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Does Procrastination Cause Stress? Or Vice Versa?

by Jennifer on July 28, 2010

By Joanne Elliot

A typical bad day: I wake up and my first thought is of the next five things I have to do in order to just get to my desk. That makes me want to go back to sleep. But no, I must get to work on my novel.

I sleepwalk through those five steps.

As I’m getting ready to work I keep thinking I’m not going to have enough time to get this done as well as my blogs and all the chores I’ve got on my list for today. I need to get those chores done because I didn’t do them earlier in the week.

Now I’m feeling time-pressured and I haven’t gotten any writing done yet.

I look at the clock. An hour has already passed in my time allotted for writing. I edit a few paragraphs, but because I’m anxious I’m not thinking clearly so I decide I’d better get moving on other things.

By now I’m even more frazzled and upset that I didn’t get my set amount of pages edited. Maybe I’ll do more later.

Later comes and I’m exhausted and anxious over not having gotten everything done on my list, including the writing. I can’t deal with it anymore so I call it a day and spend the evening watching the ball game. I don’t enjoy the game much because I’m still upset over my day.

This is a very stressful and unhappy way to live, which is why I’ve turned to blogs like the Procrastinating Writers blog and have read and worked with Jennifer’s eBook, Butt-in-Chair.

I’ve discovered that being stressed is what is partly causing me to procrastinate.

Here are some ways I’ve devised to help myself calm down and therefore not feel like putting things off. I hope these will be helpful to you, too.

Change Your Perception of Time
Time doesn’t have to be a source of stress. It’s all in how you perceive it.

Faced with a deadline we may feel overwhelmed, thinking, “Am I going to have enough time to complete this project?”

Slow down.

Ask yourself why you feel rushed: Do you have too many things on your plate already? The more tasks you set for yourself the more you perceive time as running out.

Try shortening your to-do list on a day-by-day basis. Break down those projects into smaller chunks.

Instead of trying to get five things accomplished today, try three.

Three’s not so bad, you think. Suddenly you feel spacious, relaxed and more willing to work. When calm, you’ll find you can accomplish more and may even do five things that day. It’s all in your perception.

Stop Thinking and Be in the Moment
Sometimes just thinking about those three things on your list can cause you stress. Stop thinking so much and just do.

Take one thing at a time and just begin to work, and then take the next and the next. Don’t think beyond what you’re working on. Keep focused, stay in the present and you’ll find you’re getting things done.

Practice Calm
The other ways I mentioned to cope with stress can help you get calm, but a regular centering practice can help you remain calm despite what is going on in your life. You can learn to stay centered and avoid becoming anxious.

Sometimes a crisis will happen. When you remain calm you can think clearly and can get yourself out of trouble.

Take some time out of every day to practice centering. Meditation is the best way I know to help one stay centered.

There are many types of meditation. Check out your local library or bookstore for books that can help guide you or search the Net. Meditating can make a difference in all areas of your life.

Stress is a Part of Life
I see procrastination as a symptom of too much stress. We can’t avoid stress all together, nor would we want to, but we can learn to not cause ourselves unnecessary amounts of it.

If you can learn to approach your life and your writing with calm, you will more readily dive in and get the writing done. You can be sure you’ll have fewer of those bad days if you slow down and tame your mind. Give it a try.

How do you cope with the stress of life and how it affects your writing?

About the Author: Joanne Elliott is a writer and poet. Currently she is working on a contemporary fantasy novel and encouraging her muse with a weekly poetry salon she puts on in her living room. You can find samples of her work on her blog. Being a writer she is fascinated by words and how we use them to create realities. Find out what she’s discovered so far here on her fiction blog.  Basically she’s your friendly neighborhood weaver of worlds and realities.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brittany July 28, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Great post! I try to cope with stress by thinking in the moment, like you mentioned in your article. I try not to think too far ahead of things because it makes me overthink and stress out.

2 Joanne Elliott aka soulsprite July 28, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Thanks Brittany! I’m really plagued by overthinking and so I have to, in every moment practically, make myself stop and just do what’s next. Jen’s blogs and the guest blogs have been really helpful.

3 Stormy July 29, 2010 at 5:06 am

I really like you’re theory that sometimes if you minimize your to-do list, you can actually get more done. I think you’re on to something there!

4 AndrewToynbee August 2, 2010 at 11:50 am

Someone once asked;
“How do you eat an elephant?”
to which the answer was
“One bite at a time.”

Sometimes looking at the Big Picture can be too much. I know it doesn’t help if you get depressed easily. In these instances, it’s better to stay close and take small bites out of the problem. BBC launched a ‘Bitesize Revision’ campaign a few years ago, accompanied by CGI graphics that showed a shoal of pirahna-type fish breaking down a ground-stomping ‘Revision Giant’ into Bite-size pieces. Whether this helped kids, I know not, but it helped me to see things in a new way.
Also Bill Murray was helped out of his neurosis by Richard Dreyfuss in ‘What about Bob?’ with the ‘Baby Steps’ program. ie ‘Baby Steps into the elevator…’
and remember the old saying. ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’
If the ‘Big’ problem is quantifiable, ie a word count, then those small bites or baby steps begin to accumulate and you can see progress, which in turn can encourage you to greater progress. Do what you can do today and tomorrow will take care of itself.

5 PatriciaW August 2, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I’ve often wondered whether the stress preceded the procrastination or the procrastination, the stress. I’m certain the stress ratchets up as a result of the procrastination, which I think is where it all begins.

6 Joanne Elliott aka soulsprite August 20, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Thanks Stormy! At least when you minimize your list you feel like you’re accomplishing something and that makes a big difference in how you feel about your life.

I need to relearn that one….I’ve been really busy with a new project. When you start anything new there is always that learning curve and things take much more time than you think. I needed to shorten that to-do list. I guess that’s why I didn’t make it back here to see your and the other comments…my list was too long.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

7 Joanne Elliott aka soulsprite August 20, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Thanks for the info Andrew! I often have to remind myself to just do what I can now and not worry about it. I’m always telling myself, “I can do that one little thing.” It’s like meditation, when you mind follows a thought you just have to bring yourself back to the breath, to the moment.

8 Joanne Elliott aka soulsprite August 20, 2010 at 1:43 pm


It’s hard to say sometimes which comes first, but I can see it both ways.

There are other things that have been causing my stress and so because I’m overwhelmed and stressed I tend to procrastinate….then the procrastination causes even more stress.

It can also happen that life is not very stressful and I procrastinate for other reasons…like, I don’t think I can do this project well enough. That procrastination makes me late on the project which then stresses me out.

So I can see it both ways.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

9 5exy-desii-boiswag46 April 28, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Procrastination always leads to stressing out at the last moment when all becomes too overwhelming. To stay away from the panic that procrastination brings you, prioritize your time. Take a few breaks while you work because overworking may influence you to feel loaded causing you to leave your work altogether. Plan to reward yourself with something enjoyable for when you’ve finished your work as this can help you feel motivated to get your work done so you can watch your favourite show, eat your favourite meal, etc.

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