Try to recall a time when you delayed getting started on one task despite knowing there would be consequences afterward.
While rushing to finish the task, you probably felt panicked, guilty, and helpless, but you’d promise to work better in the future.
However, the next time you had to do work, household chores, or other tasks, you most likely found yourself succumbing to procrastination yet again.
Even though it’s easy to get stuck in this harmful cycle, procrastinators don’t have to live like this forever.
In this guide, we’ll teach you our best techniques on how to beat procrastination once and for all.
Procrastination is the act of intentionally delaying decisions, tasks, or actions until the very last minute.
People who procrastinate know they need to get things done, but because of different reasons, they get started very late—sometimes, so late that completing the task on time becomes impossible.
Now, while some people procrastinate only in certain situations, others can be chronic procrastinators.
When this habit becomes prevalent in your daily life, it can interfere with your goals or even your emotional well-being.
Types of Procrastination
Although there are many types of procrastination, most people fall under two broad categories: Active procrastinators and passive procrastinators.
Active procrastinators are those who believe they work best under pressure.
These people purposely postpone tasks because they think taking action at the last minute will increase motivation, effort, and quality of work.
However, in the long term, this can actually lead to a lot of added stress and higher instances of illness.
When you have limited time on your hands to address potential problems, your work performance also suffers as a result.
On the other hand, passive procrastinators delay tasks because they have trouble getting started.
Whether it’s due to a lack of motivation, a fear of failure, poor time management skills, or something else entirely, what these types of procrastinators need is strong self-discipline to break free from the habit.
Although this quality may be hard to internalize, it’s definitely possible if you choose the right tool to address your specific procrastination problem.
Effects of Procrastination
Now, while some procrastinators know they need to change, others may see no reason to do so, especially if this practice is already a big part of their life.
However, procrastination comes with very real consequences. Let’s talk about this thoroughly.
In the short term, procrastination may relieve pressure, but this FADES quickly as your deadline approaches.
Consequently, procrastinators usually end up feeling very stressed, guilty, and helpless. Their productivity goes down, which negatively impacts their work performance.
In fact, on average, college students who regularly procrastinate get lower grades, while workers who constantly delay tasks produce lower-quality output.
Ultimately, procrastinators have a much harder time reaching their goals.
With chronic procrastinators, procrastination is often already a big part of their lifestyle. Besides the consequences mentioned above, these people are also more likely to experience a lower quality of life.
Some of these consequences include:
- When you often fail to get things done, you put your personal and professional relationships at risk.
- People who can’t depend on you are less likely to trust you, whether it be at work or at home. Over time, this can negatively impact your emotional and social well-being.
- People who procrastinate are also more prone to more health conditions, sometimes in the form of insomnia or weak immune systems. Because they put so much pressure on their bodies to complete tasks in a short amount of time, their physical well-being can suffer too.
- Lastly, procrastination can affect your mental health. Because procrastinators are caught up in a vicious cycle, they often feel like there is no way out of it.
Feelings of regret and guilt can quickly translate into anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders—factors that only exacerbate the issue at the end of the day.
Causes of Procrastination
Knowing these harms, why do people procrastinate? Is it just a lack of self-control that separates procrastinators from non-procrastinators? Well, as it turns out, it’s not that simple.
Lack of Focus
One possible cause is a lack of focus.
People who don’t have specific and well-defined goals are much more likely to procrastinate because it is difficult for them to decide on a course of action.
Let’s try out an example:
Imagine two students. The first one has a goal to graduate first in her class, while the second one wants to set aside an extra hour per day to study for her toughest class.
Which of the two students is more likely to procrastinate?
- Because the first student has a broader goal, he will find it harder to put off tasks related to it, such as studying in advance and submitting homework early.
- On the other hand, the second student has a clear task that’s more understandable and easier to commit to.
Thus, a lack of vision, direction, or purpose can lead to procrastination.
Lack of Motivation
Another reason why people procrastinate is lack of motivation. This might be because:
- They aren’t interested in the task
- They perceive no benefit to doing it
- They simply lack the willpower to get started
Unless you’re extremely self-disciplined, some form of motivation is necessary for you to take action. However, the issue also lies in the main type of motivation you possess.
If you’re extrinsically motivated, that is, pushed to complete a task by other people or external factors, you’re more likely to procrastinate compared to someone that’s intrinsically motivated.
After all, if you don’t see meaning in the tasks you do and are driven by societal pressure or the promise of a reward instead, you will definitely find it difficult to work on these tasks immediately and purposefully.
Now, what if your brain and your body simply cannot handle tasks that need to be done?
If you feel like you could drop with exhaustion at any point during the day, you’re probably lacking a lot of much-needed rest and shut-eye.
Something busy people sometimes don’t realize is that burnout is very real.
Taking on more than what you can handle can inadvertently make you a procrastinator, as your brain signals YOU NEED TO SLOOOW DOWN.
In this situation, procrastination can be an unconscious defense mechanism against too much physical and mental stress.
Unless you fix the root of the problem, though, you’ll never break free from the harmful cycle.
