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Tips to Beat Procrastination

Procrastination is a habit that can be quite harmless, as some people thrive on the stress of putting things off until deadline. But procrastination can be a serious problem if it throws the important matters in your life out of whack. If your grades suffer because you keep putting off term papers until the last minute, or if you miss deadlines at the office, you may want to change your habit.

Not only can you break the procrastination habit, but you can do it right now. By making a list of what you do when you procrastinate and then delving into your psyche to discover the roots of this behavior, you’ll be on your way to finding a solution to the “I’ll do it later” blues.

Procrastination is the act of intentionally and habitually putting off something that should probably be done right away. Thinking about this definition can help you determine your station in the procrastination nation:

Are you a constructive procrastinator? Not all procrastination is a problem. For instance, rushing off to an aerobics class before starting a new assignment at work can be a positive way to get invigorated for the challenge ahead. Doing laundry, cleaning out your closets, reorganizing the kitchen shelves, or any number of constructive tasks can be a great way to prepare mentally and creatively for a challenge ahead.

Are you a destructive procrastinator? If procrastination is ruling your life, and as a result your career, education, or relationships are in danger, you may want to speak to your doctor about professional help.

Are you a constructive/destructive procrastinator? You sometimes use procrastination to your advantage, but it weighs you down in the long run. Perhaps tasks you completed at the last minute could have been performed better if only you didn’t spend all that time chatting with friends. Although this 2torial is useful for all kinds of procrastinators, it’s specifically geared toward this group.

Identify Your Procrastination Symptoms

To understand the habit, take a personal inventory of when and how you usually procrastinate. This information will help you answer the question of why you do it, and then you can begin to look for a solution. For now, make a simple chart listing the tasks you habitually put off, what you do to avoid these tasks, and whether each actually constitutes procrastination.

Procrastination Chart

Are there particular situations in which you procrastinate more than others? Fill in the first column of your chart with five or so tasks that send you into procrastination mode.

How do you procrastinate? In the next section of the chart, write what you do to avoid each corresponding task. Do you chat with friends or coworkers? Do you send personal emails or shop on the Internet? Do you eat, read the newspaper, or watch television?

How do you know you’re procrastinating? Looking at your chart, trust your instincts to decide whether or not each behavior actually constitutes procrastination. You’ll know whether or not it’s actually a much-needed break or rest.

Determine the Underlying Cause of Procrastination

Through meditation or conversations with friends, trusted coworkers, teachers, or a counselor, determine why the particular tasks listed on your chart send you into procrastination mode. Although there are countless reasons why people procrastinate, some common ones include:

Drama. Procrastination can be exciting; waiting until the last minute to complete a task can feel like gambling against the odds. You’re betting that not only will you be able to pull it off, but that things that aren’t in your control–like the copy machine, highway traffic, or your coworkers–will magically work in your favor. Procrastination can create drama in your life, which may feel more intense than the quiet satisfaction of handling a task in a timely manner.

Fear of failure. If you wait until the last minute to perform a task, you can always claim that it could have been done better if there was more time. By procrastinating, you’re providing a built-in excuse for yourself just in case the project is unsuccessful.

Fear of success. Perhaps you’re afraid that if you accomplish the task successfully, you’ll be given additional responsibility–and this notion scares you. You’re not sure you want any extra work and feel wary of potential new challenges. By procrastinating, you’re passively sabotaging this possibility.

Perfectionism. Perhaps you put too much pressure on yourself to complete the task perfectly. Since it’s impossible to live up to the standards you’ve created, you lose your motivation to get started.

Hostility toward someone. Perhaps you feel angry at your boss, teacher, or whoever assigned the task, and by procrastinating you’re actually expressing this hostility.

Lack of interest in the task. Perhaps you simply don’t care that much about the subject matter, or you don’t have a vested interest in the outcome or end product.

The task seems confusing or unmanageable. Perhaps you simply don’t understand something about the task. Or maybe it seems too big and you don’t know where to start or how to organize it.

Develop a Procrastination Strategy

Once you know when, how, and why you procrastinate, you’re ready to find a solution. Although it takes time to break any habit, and you have to do it in a way that works best for you, here are some suggestions to help you start:

Drama. Look for drama in other areas of your life. For example, take up a new sport, enroll in an acting class, attend more concerts, or make travel plans.

Fear of failure. Try exaggerating your fears; imagine the worst possible scenario that could happen if you failed. Ballooning your fear of failure into complete absurdity can help you put the task at hand into proper perspective. Also, try to remember past successes; if you did well then, surely you can do so again now.

Fear of success. Focus only on the task at hand. Remember, you can always say “no” to future assignments and draw boundaries accordingly; besides, you never really know what the future will bring.

Perfectionism. Examining your standards and deciding whether they’re realistic or causing you undue stress can help you adjust your expectations of yourself. Also, keep in mind that mistakes are valuable assets, as they allow you an opportunity to learn and grow.

Hostility toward someone. Determine what you’re actually angry about, and then confront that feeling assertively. For instance, if you’re mad at your boss because you feel you deserve a higher salary, it would be more constructive to speak with him or her directly about that situation than to express your dissatisfaction by putting off work-related assignments.

Lack of interest in the task. Give yourself an incentive for getting the job done. Knowing that you’ll be rewarded with your favorite TV show, restaurant, nature walk, or something else enjoyable can be a great motivator.

The task seems confusing or unmanageable. Ask your boss or teacher for clarification before starting the assignment. Break large jobs into smaller, more manageable tasks. For instance, write one page of the term paper per day instead of trying to do it all at once.

Now that you understand why you procrastinate and what you need to do about it, give yourself time to break this possibly ingrained and automatic habit. It takes about three months of continual practice to change a habit, though individuals may vary. Talking it over with friends or a counselor, or keeping a journal of your progress are constructive ways to use your newfound wisdom about your work habits as a source for growth.

If you’re faced with a particular task, and you’ve tried everything else but still can’t get started, ask yourself, “What can I do, however small, just to make a dent in this task?” When you find that small thing and do it, you’re no longer procrastinating.

Tips to Beat Procrastination

Steve Bressert, Ph.D.

Steve Bressert, Ph.D. is a retired professor and clinician in clinical psychology. He writes occasionally for Psych Central and other publications.

APA Reference
Bressert, S. (2018). Tips to Beat Procrastination. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 17, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.