Advertising

Last Updated on September 28, 2021

What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

Advertising
What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

If you have so many things to do that you often find yourself struggling to finish projects and tasks and move on to other stuff, you’re certainly not alone. Studies show that over 20 percent of the adult population put off or avoid doing certain tasks by allowing themselves to be overtaken by distractions.[1]

So what is procrastination? And what can you do to prevent procrastination?

In this article, I am going to explain to you why procrastination is so difficult to beat and how you can stop procrastinating and manage time better by following a step-by-step guide. But first, you need to understand how procrastination happens.

What Is Procrastination?

Piers Steel, the author of the book The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, defines procrastination in this way:[2]

“Procrastination is to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.”

In other words, procrastination is doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones. The end result is that important tasks are put off to a later time.

This comic is one of the typical examples of procrastination:

    Signs of a Procrastinator

    Procrastinators don’t want to complete their works because they tend to feel overwhelmed easily and lack focus when they work.

    If you’re wondering whether you’re a chronic procrastinator, take a look at these signs of a procrastinator and find out: 30 Signs You’re Actually A Procrastinator

    Why Do We Procrastinate?

    The reasons vary from person to person. It could be a matter of emotion, which affects your motivation. It could also be something related to your ability to focus, and the way you deal with your fears.

    To understand more about your procrastination behavior, I recommend you take this quick assessment on procrastination, It’s a free assessment that can help analyze your procrastination behavior. Take the free assessment now.

    Here’re more reasons why we procrastinate:

    Is Procrastination Bad?

    Yes, it is. Procrastination is bad. It drags your progress and make you unable to get anything done. If you procrastinate, you will lose your precious time and blow opportunities.

    Advertising

    Take a look at the consequences of procrastination here: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    The Challenge of Getting Over Procrastination

    Human beings have limited self-control. Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychologist from Florida State University, has been studying self-control and he has found that just like any muscles, human’s self-control is a limited resource that can quickly become exhausted.[3] When self-control is close to being depleted, human tend to choose what’s more pleasurable– the immediate procrastinated tasks instead of the actual works.

    At its core, procrastination is an avoidance strategy. Procrastinators choose to do something else instead of doing what they need to do because it’s much easier to choose pleasure over pain.

    In short, procrastination is so difficult to beat because it is a battle against human’s natural enemy, a human weakness that is in-born.

    The common symptoms of procrastination are lack of vision, lack of time and lack of organisation. Check them out here: 7 Symptoms of Procrastination and How to Fight Them

    How to Stop Procrastinating (Step-By-Step Guide)

    Despite the fact that it’s human nature to seek for immediate rewards and procrastinate, here I have a step-by-step guide for you to follow so as to break the procrastination cycle.

    1. Identify Your Triggers: The 5 Types of Procrastinator

    Identifying the type of procrastination you personally experience is an essential step for you to fix the problem at its root.

    Take a look at this flowchart here to find out what type of procrastinator you are:

      Which type of procrastinator are you? Let’s take a look at the triggers for your procrastination type:

      Perfectionist

      Being perfect is the pleasure perfectionists want. But often this leads to them being too scared to show any imperfections. Because of this, they frequently fail to complete things, as they’re forever seeking the perfect timing or approach. Tasks end up never being completed, because in the eyes of the perfectionist, things are never perfect enough.

      Instead of finishing something, perfectionists get caught up in a never-ending cycle of additions, edits, and deletions.

      Ostrich

      An ostrich prefers to stay in the dreaming stage. That way, they don’t have to work for real, or deal with any negativity or stress.

      Dreaming gives this type of people a false sense of achievement, as in their minds, they envision big, ambitious plans. Unfortunately for them, these plans will most likely stay as dreams, and they’ll never accomplish anything truly worthwhile.

      Advertising

      Self-Saboteur

      A self-saboteur has bought into the line that ‘by doing nothing, bad things won’t happen.’

      In reality, self-saboteurs have developed a fear of making mistakes or doing anything wrong. Their way to avoid these mishaps, is to do nothing at all. In the end, they may make few mistakes – but they also see few accomplishments.

      Daredevil

      Daredevils are those who believe that deadlines can push them to do better. Instead of having a schedule to complete their work – they prefer to enjoy time doing their own thing before the deadline comes around.

      It’s most likely an unconscious thing, but daredevils evidently believe that starting early will sacrifice their time for pleasure. This is reinforced in their minds and feelings, by the many times they manage to get away with burning the midnight oil. Often they sacrifice the quality of their work because of rushing it.

