The first thing you have to know about procrastinating is that you should set your expectations realistically. It took you a lifetime to get to where you are today in terms of procrastination, so it’s not something you can fix overnight. But it is something you can fix. All you need is the dedication to do so and the willingness to try something new.
Address the Cognitive Distortions
Since most of procrastination has to do with irrational beliefs and cognitive distortions, it is best to address these up-front. First, it is usually easy to estimate the actual amount of time it takes to complete a task by keeping track of the amount of time spent on tasks. For example, if you track that it takes you approximately five hours of study time to get an A or B on a history exam, you can use that information for helping to better schedule your study time on future exams.
Second, you will be no better motivated in the future than you are right now. This common fallacy leads many people who procrastinate to simply putting off things into the future when they’re in “the right mood.” Your ability to be successful at any task is not dependent upon your mood. Sometimes we have to do something we don’t like to do, even if we don’t feel like it, just to get it done. That doesn’t mean our results are going to be of lesser quality or the task will be a failure. It just means that sometimes motivation comes after you’ve started work on something. And sometimes, working on a project helps bring about a change in our mood. We can’t always expect to be in the right mood all the time. Neither should you expect to only be able to work on things in life when you’re in the right mood. These are just elaborate excuses we make up to reinforce our procrastinating behavior. You can, however, choose to ignore them.
Remember that as you go through this process, you must constantly challenge your cognitive distortions and irrational fears:
It is not hopeless (few situations are truly hopeless)
It is not too late (there is always time if you start now)
You are smart enough (or you wouldn’t have made it this far)
You can’t do it later (as you’ll just keep putting “later” off until later)
You will not perform better under pressure (the best work is done when it is well thought-out)
Keep a Journal
Challenging your thoughts and beliefs about how you work and how to best complete a task is something you should get in the habit of doing on a daily basis. It is sometimes helpful to people to keep a little journal of their thoughts that need to be challenged, as well as a rational response to the thought. For example:
“I’ll start work on that paper tomorrow since today’s such a beautiful day!”
I said that yesterday, too. It sounds as if I’m just putting off the inevitable, thinking I need to be in the “right mood” or something. I think I’ll spend 2 hours working on it today, and still have enough time later to reward myself with enjoying this beautiful day.
“Oh gosh, I can’t believe how much I put off studying for this exam! There’s no point in studying now, I’m sure I’m going to fail.”
Well, maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long to begin studying. But I have been mostly keeping up with the chapters, and I know pretty much most of what’s going to be on the exam. If I start now, it looks like I’ll be able to get a decent grade on it.
These are just a few examples of how to answer irrational thoughts, but you can come up with many others on your own. The more you track and write down these kinds of thoughts, the easier it becomes to answer them! Eventually, you’ll be able to do this in your head, as soon as the thought pops into it. But to get started, it’s usually best to keep a journal. Most people have so many thoughts throughout the day, you may be surprised by the number you record. Many of them are harmless, but some of them are keeping you from beating your procrastination. Those are the ones you should focus on.
You can also use a journal like this to help you keep track of other important things related to your procrastination. For example, if it took you 8 hours to study for an exam instead of the 4 your allotted, this might be a good place to keep track of that information. Then for the next exam, you can plan accordingly (and far more easily!).