Ultimate Guide To Combating Procrastination

A piece of cardboard with writing on it: Fight today for a better tomorrow!".

It’s human nature to put off tasks that we don’t want to do. It’s also human nature to procrastinate. Whether it’s because of a hectic schedule, lack of motivation, fear of failure or stress, we all put things off from time to time. Unfortunately, procrastinating can have a negative impact on our lives and careers. Procrastination has been shown to lower self-esteem, increase stress and lead to depression in some cases. Luckily, there are several ways you can fight procrastination and get stuff done!

What Is Procrastination And How Does It Hurt You?

If there’s one productivity killer that almost everyone struggles with, it’s procrastination! But if you’re reading this article, it means you’re already on the right path to combat this bad habit and become more productive in the way to do your work.

Procrastination is an intentional or subconscious delay of a task or an action. The work itself originates from the Latin word procrastinatus, which is a derivative of the words forward and tomorrow.

Procrastination is often a learnt habit – the more you repeat the behaviour of delaying an important task in exchange for performing a more pleasant action – the more likely you are to procrastinate in the future. This is how the habit is built! Positive emotions and feelings that are experienced whilst procrastinating trick our brains into thinking it is a worthwhile task and therefore push us to procrastinate time and time again.

Wooden tiles with letters on them arranged to spell out "Allow for delay".

It is no surprise that habitual procrastination can lead to serious consequences in your personal and professional life. Leaving things till the last minute leads to suboptimal results, missing deadlines hurts your reputation and the disappointment you may cause other people to experience is unmeasurable. What is more, procrastinating in order to delay difficult but important tasks in order to chase after short-term positive feelings, will stall you in achieving long-term goals, and may eventually lead to mental health issues, including low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.

Whilst procrastination may lead to negative psychological impacts, it may also be a symptom of a more serious underlying issue. It is, therefore, important to gain knowledge and understanding of what procrastination is, acknowledge your own battle with it and take steps to reduce it.

Some Statistics on Procrastination

  • According to a survey by Gallup, 42% of working adults in the U.S. report that they often procrastinate.
  • A 2007 research found that between 80-95% of university students procrastinated regularly, more so when it came to delaying completing their academic work.
  • Lavoie et al research reports that about half of the surveyed individuals used The Internet as means to procrastinate.
  • A staggering 94% of people in a survey conducted by P Steel, reported that procrastination negatively affected their life.
  • The impact of procrastination in professional life may be even more shocking: one study reports that habitual procrastination in the workplace is linked to salaries of approximately $15,000 lower than the average!
a man in deep thought writing on a piece of paper.

If you struggle with procrastination like many other people in the world, you might find it hard to keep your focus on tasks that you find boring or uninteresting. Fortunately, there are strategies you can use when the urge to procrastinate strikes so that you can get stuff done more consistently.
Here are some tips on how to combat procrastination and get stuff done. And it all starts with getting to know yourself and the way you tend to procrastinate.

Identify What Kind Of Procrastinator You Are

When you know what type of procrastinator you are, you can better identify how you’re procrastinating in the first place and what to do about it. There are four main types of procrastinators:

1. Perfectionist Procrastinator

With the pressures of 21st-century life, perfectionistic procrastination is quoted as one of the most prominent types of procrastination. Environmental conditions, mood and physical conditions aside, perfectionism is in fact the most common psychological cause of procrastination. Read all about Perfectionism Procrastination here to see if you may fall into this category.

2. Productive Procrastinator

There are different types of procrastination, and not all of them are equal. In fact, there is one type of procrastination that, some claim, can actually help you become more productive. Productive Procrastination simply means that you are doing another useful task in the present while delaying a task that you either don’t want to do or don’t feel like doing right now. However, will tricking yourself into being productive lead to even more procrastination on the most important tasks? And how will it affect your long-term goals? Read all about The Benefits and The Pitfalls of Productive Procrastination here.

a word productive printed on a piece of paper with stamping blocks next to it.

3. The Planner, But Not The Action Taker

Some of us fool ourselves into believing that we are taking action just by planning a task we need to complete. But when it comes to getting the ball rolling, we procrastinate by planning some more, perfecting the details of how the task should be executed, and wasting time by imagining the end result. If you spend more time planning than doing, you may be one of the Procrastinating Planners.

