If you're like most women, your days are so jam-packed it's hard to imagine cramming in one more thing. So when those big, important projects never get done, it's easy to rationalize that you just don't have time, what with taking care of your kids, your house, your job, and dealing with the endless "urgent" tasks that crop up every day.
Ah, excuses. We've all got them. In truth, that avalanche of daily chores may be just another form of procrastination. "I can do 10 or 20 things in my day, but if I don't put in at least half an hour on my main project, then I'm going to feel like I didn't do anything," explains Neil Fiore, Ph.D., author of The Now Habit (Tarcher/Putnam).
Oddly enough, we don't postpone only annoying chores—we also set aside the things we want to do. "Women often put off investing time and energy in their own growth, their own career, their own wants," says Linda Sapadin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in Valley Stream, New York, and author of Master Your Fears (Wiley). Whether it's taking an art class, getting in shape, or finding a better job, we all have things that hover forever on our "must do" lists. "Women tend to be socializers and caretakers," says Fiore, "so they often avoid tasks that might take a few hours a week for many months but would make a big change in their lives."
While everyone procrastinates for different reasons, Sapadin believes that women tend to fall into three categories: the perfectionist, who stalls because doing something perfectly is such an intimidating goal; the over-doer, who has trouble saying "no" to others and has little time for her own goals; and the worrier, who avoids things that make her anxious. Surprisingly, it's not just fear of failure that can stop a worrier in her tracks; some procrastinators actually fear success, thinking that it might cause others to expect more from them than they can deliver.
What about causes? Look to your family background, although "There's no gene for being a procrastinator," says Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. According to his research, chronic procrastination is a learned behavior that may be more common among people with stern, emotionally distant fathers and indecisive mothers. Unable to please one parent or get support from the other, they learn as children to simply avoid taking action. Procrastinators also tend to have lower self-esteem and to be less self-confident than people who are able to tackle things immediately.
Sound familiar? Whether or not you fit the mold, don't spend too much time on self-analysis. "Asking why can lead to more procrastination because it creates self-blame, self-criticism, and depression," warns Fiore. "And in the meantime, you will have also avoided facing the task that you fear."
So how do you get past the perfectionism, the worry, the busywork? There are ways to get things done. Try these tips and see what fits your style. If some of them seem like the opposite of what you should do, give them a shot anyway—you might be pleasantly surprised.Seriously Blocked
While everyone puts off certain things, about 20% to 25% of adults are chronic procrastinators, says Ferrari. "Procrastination is their lifestyle. They do it not only at work but also at home and in their personal life." If a chronic procrastinator has a list of 12 things to do, for example, she may tackle one task and then decide to reshuffle the list or start making copies of it. She's caught in a vicious cycle of avoiding important tasks. For her, Ferrari says, cognitive behavioral therapy is recommended. So if procrastination is putting your job, your relationships, and your happiness at risk, don't wait. Schedule an appointment with a knowledgeable psychologist today.