Procrastination guide: Why it happens and how to overcome it

According to a survey conducted by a productivity author, Darius Foroux, 88% of workers confirmed that they procrastinate for at least 1 hour a day.

If you also tend to procrastinate — don’t beat yourself up — it happens to the best of us.

So how do you stop procrastinating? Can delaying tasks become a huge problem for you? And more importantly, when is procrastination actually good for you?

These are just some of the questions we’ll answer in the text below. 

We’ll also cover:

  • What procrastination is and why people procrastinate,
  • The negative effects of procrastination,
  • The steps to stop delaying tasks, 
  • Expert tips and strategies to overcome procrastination, and
  • Some procrastination examples and real-life experiences.

So let’s dive right in.

Procrastination guide - cover

Table of Contents

What is procrastination?

As Piers Steel, a leading expert on the science of motivation, defines it in his paper on the nature of procrastination, procrastination is the voluntary postponement of an unpleasant task, often against one’s better judgment.  

Moreover, Wadkins and Schraw (2007) further claim that procrastination happens when we work on trivial tasks instead of urgent ones or perform activities we enjoy rather than activities that we should or would like to complete.

As you might have guessed, procrastination is closely related to poor time management skills. Luckily, there are steps you can take and strategies you can use to deal with procrastination. 

But first, let’s see what types of procrastination exist before moving on to its main causes.

The 2 types of procrastination

While the essence of the concept is always the same, not all procrastinators procrastinate to the same degree. 

According to the frequency of occurrence, we can differentiate between:

  • Chronic procrastination — people who have constant problems tackling or finishing tasks on time, and
  • Situational procrastination — people who delay work only on specific tasks.

Now, one type of procrastinators seems to be more common than the other.

According to research on adult procrastination, 20-25% of adults procrastinate chronically. 

And the explanation for why there are so many chronic procrastinators could be that it’s only natural to want to enjoy the present moment instead of thinking about the future version of ourselves. As a result, people tend to deliberately postpone their tasks. 

Like any other type of behavior, after a while, postponing tasks becomes a habit, and if the period in question is prolonged, it becomes a routine, which adds the “chronic” part to it. 

As not all people procrastinate to the same degree, there are also different personality types who experience procrastination in different ways. 

Maybe you’ll recognize some of your own characteristics among these procrastination styles, so let’s see them.

The 6 procrastination styles

In their book It’s About Time!: The Six Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them, psychologists Linda Sapadin and Jack Maguire talk about 6 different ways a person can procrastinate.

Dr. Sapadin also explains that one person can demonstrate multiple styles of procrastination depending on what drives them to it.

The 6 procrastination styles are:

  1. Perfectionist — this person delays a task because they fear they won’t be able to do it perfectly. Perfectionists often set unrealistic standards for themselves and thus get overwhelmed.
  2. Dreamer — this person likes fantasizing about completing tasks more than actually doing them. Dreamers end up having big plans but doing little about them because they get lost in their thoughts rather than taking specific steps.
  3. Worrier — this person has a fear of the unknown, so the easiest way for them to “deal” with this fear is not do anything or delay doing something as much as they can. Worriers lack decisiveness, so they get anxious easily.
  4. Defier — this person doesn’t like doing things that are expected of them to do. By delaying tasks, defiers silently express their rebellious side.
  5. Crisis-maker — the crisis-maker has difficulty doing mundane tasks, so they deliberately finish the task at the last minute to make it more exciting. Consequently, working under pressure eventually makes them stressed and lowers their performance quality.
  6. Overdoer — this person has a need to prove themselves to others, so they take on a lot more work than they can handle and end up being confused about their priorities. Overdoers can’t say “No” to people, so they neglect their own tasks.

Now that we’ve covered the meaning of procrastination and its various types and styles, let’s see the main reasons behind it.

Why do people procrastinate?

Low-self efficacy is the underlying cause behind procrastination. When we don’t believe in our ability to finish something, we develop low self-esteem, which prompts us to procrastinate on the said task.

Still, procrastination is not a problem related to the modern age — even though nowadays, technology and the Internet have enabled people to be more entertained while procrastinating. 

However, there’s evidence that this tendency to postpone our tasks dates back to the beginning of civilization. 

Here are some examples throughout distant history:

  • The translation of hieroglyphs from Ancient Egypt, dating back to 1400 B.C. reads: “Friend, stop putting off work and allow us to go home in good time.”
  • Fast forward to 800 B.C. when Greek poet Hesioid wrote a poem Works and Days, he said not to “…put your work off ‘till tomorrow and the day after, for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn, nor one who puts off his work.” 
  • Cicero also spoke about procrastination in his famous orations against Marcus Aurelius, estimated around 44 B.C., claiming that “slowness and procrastination are hateful.” 

