I’ll read this assigned chapter – later.
I’ll go to the gym – later.
I’ll do those dishes – later.
If any of those phrases sounds familiar to you, you might be a procrastinator.
While it’s tempting to push tasks off until later, when you might feel more inclined to complete them, procrastination is a dangerous habit to fall into.
If you find yourself procrastinating, the good news is that you are not alone. Some studies estimate that up to 95% of the population (and likely higher than that, even) procrastinates to some degree. While it’s common and perhaps comforting to realize that you’re not the only one guilty of this soul-sucking habit, it can be scary to realize just how detrimental procrastination can be.
If you’re ready to move past the habit and learn how to overcome procrastination for good, you may find these tips helpful. Let’s get started… now!
The Basics of Procrastination: What Is It?
Procrastination is the habit of delaying an important task by focusing on other less urgent or more enjoyable activities. When we think of procrastination, we often think of people eschewing responsibilities in favor of hobbies or more relaxing activities, like unwinding in front of the television.
However, procrastination can also occur in more “productive” states. You might find yourself putting off a less-desirable work task in order to work on one that’s more enjoyable. Both tasks are productive, but you’re still procrastinating because you are not getting everything done that needs to be completed.
The Psychology of Procrastination
Why wait? There are brain-based factors at play when it comes to procrastination.
People like to blame the advent of the Internet for the rise in procrastination, but the truth is that people have struggled with procrastination since the start of time. It’s always been around, and it’s always been harmful – in fact, studies show that people who procrastinate tend to have higher levels of stress and lower feelings of well-being.
Procrastination is a reaction that people have to doing something they don’t want to do. Research by Tim Pychyl, the author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, reveals that there are seven key triggers that make a task seem more averse – and make procrastination more likely. If a task is boring, difficult, frustrating, unstructured, ambiguous, not intrinsically rewarding (aka, “un-fun”), or lacking in meaning to you personally, you are going to be far more likely to procrastinate doing it.
Is Procrastination a Mental Illness?
Although you might at times feel as though your proclivity toward procrastination is a mental illness, don’t worry – it’s not! As frustrating and incurable as it might seem, procrastinating is nothing more than an irritating hobby.
That said, many people who suffer from issues such as anxiety and anxiety-related disorders do have a tendency to experience procrastination to a greater extent than those who do not have these disorders. Therefore, you may find yourself prone to excess procrastination if you suffer from one of these illnesses.
Is Procrastination the Same as Being Lazy?
There’s a common misconception that procrastination is the same as laziness. The two are, in fact, quite different.
While laziness is an apathetic, inactive process, procrastination is an active process. You are choosing to do something else rather than exactly what it is you know you should be doing. Often, procrastination stems from the desire to ignore an unpleasant (though usually important) task, while laziness is just avoiding work altogether.
The sad reality is that giving in to procrastination can have major negative consequences, leading us to feel unfulfilled, ashamed, guilty, or unproductive.
How To Overcome Procrastination: 17 Tips
As with most bad habits you want to break, overcoming procrastination is possible. Just follow these helpful tips.
1. Give Yourself Some Grace
Your first step at overcoming procrastination? Take a deep breath – and forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness can help you feel more positive about yourself and will reduce the likelihood that you procrastinate in the future.
2. Recognize the Problem
The first step to overcoming a problem is admitting that you have a problem – right? So admitting that you need to stop procrastinating will be your first step in halting the habit in its tracks.
How do you know if you are procrastinating? Take a look at your day-to-day activities. If you find that you are filling your days with low-priority tasks or leaving a very important task on your to-do list for a long time, you are probably a procrastinator. If you find yourself reading important emails time after time again, yet are unable to make a decision about what to do, you are procrastinating.
If you start a high-priority task, and then quit, or perhaps wait to be in the “right mood” to tackle a task, those, too, are telltale signs of procrastination.
3. Determine WHY You Are Procrastinating
Once you can affirm that you are, in fact, procrastinating, your next step will be to figure out why exactly that is the case. Are you avoiding a task because you assume it will be unpleasant or boring? Are you disorganized? Perhaps you are afraid of success.
Interestingly, procrastinators are often also perfectionists. Rather than do something imperfectly, they avoid doing a task that they feel they are ill-equipped to do.
Sometimes it is people who struggle with decision-making that find themselves procreating the most. You might find that you are avoiding taking action because you don’t want to do the wrong thing.
