Procrastination and Depression

procrastination and depression
Every day, the most common search terms that brings people to my blog are Procrastination and Depression, or Procrastination and Bipolar Disorder. Without fail, they’re the terms googled the most. As a result, the most frequented page that is viewed on this blog is a January 2014 article I titled, “Procrastination, Lazy or Depression?” Most days that article is viewed more than the most recent post.

Because it’s so popular, I decided to be a bit lazy today and repost that article. Give ’em what they want, right? So here’s a flashback to two years ago:

Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday. ~Don Marquis

The sooner I fall behind, the more time I have to catch up. ~Unknown

One of the greatest labor-saving inventions of today is tomorrow. ~Vincent T. Foss

Procrastination always gives you something to look forward to. ~Joan Konner

Procrastination is defined as the act or habit of putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention. Sound familiar? Yeah, me too. I’ve struggled with procrastination my entire life so it’s time to see how to prevent it. I had a teacher in high school who told me that she hated to keep dropping my essay grades because they were always a day late, but she didn’t want to push me to get them earlier because she believed the quality of my writing would go down. I think she was right.

Two Views on Procrastination

I found two camps regarding overcoming procrastination. Those that fall under the first group provide a series of steps to follow. All you need to do is pull yourself up by your boot straps and follow the steps and your life will be changed. The second group, made up of mostly doctors, believe that chronic procrastination is a problem too deep to shake off. They believe depression, anxiety, and perfectionism are all contributors themselves, and to each other. Having strong willpower is not enough. Because they are typically doctors, and because I believe chronic procrastination is a result of deep rooted psychological problems, I’ve chosen to delve deeper into the beliefs of the second group. Maybe I’m wrong for turning my nose up at the first group, but, following steps in a magazine article does not seem likely to produce life changing transformation.

The Study

Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, who specializes in the study of procrastination. I love the idea of being a specialist in procrastination. Does he use experimentation as an excuse when he is late for work? Anyway, In a June 21, 2013 article of “Psychology Today, “Dr. Pychyl describes working with a student who was collecting data from undergraduate students using self-report measures. Each student measured a score each day on their depression levels and a score on their procrastination. Having people log their feelings on some type of scale is typically a pretty lousy way to experiment, but the results were interesting.

According to Dr. Pychyl, the students’ scores on depression correlated with their scores on procrastination. This has been shown to be true in many other studies. The more depressed we are, the more we procrastinate and the more we procrastination the more we become depressed. On behalf of us who are clinically depressed I’d like to say “DUH!”

The Results

In the study they found that when they measured self-regulation skills, the relation between depression and procrastination disappeared. Being a bear of little brain I had to look up Self-regulation. It is the self’s capacity to alter its behaviors, or, as they say, – “put one foot in front of the other and just do it”.

Now Wait One Minute! I chose to side with the doctors because I thought they would not agree with the pull yourself up by your bootstraps crowd! Apparently I was wrong. Dr. Pychyl shares a personal experience to further explain the test results. Dr. Pychyl describes working through his grief period after his mother’s death through self-regulation. Though depressed, he did it by going about his daily routine, such as feeding his kids, going to work, doing chores. He stated that he had no joy in any of it, but he did each thing as intended. “Showing up is half the battle with self-regulation,” he states.

Just Do it, was his strategy. Some in Alcoholics Anonymous refer to it as “Fake it until you make it.” Just do the action and it makes everything easier. Dr. Pychyl admits it is not always that simple, “Their self-regulation is undermined somehow, their practical reasoning impaired, perhaps. Depression complicates our consideration of procrastination or weak-willed action.”

It Ain’t That Easy

Here is where I am disappointed in the good doctor and his findings. He acknowledges that his recommendations are more difficult for the chronically depressed, but he never states how to get around that. Maybe, that is because there is no easy way. How do you tell someone who can’t even get out of bed in the morning that they need to get up and just do it? How do you tell someone who hasn’t opened the window blinds in weeks that they just need to fake it until you make it? From reading Dr.Pychyl’s article, and many others, aside from antidepressants, there is no magic pill that is going to make you stop procrastinating. It’s just a matter of willpower and you have to hope you have enough to get past it all.

What Bradley Will Do

From reading Dr.Pychyl’s article, and many others,there is no magic pill that is going to make you stop procrastinating. It’s just a matter of willpower and you have to hope you have enough to get past it all. What I learned from all this is to be easy on myself. Try not to procrastinate, but don’t beat the crap out if myself if I can’t get out of bed. If I’m able to get out of bed, but can’t focus on writing an article for this blog, well, the world will keep spinning if you have to go a day without reading one of my outstanding articles. I swear to myself not use my depression as an excuse to procrastinate, but I will allow myself to put things off if it allows me to take better care of myself. I hope you’ll do the same.

13 comments on Procrastination and Depression

  1. Good post! I never knew the term “self-regulation” but I guess that is what I do. When very depressed I’ll tell myself, “I can do one thing”. When I’ve completed it, I tell myself I can do one more thing. It’s how I get things done. I may only get a few things done on the worst days but I’m satisfied that I tried. I just live in the moment and do what I can.

    1. Journey, here’s a post you might like as well. It’s also from early 2014. It talks about my short list. It woks great for me when I’m struggling because it’s so flexible:

  2. Good article Brad. I think you’re right to take the middle road. Try to get things done, but if you don’t, don’t beat yourself up. Advice I work on daily, even though it barely works! ?

  3. Hey Bradley, I removed that post because I don’t want to worry my son. His law school exams are coming up soon. Yes it’s annoying to find out I’ve had this all my life and now I will have to do something about it. My stepdad is a heart surgeon so I called him today, he said he’ll find out who the best person is to fix this at Columbia Presbyterian and call me back. Thank you for your kind words. I’ll post about the whole thing once it’s all taken care of.

    1. Understandable why you took it down. Thank you for the update, Looks like you’re in good hands.

  4. Procrastination? Hah. In August 2013 I applied for a passport. Three weeks later it was ready to be collected from Home Affairs. Almost 3 years later, and I still have not collected it. And don’t ask me about my overdue library books

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