A stereotypical example that probably seems familiar to most current or former students: your professor assigns you to write a scientific paper within six weeks.
Every time you think about the paper and how much work you still have to put into it, you decide to rather go partying or watch Netflix. You even prefer to clean up your apartment. “There’s still enough time” is what you tell to yourself to justify your decisions.
Everyone who was in that situation before knows how it ends: you are completely stressed out and have to do an all-nighter the day before you have to submit the paper to finish everything just in time. Crunch time.
This phenomenon is called procrastination.
Procrastination means delaying decisions and tasks and costs the economy a fortune, year after year. Friendships can be lost and it can become costly for your pocket as well. This habit is not only stressful, but it also harms your productivity and health and can be extremely annoying for friends and colleagues.
It is a bad habit that almost all of us suffer from to a certain extent. However, in the end, it is nothing more than a bad habit and can be permanently eliminated with the right motivation and a few simple tricks.
In this article you will learn what procrastination is, its causes and effects, and what tips you can use to stop that habit. Since procrastination evolves almost unconsciously (like many other habits), we added a self-test to find out, if and how much you procrastinate in everyday life.
Jump ahead to any of the sections below:
- What Is Procrastination?
- Why Do I Procrastinate?
- How Procrastination Impacts Your Life
- Procrastination Test: How Much Are You Affected?
- 21 Tips on How to Beat Procrastination
- Get Help: 3 Steps to Overcome Procrastination
What Is Procrastination?
One definition of procrastination is:
“Procrastination is the habit of performing less urgent tasks, consciously or unconsciously, instead of urgent ones, or doing more pleasant things instead of less pleasant ones and thus postponing impending tasks to a later time. In most cases, the procrastinator is aware of the negative effects of the postponement.”
Procrastination is not the same as laziness, although it is often confused with it.
Indeed, it is an active process. Instead of facing the work you should actually do, you actively decide to do something else, such as tidying up your apartment or answering messages on WhatsApp.
Laziness, on the other hand, is when there is no will to do anything. You’re lazy when you don’t do anything at all, while procrastination is the avoidance of a task. Strictly speaking, you can distinguish the two terms as follows: the procrastinator actually wants to do the job, while a lazy person is not interested in doing it at all.
As a rule of thumb, you may procrastinate if a task seems unpleasant, unimportant or too difficult.
Avoiding an unpleasant task is completely normal. Our mind, or rather our subconscious, is programmed to protect us. If we encounter resistance or an unpleasant situation, our mind reacts and looks for a distraction. Our mind does not want us to face uncomfortable situations and makes us avoid them.
If you constantly look for avoidance, it will have serious consequences on your self-confidence. At first, it just feels embarrassing to avoid tasks and problems. Over time, however, you begin to feel unproductive because you are not achieving your goals. You develop self-doubts that can even lead to depression.
Someone who really suffers from procrastination has a to-do list of, let’s say, ten tasks. The procrastinator works on two to three tasks without paying attention to whether these tasks are the most important ones or not. He or she then shuffles the remaining tasks, writes them on a new sheet of paper, takes a copy of it, and works again on other (unimportant) tasks on the new to-do list.
The situation is different when it comes to time management. The goal of good time management and a life without procrastination may be similar: the more effective use of time.
Time management and procrastination are not the same.
Time management is about the ability to use one’s own time productively or effectively using various techniques. The techniques may overlap with the tips for stopping procrastination. With procrastination, however, it’s all about getting up in the first place, doing an unpleasant job. It doesn’t matter how effective you are in the first step.
This is what the typical cycle of procrastination looks like:
Studies revealed that procrastination can be stopped with the use of the appropriate methods and tips. In the next chapters, we will show you how.
Why Do I Procrastinate?
There are different reasons why you procrastinate. Some of them are:
- Stress (learn more about stress in our anti-stress article)
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of understanding
- Fear of failure
- Trouble concentrating
- Low self-confidence
- Getting overwhelmed
- Poor organization skills
- Strict childhood
- Insufficient skills
However, the main reason is this: at the time of procrastination, you mistakenly believe that you are better equipped to carry out the task at a later stage or that you wait for “the right moment”.
This way of thinking is pure self-deception.
Postponing a task may temporarily give you a short sense of relief. In the long run, the guilt of the deferred work will continue to slumber within you.
