Why can’t I finish what I start?

By Abby Kohlberg

Procrastination is an incredibly common experience. It is not laziness. It can be caused by a fear of not doing the task correctly or good enough, by perfectionism, by low energy, or by the task itself seeming pointless.

None of these are insurmountable, but they can be very difficult foes to face, especially when you can’t see them for what they are.

If you can’t seem get started on a task, the first question you should ask yourself is why. If you can figure out what is keeping you from starting, you can figure out what you should do to make it easier to start.

Do you have everything you need for the task from start to finish?

If you don't have what you need, then getting what you need should be a higher task on your list than the task itself. Organizing with a checklist or planner can help with keeping track.

Do you know what the task is and how to perform it?

If you don't know enough about the task itself to confidently start, then it's time to ask for help. Ask your coworkers, classmates, teachers, managers, or search engines to clarify exactly how to do the task and you may be surprised at how easily you can do it.

Is the task extremely stressful?

If just thinking about the task is draining, you should take a closer look at exactly why that is. Is it mind-numbingly boring and long? See if you can listen to music or a podcast while you work. 

Is the problem that you can never seem to do it right?

Think about exactly what your expectations for yourself are and consider whether or not they're fair. Focus on getting better at one part of the task at a time.

Are you assuming you’ll have enough time later?

Maybe you should just get started, just dip your toes in and see how long just a little bit takes you. That way, you can more accurately judge how much time to leave yourself. Just start it enough to be able to relax.

Do you never seem to have enough energy?

This could stem from several causes. Do you get enough to eat? How consistent is your sleep schedule? Have you taken on too much? It might be worth your while to see a doctor or therapist if none of these seem to be obvious culprits. 

If you’re unsure what the case may be for you, then hitting each of the core possible causes might help you out too.

  1. Gather as much information as you can about the task. (What exactly do you need to do? What should it look like as you’re doing it and when you’re done? Is there anything special or different about this task you should prepare for?)
  2. Remind yourself of your worth, and your time’s worth. Not everything has to be done perfectly. Spend time with people that appreciate you and get reassurance on what level of quality you realistically need to achieve.
  3. Without changing anything, keep an eye on your lifestyle. This isn’t about eating less and exercising more, it’s about being aware of what your body is doing, and whether you’re giving it the energy from food and sleep it needs to do it. Keep in mind that emotions such as stress also drain energy, so you may need to eat more than usual during stressful times.
  4. If it seems that there’s no point in doing anything, it might be that your job is not a good one or your teacher didn’t pay attention during their education lectures. If that is the case, then try to find fun and meaning outside of those tasks, and use that fun to motivate you to complete them.

You may have noticed a bit of a pattern here. For many of these solutions, you have to ask for help.

It’s okay to ask for help.

If the people immediately in your life can’t help, or if you have worries preventing you from relying on them, then consider seeing a therapist. Many offices now offer therapy online over a video chat.

Being especially nervous about your tasks may be a sign of anxiety. A therapist can help you cope with that.

Constantly needing your work to be perfect can be a sign of low self esteem. A therapist can help you grow away from that.

If it’s not the task but your life in general that seems to be without meaning, that could be a sign of depression. A therapist can show you how to take your life back.

For peer-reviewed, scholarly articles on procrastination, stress, and how to cope with both, click here, here, or here.

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