Based on these examples, we can conclude that procrastination is (and has always been) a common behavioral tendency among people — regardless of their heritage, culture, and nationality.

However, there are some distinctions on a more individual level — actually related to personality traits. 

How personality traits affect procrastination

On a scientific basis, the reason why people procrastinate can be found in an individual’s personality traits.

In a previously mentioned research paper on the nature of procrastination, Steel investigated some patterns relevant among procrastinators and connected to the OCEAN — or the Big 5 defining personality traits:

  • Openness to experience,
  • Conscientiousness, 
  • Extroversion,
  • Agreeableness, and 
  • Neuroticism.

The results of the study show the personality traits connected to procrastination:

  • Low conscientiousness — there’s a high correlation between the lack of conscientiousness and the tendency to procrastinate. It only makes sense, as conscientiousness implies diligence and the desire to do one’s work well and on time.
  • Low agreeableness — there’s a high correlation between the lack of agreeableness and the tendency to procrastinate. Interestingly, disagreeableness is connected to traits associated with rebellion, so this group tends to procrastinate because it’s hard to agree with externally imposed schedules. Moreover, the delay makes them feel like they’ve reasserted autonomy.
  • Low extroversion — there’s a certain correlation between the lack of extroversion and the tendency to procrastinate but to a much smaller extent. The reasoning is quite simple — introversion can indicate lower engagement and energy levels.
  • High neuroticism — there’s a moderate correlation between neuroticism and the tendency to procrastinate, explained by the factor of impulsiveness.

In the end, no correlation was found between openness to experience and the tendency to procrastinate.

The 8 most common reasons why people procrastinate 

So, it turns out that many people procrastinate. But why does that happen in most cases?

Here are the most common reasons behind your desire to postpone or delay an activity:

  • Prioritization of short-term mood — people put off an unpleasant activity because they prefer to feel good temporarily, even at the cost of feeling much worse later on.
  • Fear of failure and criticism — thinking about being criticized makes people delay submitting their task or even getting started with it because they want to avoid potential negative results.
  • Fear of success — it may sound strange, but some people feel like success will mainly bring them more pressure, so they procrastinate and self-sabotage.
  • Lack of connection with the future self — being unable to connect emotionally with the future version of ourselves makes us prone to making bad decisions in the present, not thinking much about the consequences we’ll encounter.
  • Low self-esteem and motivation — not having faith in our abilities to complete a task can be demotivating and thus cause procrastination.
  • Depression and lack of energy — people who are depressed often feel exhausted and anxious, which makes them want to escape from any difficulties that dealing with tasks may bring.
  • Undefined goals and lack of prioritization — being unable to prioritize your tasks and clearly define your goals quickly leads to procrastination. 
  • Perfectionism — not being able to accept anything less than perfection also triggers procrastination. People delay submitting their work for fear of it not being good enough.

What are the negative effects of procrastination?

Missing opportunities due to procrastination is a common practice for people around the world. Apart from making you run behind your deadlines, procrastination can also bring physical and mental health problems, as well as a poorer overall performance at work.

However, note that procrastination in personal life is perhaps even a bigger problem than at work — as the only supervisor is the same person as the procrastinator, i.e., you.

Procrastination causes physical health problems

According to the research on the link between procrastination and heart problems by Dr. Fuschia Sirois from Bishop’s University, people who suffer from either hypertension or cardiovascular disease are more likely to procrastinate on their tasks (including going to the doctor on time and taking their health seriously).

For the purpose of research, Sirois surveyed a group of individuals with a medical diagnosis of either hypertension or cardiovascular disease and a group of healthy individuals. 

In a survey she conducted, she analyzed participants’ procrastination habits and traits, and how they cope with stress. It turned out that people with either hypertension or cardiovascular disease were more prone to behaviors that indicated procrastination, such as postponing tasks, self-blame, and similar, than healthy people. 

Dr. Sirois also explained that people who procrastinate are likely to ignore health-related behaviors like: 

  • Going to a medical check-up, 
  • Getting regular exercise, and 
  • Having a good quality sleep.

Although procrastination may not directly cause hypertension or cardiovascular disease, it may indirectly affect one’s health as procrastinators usually stress more and put off going to a doctor until the consequences of poor health are harder to manage.

Procrastination causes mental health problems

Perfectionism leads to procrastination, and procrastination leads to time anxiety — i.e. the feeling that you’re always wasting your time. 

