How To Overcome Procrastination – 12 Tips To Stop Procrastination
Drafting that presentation for the boss? Finishing that long-overdue project or finally switching careers and starting that new business? Not now! Today, I’m really tired and don’t have enough energy to start. Anyway, I still have to do the groceries and take the dog for a walk. But tomorrow I’ll start… That’s for sure!
We all put certain things off or avoid unpleasant tasks in our lives from time to time. The term for this behavior is procrastination and comes from the Latin “procrastinare”, which means “to put off until tomorrow”. Procrastinating from time to time is normal but becomes a real problem when it causes us not to achieve our goals, not to meet important deadlines, or when it makes us feel bad.
Table of contents:
What Is Procrastination? Why Do People Procrastinate According To Psychology?
In psychology, procrastination is described as a lack of self-control. Important and urgent activities are postponed or put off. This often results in negative emotions and an escape behavior is usually performed to overcome or numb them.
To understand this phenomenon, which we all know, it is worth taking a look at the origin of this behavior: It lies in the reward system of the human brain. The brain works highly effectively and is designed to save energy and work as economically as possible.
To ensure this, there is a biological reward system that creates a feeling of happiness and endorphins are released whenever we find a solution to a problem. This leads to the fact that in order to get this feeling of happiness and satisfaction, humans tend to engage in actions that quickly “reward” them.
However, when performing professional and personal tasks and duties, the reward often lies in the distant future, cannot be perceived immediately, or we can only get it after we have overcome certain challenges. This is especially the case with activities or duties which we associate with negative experiences or feelings, that we don’t enjoy, that cause distress, or don’t come easy to us. Nevertheless, it’s often unavoidable to face them.
The Root Cause Of Procrastination Is Connected To The Brain’s Reward System
This is exactly the root cause of procrastination: We try to postpone or delay certain unpleasant professional and private tasks and activities. However, since this creates a feeling of guilt within us, we look for so-called alternative duties that seem more pleasant and promise quick success (= reward).
Over time, we train ourselves to perform escape behaviors which often become habits that we perform on autopilot. The short-term result is that we don’t feel guilty, angry, or ashamed anymore as we distracted ourselves with another task. But in the long run, performing these habits and avoidance behaviors instead of doing what we’re supposed to only reinforces and increases the negative consequences of our procrastination.
A vicious cycle starts that increases the problem rather than reduce it. Sooner or later we are confronted with the consequences of our procrastination. We are dissatisfied, stressed, and feel guilty. In addition, there are often external consequences, such as poor performance, missed deadlines, failure to achieve personal goals or problems with people around us.
To break this vicious cycle, it is necessary to outsmart the brain’s reward system with the right strategy and start using this functionality for our own benefit. As soon as we know how it works, we can learn to use it specifically with our tasks and goals in mind.
Procrastination is a habit and the good news is that every habit is learned and can be unlearned again. The exercises and worksheets included in the „Stop Procrastination“ Toolkit will help you overcome your procrastination step by step.
Example Excuses For Procrastination – How To Overcome Procrastination
We often have a good excuse or explanation for why we can’t start a certain activity right now and procrastinate instead. We usually become very creative and find an explanation that makes rational sense to us and often even has some truth in it.
This excuse serves as a justification and gives us the good feeling that it is okay to postpone the activity to some other day. This is exactly why these excuses play an essential role in our procrastination behavior. This pleasant feeling ultimately tempts us to keep putting off the task, and we successfully suppress the feeling of guilt.
From our excuse, we draw an unhelpful conclusion that ultimately leads us to keep putting off the task.
Typical examples are:
I am really tired today. → I am better off doing it after I have rested.
I don’t have everything I need to start the task. → I will start when I have everything.
I don’t have enough time to get it all done. → I will wait until I have enough time.
I have other important things to do. → I don’t start until everything else is done.
This has always been difficult for me. → I prefer to do something that is easier for me.
These conclusions almost always assume that the conditions to start the task will miraculously be much better tomorrow. We wait for that perfect moment when we are motivated, inspired, rested, perfectly prepared, and without any distractions. Unfortunately, this happens all too rarely and we keep putting off our plans again and again.
Starting a task is often the hardest part. However, once we start, we usually find it much easier to continue and the desire to actually complete the activity increases significantly. This is why it is so helpful to break up a task into milestones and work your way up to the goal step by step.
The important aspect here is to use the brain’s reward system, as mentioned previously. Once we know how it works we can use it in a targeted way to overcome our unhelpful beliefs and conclusions and change them into positive ones.
We included an exercise in the „Overcome Procrastination“ Toolkit, where you will take a look at the explanations, excuses, and beliefs that you keep using to put off the unpleasant activity. You will learn to become aware of the justifications and the resulting conclusions and learn how to challenge them.
Ideally, you can then take action, divide your task into milestones, and trigger the reward system in your brain by accomplishing subgoals. This will make it easier to keep going until you ultimately completed the task. Your excuses and unhelpful conclusions no longer stand a chance!
However, the real reasons why people procrastinate so much are usually hidden. We are often not aware of these reasons or we suppress them. Typical reasons for procrastination include beliefs, fears, low self-confidence, and perfectionism. Here are some examples:
Why Do People Procrastinate? The Real Reasons For Procrastination
These people put a lot of pressure on themselves to complete tasks or goals to a very high standard, sometimes even demanding perfection of themselves. This also includes fear of criticism.
Typical thought: I must do everything perfectly, otherwise the work is not worth anything or others will think badly of me. I must not fail.
Need to be in charge and control:
People who resent not being in charge and control, not being independent, or not holding the power.
Typical thought: I decide what and when I do something. I don’t let anyone tell me what to do.
