Academic Gains through Improved Learning Effectiveness (AGILE)


Simply put, procrastination means avoiding or delaying something that we do not want to do. We all have times in our lives when we put something off. However, people who procrastinate tend to chronically avoid certain situations, which then makes it harder and harder to do. Procrastination itself can lead to increased stress, feeling badly about oneself, and poorer performance. 

Procrastination is completely understandable. A student checking Facebook instead of writing a final paper. Often it is the result of “anticipatory pain”, which means the person is focusing on the discomfort that he or she believes will happen if attempting the task. For example, many students procrastinate with a subject they do not enjoy, such as math. Interestingly enough, research shows that, when actually doing the math, the amount of discomfort is far less than anticipated. This is true with other tasks as well: the avoidance takes on a life of its own, and actually doing the task turns out to not be so bad (sometimes even enjoyable!). 

Here’s the bright side: anyone can overcome procrastination. Just like with learning, it takes work, at least at first. Overcoming procrastination involves changing a practiced, automatic habit of avoidance. As with any change, though, being consistent with strategy eventually creates a habit, which makes it the “new normal” requiring far less effort.

Here are 11 tips for overcoming procrastination:

  1. Stop catastrophizing. People make a huge deal (a catastrophe) out of something, when often it’s more of a minor inconvenience or discomfort. Remind yourself that you can and will get through the task successfully.
  2. Focus on your “why”. Instead of focusing on the short-term distress, consider instead the reason why you want or need to complete the task. Connect it to a goal that is important to you.
  3. Ask for help. There are going to be times when you don’t understand how to approach a task at hand. Instead of delaying the task, ask someone for clarification and/or guidance.
  4. Drop the perfectionism. Someone with a perfectionist perspective has an “all-or-nothing” mentality. Perfectionism can add to procrastination, as the person may think, “If I can’t do it perfectly, I’m not going to do it at all.” Focus on doing the best possible in the situation, and strive for ongoing growth in the future.
  5. Schedule a time for the task. Instead of telling yourself, “I’ll do it eventually”, choose a specific day and time, like scheduling an appointment that you cannot miss. For more on scheduling, check out Time Management.
  6. Chunk it. Break the task into smaller pieces, which can help you feel less overwhelmed, and more motivated once you have accomplished a portion of the task. This makes the larger task more achievable.
  7. Challenge your own excuses. If you hear yourself thinking, “I need to be in the mood”, or “I work better under pressure”, dismiss it as an excuse, and get moving!
  8. Put reminders in your path. Instead of trying to forget the task, try to remember. Put sticky notes announcing the task in places you will find them throughout the day.
  9. Optimize your environment. Remove any distractions that could easily get in the way of the task, such as your phone. Just like putting “Do Not Disturb” on a hotel room door, you need to keep interruptions away.
  10. Find a partner. Tell someone else about what the task is, and by when you will have it completed. This builds in some positive, external accountability, and increases follow through. For example, you are far more likely to go to the gym at 6AM if you tell your roommate or friend about it. Have the person (or people) send you instant messages as reminders and check ins.
  11. Reward yourself. Our brains respond positively to reward. After completing one piece of the task, treat yourself to something you enjoy. Even better, make that treat contingent upon finishing the task. For example, instead of binge watching Netflix or going for a run as an avoidance behavior, make that the reward for staying on task and following through. Also, tell your partner about your success, and be open to the congratulations you receive!

This list was adapted from a Psychology Today blog written by Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo.