If you’re reading this, you’re probably struggling with procrastination in some form.
Whether your procrastination is a minor issue that’s simply hurting your productivity, or a major issue that’s preventing you from achieving your goals, you’ve probably tried to overcome your procrastination on your own before, and saw that this can be difficult to do.
Furthermore, you may have looked for advice on the topic, and saw that there is a lot of information out there about how to stop procrastinating, but that most of it is either partial or ineffective.
This guide is meant to be a definitive source, that will help you solve your procrastination problem once and for all. It is based on decades of scientific research on the topic, and contains a systematic approach that you can implement in order to beat your procrastination, together with a comprehensive list of anti-procrastination techniques that you can use.
The guide is quite extensive, since procrastination is a complex problem, that requires a thorough solution. However, don’t let that discourage you; feel free to skim through everything here, especially when it comes to the list of anti-procrastination techniques, and focus on the things that you feel will help in your particular situation. Furthermore, if you just want a summarized version of this guide, you can simply scroll right on to the next section.
This guide opens with an introduction to procrastination, together with an explanation of why we procrastinate, as well as scientific evidence which shows that you can learn how to stop procrastinating. Then, we will see an outline of the approach that will allow you to beat your procrastination, followed by a list of the anti-procrastination techniques that you can use, together with tips on how to make this process as effective as possible.
While reading, keep this in mind: procrastination is a tough issue to handle, but if you take the necessary time to read this guide and formulate a valid plan of action, and if you then follow through on this plan, you will have an excellent chance at overcoming or reducing your procrastination.
How to stop procrastinating: the short version
This section contains a summarized version of the full guide.
First, here is what you need to know about procrastination:
- Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions.
- You procrastinate because factors such as anxiety or fear of failure outweigh your motivation and self-control.
- You can successfully overcome your procrastination by implementing techniques that allow you to deal with the issues that cause you to procrastinate in the first place.
If you need basic advice on how to stop procrastinating right now, here are some things you can do:
- Make your environment as conducive to taking action as possible. For example, you can remove distractions from your work environment, even if you’re not yet ready to get started on your work.
- Arrange some immediate reward that you’ll receive if you manage to get started. This reward can be relatively small, but the important thing is that you’ll receive it in the very near future.
- Ask yourself “if I were to take action right now, what’s the smallest possible step I could take?”. Then, tell yourself that it’s okay if you just get started on that single tiny step, and try to do it, even if your work isn’t perfect.
In addition, you can also ask yourself “what’s causing me to procrastinate?”, and then think through the cause of your procrastination and try to resolve it. For example, if your issue is that you’re afraid that you won’t be able to handle the task well enough, you can tell yourself that even if you make a mistake, that’s not the end of the world, and you can correct it later on.
If you want to understand how to stop procrastinating in the long term, here is the systematic approach that you should use:
- Figure out what your goals are, and make sure that they’re clearly defined, possible to accomplish, and significant enough to allow you to achieve meaningful progress.
- Figure out when, how, and why you procrastinate, by examining situations where your tendency to postpone things is preventing you from achieving your goals.
- Create a plan of action based on relevant anti-procrastination techniques, while taking into account both your goals as well as the nature of your procrastination.
- Implement your plan and monitor your progress, while making sure to refine your approach by figuring out which techniques work for you and how you can implement them most effectively.
Finally, here are some of the top anti-procrastination techniques you can use:
- Break large tasks into small, actionable pieces.
- Set concrete deadlines for yourself.
- Eliminate distractions from your environment.
- Count to 10 before indulging the impulse to procrastinate.
- Get yourself started by committing to work for only 5 minutes.
- Mark streaks of days on which you complete all your tasks.
- Reward yourself for your accomplishments.
- Avoid a perfectionist mindset.
- Visualize your future self.
- Focus on your goals instead of on your tasks.
The main goal of these techniques is to help you deal with the reasons why you procrastinate in the first place. For example, while ‘break large tasks into small, actionable pieces’ is generally seen as a time-management technique, its main goal here is to help you transform overwhelming projects into something that feels manageable, which will prompt you to stop procrastinating on them and start taking action.
Overall, this approach for dealing with procrastination is fairly intuitive, and you can implement it based only on what you’ve read in this summary.
However, you will significantly benefit from looking through the full guide, which explains all the small details that will help you implement this approach as effectively as possible. This includes, for example, how to set good goals for yourself, how to identify the nature of your procrastination problem, and how to pick the best techniques for dealing with procrastination in your specific situation.
If you don’t feel like implementing the full system right now, you can still benefit from just picking a few relevant anti-procrastination techniques listed here, and implementing them whenever you can.
Nevertheless, if you want to have the best chance that you can have at beating your procrastination, you will benefit more from using the full system and reading this entire article, even if it takes you some time to do so.
Note: if you don’t feel like dealing with all this right now, but you do want to improve your ability to stop procrastinating in the future, you can sign up here to receive occasional tips on how to stop procrastinating.
A brief introduction to procrastination
Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions.
If you struggle with procrastination, know that you’re not alone; procrastination is a widespread phenomenon, and around 20% of the adult population and 50% of the student population view themselves as being serious, chronic procrastinators. Furthermore, even people who aren’t chronic procrastinators still struggle with procrastination from time to time, and suffer from it to various degrees in their everyday life.
In addition, as you’ve likely noticed, procrastination is a serious problem, which can lead to a wide variety of issues. Accordingly, it’s not surprising that procrastination is associated with worse grades in school, lower salaries in the workplace, a higher likelihood of being unemployed, increased stress, higher rates of mental health issues, and higher rates of physical health problems.
Why we procrastinate
If you’re a procrastinator, you’ve probably asked yourself some variation of the following question in the past:
“Why do I keep procrastinating even though I know that it’s bad for me and even though I want to stop?”
People often assume that they procrastinate simply a result of laziness or a lack of willpower, but the real answer is much more complex than that, and has to do with the cognitive mechanisms that we use in order to self-regulate our behavior, in our attempts to bring ourself to take action that is in our best interest.
In short, when we need to perform a certain task, we usually rely on our self-control in order to get ourself to do so. Furthermore, our motivation, which is based on the desire for some reward which we will receive as a result of completing that task, can provide a helpful boost to our self-control, which helps us act in a timely manner.
However, there are various demotivating factors, such as anxiety or fear of failure, that have an opposite effect than our motivation, meaning that they can make us more likely to postpone our tasks unnecessarily, instead of getting them done in a timely manner.
In addition, there are also various hindering factors, such as mental exhaustion or distracting environments, that interfere with our self-control and motivation directly, in a way that also makes us more likely to procrastinate.
Whenever these demotivating and hindering factors outweigh our self-control and motivation, we end up procrastinating. We then have to wait until the balance between them shifts back in our favor before we can get started on our work, which can sometimes take a very long time.
However, as you will see in this guide, by using the right techniques, it’s possible to actively shift this balance in your favor, sooner rather than later. This will allow you to take control of your life, and enable you to get your work done when you want to, rather than when your procrastination says you can.
Note: if you want to learn more about why people procrastinate, take a look at the dedicated guide on the topic.
You can learn to stop procrastinating
Research shows that you can successfully reduce or overcome your procrastination, by using the right techniques.
Furthermore, research shows that self-guided, internet-based training can be effective when it comes to overcoming your procrastination. This type of training, which is used in the present guide, involves learning to understand your procrastination problem better, and then learning how to solve it by applying techniques that allow you to deal with the detrimental patterns of thoughts or behaviors that cause you to procrastinate in the first place.
