I am prone to having periods where I am extremely productive and periods where I have to push myself to start working. It seems like I am always in one of those two modes, never just right.
While this has been an ongoing struggle, I have found ways to better cope with my tendency to procrastinate. The one that has made all the difference for me was learning more about the research on procrastination by the researcher Tim Pychyl. Instead of being a problem of time management or lack of discipline, his group’s research explains that procrastination is a problem with emotional regulation. Procrastination is due to some discomfort associated with a task. This framework by the Centre for Clinical Interventions explains this best.
In their framework, they show that procrastination begins with a task or goal such as those related to work, family, health or self-development. However, even before we begin doing these tasks, we might have already made some assumptions, both correct and incorrect, about the task. These unhelpful rules include the fear of failure, the fear of catastrophe, having low self-confidence, wanting to seek pleasure, needing to be in charge and feeling depleted energy. These assumptions then drive discomfort. Wanting to avoid these discomforts, we then think of excuses for delaying the task. We resort to doing something else more comfortable. The problem is that this creates both positive and negative feedback loops. On one hand, working on the unrelated task makes us feel better. On the other hand, avoiding the actual task gives us more discomfort and further reinforces our wrong assumptions. At some point, the actual negative feeling of the task is replaced by our associated negative feeling with the task. This then restarts the cycle of procrastination.