According to procrastination psychology, time anxiety and stress are some of the worst consequences of procrastination. When you have a close deadline looming over you, you’ll feel anxious and stressed because you may not be done on time. 

Perhaps in an effort to excuse your tardiness, you may work on making the assignment perfect and fall into a vicious circle, as perfectionism will likely hinder your ability to finish the assignment in the first place.

And, because nothing is ever perfect, you’ll feel anxious and stressed — which may ultimately lead you to depression.

What’s worse, you still won’t be satisfied with your assignments and likely won’t hand them in, anyway.

Procrastination causes poorer work performance

Apart from various health problems, procrastination at work may bring you poorer performance — at least according to scientific studies.

According to Tice and Baumeister, leaving your work for the last minute results in low-quality performance, as well as your diminished welfare.

On the topic of academic procrastination, Ariely and Wertenbroch add that students who are prone to bouts of procrastination tend to get lower grades than their peers who start working on their assignments on time.

Procrastination causes people to make poor decisions

Another terribly damaging effect of procrastination is — making poor decisions

Our decisions are connected to our emotions, and procrastination can boost only the negative ones.

💡 Clockify Pro Tip 

If you sometimes feel like you have difficulty managing your emotions at work and don’t know what to do about it, our blog post on the subject has some tips for you: 

Also, the very fact that you rush into decisions instead of taking your sweet time to properly think them through changes the criteria on which you base them. This is especially important for making financial decisions.

To sum up, if you tend to procrastinate often, it’s most likely that you aren’t making the right moves and are limiting your growth as a person.

Procrastination can have a bad impact on other people

Being a procrastinator doesn’t only affect your life and habits. Quite the contrary, procrastination has a direct impact on the people surrounding you — your family, friends, and coworkers.

We’ll give you an example of it. 

Let’s say you and your colleague are preparing a presentation for an important meeting. Your colleague completed their part of the task, but you delayed the completion of your part and ended up coming unprepared. As a result, your procrastination did not only affect your own performance but also your colleague’s reputation at work.

However, understanding the possibility of negative consequences on other people may additionally motivate you to deal with procrastination at work and in your personal life.

Procrastination can have a bad impact on your work

When a person procrastinates at work, their habit can negatively affect a whole team, and sometimes even the entire company. Missing your deadlines can create a delay in other people’s work, which is especially frustrating for those who complete their tasks on time. 

Procrastination at work can thus severely damage a person’s reputation, but that’s not the only negative consequence of postponing tasks. Procrastinators risk being perceived as slackers and untrustworthy, which may lead to other team members avoiding to work with them.

Moreover, rushing to finish the task because you overestimated your capabilities significantly increases the margin of error. An unintentional mistake can thus reduce the quality of the end result, damaging not only your own reputation but that of the company as a whole. 

An extreme example of this is a client leaving the company because an employee’s procrastination slowed down the entire team. The procrastinator submitted their part late, which made everyone else late as a consequence, and the client found the company unreliable and unprofessional to cooperate with.

Procrastination can have a bad impact on your personal life

Similarly as in the work environment, procrastination in personal life makes others perceive you as unreliable and untrustworthy. 

You don’t want to be THAT person — a procrastinator who is always late for family gatherings and important events. Tension can build up, and it can negatively affect your interpersonal relationships.

Another thing we’ve mentioned is that procrastination can lead to making poor decisions, which can also lead to damaging relationships with family members, friends, and a partner. 

Chronic procrastinators are also more likely to continually postpone important conversations, which can be a significant source of stress for their partner. Such a slow-burning crisis is extremely dangerous in the long run, as the issue can only grow over the years.

And it’s not only about serious talk — small issues such as constantly delaying your household chores can also lead to a huge problem.

Overall, procrastination will make other people think they can’t rely on you. 

Now that we’ve discussed some of the negative effects of procrastination let’s see the best ways to stop procrastination (+ additional tips).

How do I stop procrastinating?

Once you’re on the right track of understanding why you procrastinate, you can start getting over procrastination. But overcoming procrastination doesn’t happen overnight.

Think of it more as a journey or developing a habit. Therefore, your approach to it should focus on one step at a time. 

Here’s how you can overcome procrastination by following the 6 essential steps we’ve listed below.

Step #1: Develop a structure and work on your accountability

Micromanagement is often seen as detrimental, especially at the office — but its polar opposite in the form of a lack of structure, direction, and supervision leads people directly to procrastination.