Resisting the temptation of desirable distraction requires a certain amount of self-discipline. Even when you actually are aware of the negative consequences of not doing a task, dealing with procrastination means to fix a mean habit. People who have a low level of self-discipline, are especially at risk of self-deception.
How Procrastination Impacts Your Life
Besides the already named negative effects, procrastination can have positive effects on your life, as well. Let’s have a look on both sides now.
Procrastination is a problem. It can even become a serious disease. Pathological procrastination has serious consequences for your mental and physical health. It also harms your personal well-being. Here is a selection of the most common negative effects of procrastination:
- You feel frustrated.
- You damage your reputation.
- Your financial situation suffers.
- You miss out on opportunities.
- You feel anxious.
- You lose your job.
- You feel less self-confident.
- You don’t reach your goals.
- You risk your health and well-being.
- Your stress level increases.
- You feel depressed.
- You make hasty and bad decisions.
- You get worse grades in high-school or college.
For one it is just harmless postponing and will never develop to a serious disease. For others, it can lead to serious health damage. However, you may already have had (maybe even involuntary) negative experiences with a common extent of procrastination, such as:
- Not achieving goals: getting bad grades in school and college.
- Suffer financial damage: tax return submitted too late.
- Making bad decisions: not having enough time anymore to think through situations.
The most common statement of procrastinators probably is: “No matter at what time I complete the task, the most important thing is that I complete it. I work best under pressure anyways”.
In fact, there is a study that draws scientific conclusions about the positive aspects of procrastination. The study distinguished two types of procrastinators: active and passive.
The passive procrastinators are the ones we wrote about so far. Those who delay tasks and rather do the unimportant tasks (first).
The active procrastinators, on the other hand, actively choose to delay decisions and tasks because they prefer to work under pressure. Although this group postpones to the same extent as the passive group, it has better time management and a greater belief in its own abilities.
Active procrastinators need pressure to work more effectively and deliver better results.
This does not mean that this group is not affected by the negative effects of procrastination. Under time pressure, there is, in fact, a greater risk of not achieving goals due to postponement or even suffering financial and health damage.
No matter whether you belong to the active or passive group, we recommend avoiding procrastination in general.
Procrastination Test: How Much Are You Affected?
As already mentioned, almost everyone suffers from procrastination to some degree. In this self-test, you can find out whether you are a mild procrastinator or if it is already a disease.
Read the following 13 statements. If the statement is correct, add one point to your“procrastination score”.
- I struggle gettings things done in time.
- I catch myself doing unnecessary tasks first, even though I have more important tasks on my to-do list.
- I often have the feeling that I don’t have time.
- I see some tasks as “too complex” even though they only take five minutes in the end.
- I make a decision, but don’t do the actual work afterward.
- I don’t do tasks straight away, even though they only take five minutes.
- I catch myself doing things that should have been done days ago.
- I lost money once because I waited too long.
- I constantly postpone tasks to the next day.
- I hesitate to make decisions until it’s too late.
- I need the right inspiration to start an important task.
- I delay replying to emails at work, even though they are important.
- I start a task and give up after just a few minutes.
10 – 13 Points: Severe Procrastination
If ten to thirteen statements apply to you, you’re a strong procrastinator. Your health and your level of performance suffer considerably from your constant postponements. Maybe this statement applies to you: “I can’t stop procrastinating” or if you already noticed it and are frustrated: “Why do I keep procrastinating?”.
In any case, take a look at our tips on how to overcome procrastination. If, after some time, you don’t feel any improvement in your condition: talk to a psychologist.
5 – 9 Points: Intermediate Procrastination
If five to nine statements apply to you, you are a medium procrastinator. This result is worrying as you are already suffering from the first effects of your postponements. At this point, you might change your lifestyle and look for solutions on how to get rid of procrastination. Be sure to take a look at our tips against procrastination to improve this habit.
0 – 4 Points: Occasional Procrastination
With zero to four points, you shouldn’t worry. You are behaving just normal. Check yourself regularly, to consciously determine if procrastination is gaining the upper hand.
21 Tips on How to Beat Procrastination
The following tips are tools you can use to break your behavior patterns and cure procrastination or at least help to procrastinate less. Of course, this cannot be done overnight. These habits have to be reduced continuously and long-term and get replaced by new and better habits.
Use these tips for procrastination permanently to achieve the best results.
The tips are given in no particular order.
