Cognitive Therapy For Procrastination




From time to time most of us have engaged in the practice of putting off some tasks or activities that we found unpleasant. Whether it was cleaning out the closet, scheduling an appointment for a medical checkup, or doing our taxes, the experience of knowing that we need to do something and avoiding it, a.k.a. procrastination is a common experience. For most people, most of the time, it seems to be only a minor problem in that they engage in it seldom enough that it doesn’t cause any serious impairment in their ability to do their jobs, graduate from school, pay the rent and so on

Occasionally, however, procrastination causes problems that range from minor annoyances like having to do without some electronic you device you need to use, because you didn’t go to the store and buy batteries weeks ago when you noticed they were getting low, all the way to something much more serious like having to be hospitalized for a heart attack because you put off starting a program of exercise and heart healthy eating that your doctor advised months or years earlier. Many people who suffer from clinical depression develop a symptom of severe loss of motivation, loss of the ability to experience pleasure in activities, and fatigue as a part of their illness. This often leads to serious problems with procrastination  in wide variety of areas ranging from not interacting with other people, not exercising, and not cleaning living spaces, all the way to not paying bills, neglecting personal hygiene, staying in bed all day, and not applying for jobs despite being unemployed and running out of money to pay the bills.

Destructive thoughts can lead to procrastination. Thoughts like the following, are common among people who feel unable to overcome the problem of procrastination when they think about tasks and activities that they avoid:

  1. “It’s going to be too hard.”
  1. “It won’t be any fun.
  1. ” I don’t have the energy to do it.”
  1. “I’d be much happier just staying home.”
  1. If I start the job and don’t finish it in the first session, I’ll feel worse than I do now.”
  1. “If I go out with friends and I’m not smiling all the time, it’ll bring them down and I won’t enjoy myself at all.”
  1. “I’ll never be able to get any satisfaction from any activity.”
  1. “I haven’t had fun in so long that I don’t believe it’s possible anymore.”

Now all of these are destructive thoughts and we can use our POEMS ND PALM acronym and our Clue Cards to figure out which Destructive Thought Pattern matches each one and neutralize them by figuring out the flaws in each one of them, however there is another effective way to deal with these. I call it Being Your Own Investigator, which just means you’re going to give yourself a chance to take charge of the situation and investigate the facts, much like a detective or a scientist, by examining evidence, and testing ideas or theories about your situation to find out which ones hold true and which ones are false. In the end this process of investigation can produce hidden benefits for people who feel unable to overcome procrastination .

Here we need an actual DAILY AGENDA OF EVENTS chart with items being filled in, alternating with video of various activities.

So let’s spell out how to become your own investigator. First, make it as easy as possible.  It’s so much easier to just say out loud whatever you need to write and have those words instantly appear on the page than it is to laboriously type everything out. Since investigation can involve a fair amount of note-taking, if you find that boring, annoying, or exhausting (you wouldn’t be alone), make it easy by taking advantage of the many voice transcription apps and software packages available at stores and online. Many of them are easy to use, affordablesave you tons of time, and make it so easy to have a lightning-quick record of the facts that it’s hard to believe.

Here’s a good way to start being your own investigator. At the top of the page you enter the words, Daily Agenda of Events. Then just below that title, on the left-hand side of the page, simply enter the waking hours of your day. For example, if you normally get up at 7 AM then the first item you would enter in the margin on the left would be 7 AM. Below that enter 8 AM, below that 9 AM, and so on until the last hour of the day that you are usually awake such as 11 PM, for example. Then to the right of each one of those hours of the day, you would enter activities that would be appropriate for that time of day such as “Go to the bathroom”, “Shower”, “Breakfast”, “Walk the Dog”, “Go to Work”, and so on until you had entries for every hour of the day

To the right of each one of those activities, we’re going to create what we call worked with when you learned mathematics in elementary school. The Action Fractions will be made up of two numbers, one of which will be above the other and separated by a horizontal line, if you’re writing script. You may remember that mathematicians call the upper number the numerator, and they call the lower number the denominator.  But you can also be the Terminator. So if you’re just entering them with a keypad or voice transcription, instead of having an upper number you’ll simply enter the number that would’ve been the upper number first like the “ 1”, followed by a “/”, followed by a “4” to make the fraction “1/4”.