      Chicken

      Chickens lack the ability to prioritize their work. They do what they feel like they should do, rather than thinking through what they really need to do.

      Prioritizing tasks is a step that takes extra time, so chicken will feel it’s not worth it. Because of this, they usually end up doing a lot of effortless tasks that don’t contribute much to a project. They’re incessantly busy on low-impact tasks, but seem oblivious to urgent, high-impact tasks.

      Learn more about the 5 types of procrastinators here: Types of Procrastination (And How To Fix Procrastination And Start Doing)

      2. Face Your Triggers and Get Rid of Them

      Whether it’s fear of failure, overwhelming feelings, avoidance or convincing yourself you’re just too busy to get something done, you can improve your ability to be productive by eliminating your procrastination triggers.

      For Perfectionists, Re-Clarify Your Goals

      Much of the time procrastination tendencies form simply because we’ve outgrown our goals. We’re ever-changing and so are our wants in life. Try looking over your goals and ask yourself if they’re still what you want.

      Take time out to regroup and ask yourself what you really want to achieve:

      • What steps do you need to take?
      • Is what you’re currently doing reflecting what you want?
      • What do you need to change?

      Write things down, scribble them out and rewrite.

      For Ostriches, Do the Difficult Tasks First

      Even if you feel you’re not a morning person, the beginning of the day is when your brain is most productive. Use this window of time to get the more difficult stuff done.

      If you leave your difficult tasks to later, you’re much more likely to put it off because you’re tired and lack motivation.

      Finishing lots of simple tasks at the beginning of the day such as reading all the new emails only gives you a false sense of being productive.

      Advertising

      For Self-Saboteurs, Write out a To-Do (And a Not–To-Do) List Each Day

      Writing things down is powerful and psychologically increases your need to get things done.

      Each day, make a habit of creating a list of the tasks you know you’ll try and avoid. By doing this, it brings these ‘difficult’ tasks to your mind’s attention instead of keeping them locked away somewhere in your avoidance mode.

      Remember, think how satisfying and productive it feels to cross of a completed task.

      For Daredevils, Create a Timeline with Deadlines

      It’s common to have a deadline for a goal which seems like a good idea. But this is basically an open invitation for procrastination.

      If it’s a self-created deadline with no pressure, we tend to justify pushing it back each time it comes into sight and feel we haven’t yet done ‘enough’ to get there.

      Create a bigger timeline then within that, establish deadlines along the way. The beauty of this comes when each deadline completion is dependent on the next. It keeps you on track and keeps you accountable for being in alignment with the overall timeline.

      For Chickens, Break Tasks into Bite-Sized Pieces

      A lot of the time procrastination comes from overwhelming thoughts.

      If something feels too big to tackle and we don’t know where to start, it feels like a struggle. This is also true if our goal is too vague and lacking direction.

      Break down larger tasks into smaller ones and turn them into daily or weekly goals. Smaller steps may seem like the slower approach to achieving a goal, but it often leads you much more quickly to where you want to be due to the powerful momentum you get going.

      3. Form a Ritual

      By forming a ritual, you save yourself time from thinking about what to do next. When you don’t need to think about what to do next, you can go autopilot to actually get what you have to do done because you have no time to think about what other things to do besides completing your important tasks.

      Here’s how to form a ritual and beat procrastination: The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

      I know it’s not easy to get over procrastination on your own, so joining the free Fast Track Class – No More Procrastination is an effective way to help you overcome procrastination. In this focused 30-minute session, you will learn how to take over your procrastinating mind and start taking action. Join the free class and never stop procrastinating again!

      4. Take Planned Breaks

      The human brain isn’t designed to work continuously on the same task and this could be a reason for procrastination.

      Make sure you take regular, structured breaks away from your task so that you can come back refreshed and ready to be more productive.

      Advertising

      A break as short as 5 minutes is enough to keep your mind sharp and wards off fatigue. I recommend you to use the Pomodoro Time Tracker. It is a great tool to help you take breaks at set intervals. Simply start the 25-minute timer, and follow the prompts.

        5.  Reward Yourself

        It’s important to acknowledge and reward yourself for achieving even the small tasks. It creates a sense of motivation and releases those feel-good, productive emotions that spur you on to achieve even more.

        Make your reward proportional to the task you completed so getting a bite-sized task done gets you a cup of your favourite coffee or snack. Then plan a weekend away or fun activity for the bigger stuff.