The constant search for fun and pleasure:
Activities and tasks that don’t bring fun and pleasure or instant gratification are seen as annoying and unnecessary.
Typical thought: Life is too short for hard or boring tasks. Fun and pleasure should come first.
People with low self-confidence doubt their abilities and lack confidence that they are capable of tackling tasks that come their way.
Typical thought: This is too difficult. I’ll never be able to do this.
People with low resilience tend to avoid problems and challenges. Sometimes we have to climb the mountain before we can enjoy the view or we have to acquire knowledge to be able to reason things for ourselves.
Typical thought: This is too hard and too exhausting. I’ll better quit.
Lack of stamina:
Some people find it difficult to finish things and complete tasks they have started.
Typical thought: This is taking too long or this is more effort than I thought.
Some people fear the unknown and have to know exactly what lies ahead. Often goes hand in hand with fear of failure and perfectionism.
Typical thought: I need to know that what I am doing will actually work. What if I fail?
The various reasons for procrastination ultimately trigger aversion and an unpleasant feeling that we associate with the task. These include, for example, anger, fear, guilt, frustration, shame, or despair. To get rid of these feelings as quickly as possible, procrastination, or rushing into escape behaviors, is a popular strategy. Here are some tips on how to deal with this aversion and discomfort.
Now we know the reasons why people procrastinate. The next step is to cure procrastination and stop it once and for all.
12 Strategies: How To Overcome Procrastination – STOP Procrastinating Today!
1 ) Understanding procrastination
Try to identify the obvious (excuses) and understand the real reasons (often hidden) for your procrastination. Once you are aware of them you can take specific action steps to eliminate them and to hack your brain’s reward system. There are some specific exercises in this Toolkit.
2 ) Become aware of your personal vicious cycle of procrastination
Once you are aware of what starts and keeps your vicious cycle of procrastination going, you can start finding ways out of it. This process is very individual for every person and can be repeated for each task and activity you regularly put off. In the “Overcoming Procrastination” Toolkit, you’ll find the two exercises to get you started right away.
3 ) Set priorities
Create a to-do list for yourself and sort all the steps and sub-goals of the task by priority. This way you can easily check off completed milestones and intensify and increase your sense of progress and accomplishment.
4 ) Learn to deal with your unwillingness and hesitance to do unloved tasks
As a rule, procrastination is always accompanied by a feeling of unwillingness or dislike associated with a certain task. This aversion is usually accompanied by feelings such as anxiety, anger, boredom, despair, rage, exhaustion, stress, guilt, or shame. Resilience and mindfulness are two great skills for dealing with these feelings. The “Overcoming Procrastination” Toolkit includes worksheets to train these abilities.
5 ) Proper planning of the task
You should be crystal clear on:
- What exactly do you want to get done.
- Why it is important.
- When you want to work on it.
- Where do you want to work on it?
- How much time do you have and want to spend on it?
6 ) Avoid distractions and stay focused
Become aware of what factors are distracting or preventing you from completing the activity and then find a solution for them.
- Put your cell phone on airplane mode while working.
- Inform roommates or family that you want to be undisturbed.
- Go to a place without TV, computer, or other possible distractions and fully focus on the activity.
7 ) Overcome your perfectionism and use the 80-to-20 rule.
The Pareto Principle, named after Vilfredo Pareto, also called the Pareto Effect or the 80-to-20 Rule, states that 80% of the results are achieved with 20% of the total effort. The remaining 20% of results require the most work with 80% of the total effort. Try to overcome your perfectionism, which is all too often the driving force behind procrastination
8 ) Get off to an easy start with the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. The system uses a short timer to divide work into 25-minute sections – called pomodori – and regular break periods.
The technique consists of five steps:
- Write down in steps what exactly needs to be done.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Work on the task until the alarm clock rings; mark it with an X
- Take a short break (5 minutes) and repeat steps 2 and 3.
- Take a longer break after every four-time blocks (15-20 minutes)
The technique is a great way to simply start with the unloved task. The beginning is often the hardest part and once you’ve made a start, it’s much easier to keep going.
9 ) Reward yourself
As we have already learned, our brain’s reward system plays an essential role in procrastination. Therefore, before you start working on your task, think of a reward that you will then actually cash in on once you have successfully completed the task or a milestone. The prospect of a reward increases motivation to start and follow through.
10 ) Share your plans with others
Tell your partner about your plans, inform colleagues, or work with a coach or consultant. Talking about it with others creates the commitment to actually get things done.
People with low self-confidence and low self-belief often don’t trust their abilities and therefore tend to procrastinate or avoid tasks with uncertain outcomes. This ultimately leads to many projects being planned but postponed over and over again. People with strong self-confidence and high self-esteem are less prone to procrastination.
12 ) Build your resilience and stamina:
People with low resilience tend to avoid problems and challenges. Sometimes we have to climb the mountain before we can enjoy the view or we have to acquire knowledge to be able to evaluate and judge things ourselves. Here are tips and strategies to become more resilient and here some impactful build resilience exercises and worksheets.
How To Overcome Procrastination – Stop procrastinating today
You should now have a better understanding of the root cause of procrastination and the elements that keep it going. The tips included here will help you on your journey to overcoming procrastination and getting the things done you want.
Procrastination affects many of us, but the good news is that it is not a disease or a fate, but a learned behavior and habit. With proper understanding and an effective strategy, it can be stopped once and for all.
Here’s a Coaching Toolkit that will help all masters of procrastination to skyrocket their productivity, get more things done in less time, and achieve their goals.
It provides the step-by-step blueprint, with hands-on knowledge, strategies, and tools to overcome procrastination today!
We wish you all the best on your journey!