Fear of Failure
Other people succumb to procrastination because they have a fear of failure.
Although it’s normal to feel this way sometimes, it can heavily affect your personal growth and development once it hinders you from even starting something.
How does procrastination address this fear, though?
Well, for some people, not trying means never experiencing failure.
However, if you never give anything a shot, then there’s no chance at all that you’ll succeed. Clearly, in this case, procrastination leads to a lot of missed opportunities in life.
Something closely related to fear of failure is low self-efficacy. If you have the tendency to self-doubt, it can be hard for you to try out something NEW, scary, or different, especially if it’s for a particularly important task.
Now that social media and online advertisement posts are so prevalent, people are becoming more and more concerned with the idea of perfection.
When an advertisement falsely presents an ideal as reality, we get pressured to live up to those impossible standards, which negatively impacts our self-worth.
Because we feel like we’re not enough, we turn to procrastination to avoid dealing with tasks that bring up these issues.
Unfortunately, because we have to address them at some point, we never really feel better afterward.
Oftentimes, low self-control also leads to procrastination.
Have you ever delayed working on a task by going through your phone, watching a Netflix show, or browsing social media?
Although these distractions are quite tempting, non-procrastinators who have more self-discipline can ignore this until after they’ve completed their tasks.
This self-regulation failure can also exacerbate any of the issues on this list, which makes it doubly difficult to beat procrastination.
According to some researchers like Joseph Ferrari of DePaul University, this issue can be linked to poor mood regulation, as people procrastinate when they can’t keep their emotions in check.
People believe that by procrastinating, they’re taking away the pain and negative feelings associated with the task. In reality, though, they’re only postponing the inevitable.
Prioritizing Present Rewards
Similarly, some people also have a tendency to prioritize present rewards and discount far-off ones. This is also known as temporal discounting or delay discounting.
For example, if you were offered $50 now or $100 in 4 months, which would you choose?
People who place higher importance on present rewards (or punishments) would probably choose option one, and this decision-making translates into how they complete tasks too.
Imagine it like this: The ‘reward’ of getting a good grade on your test a week away may pale in comparison to the ‘reward’ of going out with your friends now. However, when your test is only a day away, its value becomes much more important to you.
Now, listen to this:
According to an article written in the Psychological Bulletin by University of Calgary professor Piers Steel, a procrastinator prefers to do activities that provide immediate rewards rather than work on a task that would bring in a significantly larger reward in the long term.
Clearly, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of procrastination.
Dissociation From Future Self
Another interesting phenomenon is temporal self-discontinuity or temporal disjunction, which is when people view their future self as separate from their present self.
This is something Fuschia Sirois of Bishop’s University observed while studying procrastination a few years ago.
Have you ever put aside a task for your ‘future self’ to deal with?
Sometimes, we may view tedious things as a future problem, when, in fact, it is still YOU who needs to tackle them later on.
In the same way, we may not be able to fully comprehend the impact of future rewards and punishments on our present selves, even if their consequences are very, very real.
We mistakenly believe that a different (perhaps better) version of ourselves will be able to accomplish what we choose not to do right now, even if, realistically speaking, nothing will really change between now and the future.
Sometimes, a procrastinator will have underlying medical issues that require more serious treatment.
People with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, and other psychological disorders may find it difficult to do certain tasks and activities, which is why they procrastinate.
For instance, those with ADHD cannot sit still and concentrate on a single task for a long period of time, and they may keep switching tasks without finishing any of them.
- Procrastination (and other related behaviors) is one of the common symptoms of ADHD.
- On the other hand, those with depression lack interest and motivation in many aspects of daily life.
They usually don’t have the energy to do work or even just simple things around the house, depending on how severe their conditions are. Consequently, they often succumb to procrastination too.
How to Stop Procrastinating
Now that you know the factors that affect procrastination, how do you overcome these issues and get on with life?
Well, depending on your circumstances, there are certain actions you can take to stop being a procrastinator.
If Your Issue Is: Lack of Focus
If you lack focus, it’s vital that you clearly define your goals and use time management techniques.
Sometimes, it’s hard to visualize the finish line, so it helps to specify what exactly you want to achieve.
When setting goals, make sure you follow SMART criteria. The word SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
For instance, if you want to work towards improving health and fitness, one goal could look like this:
“I want to get healthier, so on January 1, I will purchase a gym membership and work out three times a week. I aim to lose one pound of fat every two weeks. After two months, I should lose at least four pounds of fat.”
Because all your desired actions and deadlines are outlined above, you’re not as likely to give in to procrastination.
It’s also a good idea to employ time management techniques.
There are tons to choose from: The Eisenhower Matrix, Kanban Board, and The Pomodoro Technique, among others.
By visualizing and prioritizing the different tasks you have to do in a day, it is much easier to avoid procrastination.
Over time, as you get used to these methods, you may find yourself procrastinating less and less. Once you have settled into a regular routine or habit, productivity will definitely come a lot more naturally!
If Your Issue Is: Fear of Failure or Low Self-Esteem
Now, if you have a fear of failure, it may help to break down your goal into several, smaller subgoals.
