Am I Procrastinating or Just Taking a Break?

I’m jumping right into this topic. If you want more background information on procrastination, read this.




With procrastination, the enemy is not the activity. It’s the intent.


I tell my clients that the enemy is not Candy Crush. The enemy is their desire to escape their current circumstances. Take away Candy Crush and a motivated procrastinator will open Color Bump.


Ha ha, “Motivated procrastinator,” See what I did there?


My favorite journalist asked me a question recently, “How do you tell the difference between someone who is procrastinating and someone who is taking a break?”


Something about answering this question inspired me to create my first infographic. So, here you go…


Notice that I did not include a list of activities like games, television, and staring at the wall in the frowny face column while putting lofty activities like yoga and meditation in the happy face column.


A procrastinator can use yoga as a noble distraction. A self-care expert can enjoy a mindless game of Candy Crush. It comes back to intent.


One of my most thorough posts on why we procrastinate and what to do about it is this one:  Why Am I Procrastinating? It’s definitely worth a read, especially the seven tips to reduce our tendencies to procrastinate.


I will add an 8th tip below:


Stop early.


When you find yourself engaged in a distracting activity that strongly resembles procrastination, disengage quickly. The quicker you put on the brakes, the easier it is to stop.


Sounds stupid and obvious, I know, but there’s some neuroscience to back up this statement.


In the book, Your Brain at Work, author David Rock describes a brain structure called the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) which is responsible for inhibition. The VLPFC stops us from doing things…physically, cognitively, and emotionally. It is like the braking system on a car.


Here’s the problem:  the VLPFC is in one of the weakest parts of our brain. Our mental braking system stinks. It gets worn out easily, particularly when we are fully engaged in an activity.


So, what you need to keep in mind is that it is cognitively easier to stop a distracting activity early on. Once you get fully engaged in it, your wimpy VLPFC may not have the strength to stop you.


Just like your car’s brakes work better at 15 miles per hour than they do at 80.


So, when you wake up out of a procrastinatory reverie to find that you’re crushing candy, put the phone down immediately. Don’t wait to finish the game. Get out now. It will only get harder to stop the more candy you crush.


And schedule your self-care. It’s important to have those activities to look forward to.


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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.



  1. Ed Nanney

    Excellent advice, Melissa. The red / green Procrastination vs. Self-Care is an especially good reference tool for quick guidance. Thank you!

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Absolutely, Ed. Thanks for your feedback.


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