Each of the numbers in these action fractions has a special meaning. The first number, which was the 1 in our example, is what we call our ES factor. We’re calling it that because the letters E” and “S are what we want you to remember for this first number in your Action Fraction.  Here the E stands for effort (or how much energy it took to perform the task or activity) and the S stands for satisfaction or sense  of accomplishment that you got from taking on that task or activity (regardless of whether you finished it). So the first number in the fraction can be any number between zero and five, where the zero means there was no effort in the activity and no sense of satisfaction or accomplishment.

  If you assigned a five to the “ES factor” it would mean that it took a maximum effort to get it done and you may well have gotten a very high degree of satisfaction or at least a high sense of accomplishment from the fact that you put forth such a great effort (in other words, you gave it all you had).

 The second number in the fraction we’ll call the E factor, where the E stands for enjoyment. So if you thought an activity is going to bring you no enjoyment, you would assign a zero or “0” for the second part of the Action Fraction, but if you thought it would bring you a very high amount of enjoyment you might assign it a 4 or 5.


For example, if you put exercise workout on your schedule for 7:30 AM and you thought it was going to be very difficult and you would get no enjoyment at all, then your action fraction for that might be 5/0, with the first number representing the fact that you ES portion of the action fraction would be the highest possible, which is a “5”, representing extreme levels of effort and the E portion of the fraction being represented by “0”, signifying that you expect no enjoyment all from the workout. If on the other hand you thought that the exercise workout would be moderately difficult and that you would get a small amount of enjoyment from it, your action fraction for that might be 3/2. Here, the 3 represents a medium effort and the “2” represents somewhat less than moderate enjoyment.

So when you’ve completed this, for each item, for your waking hours of the coming day, you’ll have an entire agenda written out for the day, with your estimates of how much effort it’s going to take and how much or how little enjoyment you’ll get from each activity. Again, obviously, you’re doing this either the night before, or first thing in the morning of each day.  Those Action Fractions are your own estimates about the day to come, and much like a medical mystery, they function as theories or predictions with which a scientist might start an investigation 

Now, how about that investigation? Just go through your day referring to your daily agenda of events as a guide to try to follow. In some cases you may find that you’re able to follow the list of activities and tasks. In other cases you won’t. The point is to simply proceed with your day, observing what you do and recording the activities in which you do engage, without any criticisms or judgments . You may not have time during the day to record this on the same page as your daily agenda of activities, or you may have a break for a few minutes (or if you have lunch) to jot down some of the activities you did during the day, just as you see here in this example. 

If you don’t have time during the day, no problem, just do the best you can to record what you did for each one of those hours just to the right of your predicted activities and their corresponding Action Fractions. Be sure to assign another Action Fraction to each of the activities that you did during the day, so for example, if you entered “Take a walk” in your 7 AM  slot and you actually did that same activity in the 7 AM -8 AM time slot, then you don’t need to enter the same activity again, just leave as you entered it with your predicted Action Fraction, but add (to the right of that) a second Action Fraction that reflects the level of effort” or  “sense of accomplishment”  you actually experienced ( on a scale from zero to five in the first number, and the actual level of enjoyment or lack of enjoyment that you experienced in the same activity. If you didn’t do the activity that you had predicted, simply record whatever you actually did to the right of the activity you had predicted. In our example, if you had  entered “Take a Walk” for 7 AM before starting your day and you didn’t do that, just enter whatever you did do, such as, if you just snoozed for half an hour and took a shower, simply enter the words “Took a shower” to the right of the words “Take a Walk” and it’s original Action Fraction and enter an Action Fraction that reflects the actual level of a sense of accomplishment and actual level pleasure that you experienced. Once you’ve done that for each of the waking hours of the day, you now have the information to test out your theories as part of your investigation.