        Personally I try to make staying focused more fun by using the app Forest. It turns productivity into a game. In the game, you can plant a virtual tree at the beginning of your work time. If you maintain focus for the duration of the timer, you’ll grow a tree to add to your forest. It’s rewarding when you can eventually grow a forest.

          6. Keep Track of Your Time in a Smart Way

          If you want to prevent the bad habit of procrastination from coming back, keep track of the time you spend every day.

          By having a clear idea of where you spend your time, you can always review your productivity and know which areas to improve.

          It’s not easy to keep track of every minute you spend throughout the day so I recommend you to use the app Rescue Time.

          It gets you a categorized breakdown of how you spend your time and helps you to find out how much time you’re really on-task. You can even label activities as productive and non-productive so as to block your biggest distractions.

            Here’re 5 extra strategies to help you stop procrastinating:

            The Bottom Line

            Procrastination exists for many reasons and only you know for yourself what these triggers are.

            Understanding what procrastination really is and the source of your avoidance tendencies is important in moving them out of the way and help you start the productivity momentum.

            Advertising

            Make procrastination under your control!

            More Tips About Fighting Procrastination

            Reference

            More by this author

            Leon Ho

            Founder & CEO of Lifehack

            How to Create a Good Work-Life Balance Realistically What Is Life About? How to Find Your Meaning in Life How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret What Is a Midlife Crisis and How to Deal With It How to Create Life Goals And Put Them into Action

            Trending in Procrastination

            1 How to Break the Perfectionism-Procrastination Loop 2 Why You Should Stop Avoiding Difficult Tasks (And How to Do So) 3 10 Most Effective Apps to Help You Beat Procrastination 4 STOP Procrastinating NOW: How To Prioritize Tasks Or Else 5 How to Overcome Procrastination and Start Doing What Truly Matters

            Read Next

            Advertising
            Advertising

            Published on January 14, 2022

            How to Break the Perfectionism-Procrastination Loop

            Advertising
            How to Break the Perfectionism-Procrastination Loop

            You’re probably full of the usual impetus to make changes in your life as the new year lies before us. At the time of writing, we’re at the dawn of a new year. Bellies full and rife with lethargy, we’re all likely sat around (in the West at any rate) contemplating our moves for the next 12 months.

            This is, of course, prompted by our arm-chair assessment of the year just gone. Did we achieve the goals we set out for ourselves this time last year as we nurse our splitting sides and slip into yet another food coma?

            No! Of course we didn’t, and I’m not speaking from a hyperbolic or purely anecdotal point of view. According to a 2016 study, of the 41% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, by the end of the year, only 9% feel they are successful in keeping them.[1]

            Is it because of procrastination or perfectionism?

            Is Perfectionism And Procrastination Holding You Back From Achieving Goals?

            The failing rate of New Year’s resolutions is 91%! A big part of that is how we set our goals. What these studies often cite as a predominant reason for failure is the setting of unrealistic goals. But I think this speaks to something else, namely that we’re not properly connecting to or aligning with our goals — this is where perfectionism and procrastination come in.

            Perfectionism is just fear manifesting itself as a mental block. Not fear of failure and/or social ostracisation, so much as fear of change. Our subconscious is set up to favor the status quo. All it knows is that your choices, up until now, have resulted in your survival. Change is just rocking the boat and risking an unknowable outcome (or so it thinks).

            Advertising

            This is what’s at the root cause of your perfectionism and procrastination. You might claim to be a perfectionist, but what does that really mean? Do you mean that you won’t stop working on something until it is, in your opinion, perfect? Or do you mean that you don’t embark upon an endeavor until you can guarantee that the outcome will be perfect?

            If you fall into the latter camp, you might consider that this perfectionism-procrastination loop is just an excuse—a manifestation of your deeply rooted subconscious fear of change.

            Put it this way:

            I think you could substitute the word “unrealistic” for the word “vague,” and you’d have a more accurate assessment of the problem. People often say that they want to make more money, lose more weight, eat more healthy food, etc., but they don’t define what that actually means. Setting out with such an ill-defined destination means that you can’t set an accurate course towards it, and without that, you’re just wandering around in the wilderness.

            Think about a time when you’ve performed a task so mundane that it barely registered in your mind. It could be doing the grocery shopping or the laundry. Something that you do, not necessarily every day, but with regularity and (crucially) purpose. If you don’t go to the food store, you won’t have food. If you don’t have food, you can’t eat. If you don’t eat, you die. That’s a pretty clear purpose.

