From Procrastination To Progress: Strategies For Finding Achievement Motivation

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Procrastination—the act of repeatedly putting off a task until later—can be a challenging and even debilitating habit. Whether it's a work project, a school assignment, a personal goal, or a household chore, procrastinating on a task we need to get done can prevent us from achieving our goals and reaching our full potential. Understanding some common reasons for procrastination and learning strategies to help you take action may be two useful steps in learning to overcome or manage this tendency.

It could be difficult to break the habit of procrastinating alone

What is motivation?

Motivation is the driving force that helps us set objectives, face challenges, and accomplish goals in our everyday lives. It's the engine that powers our behavior and helps us develop new skills. At the core of motivation is the achievement motive, which relates to one’s desire to do well and overcome obstacles. This idea is central to the achievement motivation theory, developed by psychologist David McClelland. 

Human motivation involves different factors that make us want to do certain things, like feeling competent, setting realistic goals, and reaching for high achievement. With motivation, we are capable of taking on very difficult tasks. Highly motivated people often tackle challenging projects, while others might prefer easy tasks that still help them succeed. 

In social psychology and child psychology, motivation plays a crucial role in development, as well as adult and child behavior. It influences how we set goals, how well we perform, and our ability to bounce back after the consequences of failure. Various factors in daily life, such as our upbringing, experiences, and personal beliefs, can shape our motivation. 

Understanding motivation can help us make sense of our actions and find ways to become more driven in different aspects of life. By learning how to set realistic goals and develop the skills needed to succeed, we can harness the power of motivation to improve poor performance and achieve our dreams.

Common causes of procrastination

Different people may procrastinate for different reasons. Identifying the underlying cause of your own procrastination may help you choose the right strategies to handle it. Some common causes of procrastinating on tasks include the following.

Fear of failure

When we're afraid of failing at a task, we may avoid starting it altogether. In this case, it can be helpful to remember that while your chances of succeeding in this project may not be 100%, your chances of succeeding if you never start are zero. You might also remind yourself that mistakes and failures are normal parts of life and that in most cases, you can’t avoid failure entirely. In fact, failure can be a valuable learning tool and an essential element of the growth mindset.

Research suggests that those who have a growth mindset actually tend to perform better overall than those with a “fixed” mindset, so changing your perspective on the task at hand may be powerful.


Another common reason for procrastination is perfectionism. Those with perfectionist traits often have extremely high standards for themselves. As a result, they may put off a task until they feel they have enough time or resources to do it perfectly. Similar to procrastination due to a fear of failure, perfectionism may delay an individual’s completion of a task or make them avoid ever starting it at all. To combat this, it can be helpful to remember the saying, “Perfect is the enemy of good”. In other words, a finished project is often better than one that’s never begun for fear of not achieving perfection. Setting realistic, achievable goals and learning to find beauty and utility in mistakes may also help.

Lack of interest 

If you’re facing a tedious work task or a school project in a subject you dislike, for example, a simple lack of interest may cause procrastination. Or, a lack of motivation may be the culprit if you don’t see the purpose in a task, for instance. Finding ways to make the project more exciting or meaningful to you or finding a way to connect it to something you're passionate about may help you stay focused. You could also consider giving yourself a reward after reaching certain milestones to keep yourself going.


We live in an age of near-constant distractions, especially when we have our smartphones nearby. Doing your best to eliminate distractions can help combat procrastination. For example, you might keep your phone in another room while you get an hour’s worth of work done or only check it once you’ve hit a certain milestone on the road to finishing your task. Other people can serve as a distraction as well. If you find that having friends or colleagues nearby makes it more difficult to complete work, it may be helpful to find more secluded areas to accomplish tasks.

Tips for managing procrastination

For many, procrastination is a habit that can be overcome or at least effectively managed with the right mindset, tools, and strategies. If you’re having trouble with procrastination, you might consider trying some of the techniques listed below.

