time you have used distracting yourself from chores that most often take less than 30 minutes.
  • If that doesn’t impress you, pair any of the chores you hate with a positive experience—listen to an album or song-list you love ONLY WHEN DOING that particular chore; speak to a friend on speaker phone; listen to an audio book.

Reward Yourself

Reverse things and use your favorite procrastination as your reward. Pay your bills, do your assignment, make that phone call and then watch the show, surf the web or play your video game ( Mastery plus Pleasure).

Bring in the Troops

Procrastinating is like carrying a heavy bag of  “To Do’s” everywhere you go. Inviting someone to help you can really lighten the load. When a friend is coming to help you clean the garage, it usually get’s done. When a neighbor rings your bell each morning to walk, it is hard to say, “No.” Most people find that everyone benefits.

Think Through the Task and the Time

Procrastination expert, Dr. Joseph Ferrari suggests that:

  • You drop from your list anything you really don’t want or need to achieve—It is just added pressure.
  • You set realistic goals that can be managed—Don’t have the dinner party and paint the house the week school starts.
  • You estimate the amount of times it will take to complete a task and increase it by 100%. You can’t go wrong!

Going From A-B instead of A-Z

Proclaimed procrastinator and creative blogger of “WaitButWhy” suggests that stopping procrastination involves changing your storyline. He shares that each week he tries to do  one hard task without procrastinating. By committing to this plan, he feels he is starting a trend that will eventually change his storyline and his procrastination!!

 For the “ Inside Story on Procrastination” Listen to Dr. Lisa Juliano on Psych UP on Sunday May 11, 2014 after 9AM EST