4. The Short-Term Pleasure Seeker

To some extent, all humans are short-term pleasure seekers. Evolutionary speaking, we are predisposed to take an easier route and seek immediate gratification for our actions. That’s why we choose to watch videos on YouTube to get instant stress relief instead of exercising to see a more toned body 3 months down the line. However, if left uncontrolled, such procrastination poses serious consequences. The Short-Term Pleasure Seekers misalign their present selves from their future selves and struggle to find the motivation to work towards long-term goals.

Identify Why You Procrastinate

Once you know what type of procrastinator you are, you can start to identify why you’re procrastinating. Monitor yourself for a week and write down every task you catch yourself delaying. Spend a few minutes identifying the emotion behind the procrastination.

For example, if you identify as a perfectionist procrastinator, you might be putting off setting a date for a housewarming party because you’re worried you haven’t finished redecorating one of the rooms or your house lacks pieces of art on the walls. Ask yourself why these things are so important that you cannot move forwards – are you afraid of being judged by your friends and family on your interior design skills? Are you worried you will be seen as lazy for not finishing redecorating?

If you are a Productive Procrastinator, recognize the tasks that you often delay in order to complete a bunch of other projects. Are the tasks that are being delayed boring? Are they so difficult that you are scared to fail? Or maybe you won’t be seeing the results from that task for a really long time and choose to clean your house instead for the immediate reward of being in a tidy spotless house?

If you pride yourself on your planning skills, but your projects never take off, maybe you can recognise an emotion, like fear of failure or low-self esteem that prevents you from seeing the project through to its completion.

A photo of a dog at a desk.

There are many emotions that can fuel procrastination, but the most common ones include:

  1. Fear of missing out. In the fast-moving world where fun, entertainment and opportunities lurk around every corner, it is difficult to focus on a task and pass on the other things happening around you.
  2. Fear of failure. Pressures to succeed and doubts about your own ability or judgement by peers and colleagues may lead to delaying the task.
  3. Lack of Motivation. Most tasks that humans procrastinate on have a delayed reward. Working towards your long-term goals, like exercising in order to see a more toned body 6 months down the line, may come with little motivation. In contrast, watching a funny video of cats playing will give you the instant pleasure of feeling entertained.
  4. Other reasons for procrastinating include not enjoying the methods, the process, and the people you are meant to complete the task with, and other short-term discomforts associated with the task at hand.

The good news is, whatever the emotions are hiding behind your choice to procrastinate on various tasks, there are methods you can try to get the ball rolling and achieve anything you’ve set out to do.

Motivation Boost: Finding your Why

When you know what type of procrastinator you are, and why you’re procrastinating, the next step is to clearly set-out your long-term goals, or your “why.” Your “why” is the reason that you started doing whatever it is you do in the first place. It’s the reason you decided to pursue a certain career path or a hobby. This will help you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing or why you need to do something on your to-do list.

Actively aligning your current actions with your future self, or your long-term goals can act as a motivator. Having clear goals set with a deadline attached, that are visible to you every day (like a framed list in your hallway, a note on your laptop desktop, or a vision board on your desk) will constantly remind you of your long-term goals and dreams you are working to achieve.

a person creating a vision board on their wall.

Here are some examples of short-term action and long-term goal alignment:

  • Cleaning your house today will lead to a less cluttered, less overwhelmed mind that will help you focus on other more important tasks.
  • Making a sales call to a potential client may increase your commission getting you closer to the financial freedom you always dreamed of. And if the call is unsuccessful, you have just learned new communication skills and maybe got a bunch of questions that you can now craft better answers to in preparation for the next call.
  • Exercising today will give you a greater chance of being fit and mobile when you are 80 years old, leading to a long and adventurous life ahead of you.
  • Writing a chapter of a book that you hope to publish one day will take you a big step closer to helping a lot of people who will benefit from it once it’s published and have you closer to achieving all those royalties that will pay for a more lavish lifestyle.

Knowing Your Triggers

Knowing what triggers your procrastination can help you prevent it. If you notice that you’re consistently putting off certain tasks or projects, make a mental note of what you’re doing at the time so that you can try to avoid those triggers in the future.

