Psychologists and behavior experts share their top strategies for working through pesky procrastination.
Practically everyone procrastinates, says journalist Lauryn Higgins. Learn to forgive yourself by adopting research-backed tactics to procrastinate less. Gain insight into your own particular procrastination style, identifying which procrastination type – or types – best reflects your own personal reasons for procrastinating. Stop beating yourself up for postponing action, urges Higgins, and start reframing your mind-set and approaching your to-do list differently, so you can start getting tasks done today.
- Your procrastination habit is perfectly human, but you needn’t live with it.
- To break the cycle of procrastination, first identify what kind of procrastinator you are.
- If procrastination is impinging on your quality of life, take research-backed actions to eliminate the habit.
Your procrastination habit is perfectly human, but you needn’t live with it.
Do you sit down at your desk with every intention to work, only to find yourself scrolling through social media, answering trivial messages or watching videos online? If you procrastinate, you’re certainly not alone, and stalling isn’t always a bad characteristic, says psychologist Dr. Jeff Temple. Procrastination refers to the tendency to put tasks off until your deadline approaches. You might procrastinate for a variety of reasons: Perhaps you’re simply giving yourself space to have ideas before executing a task or you feel that delaying an unpleasant task is better for your sanity. Sometimes people are slow to execute a task if they pursue perfection or fear failure.
“Defined as the act of delaying or putting off tasks until the last minute, or altogether, procrastination is normal and in fact, something everyone does to some extent.”
Research shows that prioritizing your short-term mood over achieving your long-term goals is human, especially if the tasks you need to accomplish have few short-term rewards. The types of tasks people tend to put off typically exhibit one or more of the following characteristics: They’re challenging, frustrating, unstructured, monotonous, obscure, unrewarding or lacking in personal meaning.
To break the cycle of procrastination, first identify what kind of procrastinator you are.
Procrastinators come in several different varieties. The first step to breaking your procrastination habit is to discover what type of procrastinator you are. Most procrastinators fall into one or more of the following six categories:
- “Perfectionist” – You delay starting tasks because you are afraid that you won’t execute them perfectly.
- “Dreamer” – Your strength lies in problem-solving rather than executing, and you struggle to take the concrete steps you need to achieve your goals.
- “Worrier” – You’re afraid of the negative emotions you’ll feel if you fail, and you reason that not trying is better than trying and failing.
- “Defier” – You view the task as beneath your station, and you resent that you are responsible for getting the job done.
- “Crisis-maker” – You feel motivated only when you feel that a deadline is rapidly approaching.
- “Over-doer” – You assume too much work, perhaps because you are afraid of saying no, and then you struggle to properly prioritize and complete all your tasks.
If procrastination is impinging on your quality of life, take research-backed actions to eliminate the habit.
Chronic procrastination can be life-destroying. If you feel that your habit is getting out of hand, train yourself to end the cycle.
“There is a misconception that motivation must precede action – but oftentimes action is what leads to motivation.”
Stop procrastinating once and for all by taking the following actions:
- Accept it – Internalizing self-judgment about your procrastination habit isn’t going to help you deal with it. Accept that you’re human and that you struggle with procrastination before looking for solutions.
- Watch your self-talk – If your internal monologue is self-deprecating, or you find yourself saying things such as, “I wish I hadn’t put this off,” you’re fueling an unproductive inner struggle. Reframe procrastination by speaking to yourself more positively – for example, “I will start working on this now.”
- Find an accountability partner – Find a friend, colleague or partner with whom you can set accountability goals. Having someone check in regularly with you on the status of your tasks can create an added impetus to finish them.
- Create the right resistance – If you’re overwhelmed by a large task, and you hardly know where to begin, try breaking it down into small chunks or setting comfortable windows of time – for instance, 10 minutes – that you can commit to.
- List the costs – Write down the potential negative outcomes you might experience if you fail to execute tasks, connecting your daily to-dos with a bigger picture. For example, list the negatives of not saving for your senior years to encourage yourself to set some money aside each month for retirement.
- Reduce distractions – Turn off digital devices and set a timer, allocating a set time to focus only on the task you’ve chosen. Apps such as Freedom and SelfControl can block your access to specific websites, preventing your focus from wavering.
- Get professional support – If, after trying the above tactics, you still struggle with procrastination, a mental health professional may be able to help you identify the root causes of your habit.
About the Author
Lauryn Higgins is a freelance journalist whose work focuses primarily on public health, agriculture and climate change.