Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination is the term used to define the act of avoiding or putting something off. We can all relate to holding off on doing something. Putting a task off occasionally is not so much a problem, as when we begin to do this on a regular basis. For example, putting off your washing for a day or two isn’t likely to interfere significantly with your life, however when this is delayed for over a few weeks, this can be problematic. What can be challenging is breaking free of the procrastination cycle. There are many reasons why we procrastinate; the task may seem too overwhelming, boring or unpleasant. When we delay completing tasks, in the short-term we may feel relief, however in the long-term it may lead to feelings of shame, guilt or increased anxiety.


Tips for managing procrastination:

  • Notice your excuses or reasons for procrastinating. Does the task seem too big, time consuming or maybe you don’t have all the tools you need to complete it? Write down a list of reasons for putting off the task, and next to each write down a pro and con. If there are certain things you need to put in place first, also write these down along with a strategy you could implement to achieve this. This can help you to sift through the barriers to completing the task and assist you to come up with some solutions. Try working on aspects of the task that you already have the tools for first.
  • Set SMART goals. SMART goals are those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. When setting goals, it helps to know exactly what it is that you want to achieve and be able to measure that you are achieving this goal. For example, say you wanted to sort through your clothes and potentially update your wardrobe. Instead of titling the goal as ‘To sort my clothes’, try setting a SMART goal such as ‘To sort one drawer per day, for the next week’. This is a SMART goal because it is specific (sort one drawer per day), measurable (each day you can measure that you have sorted one drawer), achievable and realistic (as this is something you are likely to be able to achieve and is realistic given the task) and timely (you have set the time limit of one week).
  • Use lists. Write a list of the things that need to be accomplished, then prioritise the items on the list from most to least important, for example use a 1 – 10 numbering system. Then compose a list for each day, trying to keep the number of items to a minimum. Looking at a lengthy list of things to do can be overwhelming. As you complete each task, tick it off, this helps you see what you accomplished each day.
  • Build momentum. Prior to starting the task you have been delaying, try to build momentum by engaging in an enjoyable activity first and then moving straight onto the task you have been putting off. For example, read a chapter of your favourite book or scroll through social media. Make sure to set a time limit for the enjoyable activity such as 10-15 minutes, and try set an alarm so that you don’t get caught in the cycle of procrastination.
  • Pick the right time and space. Is there a time of day in which you feel most productive? Arrange to complete the task at the time of day when you are feeling most rested and energised. Consider if there is a place where you are the most productive. This may be at home, in a specific room or even outside. For assignments, consider visiting the local library for a change of environment.
  • Minimise distractions. Think about ways in which you procrastinate. Do you watch television or scroll through your Facebook news feed? Try and reduce the likelihood of distractions. This may include turning off your mobile phone, iPad/tablet, computer and/or television.
  • Just five-minutes approach. Plan to spend five minutes completing the task you have been postponing. Once you have spent five minutes, evaluate how you are feeling and if you can spend another five minutes, keep working on the task. Otherwise you can always move on to something else. Usually getting started is the hardest, so when you spend a little time working on something you can build the momentum to keep going.
  • Stick to time limits. Decide on a specific time to spend on a task, for example 20 minutes, and just do that. If you know that you will expect yourself to do more once the time is up, that may stop you from getting started in the first place.
  • Worst-first approach. Often, we have a few things we need to get done. Try to complete the task you find most daunting first and get it out of the way.
  • Use a schedule, diary or planner. Schedule in times to complete tasks throughout the week. Make sure to give yourself breaks and not plan too much in the same day.
  • Break tasks into smaller more manageable components. This can be particularly helpful with bigger jobs that are time consuming. For example, if you have an assignment you need to complete break this down into small steps. Firstly, you could plan to research articles or resources for the assignment, next you could organise a time to read through your research, write dot points about the research and then plan to start the body of the assignment, followed by the conclusion and introduction.
  • Use reminders to trigger your memory that something needs to be done. This can be either on your phone (alerts), notes/post-its on the fridge or other places you will be likely to see the reminders.
  • Remember and do. When you remember you forgot to do a task, get started on it immediately or write a note for yourself as soon as you remember so you don’t forget to complete the task. This technique can work well for scheduling appointments.
  • Rather than using enjoyable activities to procrastinate about completing a task, use these as rewards. Reward yourself when you have done what you planned to do. For example, you could surf the internet, play your favourite video game, call a friend, or watch some television.
  • Seek help or support from others. Ask assistance from others (e.g. family or friends) if you get stuck. Even telling another person that you are planning to work on something you have been postponing can help you to become more accountable.
  • Monitor your self-talk. Notice what you are saying to yourself about the task at hand. Our self-talk can at times act as a road block to getting things done, especially when the thoughts are unhelpful. Look out for “I can’t…” and “I should…” self-talk and try to turn this into something more helpful such as “I choose to…”.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to overcome the habit of procrastination. Once you have identified which strategies work best for you, attempt to implement them as often as possible. Congratulate yourself on the small gains, as those achievements, however small, add up to big gains in the long run.

If you’d like to read more on ways to manage procrastination, we recommend this book: Eat That Frog 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.  

If you would like some support with overcoming procrastination, why not give us a call today? Our team of highly skilled and well-experienced Psychologists are here to help. 

maria This blog was written by Maria Kampantais, psychologist at Your Mind Matters Psychology Services. She works with us 4 days per week (day and evening sessions) and is passionate about working with clients suffering from various anxiety disorders.