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What are Some Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Procrastination is a process by which an individual postpones taking actions they feel they ought to be taking. This postponement can be temporary, or it may drag on indefinitely, resulting in the desired action never being taken. Many people have problems with procrastination, ranging from simply putting things off until the last minute to actually failing to accomplish anything they set out to do because they continue to postpone it. There are a number of strategies for tackling procrastination, most of which involve reorganizing basic habits, and learning beneficial ways of thinking about individual tasks.

Essential to the idea of overcoming procrastination is the understanding that it is not an innate, or irreconcilable problem. Procrastination is a set of learned behaviors which get in the way of accomplishing specific goals. Like all learned behaviors, procrastination can be unlearned, and more productive methods of interaction can instead be achieved.

Creating concrete to do lists is a strong first step in addressing procrastination. Many people avoid things such as lists because they have had negative experiences with them in the past, or feel like it is simply wasting time they should be spending accomplishing their goals. A to do list should be looked at as an investment, however, where a small amount of time put into it results in an overall increase in productivity.

When making a to do list, a few methods can help make sure it will be effective as a tool for overcoming procrastination. First and foremost, all items on the to do list should be doable. Ideally every item will take less than half an hour to accomplish. Dividing complex, longer tasks into short, manageable tasks helps reduce the chances that you will feel overwhelmed and resort to doing nothing. Each item on the list should also be described in terms of action words, and be as specific as possible. This helps you visualize what needs to be done, and helps motivate you to do it. So rather than writing, "Deal with cable issue," you might instead have: "1. Look up number for cable company on website; 2. Call cable company to get activation code; 3. Reprogram box using new activation code."

It is very important to make sure you actually do the items on your to-do list. Many people find it helpful to set aside a period of time every day or two to look back over their list and check in. If you find that an item is sticking around on the list while others are cycling, the odds are that there is some sort of an unresolved impediment to its completion. Take the time to go back over the item or items on the list and think about if there are steps that you haven't outlined, but that are stopping you from being able to act on the actionable items.

Try not to blame yourself for not finishing the item, or to let yourself get overwhelmed with guilt. One of the worst causes of chronic procrastination is that people allow themselves to feel overwhelmed with guilt that they haven't completed their tasks, which makes them further avoid the tasks. Have the strength to break that downward spiral and give yourself permission to approach the task again.

It is also useful to aim for quality, but not for perfection. Many people find themselves becoming caught up in making sure something is absolutely perfect, and so never completing it. Perhaps even worse, some people worry that they won't be able to make it perfect, so never even start it. Give yourself permission to do well, even if it isn't flawless.

Interruptions are a natural experience in our lives, and it's important to learn to plan your tasks with interruptions in mind. Expecting an always-ideal work environment is unrealistic, and many people who expect this use less-than-perfect situations as an excuse not to accomplish what they set out. Learn how to work through and around interruptions, and how to schedule for them appropriately.

Perhaps the most important way to deal with procrastination is also the most obvious: just do it. Try to avoid thinking about how you might mess up, or if you might not finish, or what is wrong with your work environment. To begin with, try setting aside a set period of time and forcing yourself to work on your project for that amount of time. Even if you wind up accomplishing nothing productive, the simple act of putting in the time trying can be all it takes to break down the mental block that leads to procrastination and allow you to move forward with your desires.

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Discussion Comments

By anon112638 — On Sep 21, 2010

"Just do it."

Easier said than done at times, especially when you're a perfectionist who can easily avoid doing things for fear of not doing it perfectly.

By anon78335 — On Apr 18, 2010

I didn't like this article very much- I thought it had some helpful ideas on how to move forward from a problem like procrastination, but it didn't really strike at the root of where the problem comes from for most people.

Many and most kids who went to public school or had parents who pressured them to do things that were outside of their own desires end up growing a problem of procrastination- why? Because no one benefits from doing homework you are forced to do rather than doing is because you actually want to learn it.

For anyone interested in more of this idea, check out Stefan Molyneux about procrastination. Being forced to do things you don't really want to do your whole life results in people correlating tasks of any kind with force, which is outside personal self-interest altogether.

By anon64706 — On Feb 08, 2010

Good one!

By anon64269 — On Feb 06, 2010

I've never had that problem. Just do it, even if you really don't want to (subconsciously?). --

Donald B.

By anon64248 — On Feb 06, 2010

I love this article. Perhaps the most important way to deal with procrastination is also the most obvious: Just do it. How correct! Thanks

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