If it’s disorganization that’s making it hard for you to focus, you may find that you can overcome your procrastination by making prioritized schedules and to-do lists.
4. Develop Some Solid Strategies
If you’re going to get over your tendency to procrastinate, you are going to need some solid tools to back you up. There are all kinds of strategies you can use, from recognizing your triggers for procrastination to finding ways to reverse them.
Once you’ve decided that you have a problem with procrastination, commit to changing the habit. Actively focus on doing things rather than avoiding them. Once you start doing things, you’ll be amazed at how much time you used to waste simply by trying to think up ways to avoid them!
Write down everything you need to complete and specify a time for doing them – and give yourself a deadline for getting them done. This will help you tackle your work in a more proactive way.
6. Give Yourself Rewards
Overcoming procrastination can be hard if you rely solely on internal motivation to get it done. Instead, set up a reward system so that you can feel good about finishing things. Whether it’s grabbing a cup of coffee at your favorite cafe after finishing a tough workout or giving yourself a day off at the end of a grueling work week, having something to look forward to may provide the incentive you need to push through unpleasant tasks.
7. Rely on Peer Pressure
Can you have someone check up on you to make sure you quit procrastinating? This is another effective way to get over the habit. Ask a friend or family member to touch base with you to make sure you’re getting done what you need to.
8. Take Things One Day at a Time
Try to improve just a little at a time. Chances are, you probably won’t be able to completely eliminate your procrastination habit in one fell swoop. Focus on the small victories that happen as you tackle procrastination day at a time.
9. Don’t Let Tasks Build Up
Don’t let small individual tasks build up into monumental piles of work. Instead, tackle tasks (especially small ones) as soon as they come up so that you don’t have to carry this mental load over from day to day.
10. Rework Your Internal Dialogue
Don’t beat yourself up if you happen to slip up. Also, rework how you talk to yourself about the things on your to-do list. Phrases like “have to” and “need to” imply drudgery and a lack of autonomy. You might feel disempowered. Instead, use phrases like “I can” and “I choose to” so that you feel more in control of your workload.
11. Minimize Distractions
Shut off Facebook, Instagram, and all other social media and email notifications. Flip your phone upside down and turn it on “do not disturb” while you work. Sit in a quiet environment to work and shut that television off already! The fewer distractions you have, the better.
12. Eat the Frog
A common phrase that is used in the process of getting over procrastination is “eating the frog.” Though it sounds a bit graphic, this phrase refers to getting the tasks that you find the least pleasant out of the way first – before the day progresses. That way, you have the rest of the day to work on things that are more enjoyable, meaning you’re likely to get more done rather than sitting around worrying about that thing that you have to do but really don’t want to.
13. Become a Master of the Schedule
Sometimes, having a lot on your plate can prove to be far too overwhelming. You may want to try prioritizing all the things you have on your to-do list by utilizing the Eisenhower Matrix. This will help you identify activities that are the most urgent and most important so that you know exactly what you should focus on – and what you should ignore.
14. Break Things Down Into Smaller Chunks
Whenever possible, break down daunting tasks into tinier chunks. Say, for example, you have a major project to tackle at work. You might find yourself staring at the due date on your calendar, watching it inch closer as you haven’t taken a single bite out of this massive project.
Rather than viewing the deadline and project with a sense of dread, determine whether there are ways you can break it down into more manageable pieces. If you have multiple projects going on or extremely large projects to deal with, setting them up in miniature, bite-sized pieces can help you tackle them more efficiently.
15. Identify Peak Times
If you’re a morning person, you likely find that you don’t do great work in the late afternoon.
Conversely, if you like staying up late, you probably aren’t all that productive at seven a.m. Therefore, it’s important that you tackle your hardest tasks at your peak times. If you have the most energy first thing, do your hardest tasks then, and vice versa.
16. Give Yourself Time-Bound Goals
Sometimes we procrastinate simply because a goal we have lacks a specific sense of urgency – and this can be dangerous. Give yourself specific deadlines for tasks that otherwise lack them. That way, you’ll stay on track to achieve your goals.
17. Use Apps
Finally, it may help for you to lean on the major advantage we have for overcoming procrastination in the digital age – technology. There are all kinds of time management, planner, and task management apps that can help you meet your goals, including things like SkedPal, Slack, Pagico, Toggl, Any.Do, and Trello. Take advantage of them! This will help you get organized and to break your work down into smaller, more manageable tasks so you can finish them in a reasonable amount of time.