This doesn’t mean that all people who stop working as soon as there is no supervisor at sight are slackers by definition. It’s just that a certain level of supervision and order goes a long way in encouraging people to be responsible and accountable with their work.

Otherwise, people might fall into the well-known temptations brought to them by intriguing Facebook posts, funny Twitter tweets, and endless YouTube videos of cute puppies falling asleep.

For this reason, understanding how you allocate your time to different tasks and activities is the first step in developing structure. There’s no doubt that time tracking software is the easiest way to gain that insight. 

Clockify time tracker
In Clockify, you can track your time and tasks

A time tracker, such as Clockify can be your stepping stone in overcoming procrastination since it can help you:

  • Streamline the order of your tasks,
  • Limit your distractions,
  • Reflect on your behavior and habits, and
  • Work on improving your structure.

Additional tips for improving accountability

According to the Hawthorne effect, people who know they are being supervised are more accountable with their work — and, we can conclude, less likely to procrastinate at work.

But, in order to avoid supervision turning into micromanagement, the best practice is to find the golden mean between the two extremes. If you are a supervisor, settle for providing some light guidance and advice, as well as clear instructions.

People get the necessary context for their work when they are aware of:

  • What is expected of them, 
  • What their deadlines are, 
  • What skills they need to tackle a task, 
  • What rewards they’ll get for successful completion, and 
  • The consequences of potential failure.

Eventually, this information helps them make schedules, push forward, and stop procrastinating at work.

Alternatively, if you are the procrastinator in question, find an accountability buddy. The very presence of another person will help you be more accountable and responsible and, naturally, less likely to procrastinate at work.

Step #2: Do not try avoiding unpleasant tasks

Sometimes, a problem or task can be difficult and with seemingly no optimal solution.

Other times, a task can be so lengthy and complicated that it threatens to take up most of our time. In any case, when we are faced with an unpleasant, lengthy or difficult task we don’t really want to do — we usually take our time before doing it.

Luckily, there are ways around this.

If a task is not only unpleasant but also unnecessary, feel free to eliminate it — you can do this for all tasks that aren’t urgent or important. Simply go over your to-do list every day, and find tasks you can eliminate, cut back on, or minimize. 

Additional tips for tackling unpleasant tasks

In case reducing your to-do list does not help, keep in mind the following solutions:

  • If an unpleasant task is somewhat important and urgent, you’re advised to keep it on the agenda, but try to delegate it. This can be a string of personalized emails you can ask a colleague to go through and reply to, or a sink full of dishes you can ask a family member to wash as a favor you’ll return later.
  • If you find a task unpleasant because it will take a lot of time to finish, call your friends or colleagues for help. For example, if you simply must clean up your basement (in order to avoid a rat or similar infestation in the future), ask for a favor from your friends. You’ll finish faster and likely find a number of fun artifacts hidden in corners you can all laugh over. In the end, to reward your friends for their help, order a couple of pizzas and set up a movie night with drinks.
  • If a task is almost excruciatingly unpleasant but unavoidable, try finishing it within a short time period to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. For example, if you have to write a short but detailed report, select a day when you’ll tackle it, and simply power through it. You’ll finish faster and feel the weight from your shoulders lifted almost in an instant.

Step #3: Stop seeing a deadline as a distant future

It seems that the more time you have to finish an assignment, the more you’ll feel at ease procrastinating on it. 

The reason this type of procrastination happens is closely related to a phenomenon called present bias. This phenomenon stems from the hot-cold empathy gap, proposing that our future selves usually seem so distant that we feel detached from them

Or, as everyone’s favorite cartoon dad Homer Simpson would say: 

“That’s a problem for future Homer! Man, I don’t envy that guy!”

Let us provide an example of present bias — you have 2 months to finish a 15-page detailed research proposal, so you lay back, relax, and put off doing any real work on it. And sooner than you know it, it’s 3 days before the deadline and you’ve barely put together an outline. Ultimately, you understand what’s at stake.

Therefore, viewing a deadline as a distant future is sometimes a reason we procrastinate.

Moreover, we find it hard to understand just how stressed, tense, or under pressure we’ll feel when a future, distant deadline closes in.

But, the distant future tends to creep up on you as you realize that the future always turns into the present and that you haven’t really done anything you were supposed to do.

💡 Clockify Pro Tip: 

If you tend to adjust your pace to the workload and the amount of time you have to finish it, read our blog post about Parkinson’s law and learn how you can fix that issue.

Additional tips for overcoming present bias

To make future goals seem more immediate and closer to your “present” self, start creating a step-by-step vision of how you plan to achieve your goals.

In other words, to overcome present bias and enjoy the future as well, you should think about your schedule in advance. 