            As you head out the door to the supermarket though, that precipitous chain of catastrophic events isn’t weighing on your mind. It’s just a case of making sure that you get everything on the shopping list. There is no doubt in your mind that you’ll make it back with what you need, though. You’ve already mentally and energetically connected, albeit subconsciously, to the outcome of “bringing home the bacon” (or meat-free bacon substitute, if you’re vegan).

            Advertising

            You’ve already achieved your goal mentally. Now, it’s just a case of physically going through the motions. You probably don’t even have to think that much about what you’re doing as you go round the store!

            How to Break the Perfectionism-Procrastination Loop

            1. Recognize the Loop

            The first thing you can do to break this perfectionism-procrastination loop is to recognize it. Bring your awareness to what is really going on and consider what lies behind your claims of perfectionism. Be honest but gentle with yourself. Try, if you can, not to bring judgment into the equation.

            Judgment and overly harsh self-criticism can be just as debilitating as your subconscious fear of change, so try not to introduce it in the first place. Consider yourself, as best you can, an impartial observer. You’re just there in the first instance to witness what’s going on.

            2. Set Intentions Properly

            Armed with that knowledge, you will find that your approach to your goals starts to shift naturally anyway, but you also need to learn how to set intentions properly. If you are one of the aforementioned New Years’ resolution setters who winds up making claims of perfectionism while not taking any action, you ought really to ask yourself:

            “If I’m such a perfectionist, why do I keep setting such vague goals?”

            Would a perfectionist set out to make “more money” this year and leave it at that?! Would somebody so obsessed with perfection in all things, looking to reach their ideal weight and body shape, really set a goal of simply “lose more weight”?

            Advertising

            You might think, genuinely, that the possibility of not hitting your target dead-on is a reason not to even start. But what are you aiming at in the first place?

            Let’s back up the truck for a second, and assess what we mean by procrastination. Procrastination, as defined by researchers, is:[2]

            “a form of self-regulation failure characterized by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.”

            So far, we’ve spoken about procrastination as if it is simply “never doing something,” which it is, over time. But really, it’s the delaying of something for no reason. When it comes to achieving goals, procrastination in and of itself isn’t what keeps you from achieving them. It’s procrastination over time. As the Spanish would say, it’s “mañana” thinking.

            If you put something off till tomorrow because you just don’t want to do it today, that might still be procrastinatory behavior. But if you then actually do it tomorrow, what’s the harm? It’s the consistent putting off of something based on irrationally (or subconsciously) held beliefs that, over time, means that you never get there. This might seem blindingly obvious, but it’s important to lock down exactly what we mean before seeking to make changes.

            Now that we’ve cleared that up, hopefully, it shifts your thinking on what procrastination is enough so that you can accurately assess whether or not your procrastination is hindering your progress. It should help you not to sit in judgment of your procrastination, too.

            Advertising

            3. Try Reaching Out for Help and Mentorship

            You can’t expand in a vacuum. You need others to support your journey and provide you with objective feedback. How else are you going to realistically assess whether or not your outcome is perfect anyway?

            Find others who have walked the path before you, and reach out to them. Unless they’re huge names with layers of people around them, you’ll probably find that they are willing to help. Even if they are hard to reach, check out interviews with them or look for guidance that they’ve put out publicly in the past.

            Part of the problem you’ve been facing is that you can only see what the perfect outcome should look like as filtered through you. By understanding what the wider community (and market) consider to be an ideal outcome for something, you’ll get a much clearer, realistic idea of what you need to be aiming for. From there, you can identify what you’re lacking and therefore, what gaps you need to plug.

            Get used to defining your terms better. Think about the language you’re using, both when you talk to others and with your internal monologue. What are you telling yourself?

            Is the Narrative You’re Running On True?

            Perfectionism is a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable after all.[3] What does that have to do with an irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences? From a literal point of view, perfectionism should provoke a desire to continue to take action long past the point of an acceptable outcome, not irrationally abstain from taking any!

            So, check yourself the next time you utter the words “I’m just a perfectionist” as a pretext for why you haven’t done something, whether it’s to yourself or somebody else. You don’t really mean that, but that’s okay! You’re just afraid to change, as we all are predisposed to be.

            Advertising

            Don’t beat yourself up. See it for what it is, and start to shift the stories (belief systems) that you’re running on.

            Featured photo credit: Nubelson Fernandes via unsplash.com

            Reference

            [1] Discover Happy Habits: New Year’s Resolution Statistics (2021 Updated)
            [2] SpringerLink: Procrastination and Task Avoidance
            [3] Merriam-Webster: perfectionism

            Read Next