We've all been plagued by procrastination at one time or
another. For some, it's a chronic problem. Others find that
it occurs occasionally in some areas of their lives. The net
results, though, are usually the same-wasted time, missed
opportunities, poor performance, self-deprecation or increased
Procrastination is letting the low priority tasks get in
the way of high priority ones. It's staying in bed when you
know class begins in a short while, watching TV instead of
researching that term paper, or calling a friend rather than
completing your math assignment.
We all seem to do fine with things we want to do or enjoy
doing for fun. But, when we perceive tasks as difficult, inconvenient
or scary, we may shift into our procrastination mode. We have
very clever ways of fooling ourselves. See how many of the
following excuses hit home for you:
- It's OK to celebrate. . .besides, I'll start my diet (or
other project) tomorrow.
- I'm not in the mood to do it.
- My health problem isn't that bad. Time will heal this
- There's plenty of time to get it done.
- Why does Professor Smarts make us do so much? It's not
- It's too hard to do. I don't know where to begin.
- I work better under pressure so I don't need to do it
- I've got too many other things to do first.
Once exposed, these self-defeating statements don't sound
convincing. But, when we privately tell ourselves these excuses,
they seem quite believable. Don't be fooled by how innocent
they sound. They get us to postpone important tasks and duties.
Procrastination is a bad habit. Like other habits, there
are two general causes. The first is the "crooked thinking"
we employ to justify our behavior. The second cause is our
A closer look at our crooked thinking reveals three major
issues in delaying tactics -- perfectionism, inadequacy, and
discomfort. Those who believe they must turn in a most exemplary
paper may wait until all available resources have been reviewed
or endlessly rewrite draft after draft and risk not finishing
on time. Many who feel inadequate are convinced they will
fail an exam, so they delay preparation and maintain an attitude
of "what's the use." Even though experience tells people that
taking care of minor problems now will prevent serious ones
later, many let their fear of immediate discomfort and pain
interfere with progress toward completing necessary tasks.
Our behavioral patterns are the second cause. Getting started
on an unpleasant or difficult task may seem impossible. Procrastination
is likened to the physics concept of inertia -- a mass at
rest tends to stay at rest. Greater forces are required to
start change than to sustain change. Another way of viewing
it is that avoiding tasks reinforces procrastination which
makes it harder to get things going. A person may be stuck,
too, not by the lack of desire, but by not knowing what to
do. Here are some things to break the habit. Remember, don't
just read them, do them!
Change Your Behaviors
Change Your Thinking
- Rational Self-Talk. Procrastination thinking doesn't
hold up to rational inspection. The "two-column technique"
will help. Write down all your excuses on one side of a
piece of paper. Start challenging the faulty reasoning behind
each of the excuses. Write down your realistic thoughts
on the other side of the paper, opposite each excuse. It
might look something like this:
I'm not in the mood now.
Mood doesn't do my work, actions do. If I wait for
the right mood, I may never get it done.
I'm just lazy.
Labeling myself as lazy only brings me down. My work
is really separate from who I am as a person. Getting
started is the key to finishing.
- Positive Self-Statements. Incorporate a list of
self-motivating sayings into your repertoire of thoughts.
Consider. . ."There's no time like the present," "Strike
while the iron is hot," and "The sooner the better."
- Don't Catastrophize. Jumping to the conclusion
that you will fail or that you are no good at something
will only create a self-fulfilling prophecy that will stop
you cold. Recognize that your negative predictions are not
facts. Focus on the present and what positive steps you
can take toward reaching your goals.
- Design Clear Goals. Think about what you want and
what needs to be done. Be specific. If it's getting a certain
grade, figure out the exact steps to achieve it. Be realistic.
Don't think you'll speak like a diplomat after one course
of Chinese. Having goals too big can scare you from starting.
Change Your Thinking
Change Your Behaviors
- Set Priorities. Write down all the things that
need to be done in order of their importance. The greater
the importance or urgency, the higher the priority. Put
"messing around time" (distractions) in its proper place
-- last! Start at the top of the list and work your way
- Partialize the Task. Big projects feel overwhelming.
Break them down into the smallest and most manageable subparts.
You'll get more done if you can do it piece by piece. Try
outlining your essays, for example. Partializing works especially
well with the unpleasant jobs. Most of us can handle duties
we dislike as long as they're for a short time and in small
- Get Organized. Have all your materials ready before
you start. Use a daily schedule and have it with you all
the time. List the tasks of the day or week realistically.
Check off the tasks when you have completed them.
- Take a Stand. Commit yourself to doing the task.
Write yourself a "contract" and sign it. Better yet, tell
a friend, spouse, or professor about your plans to do tasks.
- Use Prompts. Write reminders to yourself and put
them in conspicuous places like on the TV, refrigerator,
bathroom mirror, front door, and car dashboard.
- Reward Yourself. Self-reinforcement has a powerful
effect on developing a "do it now" attitude. Celebrate,
pat yourself on the back, smile, and let yourself enjoy
the completion of even the smallest of tasks. Don't minimize
your accomplishments. Remember, you're already that much
closer to finishing. Go ahead, get startedNOW!
If you are still faced with a strong procrastination habit,
you may wish to consult a member of the counseling psychology
staff in L108. Professional consultation is free to
currently enrolled students.