Getting right to it: Power over procrastination

A three-step guide to beating procrastination.

06 March 2020

Power over Procrastination


Dear Maddi,
What are your tips for helping with procrastination? I feel like it brings me so much stress as I continue to put off everything for later, but I don't know how to beat it.



Dear Troubled,

A large number of students struggle with procrastination. Putting off difficult or unpleasant tasks is a very human thing to do, and occasionally allowing a delay before beginning your work can give you the time to mentally prepare for the effort ahead.

So when does it become a problem? Procrastination is problematic when it is negatively affecting your performance or emotional well-being. Do you have to rush through your schoolwork because you left an assignment or paper until the last minute? Do you have a to-do list which is a mile long, and getting longer by the day? Is your habit of procrastination robbing you of enjoyment, due to constantly feeling guilty and stressed out? If you answered yes to any of these questions, keep reading! The following is a three step guide to beating procrastination and getting on with your life!

Step 1: Empower yourself.

Instead of dreading the task ahead, envision what doing the task will accomplish for you, and remind yourself about how much you want that outcome. Change the way you talk and think about the task accordingly. Here are some examples:

Instead of saying… Try saying…
I have to study for this test. I have decided to study for this test, because I enjoy how I feel after I earn a good grade, and because I have the goal of getting a degree.
I hate it when I have to do my laundry. 
I’ve chosen to do laundry today because I like having fresh, clean clothes.
I have to clean the house because people are coming over. I feel proud when people visit and they see my house looking clean and organized.
I never have time to get to the grocery store.  I love having fresh foods to eat every day, so I’ve decided to prioritize grocery shopping this week.


Step 2: Get curious.

People may procrastinate for very different reasons. See if you can figure out the underlying cause of your procrastination, in order to get a better idea of how you could change the pattern. The chart below can help you determine a cause and find a tool to address that cause:

Reason for procrastination… Try this idea…
Anxiety Learning some relaxation techniques can reduce tension and lead you to be more productive. Try calming breaths, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or positive self-talk before the task, to help you calm down and focus.
Disliking the task Offer yourself a reward! Plan a fun activity that you will do after the task is finished, or allow yourself some rewards along the way (e.g., allowing yourself to have a hot chocolate if it means you’ll keep studying).
Unsure of how to start  Ask for clarification or help! Do you know someone who has achieved the results you are looking for? Try asking them for tips. When in doubt, see if you can take at least one tiny step towards your end goal. Small successes will increase your momentum and build your confidence.
Perfectionism Do a reality check about your standards for the task. Is there a chance that you could do a “good enough job” rather than a perfect job? See if you can be realistic about how much effort this task is worth. 
Distractions  Where does your time go? Whether it’s Netflix, social media, socializing, videogames or something else, you might want to take a look at cutting distractions back (or eliminating them altogether) until you complete the necessary task.
Resentment  If you feel resentful or bitter about getting started on a task, consider if there are any clear benefits to completing it. You might try making a pros/cons list. If there are very few pros… why do it? Unless the activity is absolutely vital, maybe it’s time to make a new plan!


Step 3: Practice tolerating discomfort.

The reality is that we can’t do fun, exciting or fulfilling activities 100% of the time. Being able to tackle difficult tasks and tolerate boredom are skills that serve us well, even when we’d rather be doing something else. When you find yourself getting bored or frustrated by a necessary task, try saying one of the following statements to yourself:

I can handle these feelings.

I’m not having fun right now, but I’m going to be really happy when I’ve completed this.

This frustration is not comfortable, but it is tolerable.

It is a challenge for me to stick with this, and yet I know I can still do it!

When it’s all finished, don’t forget to reward yourself for your efforts! Focus on your feelings of accomplishment and success, which will help motivate you next time. Although procrastination is understandable, you don’t have to let it control your life or drag down your performance.

You’ve got this!