Moreover, research on the topic also shows that these improvements can be maintained in the long-term, both when it comes to reducing your tendency to procrastinate, as well as when it comes to reducing the severity of secondary issues that you experience as a result of your procrastination, such as anxiety and stress.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that online self-treatment is always guaranteed to work. Furthermore, in many cases, you could benefit more from pursuing other types of procrastination treatments, such as in-person cognitive behavioral therapy or group therapy sessions conducted by a professional therapist, either in addition to this approach or instead of it.
However, the existing research on the topic does indicate that for many people, an online, self-guided plan can be effective when it comes to reducing their procrastination problem. Since this approach is the most accessible one, and since it’s not mutually exclusive with pursuing other treatment plans in the future, it’s worth giving it a try, especially if the alternative is doing nothing at all.
How to stop procrastinating
In order to stop procrastinating, you first need to set your goals, and then identify how procrastination will prevent you from achieving them. Next, you need to create a plan of action based on this information, and then implement this plan, while making sure to refine it as you go along.
In the following sections, you will learn more about each of these steps, so that you will be able to use this approach as effectively as possible.
Set your goals
The first step to overcoming your procrastination is to set your goals.
When you do this, it’s crucial to make sure that your goals are as clear as possible, since you are more likely to procrastinate when it comes to goals that are vague, compared to goals that are clearly defined.
For example “be more healthy” is a relatively vague goal, and you are therefore more likely to procrastinate when it comes to pursuing it than you are when it comes to pursuing a more concrete goal such, as “drink only water and avoid eating fast food for the next month”.
Similarly, a goal such as “start exercising” is relatively vague, and is therefore more likely to lead to procrastination than a goal that is more concrete, such as “go to the gym 3 times a week, and work out for at least 30 minutes each time”.
In addition, when setting your goals, you also want to make sure that those goals are achievable and meaningful:
- ‘Achievable’ means that your goals should be realistic enough that you can actually accomplish them.
- ‘Meaningful’ means that your goals should be substantial enough that they lead you to make notable progress.
For example, the goal of writing 5,000 words for your thesis each day is meaningful but is generally not achievable, since most people can’t write at that rate, which is why such a goal should be avoided. Conversely, the goal of writing 5 words each day is certainly achievable but isn’t meaningful, since it will take you too long to finish your thesis at that rate, which is why this type of goal should also be avoided.
In comparison, the goal of writing 500 words per day is both achievable as well as meaningful, which is why it represents a good goal to set for yourself.
Of course, different people might choose different rates of progress, and there isn’t a single rate of progress that works for everyone. As such, the most important thing is to find the rate of progress that works for you, in your particular situation.
Overall, the first step to overcoming your procrastination is to set your goals. These goals should be clear, achievable, and meaningful, which means that they should be well-defined, possible to accomplish, and significant enough to help you make notable progress.
Once you set your goals, you can move on to the next step of this process, which is to identify the exact nature of your procrastination problem.
Identify the problem
If you want to successfully solve your procrastination problem, it’s important to first understand the exact nature of the problem that you’re dealing with.
Specifically, there are three main factors that you should consider when assessing the nature of your procrastination:
- When you procrastinate. This involves asking yourself in what situations do you procrastinate. For example, do you tend to procrastinate more when you’re working from home compared to when you’re working in the library? Do you struggle to finish tasks after you’ve started them or do you struggle to get started in the first place?
- How you procrastinate. This involves asking yourself what you do when you’re procrastinating. For example, do you browse social media, play video games, watch TV shows, go out with friends, or find small and unimportant tasks to complete?
- Why you procrastinate. This involves asking yourself what’s causing you to procrastinate. For example, do you constantly find yourself being distracted, or do you feel so overwhelmed that you don’t know how to get started?
For an example of how to consider these factors, imagine a scenario in which you’re taking a class where you need to hand in a series of assignments throughout the semester.
Each time you get a new assignment you sit in front of the computer in your room (the ‘when’), but instead of working on the assignment you find yourself wasting time on the internet (the ‘how’), because the assignment is so boring that you can’t find the motivation to start until shortly before it’s due (the ‘why’).
It’s important to note that, in this situation and in similar ones, you might often end up promising yourself that you’ll get started soon, or that next time will be different, despite the fact that the same thing happened in the past, and that you never really did anything significant to change your behavior. The main reason why this happens is that people wrongly assume that procrastination is just about willpower, while also wrongly believing that next time they’ll be able to exert more willpower and change their behavior, despite the evidence to the contrary.
However, by taking the time to clearly identify the nature of your procrastination problem, you can then figure out a valid way to deal with it, instead of just hoping that things will be different in the future.
Note that a tool that could help you figure out why you procrastinate is the guide on the psychology of procrastination, which contains a comprehensive list of the reasons why people procrastinate, with the most notable of these being the following:
- Rewards that are far in the future.
- A disconnect from your future self.
- A focus on future possibilities, together with an unjustified optimism about the ability to achieve them.
- Feelings of overwhelm.
- Fear of evaluation or negative feedback.
- Fear of failure.
- A perceived lack of control.
- Lack of motivation.
- Lack of energy.
- Task aversion.
- Prioritization of short-term mood.
If you’re not sure why you procrastinate, then you should read the guide on the topic and identify the reasons for procrastination that describe you the best, and then return here and figure out how to build a plan of action that takes these reasons into account.
Create a plan of action
Once you’ve set your goals and identified the nature of your procrastination problem, you can create a plan of action that will allow you to stop procrastinating and start getting things done.
To create a plan of action, you need to figure out which anti-procrastination techniques you should use, and how to use them. These techniques, which are listed in the next section, fall into two main categories:
- Behavioral techniques. These techniques involve directly modifying your actions, by helping you instill positive behaviors and avoid negative ones. Examples of behavioral anti-procrastination techniques include breaking large tasks into smaller ones and removing distractions from your work environment.
- Cognitive techniques. These techniques involve directly modifying your thoughts, by helping instill positive thought patterns and avoid negative ones. Examples of cognitive anti-procrastination techniques include visualizing your future self and focusing on your goals instead of on your tasks.
Some techniques can involve a blend of behavioral and cognitive aspects, and it’s not crucial to understand the distinction between these two types of techniques. Rather, the important thing is to understand the general idea behind anti-procrastination techniques, and specifically that you can overcome your procrastination by instilling positive behaviors and thought patterns while eliminating negative ones.
In general, each technique is likely to help you accomplish at least one of the following things:
- Make it easier for you to get started. For example, leaving the document that you need to work on open on your computer before you go to sleep will make it easier for you to start working on it once you sit down at the computer the next day.
- Make it easier for you to keep going once you’ve started. For example, putting your phone on silent mode and out of sight reduces the likelihood that you will be distracted by notifications while you’re working, which will make it easier for you to focus on your work.
- Make it harder for you to avoid working. For example, turning off the WiFi on your computer and phone removes the temptation to procrastinate on social media instead of writing your paper.
You can use any combination of techniques that you want, and you should pick the ones that fit you best given your particular situation, since different techniques will work differently for different people, and will even work differently for the same person in different situations.
As such, make sure to identify the nature of your procrastination problem before figuring out which techniques you should use in order to solve it. As you go along, try to see which techniques are working for you, and then eliminate those that don’t, while experimenting with other techniques that you haven’t tried, in order to find new beneficial approaches.
Finally, keep in mind that if this all feels like too much at first, remember that imperfect action is infinitely better than no action at all.
As such, if you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, just pick a single technique that you want to work on for now (if you’re not sure which one, go with the first one on the list: ‘break large tasks into smaller ones’).
