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Life Kit: How To Fight Procrastination

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Procrastination is the enemy of progress. And at the beginning of every year, many of us promise ourselves that we will slay this beast. We make lists. We buy journals. We try new apps. But no matter what we do, we end up putting things off that we could do right now. NPR's Life Kit dug into the roots of procrastination and has some tips for us. Here is TK Dutes.

T K DUTES, BYLINE: One of the most surprising things I've learned about procrastination is that it's more than just putting things off. Here's how licensed therapist and recovering procrastinator Anastasia Locklin defines it.

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ANASTASIA LOCKLIN: Procrastination is typically a dysfunctional way of coping with unwanted emotions and feelings of anxiety, depressive feelings, self-doubt or even fear.

DUTES: Yikes. Things just got really real. And guess what type of person often has really big issues with procrastination? The perfectionist.

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LOCKLIN: The thought is, OK, if I can't do it perfect right now, I won't do it. I'll just wait until I'm in a setting or a situation where I can be completely perfect at it. And it's unrealistic and irrational because we typically are going to have some sort of reason why things can't be perfect.

DUTES: And that inner critic is the voice inside your head. That voice has been attacking your self-worth over time and might be preventing you from getting things done. It could be something you absorb from caregivers, coaches, teachers, other people of influence. And, eventually, you started to think of it as your own voice.

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LOCKLIN: But that voice is not your own. So I think the first step is, you know, doing that inner work and identifying - OK, what is my negative self-talk telling me?

DUTES: Sometimes, it's not only the inner critic; it's culture. Black women, myself included, tend to procrastinate self-care activities, like vacations and doctor's appointments because we feel like we have to work twice as hard to be recognized at work. And we're often socialized to take care of everyone around us to our detriment.

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LOCKLIN: Another concept that comes up is imposter syndrome. It's the idea that we hold internally that we're only successful due to luck and not because of our own talent and our own merit. And so imposter syndrome can be a barrier to us believing that we deserve permission to take a break, to rest and to care for ourselves.

DUTES: And if you're procrastinating wellness and rest, plan ahead and delegate. Block out vacations in advance and put systems in place so you can work towards your time away and feel secure that all your goals are met. Once you get your groove back, you'll be ready to employ some practical tips to help keep procrastination at bay. First, identify small goals. Work on something for a short amount of time, say 10 minutes. Second, if you need more structure, Locklin recommends trying the Ivy Lee method.

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LOCKLIN: At the end of the day, you write down six of the most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow, and it's just six.

DUTES: List them out in order of true importance. Tackle those things and only those things the next day, whenever you have the most energy. If you're still struggling, consider meeting with a therapist that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, short-term goal-oriented problem therapy treatment. But procrastination - is it bad if it's planned and strategic?

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LOCKLIN: One thing my grandmother used to always tell me is there are seasons sometimes in life, right? And so we all go through seasons. We all go through ebb and flow. And it's OK to put things aside and revisit them when you're in a better place or you have more time to get things done in an effective manner.

DUTES: For NPR News, I'm TK Dutes.

MARTIN: For more helpful tips from Life Kit on combating procrastination, check out their episodes at npr.org/lifekit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.