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Why We Procrastinate (and How to Stop It)

Woman, holding multiple devices, distracted and procastinating
Artie Medvedev/Shutterstock.com

If your procrastination habits are stressing you out, it helps to understand why people procrastinate so you can make strides toward putting an end to your procrastination.

Why Do You Procrastinate?

Some people procrastinate with mindless things, like staring at the television or scrolling through their social media accounts. While everyone needs downtime, this type of procrastination is a problem when it sets you behind on the tasks you need to get done and wastes hours of your day that could have been used for something more productive.

Then there are the “structured” procrastinators. These are the people that put off doing one thing to do something else they need to get done. Maybe you have some deadline work, but you put it off to clean the house or to work on something that has no deadline (but still needs to get done sometime).

Why do people put off what they should be doing? There are plenty of good and bad reasons why you may be procrastinating:

  • You’re not sure how to get started, so you put off even beginning the project.
  • You’re afraid of failing at the task, so you put it off until the last minute out of fear.
  • You’re having trouble deciding which project to work on, or what to do with the project you have, so you put it off.
  • You’re working without a deadline. Deadlines help keep you in check; without them, you may feel off-track.
  • You just don’t feel like doing the work. Some days it’s plain hard to get motivated, but one day of procrastination can lead to more.

Procrastinating uses energy you could be putting toward the work you need to get done. Knowing why you’re procrastinating will help you stop doing it.

How to Stop Procrastinating

If you’ve been procrastinating, you’ve probably already felt some of the stress it brings to your life. Maybe you’re good at working under the pressure of short deadlines, but that pressure can still have adverse effects on your work and your health. Use these tips to cut back on procrastination instead.

Know Your Work

Knowing what you’re doing may help you feel more confident about your work. If you’ve been procrastinating out of fear or because you don’t feel like you know enough to do the task at hand, take some time to learn more about your job.

Sometimes the boss hands out work that’s a little above your pay grade; don’t be afraid to speak up when this happens. If you really want to do the work, ask for an extended deadline that will allow you to do the research needed to get the job done well.

Set a Schedule (and Stick with It)

It may be easier to push past procrastination if you set a daily schedule for yourself. Giving yourself deadlines for projects that didn’t come with them helps you have more focus to get the job done.

Use an online calendar to help you keep track of your deadlines and set reminders a day or two ahead of time (depending on how long it takes you to get the job done). Write checklists and use them to keep track of the projects you’ve completed and the ones you need to get to.

Face the Challenges

Don’t let the fear of failing at something keep you from getting your job done on time. Look at your fear of failure as a challenge you can overcome. Make a game out of it if you have to—instead of looking at the project as something difficult, see it as a new obstacle to overcome that will increase your skills.

Procrastinate with Structure

When you need a break from a project, don’t let procrastination get the best of you. Instead of getting drawn into something like a TV show or playing games on your phone, do something else that needs to get done.

If you work from home, take timed procrastination breaks to wash the dishes or tidy one room in the house. When you’re at the office, use your break to work on another project that needs to get done or to tidy your desk for a more organized and focused workspace. It might seem, at first glance, like procrastinating from one type of work (say, your copy editing job) with a different kind of work (say, mopping your kitchen) is counterintuitive, it’s a surprisingly effective way to give your brain a break while still actually being productive, albeit in a different arena.

The key is not to overdo it with the other projects. Set a timer for these breaks. When you’re procrastinating, it’s easy to get sucked into hours of doing something that isn’t productive. Whether your procrastination is structured or wasteful, only do it for a short period, and then get back to the task you need to complete.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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