What is procrastination and how can you overcome it?
If you are struggling to get things done, here are some tips on overcoming procrastination.
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Procrastination is the act of putting off important tasks such as study or work in favour of less essential tasks, despite knowing that doing so will be unhelpful.
We all have a tendency to procrastinate every now and then, but some people can be more likely to procrastinate than others. If you procrastinate often, it can create stress later on.
What causes procrastination?
There are many reasons why people procrastinate, and many find it difficult to understand why. People might put off tasks in this way because they:
- Find it tough to organise themselves
- Lack confidence that they can get the task done well or at all, so they put it off
- Feel the task is overwhelming, difficult or unpleasant
- Are more focused on short-term rewards than long-term gain
- Think they will have more time or energy in future
- Are experiencing burnout
- Are experiencing depression, anxiety, ADHD or another mental health condition
Anxiety and procrastination
Some people find that when they are feeling anxious about something, they are more likely to procrastinate. This could be around something as simple as picking up a package at the post office, or it could be something bigger. When they start to feel anxious about doing something, they might want to put it off for as long as possible.
Procrastination can also lead to or worsen feelings of anxiety. The more you procrastinate, the worse you might feel about the fact that you’re procrastinating, and the greater your anxiety might become.
It can be helpful to get to the root of the reason why you’re procrastinating and try to address it. Talking to someone such as a trusted family member, friend, teacher or counsellor about how you feel can help you to do this. You can also contact our free, 24/7 text support service 50808 below.
What to do about procrastination
Some people are more likely to procrastinate than others. If you’re one of those people, here are some things to consider to help you to manage your tendency to procrastinate.
Break the task down into smaller tasks
Sometimes a task can seem overwhelming, too large or too difficult and this can lead us to procrastinate. That is why it is important to make a plan. Rather than focusing on the overall goal or outcome, you can consider how you might break the task down into smaller and more manageable chunks that you can spread out over a few days or weeks. Decide when you are going to complete these smaller tasks and write them into a plan.
Attach meaning to a task
One way to stop procrastinating is to find meaning or value in the task you have to do. It can be helpful to write this down as a reminder before you begin. For example, you might not want to study today, but you know doing so can support you in getting the grade you want, and reduce stress later on. Having meaning can motivate you and cause you to procrastinate less.
Just get started
Practice the art of just starting, with the approach of “I just have to do 10 minutes”. It’s surprising at how much of a routine/habit this can form, which bring us on to our very next point.
Build habits that support your work
The daily habits that we have can influence other aspects of our lives. For example, getting a good night’s sleep can allow us to better focus on a task whereas, if we are too tired, we might procrastinate.
Keeping your work or study space free of distractions, ensuring you get adequate hydration, nutrition and movement and creating a schedule are other things that can help you to overcome procrastination. Learn more about how your habits can help to make studying easier.
Once you identify your distractions, you can put things in place to help you to eliminate them. For example, if you are trying to study, but your house is loud, you could consider choosing a quieter location to do your work or speaking to your family about the situation. If you find that the internet or social media is a cause of distraction, consider turning off your phone or putting it on flight mode. You might also benefit from a disconnect tool. This is an application/programme that disconnects your internet for up to eight hours, or blocks particular apps or websites, allowing you to focus on your work.
Find an accountability partner
If you have a task to do but are struggling with procrastination, it can be helpful to seek support from someone else. Partner with a colleague, friend or family member and start holding one another accountable. This could be by doing something as simple as checking in with one another every morning to talk about what you want to get done, and at the end of the day to talk about what happened. If you have similar goals, you could also choose to do these tasks together.
Many people find that they are more motivated to do a task if it comes with reward. While the overall reward might only be gained in the long-term, you can create small rewards for yourself each time you finish a task you set yourself. This can be as simple as having a bath, going out for a coffee or watching a film.
You can also consider using something known as temptation bundling. This strategy involves only doing a thing you love while doing something you procrastinate on. For example, if you find you procrastinate about exercising, you could choose to only listen to your favourite podcast when you have a walk. If you put off cooking meals, you could only watch your favourite programme while preparing food.
Know that you are not alone
No matter how efficient or productive your friends and family seem, it is very likely that they have procrastinated at some stage too. Try to be kind to yourself. Procrastination is a very normal part of being human and it is not possible to be productive all the time. Learn more about how to practice self-compassion in your journey to overcome procrastination.
If you feel that procrastination is really interfering with your ability to get things done, consider speaking to someone who could help you. This could be a trusted friend, family member, teacher/ lecturer, GP or counsellor. There might be underlying reasons as to why you procrastinate and they might be able to offer you support and guidance.
Feeling overwhelmed and want to talk to someone?
- Get anonymous support 24/7 with our text message support service
- Connect with a trained volunteer who will listen to you, and help you to move forward feeling better
- Free-text SPUNOUT to 50808 to begin
- Find out more about our text message support service
If you are a customer of the 48 or An Post network or cannot get through using the ‘50808’ short code please text HELLO to 086 1800 280 (standard message rates may apply). Some smaller networks do not support short codes like ‘50808’.