Anxiety-based Procrastination: Tips for Getting over the Hurdle

By March 14, 2022NESCA Notes 2022

By: Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L
NESCA Transition Specialist & Occupational Therapist

Despite our best efforts, procrastination happens. There are many reasons that you may be putting off that large paper, important phone call or those dishes that are stacking up. You may not have the motivation, you may be tired, you may have more fun plans, or maybe it makes you feel anxious. In fact, one of the top reasons people procrastinate is anxiety. Anxiety rates have increased since the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020, and tasks that previously felt easy can now be daunting to think about. It is important to both treat yourself with kindness AND build up your toolbox so that you can tackle the day ahead. Below is a list of nine tips on getting over the procrastination hurdle when anxiety is taking over.

  1. Five minute max – For this strategy, set a five-minute timer and start the activity you have been putting off. Tell yourself that you can stop the activity after five minutes. More than likely, once you start, you will be able to keep going, but you have the option to stop after just five minutes. This strategy helps with perfectionism and all-or-none thinking that can stop you from starting your tasks.
  2. Task breakdown – Big tasks can often feel overwhelming, so breaking your big project, chore, etc., into small steps can help you get going. Tell yourself you will complete step one today and move on to step two tomorrow.
  3. Seek help – Take a step back. Do you have the skills to complete this task? Is there someone you could ask for help if needed? Do not be afraid to seek the help of others to get started!
  4. Reduce the standard – Identify one task that you would be less likely to avoid if you make it easier. For example, have you been putting off exercise because you are worried about going to the gym? Start with a 10-minute walk and build up to a longer exercise period once you are ready. This method is especially helpful to combat an all-or-none mindset.
  5. Notice negative predictions – Be aware of your thoughts and how they can impact, or even control, your actions. Are you making a negative predication about the outcome? If so, it can be helpful to go through the following questions in your mind to reframe your thinking:
    1. What is the worst outcome?
    2. What is the best outcome?
    3. What is the most realistic outcome?
    4. What might I learn if I am willing to take a risk?
  6. Recognize your strengths and challenges – If you find initiating, planning or sequencing tasks difficult when compared to your other skills, don’t misattribute procrastination to laziness or poor motivation. Mislabeling yourself as lazy can lead to further procrastination and decrease self-confidence. You may instead decide to seek extra support or tools to develop your executive function skills.
  7. Visualize – Visualize the finished product AND the feeling associated with completing the task. It is easier to start a task if you feel like you have already succeeded at it.
  8. Accomplishment journal – Keep a running list of accomplishments (even small ones) and check back in to boost your self-confidence for the tasks ahead. It is much easier to start a task when you are in a positive head space and see that you are capable of meeting your goals.
  9. Treat yourself with small rewards – Sometimes a small reward can help you get over a big scary hump. Perhaps after scheduling all of the health care appointments you have been putting off, you sit down and watch the movie you have been wanting to see.

There is no perfect strategy that works for everyone in every situation, but add these strategies to your toolbox and test them out. See if you can find just one tool to help you in those moments when anxiety is impacting your ability to get moving. You’ve got this!


About Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist who focuses on helping students and young adults with disabilities to build meaningful skills in order to reach their goals. She has spent the majority of her career working in a private school for students with ASD. She has also spent some time working in an inpatient mental health setting. Lyndsay uses occupation-based interventions and strategies to develop life skills, executive functioning, and emotional regulation. While completely her doctoral degree at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Lyndsay worked with the Boston Center for Independent Living to evaluate transition age services. She uses the results from her research to deliver services in a way that is most beneficial for clients. Specifically, she focuses on hands-on, occupation-based learning that is tailored the client’s goals and interests.


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