Later on, once you feel more comfortable with the situation, you can choose to implement additional techniques if you’d like.
List of anti-procrastination techniques
Break large tasks into smaller ones
Breaking large tasks into smaller sub-tasks can prompt you to take action, by making large tasks feel less overwhelming, and by allowing you to experience a continuous stream of rewarding progress. Furthermore, doing this also benefits you from an organizational perspective, by helping you identify what exactly you need to do in order to achieve your goals, and by enabling you to make plans that include a high level of detail.
For example, if your goal is to write a paper for a class, you can break down the large task of writing the paper into an ordered list of subtasks that you need to perform. This list can include subtasks such as “decide on a topic”, followed by “collect a list of relevant sources”, “write the introduction”, and so on.
When using this technique, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- You can break tasks apart as much as you want. A good rule of thumb is to create subtasks that take no more than a single session to complete, meaning that you can finish them before you need to take a break.
- If it helps, start with a small first step. Some people find that it helps to start with a small first step, in order to make it easier for yourself to get over the initial hurdle of actually getting started.
- You don’t have to outline the entire project from the start. If you’re dealing with a big project, you don’t need to start by outlining all its upcoming steps, and doing so can even be counterproductive. Instead, it’s often preferable to start by figuring out only the next few steps that you need to handle, and then add new ones later, once you’ve made sufficient progress.
Prioritizing your tasks can help you figure out which tasks you need to work on and when you need to work on them. This will ensure that you don’t end up procrastinating by wasting time on trivial tasks while neglecting important ones, and will also help you avoid situations where you feel overwhelmed because you’re not sure where to start or which tasks you should be working on.
Two common methods for prioritizing your tasks are the following:
- The Ivy Lee method. This method involves preparing a to-do list at the end of each day, and writing down a list of six tasks that you want to complete tomorrow, ranked in order of importance.
- The Eisenhower Matrix. This method involves categorizing each task that you have based on whether it’s important or unimportant and based on whether it’s urgent or not urgent, and then prioritizing your tasks based on these criteria.
Overall, there are many methods you can use in order to prioritize your tasks. Don’t waste time over-optimizing your prioritization method or getting stuck figuring out which one to use; just pick one to start with and then try different methods until you figure out which one works best for you. If you’re unsure about this, simply go with the Ivy Lee method, which is explained above.
Identify your productivity cycles
Different people have different cycles of productivity, which means that different people are productive during different times of the day. For example, some people might work better in the morning, while others might be more productive at night. Similarly, some people might be the most productive after they eat, while others might be more productive when they’re hungry.
A good way to reduce your tendency to procrastinate is to identify your peak times, which are the times of the day when you’re most productive, and then plan your schedule so that most of your work is scheduled for those time periods.
In addition, you should also identify your slump times, which are the times of the day when you’re least productive, and then plan your schedule so that only your breaks or most simple tasks are scheduled for those time periods.
Finally, when accounting for your productivity cycles, keep in mind that you might be able to handle different types of tasks better during different times of the day. For example, you might be able to handle creative tasks better when it’s still early in the day, and menial tasks better when it’s relatively late.
Establish a routine
Establishing a consistent daily/weekly/monthly routine can be helpful in getting you to avoid procrastinating.
For example, you can set up a routine of doing creative work early in the morning before checking emails or social media, which is a good way to ensure that you start your day being productive, and by completing your most important tasks while you still have a clear head.
The routine that you establish should take your daily productivity cycles into account, which means that different routines will work for different people. Setting a routine is especially important in some cases, such as if you tend to have an erratic sleep schedule, which could make you sleep-deprived and therefore more prone to procrastination.
Try to reach a state of flow
A flow state is a mental state where you become completely immersed in the activity that you’re engaged in. This state, which is colloquially referred to as “being in the zone”, is an optimal state of mind in terms of productivity, since it allows you to focus on your work and enjoy it, which significantly reduces the likelihood that you will procrastinate.
To help yourself get to this state, try to create the right conditions, by working during times when you’re naturally productive, and by removing external distractions from your environment, in order to help yourself focus on the task at hand.
Since being in this state is highly beneficial, and since it can be hard to get there, if you do find yourself in a flow state don’t stop working unless you absolutely have to. You can often accomplish more in a few hours of flow than in weeks of procrastination, which is why this mental state should be appreciated as much as possible.
Set deadlines for yourself
When setting deadlines for yourself, there are several things you should keep in mind:
- Deadlines should be concrete. As we saw earlier, you are more likely to follow through on commitments that are concretely defined, than you are to follow through on commitments that are vague. This means, for example, that “Thursday at 4 PM” is a better deadline than “sometime tomorrow”.
- Deadlines should be realistic. You should choose deadlines that give you as much time as you need to complete a task, but no more than that. Deadlines that don’t give you enough time to get your work done can cause you to feel stressed or to give up entirely, while deadlines that give you more time than you need encourage you to delay unnecessarily (a phenomenon known as Parkinson’s law).
- Deadlines should be meaningful. Deadlines are only beneficial if you actually abide by them, so your deadline should be set up in a way that encourages you to follow through on them. An easy way to make deadlines more meaningful is to write them down, but you can use additional techniques when necessary, such as finding someone who will hold you accountable, or finding a way to penalize yourself if you fail to abide by your deadlines.
It’s also important to remember that deadlines should encourage you to start working early. As such, you should avoid using deadlines that encourage you to wait until the last possible minute to get started on your work.
A good way to achieve this is to create a series of minor deadlines which correspond to each of the steps that you need to complete along the path to your end goal, instead of having just a single deadline at the end.
This means that you should set proximal goals for yourself, which are small goals that you strive to achieve while working toward your final distal goal. Research shows that the use of proximal goals helps you be more productive compared to using only distal goals, as well as compared to using motivation-based goals such as “do your best”.
Furthermore, an added benefit of using these intermediate deadlines is that we tend to care more about deadlines that are close to us in time, so constantly having a nearby deadline makes us less likely to procrastinate.
Finally, creating self-imposed deadlines can be especially beneficial in situations where you would otherwise have no clearly defined target date and no external deadline. This might happen, for example, if your goals are related to personal development, as in the case of wanting to start a business or wanting to lose some weight, in which case the lack of a deadline can cause you to procrastinate for an endless amount of time.
However, keep in mind that the effectiveness of deadlines varies in different scenarios, and there are situations where increased flexibility can be preferable to the use of deadlines. This means that if you personally feel that deadlines are hindering your progress in some area, for example because you feel that they stress you out unnecessarily, then it can be reasonable to avoid using them. Just make sure that avoiding deadlines in that situation is truly the best option for you, and isn’t just an excuse for you to procrastinate.
Use time-management techniques
You can use various time-management techniques in order to make it easier for yourself to get started on your work and to remain focused once you’ve started.
For example, you can use the Pomodoro Technique, which is a time-management technique where you use a timer in order to organize your workflow. The Pomodoro Technique entails working on your tasks for a set amount of time (e.g. 25 minutes), and then taking a short break (e.g. 5 minutes), before starting to work again. In addition, as part of the Pomodoro, once you complete a certain number of work cycles (e.g. 4 cycles), you can take a longer break (e.g. 30 minutes), before getting back to work.
You can modify this technique and similar ones to fit your personal preferences. For example, instead of using a set amount of time to limit each work cycle when using the Pomodoro Technique, you could choose to use a different measure, such as the number of words that you’ve written or the number of pages that you’ve read.
There is no single method that works perfectly for everyone, so you should try out different techniques until you find the one that works for you. If you’re not sure which one to start with, simply go with the Pomodoro Technique, and modify it to suit your needs as you go along.