Set “SMART” goals

Practicing proper goal-setting is an important first step for those who want to achieve successful goals. “SMART” is an acronym for the five key characteristics that motivating, effective goals tend to impart. They are:

  • Specific. Successful goals should be clear and precise so that you know exactly what to do.
  • Measurable. Make sure you can track your progress and know when you've achieved your goal, which you can do by setting a specific target or benchmark.
  • Achievable. Your goal should be something you can realistically accomplish with the resources and time you have available.
  • Relevant. Think about why you want to achieve this goal and make sure it aligns with your priorities.
  • Time-bound. Setting a specific deadline for when you should have your task finished may help you stay motivated and on track.

Use a tool to prioritize sub-tasks

If the task on your to-do list has multiple components, figuring out how to appropriately prioritize those sub-tasks can help you create a plan of action to guide you in getting started. The Eisenhower Matrix is one tool you might consider using for this purpose. It’s designed to help you prioritize your responsibilities and tasks based on their level of urgency and importance. To use it, you can simply draw a box with four quadrants on a piece of paper, label each one as follows, and sort your tasks into them accordingly:

  1. Quadrant one is for urgent and important tasks. Some examples of tasks that belong in this quadrant might include meeting deadlines, handling emergencies, or dealing with an important client.
  2. Quadrant two is for tasks that are important but not urgent. Some examples of tasks that belong in this quadrant might include planning, goal setting, and building relationships.
  3. Quadrant three is for tasks that are urgent but not important. Some examples of tasks that belong in this quadrant include interruptions, distractions, and nonessential meetings.
  4. Quadrant four is for tasks that are not urgent and not important, which you may therefore be able to delegate or eliminate from your to-do list. An example of a task that belongs in this quadrant could be color-coding your notes in a way that doesn’t actually help you study more effectively.

This matrix can help you decide where to start and what to focus on so you can be maximally productive with your time and accomplish successful goals. It may be worth paying special attention to quadrant-two tasks, as they tend to be overlooked, which can lead to procrastination. Focusing on scheduling and accomplishing tasks from this quadrant may contribute to your success.

It could be difficult to break the habit of procrastinating alone

In some cases, achievement motivation stems from making tasks more enjoyable

Certain tasks may be easier to start or accomplish if you can make the process a bit more comfortable or enjoyable. For example, listening to music can help you pass the time while you take care of a tedious chore. You might also take steps to make your environment more comfortable while you work, such as making yourself a snack or beverage to enjoy as you go or using essential oils or a candle to create a pleasant scent in your workspace. In addition, exercising before your tasks may help to increase motivation. While this may result in a temporarily accelerated heart rate or fatigue, it can also boost the release of dopamine, which can be beneficial.

Speak with a therapist

Trouble concentrating can be a symptom of some mental health conditions, such as depression. Neurodivergent people, such as those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may also experience difficulties with concentration. If you’re having trouble with procrastination, speaking with a mental health professional may be wise in cases like these, as they can help you address mental illness symptoms or discover ways to be productive that work for the unique structure of your mind. If you believe you may be procrastinating due to a fear of failure it may also be helpful to seek mental health support. The motive to avoid failure includes worries that may be addressed through therapy; by discussing these worries, you may be able to identify and potentially overcome these challenges.

Research suggests that therapy conducted virtually can offer similar benefits to therapy conducted in person in most cases. If you’re interested in speaking with a therapist, you can choose the format that works best for you. For those who are seeking a more reachable, cost-effective therapy option, online counseling may be worth considering. With a virtual therapy service like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from anywhere you have a stable internet connection. The cost is comparable to the co-pays of most insurance plans, meaning that the financial barrier to treatment is lower for many. Regardless of the format you may choose, support is available if you’re having trouble managing procrastination.


If procrastination is hindering or preventing you from achieving your goals, the strategies listed here may help you make effective changes to the way you approach tasks. Speaking with a therapist may also help you develop techniques to combat procrastination.
Struggling to find motivation in your life?
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