Depression and Procrastination

When you’re depressed, you don’t feel like doing much of anything, especially the most important or the most pressing things. So you put things off, but you blame yourself for not doing them. Then your self-criticism and the weight of your growing to-do list add to your depression! So it’s a vicious cycle…depression leads to procrastination which leads to depression which leads to….

The research on procrastination suggests that you are more likely to put things off if you have low confidence in your ability to succeed at what you’re supposed to do. In counseling many procrastinators, it’s clear that low self-esteem is usually a cause of procrastination.

When you are depressed, your self-esteem is at a low point, so you may doubt your ability to be successful, and you are more likely to put things off.

How do you get going even when you’re depressed? 

  1. Remember that low self-confidence is a feeling, not a fact. It’s a symptom of depression, not a realistic assessment of your capacities.
  2. Choose one project to work on. Don’t try to do everything all at once to make up for lost time.
  3. Spend just five minutes taking a first step on your project. A first step could be looking for papers you’re supposed to fill out, or getting one piece of information from the Internet, or making one phone call. Set a timer and stop at five minutes. A time limit may reduce the feeling of dread that you will have to do more than you have energy for.
  4. Take steps on your project in five-minute intervals. Keep track of how many times you spend five minutes on it. This record keeping, called “self-monitoring,” can prove to you that you have actually done something when your depressed mood may leave you feeling that you’ve accomplished nothing.
For more tips on overcoming procrastination, see Procrastination: Why You Do It; What To Do About It NOW by Jane Burka, Ph.D. and Lenora Yuen, Ph.D.
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  • Thank you for your timely article. I've been unemployed for over a year now and finally got a solid interview and have been in near panic mode thinking about it.
    Your simple, but thoughtful tips, put my mind at ease and help me put away the anxiety (for now).
    Wish me luck!

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