Timeboxing is a technique where you allocate specific blocks of time, called “timeboxes”, to activities that you want to do or tasks that you need to work on.
Using timeboxing can be beneficial for a number of reasons:
- Timeboxing can help you feel less overwhelmed by unpleasant tasks that you need to deal with. For example, if you need to exercise but you don’t enjoy it, knowing that you only have to do it for a set amount of time can make it feel like something that’s easier for you to handle.
- Timeboxing can help you make sure that you dedicate enough time to important tasks that you dislike. For example, you might decide to decide a certain block of time each day to studying for an example, in order to avoid a situation where you don’t study enough because you keep doing other things instead.
- Timeboxing can help you avoid dragging out tasks that you need to finish. For example, you might decide to dedicate 2 hours to finishing the initial design of your new blog, after which you have to move on to the next step in creating it, which will help you avoid a situation where you procrastinate for days by wasting time on trivial details.
- Timeboxing can help you control the time you dedicate to taking breaks. For example, you might decide to dedicate a 30-minute timebox to watching TV after lunch, after which you have to get back to working on your assignment, which will help you avoid a situation where you procrastinate for hours by continuing to binge shows.
Use a to-do list
Using a to-do list is highly beneficial when it comes to helping you avoid procrastinating, for several reasons:
- It helps you break down your goals into actionable tasks.
- It helps you organize your tasks, prioritize them, and schedule them in an optimal manner.
- It helps you focus only on specific tasks that you need to be thinking of at the moment.
- It helps you write down deadlines and stick with them.
- It helps you track your progress, and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.
In addition, using a to-do list can also give you extra motivation to work on your tasks, because it makes you want to be able to cross those tasks off your list, and because you get added satisfaction from being able to do so.
When it comes to creating your to-do list, you can either use the pen-and-paper method or one of the many apps on the market. Try out different solutions until you find the one that works best for you, but as always, make sure to not get stuck over-optimizing things, and simply pick one option to start with at first. If necessary, you can always reassess the situation and modify your solution as you go along.
Gamify your behavior
Gamification involves incorporating elements from games, such as competition with others and the accumulation of points, into other types of activities, in order to increase your motivation to work toward your goals. Gamification, when implemented correctly, can be a powerful tool when it comes to getting yourself to stop procrastinating.
For example, to increase your motivation to complete tasks, you could reward yourself a number of points for each task that you complete, and deduct a number of points for each task you procrastinate on. Furthermore, you can decide that, once you get a certain number of points, you’ll reward yourself in some way which provides you with increased motivation.
As with other types of anti-procrastination strategies, there is no single method of gamification that works perfectly for everyone. As such, if you decide to use gamification, you should try out different ways of implementing it, until you find the one that helps you deal with your type of procrastination as effectively as possible.
Reward yourself for your accomplishments
People often procrastinate because important tasks that are rewarding for them in the long-term are less appealing than less beneficial behaviors that feel more rewarding in the short-term. As such, you can reduce the likelihood that you will procrastinate by associating rewards that are pleasant in the short-term with actions that are good for you in the long-term.
For example, you can decide to take a short break and watch some TV for every chapter that you read in preparation for a test, or you could eat a small piece of chocolate as a reward for every task that you complete while working on a project.
Similarly, you can also make your accomplishments more rewarding by doing simple things such as writing down every task that you complete throughout the day, and then going over them at night to see how much you managed to get done.
Note that you can reward yourself either for getting started on a task, for completing it, or for working on it in general. Rewards should be given for behaviors that are meaningful enough that they allow you to make progress, but that are also accessible enough that they motivate you in the short-term.
One way to motivate yourself to get things done is to create streaks (or chains) of completed tasks, that you don’t want to break.
For example, you might decide that each day that you go without wasting time on social media or each day that you successfully write another page in your thesis counts as another day you get to add to your streak.
How you keep track of your streaks is up to you, but the more meaningful you make the streak, the more you will want to maintain it, and the more you will be motivated to avoid procrastinating.
One example of a method for keeping track of your streaks is the Seinfeld strategy, which involves marking a big red X in your calendar on each day where you complete your daily goal. Alternatively, if you’re using a time-management app, it’s likely that it will have a setting that will allow you to keep track of your streaks in the app.
Commit to having no zero days
A zero day is a day on which you make absolutely no progress toward any of your goals.
You can commit to having no more zero days, by deciding that you will not end your day until you manage to take at least a single step toward reaching one of your goals, even if it’s just a minor one, such as writing a single paragraph or going outside for a five-minute walk. If you have several goals in mind, you can even take this approach further, and commit to making a single step on each of your goals every single day.
This approach can provide you with a strong motivational boost, and encourage you to make continuous progress toward your goals.
Plan ahead for future contingencies
One of the main reasons why people fail to break the procrastination cycle is that despite having a strong goal intention, which means that they truly want to stop procrastinating, they fail to plan ahead for circumstances that could cause them to procrastinate.
This issue can be significantly mitigated by creating a strong implementation intention, which you can do by identifying future situations where you might struggle to self-regulate your behavior successfully, and then coming up with the appropriate goal-directed behaviors that you should engage in if you ever find yourself in those situations.
For example, if you notice that you frequently procrastinate because people invite you to hang out and you find it difficult to say “no” even though you know you should be working, you can come up with a pre-planned response that will make it easier for you to politely refuse people’s offers, which will make it easier for you to stick to your goals when you’re faced with the temptation to do otherwise.
Increase your energy levels
Increasing your energy levels is one of the best ways to get out of slumps and get yourself to stop procrastinating, since being tired can make you more likely to procrastinate.
Specifically, the following are some of the main things that you can do in order to increase your energy levels:
- Get enough sleep. In general, you’re more likely to procrastinate if you’re not getting enough sleep. Simply making sure that you sleep enough will therefore help you be more productive, and will lead to various other improvements in your life, in terms of your physical health, mental health, and general wellbeing.
- Drink some water. Dehydration is a big problem when it comes to your ability to concentrate on your work, and you can easily solve it by just drinking a glass of water from time to time. Other drinks are acceptable in moderation, but try to avoid consuming too much caffeine or sugar, which could cause your energy levels to crash after a while.
- Eat something (moderately) healthy. If you’re hungry, eat something that will give you some energy. Avoid junk food or snacks that will spike your energy for a short while and then cause you to feel tired.
- Take a break and go outside. If you’re stuck inside all day and feel that the walls are closing in on you, take a short break and go outside to breathe some fresh air and clear your head.
- Get some exercise. If you haven’t done anything physical in a while, try to get your body moving a bit. You don’t have to do anything major, and even a short walk, a few pushups, or a bit of stretching can help you feel better.
- Listen to music. Listening to certain types of music that you like can sometimes give you an energizing motivational boost while you work.
Improve your work environment
A bad work environment can cause you to procrastinate more, while a good work environment can help you be more productive. As such, you should try to improve your work environment as much as possible, by making it a place where you find it easy to focus on your work.
For example, if your desk is so cluttered that it’s hard for you to focus on reading your textbook, this could make you more susceptible to distractions and therefore also to procrastination.
This is especially important for chronic procrastinators, since they frequently tend to collect an excessive amount of clutter which they struggle to remove, despite feeling that it lowers their quality of life. If this is an issue for you, cleaning up your working environment will likely help you feel better, which will help you concentrate on your work.
Change your work location
If you find that you’re more likely to procrastinate on your work when you try to get it done in a certain location, then go somewhere else when you want to work.
