Procrastination is deciding to delay or avoid completing a task or goal, and instead doing something less important, despite experiencing negative consequences for not following through with the task or goal.
However, problematic procrastination can be distinguished from more general procrastination by how bad the negative consequences are of us not following through on things.
Overcoming procrastination in practical ways involves knowing what needs to be done, how to do it and when to do it. Clarity, task approach, and time availability are key.
How can I stop procrastinating?
Gain clarity about what tasks or goals need to be done by trying:
- Write a ‘To Do’ list of tasks and goals you need to work on.
- Prioritise the list of tasks, numbering them from most important to least important.
- Grade each task i.e break the task into all the small steps or ‘chunks’ that are involved in achieving the task.
- Estimate how much time each step of each task or goal will take. People who procrastinate often overestimate or underestimate the time it will take to do something, so you may need to time tasks to practice getting more accurate at your time telling.
Take the right approach
To make tasks easier, try the following:
Approach the worst task first, so all other tasks are easy by comparison.
Start doing a task that you like and that energises you, and then without a break quickly switch to a task that you have been putting off.
Just 5 minutes
Plan to spend just 5 minutes on the task. This is such a small amount of time, so you will feel you can tolerate just 5 minutes. At the end of the 5 minutes, reassess and see if you can spend just another 5 minutes on the task, and so on.
Set time limits
Set a specific amount of time to work on a task (e.g., 30 minutes), and stick to just that, rather than extending things even if you feel you can.
Remember, then do
As soon as you remember you need to do a task, seize that moment to follow through.
If you are feeling anxious or unsettled, take a moment to close your eyes and focus on your breath. Try to lengthen each breath in and out. Spend 5-10 minutes using your slow breathing to regulate and focus, and then return to the task.
Reward yourself after something has been achieved or as a well-earned break from a task. The more you reward yourself for small achievements, the less you will feel like you are missing out or being deprived, resulting in less procrastination.
At the end of the day, the important thing is to keep going!
Expect like any habit, that changing your procrastination habit will take time, practice, persistence, and patience.
The saying of “two steps forward, one step back” is true. If you expect setbacks when you sign up for the journey of changing your procrastination, then when you face a challenge or procrastination relapse, you will be less likely to blame yourself and give up.
Saulsman, L., & Nathan, P. (2008). Put Off Procrastinating. Perth, Western Australia: Centre for Clinical Interventions.
Amy is a Generally Registered Psychologist with over four years of experience working therapeutically with individuals, couples, and families across the lifespan. She is particularly focused on working with clients experiencing stress, learning difficulties, LGBTQI+ related issues, and trauma.