You can start by practicing short-term planning and then move to creating long-term schedules.

The consequences of situational procrastination usually aren’t too damaging, but there’s another issue related to it — doing something (procrastinating) occasionally can lead to developing a habit. So you better watch out and try to avoid procrastinating at all costs.

💡Clockify Pro Tip:

 If you’re not sure what the difference between long-term and short-term planning is, the answer lies in another one of our blog posts.

Step #4: Prevent feeling overwhelmed by organizing your tasks

Sometimes you simply have too much to do — lengthy research proposals, filling out and sending a report to your supervisor, endless meetings, business lunch, 20 important emails to respond to, etc.

When you feel swamped, it sometimes seems much more convenient to duck for cover than to dive into all that work.

So, instead of answering 20 important emails, you may find yourself rearranging your archived documents and cleaning up old computer files — which weren’t on your to-do list, to begin with.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, you can start taking time to plan your tasks — decide on the order in which you’ll organize the tasks, decide when you’ll tackle them, and how much time you’ll ideally spend on each.

Always make sure to define your bare minimum for the day — this is a task or two you’ll absolutely finish by tomorrow.

Aim only to finish these crucial tasks, and do the rest if you have the time.

Parsing your work into smaller chunks and more days will also help you feel less overwhelmed and more likely to stay focused — decide what you’ll do each day, and remember that less is always more. So, fewer tasks per day and a few dedicated hours each day will do.

Additional tips for organizing your tasks

A simple but effective way to organize your tasks but also to allocate your time for them is time blocking — a time management technique where you define a specific time frame for a task and reserve a time slot for that task in your calendar. 

When you complete one task, you move on to the next one, and you keep doing the same thing until you complete all the tasks you’ve scheduled.

Time blocking will help you do your work more efficiently because you’ll know exactly how much time you have for each task, so you’ll feel the urge to reach that prescribed time.

💡 Clockify Pro Tip

Here are some useful time blocking planner templates that you can download and use for free: 

Also, by setting a certain amount of time for each task, you won’t have to guess how long it will take you to complete a certain task, so you’ll be able to organize your work more realistically.

💡 Clockify Pro Tip

Do you need additional help with your day-to-day organization? To see what methods you can try to better plan your day, check out the blog post below.

Step #5: Do not give in to the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure

In order to have a task assessed, people have to finish it and hand it over for evaluation. Still, many choose to procrastinate because they fear what results and feedback they’ll get.

💡 Clockify Pro Tip

If you need some useful employee performance review templates to evaluate your employees’ work with ease, use these.

The longer you procrastinate, the more you’ll push back the moment you’ll get the results, whether they turn out to be satisfactory, excellent, average, or even poor. The problem here is not knowing what to expect.

One deeper fear that stems from our fear of the unknown is the fear of failure — after all, if you don’t do something, you can’t fail at it. According to the aforementioned study on procrastination and self-efficacy, this fear is caused by low self-esteem, which leads to stressing over some impending task because we don’t believe we are able to pull it off.

To beat the fear of the unknown and fear of failure, first, you need to redefine your goals — instead of making “reach success” your only goal, make “learn something new” your new goal. That way, even if you “fail,” you’ll have the positive benefits of having learned something from the mistakes that led you to results you’re not completely satisfied with.

Additional tips for beating the fear of failure

Another great way of beating fear in order to avoid procrastinating on a task is to visualize your potential obstacles. 

Compile a list of all the potential problems you may encounter down the road, and think up solutions for them. That way, you’ll know you’re covered for all potential pitfalls, so it will be less tempting to procrastinate.

Step #6: Let go of your perfectionism

The other side of being afraid that we’ll fail is wanting to pursue a task to perfection. So, we make changes, additions, tweak it, and polish it — and we postpone the moment when we’ll call it quits.

According to Hillary Rettig and her book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block, people who strive for perfectionism have a fixed mindset — they fear that their tasks will fall short of perfect, so they postpone tackling them.

To help get rid of a constant need to control everything and aim for perfection, the crucial step is to admit that you’re not perfect.

Once you admit that you are not perfect, and that, likely, no one really is, you’ll be on the best possible road to stop postponing tasks and get things done. It’s because you’ll know they don’t need to be perfect.

Additional tips for letting go of perfectionism

One way to reduce perfectionism is to practice positive reframing — that is, to try to overcome a challenging situation by stopping intrusive, negative thoughts that you have and replacing them with more positive ones.