For example, if you can’t bring yourself to stop procrastinating when you’re trying to work on the computer in your room, then go to the library or to a coffee shop and work there instead.
This is especially important when it comes to separating the areas where you work from the areas where you conduct other functions of your life, such as playing, resting, or eating, since having a location which is dedicated exclusively to work can help make it is easier for you to switch into “work mode” when you need to get things done.
Removing distractions from your environment makes it more likely that you will focus on your work and avoid procrastinating.
For example, if your phone emits a loud sound each time you get a notification, you’re going to constantly be distracted while you work, which will make it hard for you to focus. As such, in such situations, you will want to put your phone on silent mode while you work or use a dedicated app to block notifications, which will help you concentrate on your work.
When doing this, you should keep in mind the harmful influence that even seemingly minor distractions can have on you.
For example, research shows that even if you’re not actively using your phone, simply having it out on your desk serves as a significant distraction. Moreover, though putting your phone inside your bag can reduce the degree to which it serves as a distraction, having the phone there still occupies more of your mental resources than having it in a different room, where it’s entirely out of reach.
Another example of this issue is the fact that multitasking by doing things such as watching TV or browsing social media while engaging in cognitive activities such as studying, is associated with reduced levels of self-control, which in turn can make you more likely to procrastinate.
Research suggests that the relationship between this type of multitasking and low levels of self-control likely involves reciprocal causality. This means that people with lower levels of self-control are more likely to multitask in this way while they’re working, but that multitasking in this way is also likely to decrease people’s ability to control themself while they work.
Add a delay before indulging your impulses
One way to help yourself resist the desire to engage in impulsive behaviors such as procrastination is to add a brief delay before you indulge yourself.
For example, if you want to check your phone for notifications or check a website for new posts, you should make yourself count to 10 first. Then, if the urge to engage in that procrastinatory behavior is still there, you can follow through on it. However, if the urge to do it disappears, which it often will while you count, you can choose to get back to work instead.
If necessary, you can decide to count a bit higher (e.g. up to 20 or 30), as long as you make sure to actually count, in a reasonable pace, each time you do this. More importantly, remember that you’re not allowed to do anything else while you count, unless it’s related directly to your work.
If you use this count every time you’re about to procrastinate you will find that the urge to do so is often temporary, and passes once you wait a short while.
Make it harder for yourself to procrastinate
The more difficult you make it for yourself to engage in procrastinatory behaviors, the better you will be able to prevent yourself from procrastinating.
For example, if you need to write a paper on your laptop and you tend to procrastinate by browsing social media, blocking the sites that you usually look at while procrastinating will make it more difficult for you to procrastinate. This will significantly increase the likelihood that you will get to work, simply because there’s nothing else for you to do.
Make it easier to get started on tasks
The easier you make it for yourself to get started on tasks that you need to complete, the more likely you are to get finish them in a timely manner.
For example, if you need to work on a certain document, then before you go to sleep, you can leave it open on your computer, so that it will be the first thing you will see when you turn on your computer in the morning, which will increase the likelihood that you will work on it.
Make unpleasant tasks more enjoyable
In general, the more unpleasant a certain task is, the more likely you are to procrastinate on it. As such, by making unpleasant tasks more appealing, you reduce the likelihood that you will procrastinate on them.
There are many ways you can make tasks more appealing. For example, if you need to clean the house, you can put on music that you like, and try to time yourself to see how much you can get done in a 10-minute sprint of work, in order to make this otherwise boring task more enjoyable.
Nudges are small modifications that you can make to your environment in order to get yourself to get your work done in a timely manner.
For example, if your goal is to get good grades because you want to get into a good graduate program, consider putting a small sticker with the logo of your dream program on your laptop, which will give you a small motivational boost when you need to start working.
Similarly, if your issue is that you often end up gaming for longer than intended, you could set up an alarm on your phone that goes off after a certain amount of time, and then put the phone close enough that you can hear it but far enough that you have to get up and leave your gaming platform in order to stop the alarm.
Minimize the number of decisions you have to make
The more decisions you have to make during a certain time period, the more fatigued you become from a mental perspective, and the more likely you are to procrastinate when it comes to making new decisions. As such, by minimizing the number of decisions you have to make within a certain timeframe, you can improve your ability to make decisions in a timely manner.
For example, if you need to write a paper, you can create a timeline of which parts of the paper you need to work on in advance, so that you don’t have to make the decision of what to work on each day. Similarly, you can pick the clothes that you will wear the next day right before you go to sleep, which will save you from having to make that decision right as you’re starting your day.
In addition, note that the more options you have to choose from when deciding what to do, the more difficult it will be for you to make a decision, and the more likely you will be to procrastinate. As such, by minimizing the number of options that you can choose from, you can reduce the likelihood that you will procrastinate.
For example, if you use highlighters while writing notes, you can decide to limit yourself to a small selection of colors, which will make it easier for you to choose from them each time you need to use one.
Set time constraints for decision-making
If you tend to procrastinate because you struggle to make decisions in a timely manner, you can limit the time that you have available to make decisions, by setting artificial time constraints for yourself.
For example, if you need to decide which design scheme to use in a presentation, you can set a timer with 1 minute on it, and decide that once the timer runs out, you have to go with one of the available options, even if you’re not perfectly sure that it’s the right one.
This technique is especially useful in situations where there is no new information for you to take into consideration, or in situations where the decision that you need to make isn’t too important in the first place, such as when none of the available options is significantly better than the others, meaning that it doesn’t really matter which one you choose.
The countdown is a technique where you choose a number, and then count down from that number until you reach zero, at which point you have to take action.
For example, you can decide to have a five-second rule, where you count down from five, and once you finish the countdown you have to get started on your work, no matter what.
You can make countdowns more effective by conditioning yourself to abide by them. Essentially, this means that you could use countdowns before engaging in relatively simple and easy tasks that you do on an everyday basis, which will make you more likely to follow through on them when it comes to more difficult and aversive tasks.
Start with your best or worst tasks
Some people find it beneficial to start their day by dealing with the task that they dread the most, so they can immediately get it out of the way, and go through the rest of the day knowing that they already took care of it. This approach is referred to as eating the frog or eating the elephant beetle, where the ‘frog’ signifies the unpleasant task that you have to take care of.
Alternatively, some people find it more beneficial to start with their easiest tasks first, in order to help themself get started and enter the right mindset that they need for work.
Both options are perfectly acceptable, so you should try them both in order to figure out which one works for you, while keeping in mind that each of them might work better in different scenarios.
Start with a tiny step
Deciding to commit to only a tiny step can sometimes help you get started on tasks that you’re procrastinating on, especially when you’re procrastinating because the task feels overwhelming or scary in some way.
For example, you can sit down intending to only write a single sentence on your thesis, or you can go to the gym intending to work out for just a few minutes.
Often, you’ll find that getting started was the hardest part, and that once you start engaging with the task it becomes fairly easy to keep going. In addition, even if you decide to stop after taking that tiny step, which is perfectly acceptable to do, you’ll still have made more progress than you would have otherwise, especially when it comes to dealing with the mental blocks that cause you to procrastinate in the first place.
This concept is sometimes referred to as the 2-minute rule or the 5-minute rule, to signify that you should set out with the intention of working on your task for just a few minutes. However, you can commit to other blocks of time too (e.g. 10 minutes), and, as noted above, you can choose to commit to other units of work (e.g. writing a sentence on your paper). If you do decide to implement this concept using a time limit, consider setting up a timer, which could help you convince yourself that you’re only committing to a small amount of time.
