7 Ways To Stop Procrastinating — Even When You're Feeling Overwhelmed

Photo: Unsplash: JC Gellidon
How To Stop Procrastinating With 7 Tips To Improve Executive Functioning Skills & End Chronic Procrastination

It’s amazing how much goes on in our brains without our conscious minds ever knowing it.

At any moment in time, there are countless subconscious operations taking place in the human brain, especially in the area known as the prefrontal cortex, where the set of processes known as executive functioning (EF) is governed. Executive functioning skills include things like prioritization, organization, and motivation, among others.

This is also where the root of chronic procrastination strikes, so if you want to know how to stop procrastinating, getting a deeper understand of what it means to procrastinate and why people do it is a critical first step in overcoming this particular challenge.

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Procrastination is defined as "the act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention," even when the consequences of doing so will have a negative impact on you.

And while procrastinating may be viewed as an intentional act, when you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, it's not completely fair to say you’re intentionally delaying the action at hand.

When you take a closer look at how the human brain works, it may be more accurate to view procrastinating as consciously delaying an action rather than as something you're doing because you don't know how to stop being lazy.

You may be aware that you’re doing it, but saying you are doing it intentionally implies you mean to do it, or rather, that you mean not to do it.

If you sit down and consciously say to yourself, “I’m gonna put this off for now, even though I know there’s a penalty, because I just don't care,” perhaps that might make sense.

But the truth is that when you have so much going on you feel as though you're just barely keeping your head above water, there's more going on than you might realize.

Why do people procrastinate?

Overwhelm activates our primal survival mode response, sending a subconscious signal that, once triggered, is responsible for all of your logic and reason seeming to fly right out the door.

Essentially, your nervous system hijacks your brain! Fortunately, however, there are some helpful tricks you can try to get yourself unstuck.

Here are 7 tips for how to stop procrastinating and feeling like you're being lazy when your brain's executive functioning is simply overwhelmed.

1. Activate your imagination

Just as whistling a tune helps relieve anxiety, so can getting lost in a good fiction novel, listening to your favorite song or creating a private safe space that only you can access with your mind.

When you use your imagination, it shuts off the fight, flight or freeze response that's taken over your brain, allowing you to then re-engage with your logic and reason.

Other ways to activate your imagination may include praying, singing, or talking with the spirits of your deceased loved ones.

2. Create a sense of certainty

Think back to the last time that you weren't exactly clear on what needed to get done or how you would do it. Or, maybe you were not certain about how to do what all you needed to do. The more certain about things you can be, the better.

3. Break tasks down into manageable steps

If a line item on your ‘To Do’ list says, "Pay taxes", that’s not a single step. Paying taxes requires many actions.

First, you need to collect all of the relevant paperwork and pull it together in one place. Next, you need to acquire and fill out forms based off the information you’ve collected. Lastly, you need to submit the information to your accountant or mail off the finished form to the IRS. And if you make a lot of money, there may be many more steps than these!

By breaking things down, you make them more manageable. It’s easier to feel overwhelmed by “doing taxes” than by “moving papers to one spot.”

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4. Set 'SMART' goals

This step is another way to clarify what you’re doing, lessen the overwhelm, create more certainty, and increase your motivation.

  • S = Specific: What, when, where, why, how?
  • M = Measurement: How will you measure success?
  • A = Action: What actions steps must you take?
  • R = Relevant: Why is this task important now?
  • T = Time-based: When is it due, and how long will each step take?

When your goals are SMART, they leave little room for doubt. You create motivation through clarity.

5. Delegate and automate

Sometimes we get stuck because we’re bored. We don’t enjoy the task or are not particularly good at it.

For example, instead of tediously writing checks out each month for bills, schedule automatic payments online. Or, instead of wasting your precious day off with laundry, drop it off at a place that does it for you. For a few more dollars you can even have a service pick it up and drop it back off for you, saving even more time and energy for other, more enjoyable things.

6. Brain dump

Do you have a million thoughts swirling around in your head? Sometimes we feel overwhelmed because there’s too much going on in our mind — or at least, it feels that way.

It’s easy to feel frozen with so much going on.

Try emptying what’s in your head by putting it down on paper or talking it out with a friend. You can even make a video of yourself talking it out if you’re alone.

The point is to just get it out! It’s like clearing your mental bandwidth in order to free up space so you have room move forward.

7. “Touch It!”

This is my favorite technique for helping to get my clients into a place of action.

  • First, do one of the steps listed above
  • Next, choose the simplest step to get started with what you have to do
  • Then, set a timer and commit to working on it for 5 minutes

Let’s say you have to read a book either as an assignment or for your book club. For any number of reasons, this may be the very last thing you want to do or feel you have time to do.

What is the lowest barrier-to-entry action you could do?

Maybe you could open the book and commit to a page.

Maybe just picking the book up and holding is all you have the energy to accomplish.

The point is you are shrinking the larger task down to the size of your hand, and the magic is that your brain very well may automatically encourage you to go on!

It thinks, “Well, as long as I’m holding this thing for 5 minutes, I may as well open it. And, as long as I’m opening it, I may as well read a page ..."

I like to say this is giving yourself a shot in hell.

I mean, if you don’t even pick up the book, there isn’t a shot in hell you’ll read it.

And that’s really all we want to do — give ourselves a break from the stress and overwhelm, along with an opportunity to become engaged once again.

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Jennie Friedman is a professional Mind & Body Coach specializing in ADHD, who helps people live happier, healthier lives by working with them on the necessary skills for overcoming their struggles, learning emotional management, and embracing the things that make them happiest. Visit her website for more information about how she can help you.