To further explain it, reframing means changing your perception of the challenge at hand — instead of thinking “I can’t do this task perfectly so everyone will see me as a failure” try thinking “This task may not be perfect, but the feedback I’ll get will help me do it better, and I’ll actually learn from this experience.”

This way, you’ll start viewing challenges as learning opportunities and let go of your constant need for perfection.

Another way to reduce perfectionism is to use a task management tool such as the Eisenhower matrix. By prioritizing tasks based on their urgency and importance, it’ll be easier for you to choose which tasks to focus on first, and you’ll feel less overwhelmed.

The Eisenhower matrix separates tasks into several groups:

  • Tasks that you’ll do first — important/urgent tasks,
  • Tasks that you’ll do later — important/non-urgent tasks,
  • Tasks that you can delegate — unimportant/urgent tasks, and
  • Tasks that you can eliminate — unimportant/non-urgent tasks.

After you see what your top priorities are (tasks that are both important and urgent), you’ll be able to get on with your work more quickly.

Proven tips and strategies on how to stop procrastinating

Many experts and productivity coaches have weighed in on the subject of procrastination and tried to find a solution to it, or at least some ways to deal with such a common issue. 

Here are some expert tips on procrastination, including several methods that will help you stop procrastinating. Try them out, perhaps some of them may turn out to be a perfect solution. 

Moreover, there’s no doubt you’ll learn something about yourself during the process.

Tip #1: Follow the 2-minute rule

In his book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, James Clear proposes that we deal with habits we seem reluctant to embrace by tackling them only 2 minutes at a time.

So, instead of tasking yourself to “Read a book chapter each night before bed,” task yourself to “Read one page of a book before bed.” Also, instead of tasking yourself with “Folding the laundry,” task yourself with “Folding one pair of socks.”

The gist here is finding an easy pre-activity to start with before going head-on into a challenge. Subsequent activities can be more demanding, but it’s important to begin with something easy. This way, you’ll ease into a task and be on the best possible way to tackle it right.

Tip #2: Create an unschedule 

In his book, The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play, Neil Fiore recommends procrastinators to create ‘unschedules’ and prioritize their rest over their tasks.

This is basically a time management technique with an unexpected twist — instead of blocking time for work activities — the ones you usually procrastinate on, block specific time in your schedule for non-work activities — hobbies, socialization, meals, exercise, and other leisure activities.

Also, always schedule at least an hour of fun activity and take at least one day per week off from work.

‘Unschedules’ follow a system that you’ll want to pursue what you really have no time for from all your scheduled appointments — and in this case, it’s your work.

Once you fill your calendar with everyday activities, the small time frame you have left for your work will become evident. This approach will help you realize that you don’t have nearly as much time for your projects as you originally thought, which will prompt you to use the unscheduled time in your calendar for work. 

Tip #3: Increase your motivation 

In his book The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, the already mentioned Piers Steel proposes that the key to stopping procrastination is increasing the right kind of balance for our:

  • Motivation,
  • Value,
  • Expectancy,
  • Impulsiveness, and
  • Delay.

First, always make sure that your motivation for work is higher than your motivation for distractions

For example, you’ll first need to make an effort to understand the importance of finishing an important project proposal over the importance of watching a fun but random TV sitcom during the time you should be working.

The value of the task quickly follows. This is your understanding of how much you enjoy a task and how much you’ll enjoy the promotion once you get it.

Next, you need to assess your expectations, how much you expect you’ll succeed with a task, and how much you expect to be rewarded for success.

What follows is your impulsiveness — i.e., how likely you are to focus or get distracted.

The last thing you need to consider is the delay between the present time and the time when you’ll have to hand over a finished assignment.

For optimal motivation, work on finding a way to increase your task value and expectations and decrease impulsiveness and delay. Remember, higher value and expectations increase your motivation, and higher impulsiveness and delay decrease it.

Tip #4: Be kind to yourself and learn from your slip ups

Having occasional slip ups of procrastination is normal — it is just that we tend to expect our motivation levels to be high all the time, which is impossible. 

So instead of hating yourself for occasionally procrastinating, try being kind to yourself and having a bit more trust that you’ll do better next time.

In a conversation with a productivity coach Katy Arrington, we learned how she deals with procrastination that stems from a lack of motivation. 

As she explains, the best way to beat this type of procrastination is to stay consistent and learn from your slip ups instead of being harsh with yourself.

Katy Arrington - a productivity coach

“Not beating myself up when I don’t stick to my plans. I evaluate and learn and move on.”