Immediately complete small tasks
One way to avoid procrastinating on small tasks is to simply get them done as soon as you find out that you need to do them, whenever it’s possible for you to do so. This has the added benefit of preventing these small tasks from piling up until they become overwhelming, and is often much more efficient than wasting time scheduling these tasks for later.
This concept is sometimes referred to as the 2-minute rule, to signify how short a task should be for you to choose to take care of it immediately. However, it’s up to you to decide how small a task needs to be for you to implement this rule, and the important thing isn’t necessarily how long it takes, but rather whether you will benefit from taking care of it as soon as you figure out that you need to do it.
Note that this concept represents one of two possible versions of the 2-minute rule; the other one, which is covered in the previous entry (‘start with a tiny step’), suggests that you should bring yourself to get started on tasks by committing to only spending a small amount of time on them.
A bottleneck is a task that’s causing you to delay when it comes to a number of other tasks, because you can’t move forward with them until you deal with the bottleneck first.
A bottleneck can be a bottleneck for a variety of reasons. For example, there are practical reasons, such as that you simply can’t analyze data until you’ve collected it, as well as mental reasons, such as that you want to finish dealing with a project that you’re working on before you move on to the next one.
If you notice that one of your tasks is a bottleneck and that you’re procrastinating on it, it can be highly beneficial to find a way to deal with it somehow. There are several ways you can go about doing this:
- Just get it done. This is obviously the best course of action, and might be doable if you use some of the other strategies which are available in this guide. However, if you find that you’re still stuck on the bottleneck after a while, it’s better to use a different approach instead.
- Postpone it. Sometimes, it can be better to postpone the bottleneck in order to allow yourself to focus on other things in the meantime, and then return to it once you’ve had some time to clear your mind.
- Modify it. Sometimes, you might be able to change the bottleneck in a way that will either allow you to get it done or ensure that it’s no longer a bottleneck.
- Delegate it. Sometimes, you might be able to delegate a bottleneck task to someone else, who will be able to handle it for you.
- Eliminate it entirely. Sometimes, you can decide that a certain task just isn’t that important to do after all, and that you can simply delete it from your to-do list and ignore it entirely, especially if it’s preventing you from making progress on more important things.
Different methods for dealing with bottlenecks will work better in different scenarios, based on factors such as your personal abilities and the nature of the task at hand. The most important thing is to realize that the task that you’re dealing with is a bottleneck, and to then find the approach for dealing with it that will work best for you.
Switch between tasks
If you find yourself procrastinating on something because you feel stuck, consider switching to a different task for a while before returning to the original tasks that you were procrastinating on.
Doing this is beneficial even if it would ideally be preferable for you to work on the original task, since it’s better to get something less important done than to do nothing at all, and since shifting between tasks at your discretion could help you become “unstuck” when it’s time to return to the original task.
Procrastinate in a productive way
You can sometimes get work done while you’re procrastinating on something important, by accepting the urge to procrastinate, and diverting your efforts toward other tasks, that you find less aversive.
For example, if you find yourself procrastinating on writing an essay, then instead of wasting time passively watching TV, you can work on some other task that you don’t want to complete, such as washing the dishes.
This technique, which is called productive procrastination or structured procrastination, can be useful to implement, because even though it means that you’re not getting your highest-priority task done, doing something that isn’t at the top of your to-do list is still better than doing nothing at all.
However, when implementing this technique, it’s important to make sure that it doesn’t become a way to enable long-term procrastination in a way that significantly hinders your progress. In addition, you should also make sure that the tasks you’re working on while procrastinating do have some value, and aren’t just a meaningless way to waste time and achieve a false sense of progress.
Finally, you should also try to identify situations where it would be more beneficial to simply take a break instead of trying to implement this technique, which could help you avoid wasting time and energy by trying to be productive during times where the circumstances are against you.
Take a break
Sometimes, taking a short break can help you clear your head, recharge mentally, and find the motivation that you need in order to get started on your work.
For example, if you’ve just finished writing a paper, and are now procrastinating on your computer instead of getting started on your next assignment, getting up from the computer and taking a short break could help you “reboot” your mind and switch it back to work mode.
To make the most of your breaks, try to actively use them with the goal of helping yourself recharge, and treat them as you would any other task. For example, instead of taking a break which consists of browsing social media until you feel ready to work again, it would be preferable to take five minutes to get up from the computer and stretch your legs before coming back to work.
This approach can often work better if you leave the environment that you were working in, and take a break somewhere else instead. This helps your brain to shift from ‘work mode’ to ‘break mode’, which could make the break feel more refreshing, and which could help you get right back to work once you’re done.
Improve your emotion-regulation skills
Because we often procrastinate as a result of improper emotion-regulation, improving your ability to control your emotions can help you reduce your tendency to procrastinate in various situations. There are two main ways you can improve your emotion-regulation skills:
- Use adaptive emotion-regulation strategies. Adaptive strategies are strategies that allow you to cope with difficult situations in a positive way. For example, if you’re working on a task but keep being distracted by thoughts about other tasks that you’ll have to take care of later, an adaptive coping strategy that you can use is to dedicate yourself fully to the task at hand, and focus all your attention on the present moment as you experience it.
- Avoid maladaptive emotion-regulation strategies. Maladaptive strategies are strategies that cause you to deal with difficult situations in a negative way. For example, if you’re worried that there is a problem with the way you’re doing a certain task, a maladaptive coping strategy that you might end up using is to avoid acknowledging any issues that you encounter in your work.
Your goal in using adaptive strategies and avoiding maladaptive ones is to improve your ability to deal with the presence of negative emotions, such as anger or frustration, and to also deal with the absence of positive emotions, which you might experience, for example, if the task that you need to complete is unrewarding in the short-term.
One basic emotion-regulation strategy that you can use is to actively acknowledge the presence of negative emotions or the lack of positive ones, and to then remind yourself of your mental toughness, and of your commitment to finishing the task at hand.
Figure out what you’re afraid of
People often procrastinate because they’re afraid of something, whether that thing is doing badly on a task or getting negative feedback from others. Identifying the reason why you’re worried about a task can help you cope with your fear, which in turn can help you get started on your work.
For example, if you realize that you’re procrastinating on starting a new hobby because you’re worried that you’ll embarrass yourself, you can talk to people in the community in order to address this fear, which will help you bring yourself to get started.
Avoid a perfectionist mindset
- Perfectionism can cause you to delay getting started, because you’re worried that you won’t be able to produce work that’s perfect.
- Perfectionism can cause you to continue revising your work endlessly, because you keep finding minor flaws in your work.
- Perfectionism can cause you to avoid releasing your work or making it public, because you’re afraid that it’s not absolutely perfect.
Realizing that you’re procrastinating because of your perfectionism is the first step to dealing with this issue. Once you’re aware that this is a problem, you must internalize the fact that it’s okay for your work to not be absolutely flawless, and that you shouldn’t let your fear of making a mistake cause you to procrastinate.
For example, if your problem is that you can’t even get started, then you need to accept the fact that your work is always going to have some flaws at first. Try to get something done, even if it’s of low quality during this initial stage, and remember that you can always improve it later.
Similarly, if your problem is that you continue to revise your work endlessly or that you avoid releasing your work, you can ask for feedback from knowledgeable people that you trust, who can give you an honest assessment of the quality of your work, and tell you whether it’s ready to be released, and if not then what improvements you need to make.
Furthermore, you can also ask yourself what are the consequences of releasing work that isn’t absolutely perfect, and then follow this up by asking yourself how bad these consequences are, and how they weigh compared to the potential benefits of finally getting your work out there.
