Overcoming procrastination: 17 tried-and-tested methods that work

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated January 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Procrastination affects people from all walks of life. While it’s common, it can make it challenging for students and professionals to focus or get started on tasks they need to complete. 

The consequences of procrastination can be significant, leading to missed deadlines, lower grades, and reduced job performance. However, methods like those outlined in this article might help you overcome procrastination and achieve your goals.

What is procrastination?

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Procrastination is the act of postponing tasks or responsibilities that necessitate completion. It often manifests in the eleventh-hour rush to accomplish goals or meet deadlines. 

Procrastination can negatively affect personal and professional worlds, increasing stress and anxiety while decreasing productivity. Individuals may experience heightened stress levels as chores pile up and deadlines loom, potentially compromising their mental and physical well-being.

Meanwhile, the anxiety caused by procrastination can create a cycle in which the fear of incomplete chores exacerbates the procrastination tendency. Furthermore, poor productivity due to procrastination can impede an individual's capacity to attain their goals and realize their full potential. This can impact their pleasure and success in numerous spheres of life.

Why do we procrastinate?

People procrastinate for a variety of reasons. A lack of motivation may be one explanation that many individuals can relate to. When we aren’t inspired to do something, we tend to postpone it. This might occur when a task appears burdensome, uninteresting, or incompatible with our values or aspirations.

Psychological factors of procrastination

Understanding the complexity of procrastination might help you implement effective strategies to mitigate its impact on personal and professional productivity.

This section provides an overview of the significant psychological factors that may contribute to procrastination, such as fear of failure, perfectionism, and lack of motivation. By comprehending these causes, individuals can address the core of their procrastination and cultivate a more proactive and productive mindset.

Environmental factors

Apart from psychological influences, procrastination can also be attributed to various environmental factors that impede productivity and foster a tendency to delay tasks. These factors often manifest as distractions, poor time management, and a lack of clear goals. 

Distractions, such as social media, noise, or clutter, can hinder an individual's ability to concentrate on the task at hand, leading to procrastination. Similarly, challenges with time management skills can result in inefficient allocation of time and resources. 

Lastly, the absence of well-defined goals can leave individuals feeling overwhelmed or directionless, further contributing to procrastination.

17 strategies for overcoming procrastination

Procrastination can be a challenging habit to break. However, the right strategies can help you overcome procrastination and achieve your goals. Here are 17 strategies for overcoming procrastination:

  1. Set clear goals: Try to set clear goals and break them into smaller, more manageable tasks.
  2. Develop a schedule: Create a schedule outlining when you plan to work on each task. 
  3. Prioritize: Determine which tasks are most important and tackle them first. 
  4. Eliminate distractions: Remove any distractions that might tempt you to procrastinate. 
  5. Avoid multitasking: Focus on one task at a time until it's complete.
  6. Use a timer: Set a timer for a specific time and work on a task until it goes off.
  7. Break it down: Break large tasks into smaller, more manageable steps.
  8. Reward yourself: Set up a system of rewards for completing tasks. 
  9. Self-compassion: Practice self-compassion and don’t beat yourself up.
  10. Visualize success: Visualize yourself completing tasks and achieving your goals. 
  11. Prioritize sleep: Make sure you're getting enough sleep each night.
  12. Exercise regularly: Exercise regularly to help reduce stress and increase energy. 
  13. Practice mindfulness: Try to stay present, focused, and aware of potential triggers.
  14. Find accountability: Surround yourself with people who can help keep you accountable.
  15. Learn from mistakes: Try to identify what triggers your procrastination.
  16. Use positive self-talk: Try using statements like, "I can do this," when you feel overwhelmed.
  17. Seek help: Don't be afraid to seek help from a therapist or counselor. 

More strategies to overcome procrastination

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There are many ways to overcome procrastination; each individual may need to find what works for them. Developing a deeper understanding of these strategies might help. So, let’s take a more in-depth look at some of the strategies from the list above. 

Enhancing self-awareness

Identifying personal procrastination triggers might allow you to determine the circumstances or actions that lead to it so you can take steps to prevent it. Likewise, knowing the feelings associated with procrastination, such as fear or anxiety, may help you adopt healthier coping techniques and promote a more productive mindset.

Goal setting and planning

One practical approach to goal setting can be establishing SMART goals. Here’s what that means: 

  • Specific: Your goal should be specific instead of vague or general (e.g., “write and self-publish a book”) 
  • Measurable: Your goal should be measurable so you can determine if you’ve completed it (e.g., “write 500 words a day”)
  • Achievable: Your goal should be reasonably achievable and not out of reach (e.g., “write an eBook by writing 500 words a day, four days a week”)
  • Relevant: Your goal should move you in the direction of your dreams and aspirations (e.g., “write an eBook to generate passive income”)
  • Time-bound: Your goal should have a deadline to motivate you to work on it (e.g., “finish writing my book in four months”)

So, this individual’s SMART goal might be to “write and self-publish one eBook on Amazon in four months by writing 500 words a day, four days a week to generate passive income.”

It may also be helpful to break larger SMART goals into smaller, more manageable tasks. This way, you can focus on immediate steps and make tangible progress to maintain momentum.

Time management

Time management can help prevent procrastination by helping track where your time is going. One such method is the Pomodoro technique, which divides work into 25-minute intervals, known as "Pomodoros," interspersed with 5-minute breaks. This approach helps maintain focus and fosters productivity by preventing burnout and facilitating a sense of accomplishment with each completed interval.

Another time management strategy is time blocking, which involves allocating specific time slots for various tasks throughout the day or week. By scheduling tasks deliberately, individuals can dedicate sufficient time to their priorities and avoid being sidetracked by distractions or less pressing tasks. 

Building and maintaining motivation

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Sometimes, creating a reward system, visualizing the result, and finding external accountability can help develop and maintain motivation. 

  • Create rewards: You can potentially increase motivation by incentivizing timely task completion with small rewards like a cup of coffee. 
  • Visualize outcomes: You might boost your motivation by visualizing the positive results and benefits of completing the task. 
  • Find accountability: Discussing objectives with others can often foster a sense of responsibility and accountability that helps with motivation. 

Therapy

Numerous studies have shown that therapy may be an effective way to overcome procrastination. For example, a 2019 study found that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) effectively reduced procrastination in college students.

Another study found that a type of therapy called self-control therapy (SRT) was effective in reducing procrastination in adults. In addition, the study found that participants who received SRT showed significant improvements in their ability to manage their time and complete tasks.

Why therapy works for procrastination

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Therapy can help you identify the root causes of procrastination, such as fear of failure or feeling overwhelmed. Then, you can work with your therapist to develop strategies to overcome it.

Additionally, therapy can provide practical tools and techniques for managing your time and staying motivated. This might include developing a schedule, setting realistic goals, or breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. By developing these skills, you can feel more confident tackling upcoming tasks and avoiding procrastination.

Online therapy is often a helpful option for individuals who struggle with time management and procrastination. It eliminates the need to drive to an appointment and sit in a waiting room. You can have appointments on your schedule from the comfort of your home. And research shows that it’s just as effective as in-person treatment.

Takeaway

Many people struggle with procrastination. If you’d like to overcome this habit, you might benefit from self-awareness practices, setting SMART goals, prioritizing tasks, and using productivity tools. 

Therapy is another potentially beneficial option that might help you improve your time management and task completion. You’ll have a trained mental health professional who can help you identify ways to counteract procrastination based on your life, goals, and mindset. Once you get started, BetterHelp will connect you with a licensed therapist based on your needs and preferences, often within 48 hours.

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