But, you might wonder how to build trust in yourself that you’ll actually work harder. As already mentioned, Katy practices not beating herself up and loving herself:

Katy Arrington - a productivity coach

“When you trust that on the other side of ANYTHING (making art, doing a task, making a decision) you know you will be kind to yourself, you will be doing more in a day than you do in a week.”

So even if you feel like you’re just wasting your time, slip ups are okay, as long as we keep learning from them. 

Tip #5: Let the unpleasant feeling pass and embrace the discomfort of failure

Being a procrastinator often brings that unpleasant feeling that we’re not good enough. We also feel guilt for betraying someone’s expectations if we don’t complete our tasks on time. All of these negative emotions make us want to escape when in reality, we can’t. 

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Do you often feel like you’re not good enough at what you do or attribute your work achievements to sheer luck? Having imposter syndrome is an unpleasant feeling, but don’t worry. Our blog post on this topic will surely help you overcome it.

By running away from the discomfort that failure brings, things can only get worse.

To find out what a productivity expert suggests for dealing with these negative emotions, we again asked Katy for advice, and she said that the biggest mistake is to run towards your phone or other distractions. Instead, the best way to deal with discomfort is to sit and let it pass

Another great idea she mentioned is to have a few set phrases to help you through the feeling such as:

  1. This is here for me,
  2. There is learning (a lesson) in here somewhere, and
  3. This is what I need to become a better version of myself.

So, the conclusion is — you should practice seeing failures as learning opportunities and try to let them go.

Tip #6: Try the “idea download” method

According to Katy, another great way to beat procrastination is to use the “idea download” method:

Katy Arrington - a productivity coach

“The idea behind the “idea download” is to not judge our ideas when we’re coming up with them. Like just get them out of your head and download them and leave the judgments to the side. The judgment slows us down SO much.”

Many people who procrastinate either have low self-esteem or are too critical of their ideas, which prompts them to postpone their work. Katy believes that the most effective way to leave these ideas aside and not discard them immediately is to write them down on paper before going to bed.

You can “download” your ideas by:

  • Writing a journal,
  • Creating a to-do list, or
  • Making a mind map.

By writing down your ideas and putting them aside, you’ll free your mind of judgment and maybe even decide later that you actually want to use them. You’ll also clear your mind and make room for new ideas which could help reduce your chances of procrastinating later on.

Tip #7: Adopt the “good enough now” mantra 

Believing that you’ll only be good enough when you do a certain thing or reach a certain point in the future can be pressuring and demotivating for the present version of yourself.

As Katy explains, starting from that “not good enough” place is draining for our motivation. Instead, using the “good enough now” mantra when you have to start a task is much more effective:

Katy Arrington - a productivity coach

“I’m a huge promoter on how negative motivation doesn’t work, doesn’t help, and only really leads to burnout. There are just so many studies out there that show that children, animals, adults all respond sooo much more to positive motivation.”

When you adopt a positive way of thinking and tell yourself that you’re good enough now to start a task, you’ll stop procrastinating much easier. 

Tip #8: Fail faster to get to the solution quicker

Katy’s final tip on how to stop procrastination is based on the “committing to fail until you succeed” method.

And what exactly does she mean by that?

Well, Katy claims that failing again and again actually isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, the more you fail, the more productive you’ll be, and the faster you’ll get to the right choice.

By using a system of elimination, you’ll stop yourself from getting stuck on the wrong idea or choosing the right one for hours.

When procrastination may be good for you: Inspirational stories

Now, we’ve seen why procrastination may be a problem and how to fix it. But there’s the other side of the coin, too. Despite the phenomenon of procrastination often being mentioned for its detrimental effects, it actually has some benefits.

So let’s examine the 4 main reasons why and how procrastination can be beneficial for you.

Benefit #1: Working under pressure works for some people

The expression “Deadline is the best motivation” didn’t come out of nowhere. Working under pressure simply works for some people, so if you can relate to the expression, no worries. 

Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation work on an individual level and thus dictate the difference between what works and what doesn’t work for you.

Some people manage to write bestsellers and score high on their papers simply by postponing work until the last minute — because “being under pressure” actually inspires them.

The entire idea stems from the Yerkes-Dodson Law, which proposes that a certain level of arousal when faced with a task can help you finish that task in a more satisfying manner.

So, when we’re a little nervous (and we’re likely to be nervous over an assignment we haven’t done that’s due tomorrow), it’s a sign that we’re anxious about our results, which will usually make us work harder for them.

But, this is true only to a certain point — if you’re a nervous wreck, you likely won’t be able to think, let alone finish a task with flying colors.