How Can Students Overcome Procrastination?
1. Again, Practice Forgiveness
If you find yourself to be a person who will do anything to get out of an undesirable task, don’t write yourself off as a failure just yet. You can still meet your goals to stop procrastinating – you just need to show yourself some grace. Forgiving yourself and giving yourself some room to make mistakes is the first step you need to take to overcome procrastination.
2. Keep a To-Do List
If you aren’t doing this already, it’s time to start. You need to keep a to-do list, and not just a mental one, but one that’s actually written down. Become a master of your schedule and of project planning – this will help you keep track of everything that needs to get done. The best part of to-do lists? There are all sorts of formats and options out there to fit your needs! If you’re not sure where to start, you can use a to-do list app like Todoist, create an infinite bullet journal with WorkFlowy, or use a computer-based software like RescueTime to help!
3. Ditch the Excuses
It’s one thing to accept that you’re a person who is likely to procrastinate at any given time – it’s another to avoid developing solid time management skills in the first place. Stop making excuses (you might call them “reasons”) and putting off important tasks. The more often you delay, the bigger a hit your self-esteem will take as a result.
Whenever you find yourself struggling with procrastination (or time management in general), make a list of all the reasons you are telling yourself that you can’t complete important tasks. By writing these down on paper, you’ll likely realize how ridiculous they are – and set your procrastinating ways to the side.
4. Recognize Procrastination’s Negative Effects
It might help if you sit down and make a list of all the ways that procrastinating is harming you. While self-forgiveness is important, understanding the psychology of procrastination is important if you want to get rid of your task aversion habit. How is your habit of saying, “Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow,” harming you today?
Is it causing you stress? Making you miss deadlines at school or work? Causing you to lose sleep – or otherwise impacting your health or psyche? Maybe it’s even causing you to lose money. Thinking of all the ways that your procrastination is harming you can help you identify your procrastination reasons and triggers – and to ditch the habit for good.
5.. Make Learning Meaningful
If your daily schedule is making you yawn, sometimes, all you need when you are getting started in your anti-procrastination journey is to make those tasks a little more meaningful. Sure, you might not see the point of having to meet all those deadlines for your College Writing course.
But is that College Writing course a stepping stone toward classes that you view as more important, for example, your computer science courses? Reframe your thinking so that your learning experiences are more meaningful – this can also help reduce a ton of stress you might have as you’re able to tick more of those items off your schedule.
6. Give Yourself Concrete Tasks
Be as specific as possible. Far too many students find themselves including things on their to-do lists like, “study for Stats exam.” Okay, that’s great – but what does that mean? Are you going to review your index cards a dozen times? Reread a section of your textbook? Be specific when making lists of how you need to spend your time, as this will help give you more actionable goals to work toward – and make you less likely to procrastinate.
7. Boost Your Motivation
You might be struggling to get work done simply because you really don’t feel motivated. If the thought of writing yet another paper, even if a good grade on that paper could help you graduate with a high GPA and land a job as a lawyer, is still making you cringe, perhaps you should set your sights on something else.
Perhaps a law degree just isn’t your cup of tea. If all of the tasks you have to complete make you yawn, there’s a good chance you’re not choosing the right tasks.
8. Set Goals
Often, procrastinators find themselves procrastinating important tasks simply because they don’t feel as though they have any solid milestones or goals to work toward. A great way to reduce your likelihood to procrastinate is to set goals.
Perhaps your goal is to graduate from college with a 3.0 GPA. Great! What can you do now to work toward that goal?
Each goal you make should have several “mini-goals” within so that it is harder for you to procrastinate – and easier for you to work toward those goals.
Stop Being a Procrastinator For Good
Although it might be difficult for you to tell yourself this, sometimes, the best advice for overcoming procrastination is to “just do it!” If you can do something – anything! – to get started, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to complete the whole task. Getting started on something forces you to reappraise the work, meaning you’re much more likely to view it as “procrastination trigger worthy” than you did at first.
You may also have to make a list of the total costs of procrastination. If you’re putting off larger tasks, you can make a list of all the ways procrastinating can affect your stress levels, health, happiness, social life, and more.
Sometimes you just have to get real – and get a little harsh! – with yourself. When it comes to overcoming procrastination, a bit of reality is often just what the doctor ordered.