Understanding Procrastination (and how to stop procrastination)

Are you a procrastinator? Do you find yourself doing anything but what you should be working on as deadlines get closer and closer? Do you wish you were better at being productive? Do you wish that you were able to stop procrastination?

The effects of procrastination are obvious, but the reason why people procrastinate and how to stop procrastination can be harder to understand. Many people believe that procrastination is poor time management or not enough ambition. But the reasons people put off getting to work are more complicated.

If you want to stop procrastination, you need to identify the thoughts and beliefs that guide your actions so you can challenge these beliefs and motivate yourself to be more productive.

To better understand your procrastination habits, you must be aware that:

Procrastination is about your mood

Procrastinators don’t put off working on tasks because they don’t realise they aren’t going to have enough time to finish – they know they’re wasting more time than they have. Most procrastinators will do anything except what they should be working on because they believe that delaying is more enjoyable than working on the task.

A procrastinator’s logic tells them they need to be in the right mood before they should start. But they don’t have the mental and emotional tools they need to get over the discomfort getting started will cause, so they delay until there’s no more time left.

Cheering yourself up and getting in the right mood to be productive is a useful strategy, but there is a limit on how long you can do this. If you spend too much time gearing up for a job without ever starting, eventually you’ll feel guilty and what you’re doing to cheer yourself up ends up making you feel worse and adding to your stress. This is why procrastination is misguided and doesn’t work.

Procrastinators need to realise that for many tasks they’ll never truly feel ‘ready’ to start – as in excited and eager – so they must use self-discipline to begin even before they want to. The ability to do this requires the foresight to understand the trade-off between short-term discomfort and long-term satisfaction.

stop procrastination

People procrastinate to make themselves feel better but ultimately it makes them feel worse

In order to be more productive, you need to pay careful attention to what you tell yourself and how you actually feel when you’re procrastinating. This is an important step to stop procrastination. To understand this process, ask yourself:

What do you say to yourself while you’re procrastinating?

To procrastinate less, listen carefully to your thoughts as you prepare to get to work so you can figure out where your mind goes. What are you telling yourself? What do these thoughts lead to you doing? What has happened the other times you told yourself these things?

Paying attention to what you think when you try to get started on a task can help you discover what is true and useful, and which beliefs hold you back from being more productive.

Do you discourage yourself from getting started?

Many procrastinators convince themselves they won’t do well at their task, or that what they need to get done is much more challenging than it actually is. This decreases motivation and makes getting started seem that much more unpleasant.

To help yourself feel ready to begin a job, ask yourself how capable you are. Are you really going to struggle as much as you think you will? Is the task actually as difficult as you believe? Take a moment to challenge your critical thoughts and feelings about the task before you start – it’s probably not as bad as you’ve convinced yourself it is.

If you can uncover how your thoughts lead to procrastinating and examine what you tell yourself, you can challenge how accurate they are and correct yourself when you’re telling yourself a lie.

Techniques to reduce and stop procrastination

Once you’ve challenged the thoughts that keep you from getting started on a task, you still need to motivate yourself to begin. To help you feel more ready to start a task, ask yourself the following questions next time you’re struggling to be productive:

1) Is this task really as difficult as I think it is?

Take a moment to reality-check your thoughts. You can convince yourself that any job is huge, challenging and needs plenty of preparation before you should start.

2) What is a good way to complete this goal?

Ask yourself what is the best way you can finish your task. Have a plan to reduce your chances of getting distracted and/or overwhelmed to help keep you focused and on task. Planning can help you feel less intimidated and more motivated.

3) What is the next step I can do right now?

Only think about completing the first step of your task. Don’t distract yourself or talk yourself out of getting started by focusing on how much you have to do. Break the job down into small, unintimidating steps, then focus on completing them one at a time.

4) How will I feel once I’m finished?

Motivate yourself by imagining how accomplished and proud you’ll feel once you’ve finished what you set out to do. You can offer yourself a reward for completing the task.

5) How will I feel if I don’t get started on this now?

Remind yourself how you’ve felt after procrastinating in the past – anxious, stressed, pressured, or angry at yourself. This isn’t to shame you for your past mistakes but to use your experiences to help you make better decisions about how you spend your time. If you really think about it, you can realise that procrastination is actually worse than working on what you need to do.

To increase your motivation, talk to yourself to understand your feelings, push yourself to make your actions align with your goals, and stay committed even as you struggle.

Being more productive means leaving your comfort zone

To be able to stop procrastinating, you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable so you can make choices that have long-term benefits. This requires self-discipline and motivating yourself to work at a task even when you don’t want to. Starting tasks before you feel ready will be challenging at first but as you do it more and more, you’ll be able to realise that the initial discomfort of getting started outweighs the stress and frustration that come from procrastinating.

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Motivating yourself to get started on a task takes practice, but it has great benefits for your mental health

You don’t need to be 100% ready to begin a task, and for many jobs you’ll never be in a good enough mood that you want to do them. But if you can build your resilience to the discomfort of starting these tasks by focusing on what you can accomplish and how rewarded you’ll feel once you’ve made progress, you can start to unlearn your misleading beliefs about the supposed benefits of procrastination.

Further reading about how to stop procrastination and other personal development resources

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11 Ways to Overcome Procrastination

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