Written by Annabel Lee
Journalist Annabel Lee has always struggled with procrastination. Could a life coach help her break the cycle?
I used to think procrastination was simply an excuse to make an extra coffee mid-deadline or have a quick look at my phone. But the truth is, over the last few years it’s become something far more worrying for me.
My chronic procrastination means I feel constantly stressed and guilty about everything I haven’t managed to do. I spend more time overthinking what I need to do than the time required to do it in the first place. It’s self-sabotage at its finest.
As 2023 fast approaches, I’m desperate to take control of my time and escape this feeling of constant overwhelm. I’m not the only one who feels this way, either – recent research highlights that 88% of people procrastinate for at least an hour a day. For a fifth of people, it’s something that affects their lives and work daily.
Procrastination has become so common, in fact, that it’s led to the rise of anti-procrastination coaches to help people tackle it. Catri Barrett is one such coach, who I came across on Instagram when I was – surprise, surprise – procrastinating. Her “procrastination breakthrough” sessions promise to help people uncover why they procrastinate and put in place tools to help them avoid it. For once, I wasted no time and booked in.
What does an anti-procrastination session look like?
My 90-minute session with Barrett took place on Zoom. As I logged in, I felt hopeful – could facing my procrastination head-on really help me get to the root of the problem? Would this be the turning point? Could I wave goodbye to procrastination forever? Maybe, though, I had been thinking about it all wrong, Barrettsuggested.
“Not all procrastination is bad,” she tells me, framed by beautiful house plants on the video call. “It can be useful for creativity, daydreaming or coming up with ideas. Occasional procrastination is perfectly natural, but it’s when it becomes chronic that it’s an issue.”
Barrett has been a life coach for five years and began specialising in procrastination after realising it was driving much of her own behaviour. Her practice now focuses on undoing the cycle of procrastination – when you feel bad, procrastinate more, then feel worse – by helping people understand what’s causing it and how to change their habits.
Procrastination is more than just distraction
Understanding why you want to stop procrastinating is a big part of the process. “People think you can solve procrastination by willpower alone, but you can’t,” says Barrett. Instead, we need to understand the root cause of our procrastination before we can think about breaking the habit.
During a grounding exercise that kicks off the session, I sense how busy my mind and body feel and begin to see it’s that constant sense of motion and noise I want to stop. Procrastination, I realise, is simply the effect of this internal busyness. And beyond that, there are other triggers, too.
As we talk about the key area of my life that’s negatively impacted by procrastination – my work – I see that I’m more likely to avoid tasks I’ve deemed especially difficult. I’m so keen to do a good job that I put them off out of fear – which is common among perfectionists, I learn.
“There are different types of procrastinators, and each of us have our own procrastination personality types,” Barrett says. These include the dreamer, who may be easily distracted and sometimes wrongly labelled as lazy; the worrier, who avoids doing things that might make them feel unsafe; and the defier, who is reluctant to do tasks set by a figure of authority.
Procrastination, for me and many others, is a sign of emotional dysregulation, Barrettexplains. “You’re using it as a solution to another problem. And to beat it, you therefore have to address the underlying feelings and needs.”
One of my go-to procrastination habits, for example, is scrolling on Instagram. Rather than merely stemming from a lack of concentration, it’s become a way for me to seek connection and relieve discomfort when work feels challenging.
How to break the cycle
There are ways to move past procrastination. Barrett suggests breaking work down into smaller tasks and planning specific times to do them. I decided to try this technique when writing this article, blocking out time to research, write and edit. To help regulate the underlying emotion driving my procrastination, Barrett suggests I should form “nurturing beliefs” to turn to when I notice I’m procrastinating. These are statements similar to positive affirmations, like “I am capable and making a difference” and “things don’t have to be perfect to be good”.
Barrett also recommends using the Eisenhower Matrix – prioritising my to-do list by urgency and importance – to identify what really needs to be done while also regulating the fear associated with certain tasks.
Armed with this knowledge, I feel like I’m able to make more informed choices when procrastination hits. When I’m not quite sure how to structure a sentence or what to write next, I resist the urge to soothe the discomfort with a quick scroll. I remind myself that I can focus, get it done and then allow myself to rest and switch off.
I leave the session with a better understanding of why I procrastinate, and how to start making more conscious choices to get what I really want. Procrastination can feel like a heavy and shameful habit, but look closer and you’ll find something far more human and understandable.
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