Tip 1: Use “Time Blocker”
Set a 30-minute time blocker once or several times a day, in which you won’t be distracted by anything or anyone. Use this time to focus and work on the most important task. If you can’t focus for 30 minutes, start with less time and work your way up to 30 minutes.
Tip 2: Complete the Most Difficult and Important Task First
Don’t pick the simplest tasks from your to-do list, but the most challenging ones. Once you’ve finished them, your day will feel incredibly productive.
Tip 3: Set Mini Goals
Set mini goals to achieve bigger goals. Do you want to go to the gym more often? Set your goal to pack your training clothes. Do you want to start planning a project? Set your goal to create a worksheet and name the columns. With these mini goals, you lower the barrier of not working on tasks and not making decisions.
Tip 4: Leave Your Comfort Zone
A major cause of procrastination is discomfort. If you feel uncomfortable with a task, you will rather avoid it.
The solution to this problem? Leave your comfort zone.
You need to learn how to get used to the discomfort.
Sport is a good opportunity if you want to learn how to deal with being outside your comfort zone. With sport, you get used to the feeling of growing beyond your own limits, and thus your own comfort zone.
Tip 5: Use the Five-Minute Challenge
The five-minute challenge is: what action steps can you take today, in five minutes, to make progress in an important task?
The Five-Minute Challenge is especially helpful for severe symptoms of procrastination.
Tip 6: Assign All Tasks to One Goal
If you have a vision or a goal that you really believe in, many things will look less tedious. With your inner motivation and self-drive, most tasks will no longer feel cumbersome for you.
If you catch yourself procrastinating, remember why you have this task on your to-do list and why it is important to do.
Here are some examples:
- You are disposing of garbage because you want to make your partner happy.
- You are studying for your degree because you are re interested in the subject.
- You dare to take the step into self-employment because you want to realize your dreams.
This tip is the ultimate tip because it awakens your intrinsic motivation.
Tip 7: Minimize Distractions
Everybody knows it: your smartphone keeps ringing and vibrating the whole day.
With Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp it became very easy to get distracted.
Recognize and eliminate distractions when you need productive time. If you need to focus on a task, turn off your smartphone. The world won’t end just because you can’t be reached for two hours. You’ll be surprised how productive your day becomes all of a sudden.
Tip 8: Develop a Daily Routine
Procrastination is a mental habit. If you develop a daily routine, you can flip it around and use the power of habits for yourself and develop positive ones.
With a routine and (partly) fixed daily schedule, you know what to do at all times. In addition, you avoid distractions more easily and get a better order for doing your tasks.
This saves time and removes barriers that quickly become excuses and hence procrastination. Ideally, you add positive affirmations into your daily routine to reprogram your subconscious in important areas of life.
Tip 9: Complete Small Tasks Immediately
If you get an email in your inbox that takes less than five minutes to process, then do it straight away. All tasks that can be completed within five minutes should not be postponed.
It’s easier to do them right away and get them out of your head. This way you don’t have to think about the task anymore and you save important thought power for the difficult tasks.
Very important BUT: use this tip only if you are not working on an important task. If this is the case, the important task takes precedence. Otherwise, you’re going in the wrong direction: you’re procrastinating.
Furthermore, don’t confuse this tip with the five-minute challenge. In the five-minute challenge, you work productively for five minutes on something that brings you closer to completing a giant task. Here, you complete entire tasks in five minutes or less.
Tip 10: Bundle Rewards with Actions
Reward yourself if you are working towards a goal that has a positive impact on your life.
For example, you can watch your favorite show on Netflix if you clean up the kitchen at the same time.
However, this tip is not suitable for tasks that require a higher level of concentration. Otherwise, it will lead to unproductive multitasking and distraction.
Tip 11: Clear Hidden Barriers
Pay attention to when you procrastinate. What do you do instead? What is it that you get distracted from? Do you not have an overall goal and vision? Often at the moment of procrastination, you are not aware that you are putting things off. Get conscious about it and next time use one of the anti-procrastination methods.
Tip 12: Choose a Power Song or Power Video
Everyone has this one song that is incredibly motivating. If you’re lacking motivation, your power song can help you out.
We recommend the following video, which is, in fact, one of the classics on YouTube:
Tip 13: Look for Meaning in the Task
If you find the meaning in a task, it will become easier to work on it, because you motivate yourself intrinsically. Take some time and look for the meaning behind your tasks. Even for the simple ones. For example, imagine how beautiful your apartment looks after you cleaned it up.
