Getting Control of Procrastination

There is no magic pill to overcome procrastination entirely, but you can get better control of it.

  • Do whatever it takes to get started. Once you get going it is much easier to keep going.
  • One way to get going is to break up the job into small pieces, and tackle the job one piece at a time. Many people procrastinate when they feel overwhelmed by how large the entire task is. Take things one step at a time.
  • If you break up the task into small progress goals, be specific: “I will read three pages of chapter four tonight, starting at 7 p.m.,” rather than saying, “I’ll read chapter four sometime this week."
  • Another way to divide a task into small pieces is to use small pieces of time to work on it. Commit yourself to working on the task for 10 minutes. At the end of 10 minutes, stop and look at whether or not you can commit to another 10 minutes. This second commitment may be easier. If not, then at least you got 10 minutes done that you wouldn’t have if you had put off even starting.
  • Confront your impatience for big, quick results. Real life involves persistence and hard work to accomplish even insignificant small tasks.
  • For some people it is important to “eat your peas before you have dessert.” This means they need to work on the hardest piece of the task first, so they don’t dread getting to the harder part while they work on the easier parts. Dread often leads to procrastination.
  • For other people, it is easier to get started if they tackle the easier pieces first. Try out both ways and get to know your own personal style and preference.
  • Make lists of things to be done, and then check them off when you get them done. Being able to cross things out can be very encouraging and help you keep moving forward.
  • When you feel the urge to procrastinate come upon you, don’t ignore the feeling but rather make a list of the pros and cons of procrastinating on this particular task. Set a timer and look at the list of disadvantages for five minutes. Often the urge to procrastinate will vanish.
  • Set up some rewards for not procrastinating. Make them tangible (not just telling yourself you did a good job), and make them appropriate. Give yourself more than a jelly bean for finishing a term paper but don’t give yourself the whole night off because you read three pages of homework.
  • Try “tricking” yourself. “If I don’t read this chapter by 9:00 p.m. then I won’t allow myself to watch my favorite television show.” Working against a deadline like this can be very effective for some people.
  • Try to enroll an ally in your fight against procrastination. Set yourself up with a “study buddy” and set dates to study together, or have someone with whom you check in on a regular basis and review your progress. It can also help to have someone you can talk to (briefly) when you feel the urge to procrastinate coming on. Let your friends support you as you try to break the procrastination habit!
  • Realize you are not going to get rid of all your desires to procrastinate, ever. To wait to start work until it seems easy to you and “fun” is just another procrastination ploy. You will make progress when you accept that you will feel procrastination urges for a long time – and that to get anywhere in life you are going to have to produce results despite these urges. Remember – you don’t have to like doing it, you just have to do it.
  • Keep repeating – “It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to get done.” Confront your desire to produce flawless work. Accept the idea that you are human and will have human imperfections.
  • Be sure to use your leisure time for fun. Most procrastinators ruin their free time because they are worried whether they will get done something they have been putting off. Worry-free fun time can be a potent reward for making process toward a work goal.
  • Remember – change happens very slowly, and in very small pieces. Trying to do too much and having overly ambitious schemes about how you are going to remake your entire approach to life will almost inevitably lead to failure. Focus on making one or two small changes at a time, and they will hold up over the long term.