10 Tips To Stop Procrastinating

The graphic shows an image sitting at her desk with her feet up and instead of working, she's procrastinating and playing with a paper airplane.

Procrastination. We all do it. 

For some, procrastination is an occasional thing when we have low energy. For others, the habit is more pervasive. Some people procrastinate because they say they work better under pressure. But let’s face it, procrastination can also be a significant cause of stress. Not to mention, missing deadlines due to procrastination can cause your friends and coworkers to lose trust in you.

As a behavioral therapy center in Colorado Springs, A Cognitive Connection wants to help you understand why you may habitually procrastinate and give you the tools you need to combat this behavior. Sometimes procrastination can be the result of a disorder such as anxiety or ADHD, in which case you might need additional support to build healthier habits. 

Following the 10 tips below, however, is a good place to start if you want to overcome procrastination.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

When we have an unpleasant task, we tell ourselves all sorts of things to justify putting it off for a little longer, but what’s actually going on in our brains? There is a scientific reason why we procrastinate. 

Procrastination is when we avoid a task we said we would do, despite expecting our behavior to bring negative consequences. Ironically, procrastination is the result of our bodies trying to protect us, specifically by avoiding a task we see as threatening. 

When you think about a task you do not want to do, your brain responds like it would to any incoming threat. Your amygdala, which is involved in experiencing emotions and threat identification, releases hormones. 

These include adrenaline that kicks off a fear response. This stress-induced panic can overpower impulses from your prefrontal cortex, which helps you think long-term and regulate your emotions. In the midst of this fight, flight, or freeze response, you decide to handle the threat by avoiding it in favor of a less stressful task.

What are the Causes of Procrastination?

As we learned, procrastination is usually a problem with regulating our emotions rather than an issue of time management. We know we need to do the task. We probably know how much time we need to complete it, but our negative emotions outweigh our logical reasoning. 

As such, we’re most likely to procrastinate tasks that evoke negative feelings. Some people struggle with procrastination more than others, such as people who have difficulty regulating emotions and those who struggle with low self-esteem.

Some common causes of procrastination include:

      • Boredom with a task

      • Doubt in our own abilities

      • Exhaustion

      • Anxiety

      • Wanting to feel in control

      • Feeling overwhelmed

    Young woman procrastinating by setting her chin on her desk in front of a laptop.

    Of course, there can be elements of time management as well, such as not prioritizing tasks appropriately or underestimating time commitments, but much of the time, we’re using procrastination to cope with negative emotions. 

    How To Stop Procrastinating And Get Things Done

    So how do we break the cycle of procrastination? To help reduce your stress and complete important tasks on time, follow the tips listed below. Sometimes we just need to convince ourselves to get started on a task to discover it’s not as bad as we thought. 

    1. Start Off Small

    If you’re not looking forward to doing something, it can be extremely difficult to just start the task at hand. Set a small goal, such as reading 10 pages of your book or researching for 15 minutes. 

    Completing a tiny bit of your dreaded assignment will signal to your brain that a change has occurred and will create momentum to help you fully complete the task.

    2. Focus On The Steps

    To make something more manageable, break your large projects into smaller tasks. This is actually a common CBT technique called successive approximation. By focusing on a small task rather than the big picture, you can schedule more effectively and prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed.

    3. Make A To-Do List

    If you feel overwhelmed with everything you need to do, write it down on a to-do list. To-do lists are essential if you are feeling overloaded with work. Instead of keeping everything unorganized in your brain, it helps to write what tasks you need to get done and organize the list accordingly. 

    Construct a to-do list and estimate how much time it will take you to finish each item on your list. If there’s not an external deadline already set, make sure to set one yourself. Having a deadline will help you plan out your days accordingly to make sure everything is finished on time.

    A picture of a numbered to-do list in a notebook.

    4. Prioritize

    Instead of waiting to do your most dreaded task last, prioritize it and complete it first. This will get it out of the way and off of your plate, leaving you with a sense of accomplishment. Plus, by completing something that you don’t want to do, everything else will feel easy in comparison. 

    5. Time Yourself

    Have you ever set a timer for yourself and only allotted a certain amount of time to complete a task at hand? You can also use timers to break a larger task into smaller, more manageable bits. Instead of tackling a five-hour project in one go, split it into five parts and give yourself little breaks in between. 

    Another time management method to combat procrastination is to try the Pomodoro Technique. This method involves focused work sessions and frequent short breaks. Each work session is called a pomodoro, the Italian word for tomato. The Pomodoro Technique follows five steps:

    1. Get a to-do list and a timer.
    2. Set your timer for 25 minutes, and focus on a single task until the time is up.
    3. Record completion of the pomodoro.
    4. Take a short five-minute break.
    5. After completing four pomodoros, take a longer 15-30 minute break.

    A picture of a woman working on a laptop with a pomodoro timer next to her. The timer is set to 25 minutes.

    6. Don’t Be Hard On Yourself

    We’re human, so we’re guaranteed to miss deadlines sometimes or take longer on something than we intended. It helps to cultivate an attitude of self-compassion. Remember to forgive yourself, and turn the situation into a learning opportunity. Consider what you could tweak next time to get better results and make the task more manageable.

    7. Question Your Procrastination

    To motivate yourself, you need to understand why you procrastinate in the first place. When you realize you’re pushing something off, take a moment to figure out why and see if there are deeper emotions lying under the surface. Think about what happens in your brain that encourages you to procrastinate. 

    8. Eliminate Distractions

    In today’s day and age, there are an endless number of distractions at our disposal. It’s important to create a space that’s calm and conducive to a productive work environment.

    A few of our favorite strategies are leaving our phones in another room with a family member or using a distraction blocker like Freedom to keep us off social media and focused on the task at hand. 

    The Forest app is another excellent way to stay off of your phone, and it’s also super fun to use. Whenever you want to stay focused, you plant a tree and set a timer. The tree will grow as you focus on your work but die if you leave the app. When you grow a tree, you get coins to buy different varieties of plants. You can grow a forest full of unique trees and flowers!

    9. Enlist An Accountability Partner

    Having a friend or family member checking in periodically can help you overcome a lack of motivation or negative emotions about a task. They can also call you out on avoidance behaviors. It’s best to choose someone you see and speak to often. Maybe they need some help with their procrastination too!

    10. Reward Yourself

    Every time you finish a goal or mark something off your to-do list, make sure to reward yourself. The more complex the task, the bigger the reward can be. Implementing easy rewards, such as screen time or buying yourself a coffee, will keep you motivated to keep going.

    Fight Procrastination With A Cognitive Connection

    At A Cognitive Connection, our team understands how frustrating and debilitating it can feel to constantly find yourself in a procrastination cycle. We’ll give you the resources to better understand why you procrastinate, help you manage your schedule to lead a more productive life, and help you achieve your goals. If you’d like to learn more about how to train your brain to fight procrastination, please connect with our team today!

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