Tip 14: Do a Daily Review
At the end of each day, ask yourself what you did and where you procrastinated. This five-minute review, which you can do before falling asleep in bed, for example, helps you to check your daily progress. On top of that, you can think of measures to improve the next day.
Tip 15: Success Bets
Sit down with a good friend and place a bet. Choose a day and time within the next week to complete a specific task. No one wants to lose a bet.
Tip 16: Reward Yourself
Do not only reward yourself for starting a task (see tip 10), but also for completing it.
Each time you complete a task that was uncomfortable or challenging, you should do something good to yourself.
Tip 17: Forgive Yourself for past Procrastination
Studies show that you are more likely to stop procrastinating if you forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past. Forgiveness is the first step towards a positive mindset.
Read our guide to positive thinking to learn more about this topic.
Tip 18: Get Your Progress Checked
Open up to another person and tell them about your compulsion to procrastinate. Have yourself regularly checked by this person. This creates group pressure (the principle behind self-help groups).
Ideally, you choose a person from the area of life in which you procrastinate the most.
Tip 19: Use the Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix is a concept that helps you prioritize tasks according to urgency and importance.
Use it every time to decide whether a task is actually important or not.
Tip 20: Don’t Wait Until You’re in the Right Mood
Don’t wait for the perfect moment to work on a task.
Whether you’re in the mood or not, do what needs to be done.
Waiting for the perfect moment is a typical excuse to postpone tasks and decisions.
Tip 21: Focus on the Most Important Tasks
It is not only about completing important and difficult tasks, but also about keeping the focus on them. By doing so, you’ll stop procrastination right away before you even think about doing it, because you don’t let unimportant and non-urgent tasks bother you and your thoughts in the first place.
Get Help: 3 Steps to Overcome Procrastination
We divided this chapter into three specific steps. These three steps and solutions help to overcome procrastination. You can even develop a real “anti-procrastination” attitude with this concept and eliminate the behavior from your life if you strictly follow the concept.
Step 1: Recognize the Symptoms
Just because you postpone something, that doesn’t automatically mean that you procrastinate. For example, something urgent and unexpected can happen, so you need to re-prioritize your tasks.
Develop a sense of when you are actually procrastinating and when you are not. As so often, the difficulty lays in the subconscious. As already mentioned, procrastination usually happens unconsciously and is therefore difficult for most to avoid.
Mindfulness can be an advantage at this point since you sharpen your perception with mindfulness and thus quicker recognize when you are procrastinating and when you are not. Learn more about this topic and subscribe to our free Mindfulness newsletter.
Step 2: Find out Why You Procrastinate
Try to figure out why you’re putting things off. For example, do you avoid a certain task because you find it boring or unpleasant? Do you feel overwhelmed or even afraid of tackling the task?
You must know why you are procrastinating in order to develop a strategy against it.
You might never really asked yourself why you postpone tasks and decisions in certain situations but in many cases, the reasons are quite simple.
The solution might be easy, too. For example, if you think that a task you want to postpone can be delegated, or you already know that you will disappoint a person by postponing the task, this will already motivate you to get started right away.
Imagine the following scenario:
You don’t like to take the garbage outside because it’s a tedious job. That’s why you just leave the garbage in the hallway and do a dozen other things. In the meantime, your partner comes back from grocery shopping and sees that the garbage is still in the hallway. Wouldn’t it already be motivation enough to take the garbage outside because you know that this will make your partner happy and will avoid a fight by avoiding procrastination?
Step 3: Stop Procrastination
Once you have determined why you are procrastinating, the next step is to plan and implement an anti-procrastination strategy. Use the 21 listed tips in your daily life in order to do so.
Procrastination is the habit of postponing important and urgent tasks and decisions in order to work on more pleasant and easier tasks instead. This can be at home, at work, in college and in all kind of other situations.
Everyone is affected to some extent by procrastination. Strong procrastination, however, can lead to depression or you could lose your job. Therefore, you should take the right measures to prevent this, as soon as you have detected diseased procrastination. Studies have shown, that procrastination can be stopped with the right strategies and methods.
Work continuously to reduce this pattern. You will not only gain more self-control but also more well-being and self-confidence.
With this guide, we have given you the ultimate tool to tackle this problem.
Learn more about mindfulness and self-control and subscribe to our newsletter below this article. Thank you for reading.