The psychology of procrastination: How to overcome it and boost productivity

What are some good examples of procrastination?

Well, I’ll tell you later…

Prime example of putting things off, but think:

Eyeing up the dirty laundry but choosing to ignore it and watch the newest Netflix show instead. 

Leaving a deadline to the very last minute because you’ve just had so many other fun things on your mind. 

Letting taxes and bills pile up since opening them seems so tiresome.

Procrastination comes from the Latin verb ‘procrastinationem’: to put off until tomorrow. 

But with hardcore procrastinators, tomorrow never comes. 

Psychologically, people procrastinate because their drive to delay tasks overcomes their motivation more than their desire to act. They know what needs to be done, yet their inactivity is an active choice. 

Impulse control comes into play a lot here. 

Those with a lack of impulse control often suffer more from procrastination, thus finding themselves getting behind with tasks, irritating others, and otherwise finding themselves suddenly overwhelmed with work.

Luckily for you, if you’re amongst one of the (many) procrastinator amongst us, I’ve compiled a list of 7 habits to help boost your productivity:

1) Prioritize long-term visions over short-term happiness

A big motivator for getting things done is sitting down and visualizing where you want to be in the future. 

If you plan on being the head of a start-up, running your own business, flying planes, or being a chief embalmer, you’ll need to graft to get there. 

Having these visions and dreams written out and placed somewhere you can see (sticking it to your fridge is a good one) means you can wake up daily and remind yourself of where you want to be heading. 

This can help combat the desire to procrastinate and enjoy the little things like a good TikTok scroll or deep dive into conspiracy theories on Reddit. 

Both of the latter can still be enjoyed – just in your free time.

2) Set realistic and specific goals to motivate yourself

If you’ve decided that you want to put an end to your procrastination, set some realistic goals. 

Writing them down can again be helpful to browse over in the future and remind yourself of where you’re going. 

Setting timelines and specific time frames in which you want to achieve milestones along the way can also be helpful in sticking to an incremental routine.

For example, if you want to do an Iron Man, there isn’t much point in signing up next month if you’ve never run a 5k. 

If you want to eat healthier, don’t jump in head first (although you can try). 

Giving up bacon and cheese puffs might be harder than expected, so consider gradually transitioning to a healthier diet.

If you want to find your soulmate, start dating and put yourself out there. 

Set frequent date nights but also avoid putting a ring on the finger of the first person that comes along just because it seems like an easy option.

Set realistic goals and work up towards what you want to eventually be headed, in line with the above points.

3) Stop catastrophizing the task

“I can’t do it, it’s too difficult”

“It’s going to take too long”

“It’s going to be sooo boring”

Sound familiar? 

A typical reaction for procrastinators is blowing the required task out of proportion in their heads. 

They mull and dwell upon how tiresome even small chores like unloading the dishwasher will be, as well as major tasks like developing the start-up idea they’ve always dreamed. 

How many times have you heard someone talk wistfully about the big dreams they had in their youth, that they “never really got round to doing”?

The truth is, unloading the dishwasher won’t kill you. 

Nor will hard work and perseverance (aside from those suffering from chronic conditions such as chronic fatigue). 

Continue to remind yourself of point 1 – that hard elbow grease will get you where you need to go. Binge watching your favorite tv shows will not.

4) Reflect on how you procrastinate

If all these procrastination examples sound familiar to you, time to sit down and reflect on how exactly you personally procrastinate. 

It’s far easier to tackle habits once you’ve identified the methods in which you procrastinate. 

Do you get lost in a 2-hour social media scroll?

Do you dip into bed after lunch for a snooze?

Do you find yourself doing research for an essay and somehow land up on a quiz that decides what funny cat picture best suits your personality?

Identify your habits, and also where this procrastination takes place. 

If working in bed leads you to drift into a sweet sleep, hit up the library. 

If working in a café gets you distracted by people watching, head to a quieter spot. 

If your desk seconds as a procrastination-station, head to a study group to motivate yourself amongst others. 

Many online platforms now also offer online study support groups, if that’s of any use!

Additionally, body doubling can be a great way to help combat procrastination. Particularly for ADHD sufferers. 

Body doubling is a practice whereby an individual works in the presence of someone else. Between making the work more fun and social, it also creates an element of pressure to complete tasks at hand. 

I personally used to take my crush to the library for 8 hours at a time. 

Not because I actually wanted to work, but because his presence made me sit down, focus, and try to come off as a deeply motivated and intellectual student. Trust me, it works.

5) Develop an anti-procrastination plan

why are people so fake The top reasons 3 The psychology of procrastination: How to overcome it and boost productivity

Gummy bears! 

The sweet sweet little motivators that got me through most of my university reading. 

Two pages, and I rewarded myself with a little (sticky) bear. 

The same goes for setting timers. 

Setting a timer of 20 or 40 minutes and putting your phone on do not disturb means that you can knuckle down and focus on the task at hand.

Consider methods that you can implement to set certain daily goals and methods to put distractions aside and focus on your work

(I wouldn’t advise putting your phone in the freezer though!)

6) Reward yourself

Procrastination elimination doesn’t happen overnight. 

If you find yourself sticking to new goals and staying away from distractions, take a break!

Getting overwhelmed and fried out after sitting at your desk for three days straight will lead to a burn out and put you right back where you started; procrastination central.

Beyond the gummy bears, reward yourself for completing bigger tasks. 

Treat yourself to your favorite snacks, take yourself out for a nice meal, or watch your favorite show in peace knowing you’ve accomplished your goals for the day. 

Your brain releases a dopamine rush when you complete tasks and reach goals. 

This leads to a feedback loop in which you feel pleasure when you get things done. 

In other words, not procrastinating = completing tasks = dopamine rush = anti procrastination habits.

7) Take breaks

In addition to rewarding yourself, be sure to take breaks once you do have your procrastination plan in full swing. 

Taking a break is not to be confused with actual procrastination. 

Be sure to differentiate the two in your head. 

A few days off after being in full focused concentration mode, or two weeks in the sun after grinding away at a project is very acceptable and in fact beneficial to your productivity. 

Burning yourself out will only lead you to dip back into negative procrastination habits as you begin to feel overwhelmed and exhausted

However, scheduling restful breaks and putting work aside will allow you to come back into full-focus mode feeling fresh and ready to tackle the tasks ahead.

Anti-procrastination mode

You’re not going to turn into a hustler and a go-getter overnight. 

If you suffer from procrastination tendencies, it will take time and pre-planning to get yourself to a more productive and driven individual. 

You’ll slip up, and that’s okay. 

It’s all part of the process of overcoming procrastination and boosting your productivity. 

You’ll still experience slack days and shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Just remember to set goals, set an action plan, reward yourself, and take valuable breaks.

And if you do find yourself trying but still getting a bit lost in procrastination, remember that some action is better than no action. 

For example, if I feel lacklustre and unmotivated to go to the gym, I force myself to go for 10 minutes. 

If after 10 minutes I’m still not feeling it, I go home. 

But for the most part, a little is better than nothing – and after those 10 minutes, I tend to stick around for the whole session.

Liv Walde

Liv Walde

London-based writer with big thoughts, big dreams, and a passion for helping others.

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