How to Overcome Procrastination

Barbara Hacker, Student Writer, SUNY Empire State College

October 3, 2019

“I’ll Just watch Netflix for a minute,” I say. The next thing I know, over an hour is gone. “What is wrong with you?” I berate myself. The truth is, I know exactly what the problem is. If I hadn’t procrastinated, I’d be done with my work by now. Instead, I’m hating myself as the task still looms ahead.   

I’m not the only one who struggles with procrastination. A 2007 study found 80-95% of college students procrastinate regularly, as reported on the Verywell Mind website (Cherry, 2019). Contrary to popular belief procrastination is not laziness, it’s fear. The chronic procrastinator would rather people think he lacks effort, not brains or talent. It’s easier to not care than it is to face the consequences of failure when you’ve tried your best (Jaffe, 2013).

How to Overcome Procrastination

  1. Start small. There’s a website called Flylady.net that motivates those that are overwhelmed with housework. Flylady’s motto is “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” This applies to not just housework, but exercise, schoolwork, job searching, and anything else that’s a procrastination stumbling block. The bonus is that often 15 minutes becomes a starting point for task-focused work to carry on.
  2. Break large tasks down into small chunks. Paper writing is the perfect example. Set small goals each day leading up to the deadline. On day one, gather resources. On day two, sketch out an outline. On day 3, spend a half hour writing, and so on until it’s done. The trick is to make a commitment to meet manageable incremental goals over the long haul.
  3. Recognize that getting started is half the battle. There’s a saying well known among runners by John Strumsky, “No matter how many years you've been running, the hardest part is always taking that first step out the door. The trick is to always remember that you'll feel better after a run than before it.” Take the first step.
  4. Discover the meaning behind the tasks you’re putting off. If you can dig deep and realize the bigger value in writing that paper or jogging two miles, you’re more likely to move toward action (Jaffe, 2013).
  5. Reward yourself. Did you circumvent your procrastination today? Awesome! Give yourself a treat, whether it’s an episode of your favorite Netflix show or a fancy mocha drink from Dunkin’. Be kind to yourself and celebrate your victory. Repeat again and again.
  6. For inspiration read “The 5-Second Rule” by Mel Robbins. She was the queen of procrastination and learned to use this simple technique of counting down from 5 when tempted to procrastinate on a monetary decision. Now she’s teaching others to do the same. If you don’t have time to read, check out her inspiring TedTalk on YouTube called “How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over”. It’s worth the time (Robbins, 2011 & 2017).

Most importantly, with procrastination, learn to be concerned about the right thing. Don’t worry that you don’t have ability; effort equals ability. Be concerned about the shame you’ll feel if you continue with old self-defeating behavior patterns. Be concerned about the knots you’ll have in your stomach when you need to pull an all-nighter for something you could have done easily over a two-week span. Be concerned about the stress of waiting until the last minute to do important things.   

Sources:

Cherry, Kendra (2019), “The Psychology of Procrastination”, Verywell Mind website, accessed 8/29/2019, retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/the-psychology-of-procrastination-2795944

Flylady.net website

Jaffe, Eric (2013), “Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination”, Association for Psychological Science website, accessed 8/29/2019, retrieved from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/why-wait-the-science-behind-procrastination

Robbins, Mel (2017), “The 5-Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage”, Savio Republic, USA.

Robbins, Mel (2011), “How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over”, Ted Talks, YouTube accessed 8/29/2019, retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp7E973zozc

Strumsky, John (not dated), “Fuel Running” website, accessed 8/29/19, retrieved from http://www.fuelrunning.com/running-quotes/author/John-Strumsky

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