Looking at the bigger picture can be an intimidating thing.
However, if you focus on ONE SIMPLE TASK first before moving on to the next, you can build up your confidence and prevent procrastination.
Remember to celebrate your small victories too, as there are still great achievements!
Another thing you should do is remind yourself that it’s human to make errors.
Try recalling times when you’ve succeeded after multiple failures or when you learned something after making a mistake. These show you can definitely bounce back from the negative things in life.
Remember, self-forgiveness, self-compassion, and acceptance of failure are crucial because they allow you to move forward and beat procrastination.
Doing something is always better than doing nothing at all!
If you’re having trouble controlling your thoughts and emotions, it can be wise to stay off the internet as well. Some online personalities really perpetuate impossible standards of perfection, even though the reality is far from it offline.
If Your Issue Is: Lack of Motivation or Low Self-Control
To address this, it’s vital to do two things: Minimize distractions and find your purpose.
Did you know that a meta-analysis by Psychological Bulletin revealed that 80-95% of students regularly procrastinate?
This may be due to the presence of multiple distractions in students’ environments as well as their lack of interest in their studies.
To prevent temptation and avoid procrastination, remove all potential distractions from your work area:
- Switch off your phone
- Log out of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
- Lock away your television remote
Once these things are less accessible, you’ll find it easier to focus on the task at hand.
It also helps to identify when you’re most productive during the day. Do you perform better at a task early in the day, during the afternoon, or late at night? If so, then:
- Schedule work during those times and establish a routine so that it’s easier to get into it every day.
- Next, try to reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a day. When you have too many options to choose from, you may experience mental fatigue and give in to procrastination to avoid decision-making.
For instance, if your goal is to exercise at 7 AM every day, consider wearing your workout clothes to bed, filling up your jug of water the night before, and putting your car keys on your bedside table.
Because everything’s well-prepared for the next day, you’re already a few steps further towards your goal.
Are you still lacking motivation?
Maybe you don’t know why you’re doing the task in the first place. To succeed at anything, you must find meaning and purpose in the work you do.
Once you’re intrinsically motivated, you no longer need to depend on external factors to push you forward.
Also, keep in mind that almost anything can be an opportunity to improve on yourself as a person—isn’t that motivation enough?
If Your Issue Is: Prioritizing Present Rewards or Dissociation From Future Self
To prevent procrastination, it’s best to create a detailed action plan with multiple checkpoints, to-do lists, and small rewards after completing them.
While some can focus on the big reward at the end of a long journey, others need SMALLER SUBTASKS to feel accomplished and energized.
You can break up tasks any way you want to—the form doesn’t matter, as long as it leads up to the same end goal.
An outline of the action plan can also help solidify future tasks and bring them into your present consciousness.
It’s harder to pass these off as ‘future problems’ when they’re all laid out on an urgent to-do list, so try tricking your mind into thinking they need to be done right away.
Now, don’t forget to insert breaks and little rewards in between too, as these motivate you to keep grinding!
When you finish a task, relax and do something fun so that you’re not mentally drained when it’s time to start working again. In fact, self-care can be a very useful weapon against procrastination.
Don’t expect your habits to change overnight, but remember, every little thing counts!
If Your Issue Is: Low Energy or Medical Conditions
Because these procrastination issues are related to health and psychological science, it’s important to take care of yourself and seek professional help if necessary.
If your energy is low due to fatigue, stress, and lack of sleep, then focus on your physical health:
- Get at least 6-8 hours of sleep
- Start an exercise routine
- Drink plenty of water
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet to build up your immunity
Don’t forget to take breaks too—operating on low fuel will make you less efficient, more prone to error, and it could cause more serious medical issues later on.
With that said, only take on a reasonable amount of work that you can handle. Trust us, your client will thank you for it.
However, if you can no longer manage your health issues on your own, then it may be time to consult a doctor or a medical professional for expert advice.
He may be able to prescribe appropriate medication, start therapy, or recommend other courses of action to help you stop procrastination entirely.
To Sum It Up
Although procrastination is a difficult habit to break, it’s definitely possible to overcome it entirely and boost your productivity!
Just make sure to follow these steps:
- Understand why you procrastinate. Figure out what’s hindering you from making progress. Is it your mood/emotions, your physical health, a lack of direction, or something else entirely?
- Know when you procrastinate. Are you more likely to procrastinate at a certain time of day or under specific circumstances? Understanding the scope of the problem will help you formulate a more effective solution.
- Create an action plan. Now that you know the issue, respond accordingly. Use any of the productivity techniques above that are most suitable for your needs. Remember that this can be adjusted and improved throughout the whole process.
- Eliminate roadblocks. Do your best to reduce any and all distractions in your surroundings. This will help you focus on your goal 100%.
- Celebrate your victories. Don’t forget to reward yourself for doing a good job! Changing a habit isn’t easy, so be proud of your progress—no matter how small. Being flexible and forgiving to yourself will make this journey a sustainable one.
Now that you have all the information you need to succeed, go ahead and apply these techniques in your daily life.
We hope this guide helped you understand how to overcome procrastination and finally reach your goals. Good luck!