What is Procrastination and How to Overcome It?

Psychologist and M.Phil Scholar, Sanjoni Sethi guides you to walk your way out of this self-destructive pattern of behaviour. 

23 June, 2021
What is Procrastination and How to Overcome It?

To make it clear, procrastination is different from a well-thought-out strategic delay in matters. In psychological terms, it can be referred to as a delay in tasks that often invites discomfort, distress—and in some cases—consequences. Procrastination can result from setting unrealistic goals, exhibiting trait perfectionism, ruminating, or experiencing a similar underlying condition. 

In fact, research has drawn a correlation between stress and procrastination, suggesting that trait procrastination is associated with lower levels of self-compassion and higher levels of stress. To tackle procrastination, it is imperative to understand the context in which procrastination takes place—such as the fear of getting diagnosed with a medical illness that may slow down the process of undergoing medical tests, a lack of interest in a subject matter that may hinder the assignment, or worry related to the quality of one's work.

Determining the plethora of triggers responsible for procrastination can provide a pathway to effective problem-solving. Psychologist and M.Phil Scholar, Ms Sanjoni Sethi recommends a few steps that can help bring an end to this self-destructive pattern. 


Grade Your Work Journey 


Ever felt exhausted just by the idea of beginning work, since it could take forever to finish? Procrastinating behaviour often finds the way in between the intention and action of such thoughts. In such a scenario, it is helpful to break the tasks into smaller, achievable, and measurable graded work. Identify the first step to accomplish a graded task. Doing so will allow you to monitor the progress of your work and easily define doable tasks. Going a step further will aid in establishing a time limit to finish the steps — "I’ll spend two hours to prepare for this upcoming project."

Similarly, you could rely on the 'mental-contrasting technique' to understand one’s current situation and future goals. To perform this, imagine what the outcome looks like when achieved and reflect on where you currently stand. Introspect and identify the obstacles that may come in the way of you achieving your desired goals. Now that one has reflected and understood the discrepancy, it is time to use 'implementation intention'—a specific plan for the action. This plan will neatly chart out the what, where, how, and when questions, to attain the desired outcome. For example, when will I work (4 pm), where (library), what (presentation), and how (using class notes).


Awareness and Cognitive Reframing


Pay attention to the thoughts, related feelings, and actions you take when you push your task over. Ask yourself, "What are the thoughts that are coming to my mind when I begin my assignment?". Becoming increasingly aware of these running thoughts will compel you to check on your feelings—"What are these thoughts making me feel?". A combination of thoughts and emotions influence one's action-taking abilities. For instance, adolescents often initiate comparisons with their siblings when undertaking work—"She has done her assignment independently". Such distressing thoughts make them feel under-confident, consequently decreasing interest in the task and motivation to do the assignment. Reframing such unproductive thoughts that affect emotions and actions might be helpful in curbing the tendency to procrastinate. 

Earn Your Rewards



It is crucial to take into consideration the spike in screen-time, as a result of the pandemic. Online meetings on virtual platforms, constant text messages on Whatsapp, and binge-watching entertainment series are exhausting the available time slots from our day. Social media and tech-driven gizmo have become prime sources of leisure, creating a spill-over effect. Thus, earning oneself a reward after completing a graded task—such as spending twenty minutes on YouTube or watching an episode on Netflix—will be more productive, and will help increase self-efficacy. In addition, on some occasions, completion of a given task might not lead to favourable outcomes or provide immediate gratification. In such a case, creating externally motivating factors would likely benefit.


Create Planners and Control Distractors


Using SMART goals—an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based—to set realistic and achievable targets is essential in creating a plan. Learning how to prioritise your goals is a skill that must be practised regularly. For instance, evaluate the urgency of the task, available resources to finish the work, deadline of the submission, and examine another potential commitment interfering in this process. 

Setting manageable goals should be followed by creating a checklist based on the priority that each task deserves. Next, identify distractors and obstacles on your work completion journey. A noisy room? An unfavourable time of the day? Lack of resources available? Focus on the measures required to avoid or problem-solve these situations. For example, researchers recommend a table-chair workplace setting to be more productive, in comparison to working on a bed or couch. Basically, control the stimulus before it distracts you from your goal.


Commit After Experience


Prior circumstances, stress, boredom, or worry can hinder a seamless work experience. Therefore, behaviour therapists suggest allowing a testing period of fifteen minutes into a task, to evaluate and decide whether one wants to continue with the work and commit to finishing it. Expending minimum effort for a few minutes might allow overcome procrastination.


In conclusion, procrastination involves self-regulatory work. En route to overcoming procrastination, one can seek the support of their peers, friends, and family members, who can help facilitate intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. However, if procrastination grows to become a major concern in one's life, consider turning to professional help to gauge and work on the root cause of the behaviour, underlying factors such as disturbing thoughts or emotional barriers, etc.