How to Stop Procrastinating









Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.

– Judy Garland



By Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,  Savvy Psychologis

Procrastination happens to the best of us.  None other than Leonardo DaVinci noted, “It is easier to resist at the  beginning than at the end.”  So don’t delay!  Read on for 6 tips to stop procrastinating.   –

Procrastination is the opposite of inspiration.  It’s when we shilly-shally away our time when we’re supposed to be doing something bigger and better.

Today our topic comes by request from Savvy Psychologist listener Anson N. of San Mateo, CA.  He speaks for millions of us when he asks how to stop procrastinating.



Tip #1: Change “I have to” to “I want to.”

A subtle shift in perspective can be just the nudge your psyche needs to get moving.  Try changing the dig-in-your-heels phrase of “I have to do this,” to a chomping-at-the-bit “I want to do this.”   So, for example, “I have to write this stupid paper,” becomes “I want to get enough credits to transfer.”  Or, “I have to clean out this disgusting fridge,” becomes “I want to make this smell go away.”


Tip #2: Aim for greatness, not perfection.

”Perfectionism” is actually a misnomer.  Perfectionists aren’t focused on achieving perfection; they are focused on avoiding failure.  It’s an all-or-nothing mindset: If I’m not perfect, I’m a total failure. If I’m not a winner, I’m a loser.   Perfectionism often comes from conflating performance and worth.  Perfectionists believe that their grades, evaluations, rankings, or other measurements determine their worth as a person.  In my clinical practice, perfectionism shows up most often as depression or an eating disorder.   So to deflate perfectionism, try two things: If you must evaluate yourself, approach your performance not as black or white, but as a continuum.  Rather than 100% or 0%, with nothing in between, evaluate using all percentage points from 0 to 100.  And don’t cheat by using only the ends of the scale.  Even better than a different way to evaluate yourself, think of yourself differently so you can stop evaluating.  Rather than tie your worth to one measuring stick, broaden your view of yourself to include hundreds of interlocking skills, relationships, talents, and gifts.  That way, one assignment can’t sink your ship.  If you are your performance, you’ll end up feeling stressed and shallow.  If you are you—complex, multilayered, glorious you—you’ll not only procrastinate less, you’ll be much more comfortable in your skin.


Tip #3: Change your mood by diving in, not by stepping away.

In a 2013 study, Dr. Timothy Pychyl and colleagues found that individuals procrastinate not necessarily to avoid a tedious or overwhelming task itself, but to avoid the unpleasant feelings related to such a task.   When faced with starting a school project, doing your taxes, or even folding the laundry, we “give in to feel good,” or do something that we think will make us feel better, like check Twitter, have a snack, or doodle.  Some procrastination is even quite honorable, like cleaning our desk before we get down to business. Procrastination may offer short-term mood relief, but it costs us by prolonging guilt and stress.  Instead, paradoxically, what will most likely make us feel better is doing the very task we’re avoiding.   So when tempted to improve your mood by procrastinating, first tell yourself procrastination is a fake, fleeting boost.  Then, improve your mood for real by diving in.  You’ll feel relieved to get started and satisfied that you’re getting something done.


Tip #4: Don’t shoot yourself in the foot to make yourself feel better

Waiting until the last minute creates a problem: not enough time to do something well.  But waiting until the last minute also creates a convenient excuse.  Indeed, procrastination allows us, in advance, to blame our failures on something other than ourselves.   This is called self-handicapping.  It preserves our positive beliefs about ourselves: “I got a D, but I’m still smart, I’m just not good at time management.”  Other examples of self-handicapping besides procrastination might include getting drunk when you’re supposed to be studying or deliberately going to a distracting environment, like studying for a test in a busy student lounge.  In a 2012 experiment, researchers asked high school students, many of whom were self-handicappers, to generate “if-then” thoughts about how to do well on a math exam.  One group was given the following positive “if-then” statement as an example: “If I think about the problems thoroughly, then I will do better on the exam,”  while the other group was given a neutral, unrelated statement.  Then the students were left to come up with additional statements of their own.  After they made their lists, the self-handicappers who were exposed to the positive sample studied for an average of two and a half hours longer than the self-handicappers who were exposed to the neutral sample.  Why?  Self-handicappers, it turns out, are generally uncertain about their abilities and what to do next.  Getting them to think of specific positive actions reduced their procrastination.   So the tip is this: Think of concrete ways to improve your performance and you just might end up using them.


Tip #5: Use technology to fight technology.

The internet is an endless treasure trove for procrastinators.  But the bane can also be the benefactor.Use apps like RescueTime or Antisocial to keep yourself off Instagram and on task.  You can also set a periodic alarm—say, every 15 minutes—on your smartphone or device (or even a good old fashioned kitchen timer) to snap your attention back to what you’re supposed to be doing for the duration of your designated work time.


Tip #6: Rethink procrastination.

Vindication for procrastinators came in the form of a 2005 study from Columbia University and McGill University.  Researchers found that the kind of procrastination you engage in can make a difference.  Passive procrastinators match our traditional understanding of procrastination: they are paralyzed by indecision, can’t get started, and cope poorly.  Active procrastinators, however, make a deliberate decision to put off doing work until the last minute to maximize motivation or performance.  If you procrastinate because you do your best work under pressure, you’re an active procrastinator.  In the study, the research team found that active procrastinators looked more like non-procrastinators and less like passive procrastinators in terms of using time purposefully, believing in one’s own ability to achieve goals, coping effectively, and most of all, achieving excellent academic performance.  So, no need to wait until the eleventh hour to see what works best for you.  Before you know it, you’ll be turning procrastination into motivation.


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