  • Is a large task that has no structure making you delay it? Breaking it up into small task- or time-limited chunks of work may be a simple solution.
  • Will writing down your tasks on a piece of paper help you complete them?
  • Is having your phone nearby affecting how much time you spend on it?
  • Do you get distracted when the TV is on in the background, leading to you actually watching a program instead of it just being a background noise?
  • Do you procrastinate a task as soon as it becomes boring and repetitive? Maybe some background noise would actually be helpful in this case?
  • Do you work in the kitchen and keep persuading yourself that you need to have a snack before starting a task?
  • Is there someone in your life constantly telling you how you should be doing something, making you put off things?
A woman and a young girl looking at a mobile phone and smiling.

Having a Plan

It also helps to have a plan in place that outlines exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it. This will help you stay focused on the task at hand. Make a to-do list, create a schedule and try different time-management techniques to see what works for you.

Having a plan and knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing will help you stay motivated and focused on achieving your goals and being successful. Having a plan will also help you avoid falling into the perfectionist trap.

Two pitfalls of planning that come with a warning:

  • Planning is not actually what your end goal is. Make sure to spend time setting out a structured plan and ensuring it is realistic given your time constraints and other resources, but do not fall into the trap of seeing planning as taking action. Ideally plan your tasks the night before or first thing in the morning, and then take action!
  • Your plan should be realistic to act as a motivator. Do not commit to long periods of work on certain tasks that you are used to procrastinating. Start with short 20-30 minute sessions, interspersed with easier or more pleasant tasks. As you get the ball rolling on the task you’ve been delaying, you may find yourself more willing to carry on and get it done. Increase the time you work on a difficult task as it gets easier and more habitual or you start enjoying it more.
A planner journal with words written in it: "Make it happen!".

Finding The Right Methods That Work For You

Finally, find the methods that work for you. Just because one person finds one method to be helpful doesn’t mean that it will be helpful for you. It’s important to try different things until you find one or a few that work for you.

Here are a few methods that may work in combating procrastination:

Try A Procrastination Combating Hack

A lot of best-selling books offer fool-proof ways to stop procrastinating immediately. Whilst not all of them will work for you, trying each of them for a couple of weeks may be a good start to finding what you can naturally apply to your own personality and working style. A 5-Second Rule or a 2-minute commitment method (article coming soon) may help you break your habitual procrastination.

Self-Reward System

It is common to have a reward system or big incentives to boost employee motivation in the workplace. However, when it comes to our personal lives, we seem to neglect the idea of needing extra incentives to do a good job at achieving individual goals. If you are a procrastinator, try and boost motivation to get things started (and finished) by creating your very own self-reward system, giving yourself a nice experience, a positive emotion or treating yourself to something you enjoy for being productive and curbing procrastination.

A brown bag with words "TreatYourself" written on it held in a hand against the white wall.

Read all about how to create an effective self-reward system for yourself and apply it in your everyday life in our dedicated article on Self-Reward System To Beat Procrastination And Boost Productivity.

Improve Your Time Management Skills

Possibly the easiest (and arguably the most popular) time-management technique that has worked wonders for many unorganized people and self-confessed procrastinators is what is known as Pomodoro Method. It uses short, 20-25 minute deep focus sessions alternated with breaks. Why does it work for procrastinators? Well, committing to working on a task you don’t want to do for 20-25 minutes at a time will have you feel a lot less stressed, knowing that you will be rewarded with a break!

Give Time Blocking (which can be combined with Pomodoro Method) or Time Boxing (article coming soon) a try to better manage the time resources that you have each day. Having a clear plan on when and what you need to do will take the guesswork out of your life and will lead to fewer distractions.

An important thing to remember is that if you are trying out a new method, it will take some time to get used to it. Try one method consistently for at least 1 week and keep track of your productivity and ways it helps you reduce procrastination. That way you can compare the methods and see what works best for you!

A woman rolling her eyes at an alarm clock.

Continue Learning About Procrastination

If you’ve fallen into the procrastination trap in the past, it’s likely that you’ve fallen into the same trap in the present. And that is completely normal! The way to reduce the chances of you reverting to your old habits is to keep learning about procrastination and new ways to combat the problem.

Learning about procrastination and ways to beat it is a continuous process. It’s important to continue reading about and listening to podcasts about how to combat procrastination so that you can stay ahead of the curve. You never know when you might find a new tip or trick that will help you get more done and push through the procrastination trap.

If you don’t know where to begin, we highly suggest starting by reading The Procrastination Cure by Damon Zahariades and Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy.

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