Forgive yourself for past procrastination
Forgiving yourself for past instances of procrastination can help you procrastinate less in the future. For example, research shows that students who forgave themselves for procrastinating on past exams procrastinated less when it came time to study for later exams.
However, note that this doesn’t mean that you should constantly forgive yourself for ongoing procrastination while you’re engaging in it, since this could cause you to lose the drive that you need in order to want to change. Rather, you should make sure to forgive yourself when it comes to old mistakes, in cases where being angry at yourself for those mistakes is holding you back.
Minimize the impact of relapses
While you’re dealing with your procrastination problem, there will likely be times when you end up slipping, meaning that you might end up procrastinating despite your attempts to avoid doing so.
These relapses can happen to anyone, as they are a natural part of the long-term process that you have to go through in order to overcome your procrastination, messing up on occasion won’t automatically ruin your attempts to change.
As such, while you should try to avoid relapsing as much as possible, which you can do by using the techniques which are outlined in this guide, it’s also important to minimize the impact of relapses when you do mess up. Specifically, your goal is to cope with your relapses in a positive way, which will allow you to move past them with as little issues as possible.
For example, a positive way to deal with a procrastination relapse is to tell yourself that you made a mistake, and to then figure out how you can avoid making the same mistake in the future, before returning to your work. Conversely, a negative way to deal with a procrastination relapse is to say to yourself that you’ve already procrastinated for an hour, so you might as well waste the rest of the night procrastinating.
Accordingly, if you end up relapsing while you’re trying to stop being a procrastinator, there are several things that you should do:
- Accept what happened. Avoid trying to deny that you’ve procrastinated or trying to justify it, and instead take responsibility for your actions, even if you wish that you had acted differently.
- Forgive yourself for your mistake. Avoid beating yourself up over what happened, since obsessing over it is just going to make you feel bad, and will make it harder for you to return to your work.
- Figure out what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. Try to assess the situation, so you can figure out what caused you to procrastinate, and how you can avoid falling for the same issue in the future.
- Figure out how to fix things and get back to work. Once you’ve accepted the issue and figured out how to prevent it from happening again in the future, decide on the best course of action that you should undertake right now in order to get back to work, and then implement it.
Self-compassion involves extending sympathy to yourself in situations where you feel bad about mistakes that you’ve made. Self-compassion is beneficial when it comes to dealing with your procrastination, since it encourages the use of adaptive emotion-regulation strategies, in a way that reduces the likelihood that you will procrastinate, and since it can help you deal with the negative emotional impact of your procrastination.
Self-compassion is comprised of three primary components:
- Self-kindness. This is the quality of being kind to yourself, rather than critical, during tough times.
- Common humanity. This is the quality of recognizing that imperfection and suffering are a part of the shared human experience, rather than something that isolates you.
- Mindfulness. This is the quality of paying attention to the self and the environment as they are in the present moment, and accepting thoughts and emotions in a non-reactive and non-judgmental manner as you’re experiencing them, rather than letting them overwhelm you.
There are various techniques that you can use in order to increase your self-compassion.
One such technique is to remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, which can help you accept the fact that you did so yourself. To help yourself internalize this concept, you can, for example, think about situations in which other people that you think highly of have made similar mistakes in the past, or about how you would react if a friend of yours made the same mistake.
However, it’s also important to make sure that your self-compassion doesn’t turn into a way to enable yourself to continue procrastinating. As such, when practicing self-compassion, you should always ask yourself whether doing so is helping you cope with your procrastination, or whether it’s encouraging you to procrastinate more in the long-run.
Develop self-efficacy and a positive outlook
Self-efficacy is the belief in your ability to carry out the actions needed in order to achieve your goals. This belief is crucial to your ability to self-regulate your behavior, which is what allows you to successfully avoid procrastinating.
Self-efficacy is strongly related to being hopeful and having a positive outlook on your situation, which can also help reduce your tendency to procrastinate in some cases, by doing things such as increasing your motivation to work and reducing your fear of failure.
Being hopeful involves two primary types of thinking:
- Pathway thinking. This represents the belief that there are strategies that you can use to solve your problems.
- Agency thinking. This represents the belief that you can successfully pursue the strategies that can be used to solve your problems.
Essentially, you want to develop a strong sense of self-efficacy and hopefulness by increasing your belief in your ability to find viable strategies that you can use to pursue your goals, as well as in your ability to successfully utilize these strategies.
You can accomplish this by doing things such as going over your past successes in your mind, and by reminding yourself that even if you have made mistakes in the past, you’ve managed to learn from them and are now better equipped to deal with obstacles that you might encounter.
It’s especially important to do this in situations where you find yourself beginning to slip into a downward spiral, where past procrastination causes you to have a lower sense of self-efficacy or to experience hopelessness, which can cause you to procrastinate further if you feel that there is no chance that your efforts will lead to success.
However, it’s also important to remain realistic when it comes to your self-efficacy and your optimism, and to avoid allowing them to cause you to procrastinate. This might be an issue, for example, in situations where you postpone important tasks unnecessarily because you believe that you will have enough time to finish them right before the deadline, or because you overestimate your ability to avoid procrastinating again when it’s time to return to these tasks in the future.
Focus on the goal instead of on the task
One way to increase your motivation to work on tasks that you view as boring or unpleasant is to focus on your end goals instead of on the tasks themselves.
For example, if you’re procrastinating on an assignment because it’s boring, try to not think about the task itself when you’re trying to get yourself to do the work, but rather think about your underlying reason for wanting to complete it, whether it’s to get a good grade, to get a promotion, or even just to be able to relax without feeling guilty.
Note that this approach, which involves adopting an outcome focus, is generally most effective when you are averse to the task at hand. However, there are situations where it can be more beneficial to adopt a process focus, which entails focusing on the task at hand instead of on the goal, such as in cases where you have a high fear of failure, meaning that focusing on the task itself could potentially distract you from that issue.
Visualize your future self
Visualizing your future self can help you motivate yourself into overcoming your procrastination.
This technique, which is called episodic future thinking, works by increasing your temporal self-continuity, which is the connection between your present and future selves. This, in turn, makes you care more about your future self, about the future consequences of your actions, and about the perceived value of the future outcomes of your work.
For example, if you’re procrastinating on an assignment now because you will only receive a grade on it in a few weeks, you can implement this technique by imagining your future self getting the graded assignment back.
Note that, when visualizing your future self, you can either focus on the positive outcomes that you will experience if you follow through on your commitments, or on the negative outcomes that you will experience if you continue to procrastinate.
Furthermore, you can choose whether you want to visualize your future self from a first-person or a third-person perspective, meaning that you can either try to see future events as taking place directly through your own eyes, or you can try to see them through the eyes of an external observer.
Regardless of which option you choose when it comes to visualizing your future, make sure to commit to this visualization, by making it as detailed and as vivid as possible. The more you feel connected to your future self, and the more you care about them, the better you will be able to motivate yourself in the present, and the more likely you will be to successfully overcome your procrastination.
Adopt an external perspective
If you’re struggling with a procrastination problem and you’re not sure how to deal with it, it can sometimes be beneficial to try to view your situation from an external perspective, since this can help you analyze the situation better.
For example, if you keep procrastinating because you’re not sure how to get yourself to start working on an idea that you have, you could use self-distancing language when thinking about the situation, by asking yourself “what should you do” instead of “what should I do”. Alternatively, another thing that you could do is imagine what you would say to a friend if they came to you asking for advice on a similar situation.
Find someone who can hold you accountable
Having a person who will hold you accountable for your actions can help you stop procrastinating in some situations.