This may seem like too much effort to put out just to record information about the activities of the day, but just consider how much low motivation and procrastination can cost you. if you’ve  been having problems with procrastination that have gotten you into difficulty like a poor credit rating that kept you from being able to get a loan for a house or caror having your electrical power turned off because of unpaid bills, or failed exams because you couldn’t motivate yourself to  study, or you’re frustrated because you’re underpaid, but you just can’t motivate yourself to network with people to get a better paying job, or you just feel very  unhappy because of loneliness because you don’t feel motivated to contact with people and get together for social activity. Low motivation and procrastination can cost you an awful lot economically and emotionally.

 So why is it worth the effort to use the Daily Agenda of Events? It’s because of the hidden benefits of the technique. There are many studies in the field of psychology that have shown that simply monitoring and writing down your  activities has helped people to make beneficial changes in their behavior.They have become their own investigators and when you become your own investigator, you start to notice that those action fractions reveal a lot about differences between your beliefs about activities and their actual results. When you attach numerical ratings to the feelings that you get from activities you start to learn a great deal about what really gives you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction and what doesn’t. In the course of doing this kind of personal research investigation many people discovered that after predicting very low satisfaction and low levels of enjoyment with action fractions like  1/0 , the action fractions they recorded surprised them in that they recorded larger numbers, like 2/1 or even 3/2 and they had actually gotten more satisfaction or experienced a greater sense of accomplishment from actual activities than they thought they would. That’s an important discovery. And they discovered it for themselves.


Also many people, when they use this technique start to realize that they’ve been telling themselves that an activity was going to give them no enjoyment and it turned out that they actually did enjoy themselves, although it wasn’t to the fullest extent as I detailed in the action fractions above. But some pleasure was far better than the zero that they had predicted. This disproved their belief that they couldn’t experience enjoyment. That too was an important discovery. 

Also when people didn’t do the activities that they had predicted on their Daily Agenda of Events and they just stayed in bed, laid on the couch, isolated themselves, or went online without any constructive purpose day after day, they found that the levels of enjoyment they recorded were lower than when they made the sometimes tremendous effort it took to get up and take on a task or engage in constructive recreational activities, and afterward they felt better about what they had accomplished than they ever did when they were just procrastinating, isolating, or “vegging out.“ That important discovery has helped people make small changes, adding just an activity here or there at first, and as the learned from their gradually increasing enjoyment levels, their levels of comfort with more activity increased. So by becoming their own investigators they were able to discover what they needed to know to gradually develop regular enjoyable healthy activities.    

When you become your own investigator you begin to make discoveries. You begin to see patterns and you can begin to actually make changes in the daily agenda of activities that you arrange for yourself before each day. When people begin to notice that they got more satisfaction from an activity than they thought they would, it actually increases their motivation to schedule activities that give them a similar good feeling. That kind of change builds on itself and can help people to actually regain the motivation that they had lost.

The discovery that some pleasure is possible in some activities gives people new information that allows them to actually schedule more of the healthy constructive pleasurable activities and the motivation to actually follow the schedule begins to increase because increasing levels of pleasure tend to increase the motivation even when it begins on a low level. We have to start somewhere and even if we start on a low level we can build from that level there’s nothing like making that discovery for yourself.

Remember whether your problem procrastination is very mild or whether you’re feeling deeply trapped in a vicious cycle of low motivation, gaining detailed information about how your activity levels influence your feelings is one of the keys to making changes that can have a positive influence on both your activity and your feelings. Feel free to use the Daily Agenda of Events anytime you need to, to help you become your own investigator and get the information you need to eradicate your desire to procrastinate.





There are many ways to handle this problem



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