Many people, not just students, find themselves putting off tasks, especially those that seem unexciting or daunting. Often accompanied by light-hearted comments such as, “The quickest way to get something done is to start doing it tomorrow,” procrastination can seem like a harmless habit. Some people even say they work better under the stress of a deadline. However, procrastination can also lead to increased stress from lower academic performance and last-minute rushes, making its negative effects far from trivial. In this blog post, we’ll explore 7 ways to overcome procrastination.
Procrastination is sometimes misunderstood and unfairly labeled as mere laziness, when avoidance signals a bigger issue. While certain factors can fuel procrastination, like the allure of instant gratification from more enjoyable yet unrelated activities, the act of avoiding tasks is frequently rooted in the fear of failure.
Perfectionism is a trait often described as a double-edged sword, with both positive and negative attributes. On the one hand, it manifests as a dedication to precision and detail. On the other hand, perfectionists can grapple with an intense dread of making mistakes. When students perceive a task as too difficult or intimidating, they may delay working on it, hoping for more clarity or confidence. The fear of failure can lead to avoidance of tasks, as procrastinating provides temporary relief from confronting the fear. A common example for many students is the process of writing essays – some may find themselves unable to start writing at all because they expect that even the initial rough draft they pour out should sound perfect.
How to Stop Procrastinating Right Now
1. Set Clear Intentions and Create a Task List
Begin by defining your intentions to give a sense of purpose and direction:
- What do you want to accomplish?
- Why is it important?
Once you’ve clarified your intentions, it’s time to break down your larger goals into smaller, manageable tasks. This process involves creating a task list or to-do list. Consider the main task you want to complete and identify all the subtasks or steps required to accomplish it. For instance, if your intention is to write a research paper, subtasks might include researching, outlining, writing the introduction, and so on.
2. Practice the 2-minute Rule
If you find a subtask that can take less than 2 minutes to complete, do it immediately. This quick win can provide a sense of accomplishment and progress. These might be short tasks such as:
- Creating a basic outline for your essay
- Reading a short passage in the textbook for your class
- Organizing your study area and notes (but make sure not to get carried away with cleaning in order to further procrastinate, as students sometimes end up doing)
When you finish a task, you can cross it out, place a checkmark next to it, or highlight it in green to mark as “done” to reinforce the idea that progress is attainable.
3. Reward Yourself: Combine Enjoyable Activities with Unpleasant Tasks
When you reward yourself with an enjoyable activity after completing a task, you can train your brain to create a positive association between productivity and pleasure, which can motivate you to engage with the less enjoyable task to reach the rewarding experience.
To start, clearly specify the reward for achieving each milestone set, whether it’s a larger task or smaller subtask. It could be as simple as watching a short episode of your favorite TV series or spending 15 minutes on a hobby you love. As you work on the task you don’t enjoy, keep the reward in mind. It serves as an incentive to stay focused and motivated to complete the task efficiently.
Set a timer for a specific amount of time to work on the task before you can enjoy the reward. A practical approach is to adopt the Pomodoro Technique, a time management strategy that involves concentrating on work for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break, with extended breaks of 15-30 minutes following four work intervals.
Be mindful of the rewards you choose. If you find that a particular reward is too enticing and leads to procrastination, consider selecting a less distracting reward that still brings you joy.
To take the strategy a step further, consider limiting your engagement in the enjoyable activity to the time when you’re actively working on the task, such as listening to your favorite music only while you’re working. This establishes a clear rule: you may enjoy the rewarding activity as long as you are actively engaged in the task you might otherwise avoid.
4. Avoid Multitasking
Multitasking, or the attempt to tackle multiple tasks simultaneously, may seem like an efficient way to get more done. However, when you switch between tasks, you need time to readjust and refocus on each one, and it can be more time-consuming to switch tasks frequently. Additionally, the difficulty in focusing on multiple tasks can also hinder your ability to complete tasks accurately, leading to demotivation. Increased feelings of overwhelm from having to concentrate on multiple tasks at once can even make procrastination seem like a more appealing option, especially if you feel like you’re not making much headway on any task.
To avoid multitasking and boost your productivity:
- Prioritize tasks and focus on one at a time.
- Allocate dedicated time blocks for each task.
- Minimize distractions by silencing notifications and creating a distraction-free environment.
- Practice mindfulness to enhance concentration.
5. Find an Accountability Partner
An accountability partner is someone who holds you responsible for achieving your goals and completing tasks. The external source of motivation can be highly effective against procrastination. Here’s how having an accountability partner works:
- Motivation and Commitment: Knowing that someone else is aware of your goals and progress can motivate you to stay committed. You’re less likely to procrastinate when you have to report your progress to someone.
- Shared Goals: Your accountability partner may have similar goals or tasks. Sharing your goals and progress can create a sense of mutual support. The social aspect of working toward goals together can be particularly motivating.
- Feedback and Encouragement: Regular check-ins with your partner provide opportunities for feedback and encouragement, and their input can help you overcome obstacles and stay on track.
To make the most of an accountability partnership:
- Choose someone you trust and feel comfortable with.
- Set clear goals and expectations for the partnership.
- Schedule regular check-ins or updates.
- Be honest and transparent about your progress and challenges.
6. Have Immediate Consequences for Procrastination
Those who procrastinate frequently postpone the burden of consequences to their future selves, leaving themselves to deal with the fallout later. To address, bring the consequences closer to the present and make the negative impact immediate as the fear of an even worse outcome can motivate you to confront procrastination directly. Here are a few approaches:
- Financial Consequences: Create a financial penalty for yourself if you fail to meet a deadline. For instance, you could set up a contract that involves donating a sum of money to a cause you dislike if you don’t finish a task on time.
- Loss of Convenience: Implement a rule where you lose the opportunity to engage in an enjoyable activity or indulge in a treat if you procrastinate on a task. For example, you can’t watch your favorite TV show until the task is completed.
- Sprint Challenges: Create short, focused work sprints with friends or colleagues. Challenge each other to complete specific tasks within a short period. The fear of not meeting the challenge can add an immediate consequence to procrastination.
7. Practice Self-Compassion
Procrastination is a shared experience. Everyone, at some point, struggles with putting off tasks they find difficult or unappealing. Recognize that you’re not alone in your procrastination and try to avoid criticizing yourself when you feel like you aren’t meeting your standards. Treat yourself with the same understanding and empathy as you would toward a friend who might face the same challenge.
Ironically, self-compassion can be a powerful motivator. When you’re kinder to yourself, you’re more likely to take action because you’re not weighed down by paralyzing negative emotions like guilt or shame. Instead, you’re motivated by a desire to make things easier for yourself and achieve your goals.
When you’re compassionate toward yourself, you’re better equipped to bounce back from setbacks and failures. This resilience can help you confront procrastination without it feeling like an impossible obstacle.
See Also: Time Management Tips for Students
Yuki is a skilled educator with a degree in Chemistry from Carnegie Mellon University. She discovered her passion for teaching math after tutoring at an after-school program. With five years of tutoring experience, Yuki creates a supportive learning environment for students. Outside of tutoring, she enjoys trying new cuisines and playing piano.