For example, you could tell a close friend that you’re trying to get yourself to finally start working on a project that you’ve been meaning to work on, and that you’ll give them $5 if you haven’t done so by the start of next week.
The person who holds you accountable can be anyone that you trust, whether it’s a teacher, a colleague, a parent, or a friend. The better they can hold you accountable, the more their assistance will motivate you to do your work in a timely manner.
Note that there doesn’t necessarily have to be any tangible reward or penalty involved in the way that the other person holds you accountable; if you care enough about their opinion of you, sometimes even wanting them to be proud of your actions or wanting to avoid disappointing them can be all the motivation you need.
Find a role model
A role model is someone who you admire, based on factors such as their values, actions, or accomplishments, and who you aspire to be like. Finding a role model for yourself and then trying to emulate them can potentially help you regulate your behavior better in a number of ways, such as by increasing your internal drive to persevere in the face of obstacles.
For example, if you have a specific role model in mind, and you find yourself in a situation where you know that you should work but you feel a desire to procrastinate, ask yourself what your role model would do if they were in the same situation, or how you would feel if they could see you now.
Seek favorable peer influence
- Seek positive peer influence. This means that you should try to spend time with people who have a good influence on you. This includes, for example, people who work hard, pursue their goals, and hold themselves accountable for their actions, and who encourage you to do the same.
- Avoid negative peer influence. This means that you should try to minimize the amount of time you spend around people who have a bad influence on you. This includes, for example, people who waste their time, neglect their goals, and never accept responsibility for their actions, and who encourage you to do the same.
Build a social support network
A social support network is a group of people that you can rely on to give you emotional, informational, and practical help. For example, a close friend or a study partner are two types of people that you might include in your social support network.
Social support can be beneficial when it comes to reducing procrastination in some cases. For example, if you’re procrastinating because you’re afraid of failing at something, talking to someone in your social support network could help you overcome your fear.
Note that the nature or size of your support network isn’t crucial, as long as you have the support that you need.
Furthermore, note that in some cases, you can also benefit from having a significant personal network, which includes people who share your situation in some way, but who you don’t necessarily expect to support you. For example, your peers in the classroom or your colleagues at work could both be considered part of your personal network.
This type of network can be beneficial even if the people in it don’t help you directly, because simply being knowing that they’re there and that they share your situation can help you feel motivated, and can help you set realistic expectations for yourself.
The stages of breaking the procrastination habit
There are five main stages in this model:
- Precontemplation. During this stage, you’re either unaware of your problem or you have no intention of taking action in the foreseeable future in order to fix it.
- Contemplation. During this stage, you’re aware that you have a problem, and you intend to do something in order to fix it, but your intentions are still relatively vague, and you don’t yet know what exactly you’re going to do.
- Preparation. During this stage, you plan to undertake a specific course of action in the near future in order to deal with your problem.
- Action. During this stage, you begin to undertake your planned course of action, in an attempt to solve your problematic behavior.
- Maintenance. During this stage, you no longer engage in the problematic behavior that you’ve been trying to solve, but you continue to undertake actions that are necessary in order to ensure that you don’t relapse.
If you’ve decided to read this guide, then you were probably aware that you have a procrastination problem, but you were unsure what you can do in order to cope with it, meaning that you were stuck in the contemplation stage. However, this guide should have given you the tools that you need to move on to the preparation stage, and from there to the action and maintenance stages, respectively.
Note that, in some cases, long-term maintenance of positive habits can bring you to the termination stage, which occurs when the negative behavior that you were trying to deal with has been completely eliminated, meaning that you’re no longer prone to engaging in it.
However, for some people, it’s not possible to reach the termination stage, since the temptation to relapse into their old behavioral patterns remains there forever, which means that they will have to remain in the maintenance stage indefinitely.
Furthermore, different people under different conditions will need different amounts of time for short-term anti-procrastination behaviors to turn into long-term habits, so while someone people might be able to overcome their procrastination relatively quickly, others might take significantly longer to achieve the same.
Nevertheless, the longer you manage to stick to your plan of action by instilling positive behaviors and avoiding negative ones, the easier it will get for you to keep going, and the better you will be at preventing yourself from procrastinating.
Experiment and reevaluate
It’s important to keep in mind that there is no ultimate cure for procrastination: procrastination is a complex problem, and different people will benefit more from different solutions to it.
This means that there isn’t a single right way to get yourself to stop procrastinating. Rather, the best approach to dealing with this issue is to try and understand your procrastination as best as you can, and to then try out different solutions, until you find the ones that work best for you.
As such, you should think about the techniques in this article as the various tools and weapons that you can use in your personal fight against procrastination, and then figure out which ones you want to keep in your arsenal and which ones you prefer to discard.
This guide gave you all the tools that you will need in order to combat your procrastination. Now, the responsibility lies with you to implement what you’ve learned.
Overall, the most important thing to internalize is the fact that you cannot be passive when it comes to dealing with your procrastination. You have to actively try to improve yourself, and you can’t keep repeating the same mistakes and promising yourself that things will be different, without making any changes.
Unless you’re willing to put in the necessary effort, things will always stay the same. However, if you put in the effort, and if you work in a smart way by analyzing your problem and finding effective solutions, you’ll be able to stop procrastinating and start getting things done.
If you’re not sure where to start, do the following:
- Get a piece of paper or open a new document on your computer.
- Write down a goal that you want to work on for now. If you want, you can write down more than one goal, but don’t write so many that you end up feeling overwhelmed.
- Write down what you need to do in order to accomplish your goal.
- Write down how procrastination could prevent you from achieving this goal. This means that you should write down when, how, and why you’re likely to procrastinate while working toward your goal.
- Pick a few anti-procrastination techniques that you want to implement. Which techniques you should use depends on your goals, and on the nature of your procrastination problem. If you’re not sure which ones to pick, start by using a to-do list, breaking large tasks into smaller ones, and setting deadlines for yourself, using a to-do list, followed by modifying your environment to make it harder for you to procrastinate, committing to start with only a tiny step, and adding a brief delay before indulging your impulse to procrastinate.
- Get to work. Start working toward your goal, by implementing the plan of action that you’ve just formulated.
Later on, you can add more goals that you want to pursue and more anti-procrastination techniques that you want to implement. Right now, however, the most important thing is to make sure that you just get started.
The longer you wait, the less likely you will be to act on what you’ve learned, so start now, instead of telling yourself you’ll get started later.
Summary and main takeaways
- Procrastination is a prevalent and serious problem, that can negatively affect your life in various ways, but research shows that people can learn how to overcome it successfully.
- The first step to solving your procrastination problem is to set clear, achievable, and meaningful goals for yourself, which means that you should have goals that are well-defined, possible to accomplish, and significant enough that they will allow you to make notable progress.
- Once you’ve set your goals, the second step to solving your procrastination problem is to clearly identify the nature of that problem, by identifying when, how, and why you procrastinate.
- Once you’ve identified the nature of your procrastination problem, the next step is to create and implement a plan of action which involves the use of various behavioral and cognitive anti-procrastination techniques.
- The anti-procrastination techniques that you can use include, among others, breaking large tasks into small subtasks, tailoring your schedule to your productivity cycles, gamifying your behavior, improving your work environment, making it harder for yourself to procrastinate, making it easier for yourself to get started, and eliminating bottlenecks.
Procrastination is a tough problem to solve, but if you’re willing to follow the necessary steps in order to create a good plan of action, and if you’re willing to then put in the effort in order to follow through on your plan of action, you have a great chance at being able to overcome your procrastination.
Overall, this guide has all the tools that you need in order to stop procrastinating; it’s now up to you to use them.