Benefit #2: Having less time for a task helps you focus

When you have only a day or a couple of hours before a deadline, every inch of your body is aware that there’s no room to slack away further — so you’re almost certainly going to focus your full attention on the task in question.

In turn, there’ll be a lesser chance that you’ll get distracted, and your invested efforts and dedication is likely to help you make the most of your task.

Once you immerse yourself in a task as minutes and hours go by and bring you closer to your deadline, you’re also likely to work faster.

Benefit #3: Procrastination encourages you to tackle other tasks

Avoiding one task may inspire you to work on another. Why is that the case? 

Well, in a desperate effort to avoid working on a difficult, complicated, unpleasant task, you’ll likely shift your attention to other tasks that may not be as important but are still on your to-do list.

This reason is more of an indirect benefit of procrastination, a by-product of your “refusal” to tackle a task.

So, if your “worst” task, or the “frog you should eat” includes organizing a lengthy meeting with your team over problems caused by a difficult client, then procrastinating on said task may inspire you to answer your emails, write an outline for a project proposal, think of a great idea for your next team-building outing, or simply finish some crucial private errands.

You may not tackle your priority task, but you’ll make room in your schedule for it for another day. This way you’ll also be able to test whether you’re one of the people who perform work better when under pressure.

Benefit #4: Procrastination lowers your unrealistic expectations

Some people who fear they’ll fail tweak their tasks to no end and worry about the possible outcomes. (But only if they have the time to.)

Though perfectionism usually leads to procrastination, at times, procrastination can actually help you drop perfectionism. When you’re pressed with a looming deadline, you usually don’t have time to make something perfect.

As a result, you’ll lower your expectations but still, perhaps, score high. This is because you’ve dropped the impulse to make something unrealistically perfect and focused on the gist of your problem, so you’re more likely to find the easiest and most effective way to solve it.

Procrastination examples: Real-life procrastinators and their stories

Average Joes and Janes seem to procrastinate on an everyday level. But that doesn’t mean famous people are exempt from the habit. 

Let’s check out some real-life examples in order to fully understand how almost everyone procrastinates, at least occasionally.

World’s most famous procrastinators

Sometimes, procrastination happens to famous people. Many of them have procrastinated while working on matters that made them famous in the first place.

Here’s to name a few for inspiration.

Abraham Lincoln 

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is a crucial moment in American history, as far as speeches go. But, did you know that Lincoln finished the iconic address the morning he gave it? However, despite popular myths, he didn’t write it on an envelope during the train ride to the event.

This delay in writing happened because Lincoln allegedly didn’t want to write anything down before he had formulated the speech in his head. So, he only finished his closing thoughts the evening before and finalized the entire piece that very morning when the address was to take place.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the socialite among composers. He’d often go out drinking with friends to lavishing parties before premieres and stay until late. And, for at least one composition, this seemed to be the winning formula.

While they were out drinking and partying one night, it occurred to one of Mozart’s friends that Mozart hadn’t yet written an overture for his opera Don Giovanni — despite the fact that the premiere was scheduled for tomorrow.

This prompted Mozart to savor a few drinks before going back to his room around midnight to compose the overture. He managed to create a beautiful piece, and it took him only 3 hours to do so.

However, his wife Constanze had to tell him fairy tales such as Cinderella, Aladdin, and the like to keep him awake long enough to finish.

Leonardo Da Vinci 

Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the most famous painters in the world today. But, during his time, he was considered unreliable by peers and patrons.

He’d start working on multiple projects, only to abandon them later, and he’d often fail to deliver on contracts. Even though he was commissioned to finish the painting Virgin on the Rocks in 7 months, it took him 25 years to do so.

In 67 years of his life, he finished 15 paintings and a small number of architectural designs.

However, his work is now greatly appreciated, and his Mona Lisa is often considered the most famous painting in the world. As one might expect, it took him no less than 15 years to finish it.

Victor Hugo 

Victor Hugo, the famed French author, was especially notorious for his procrastination. Even though he had a strict deadline to finish The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he managed to put off doing any real work for a year.

When he was given another 6-month deadline, he turned to an unusual method to help him stay focused. He locked all of his clothes away and left himself with nothing else to wear but one shawl.

Considering he had no clothes to go out in, he spent the remaining time before finishing up his book naked.

He managed to finish and publish the book two weeks earlier than the deadline.

Franz Kafka 

The Czech writer Franz Kafka used to blame his day job for taking away the time he’d otherwise spend writing. But, as it turned out, this was just a clever excuse.

Kafka’s first job required him to work from 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., which was considered long in terms of day jobs of famous writers. But, Kafka later left this job in favor of one that demanded fewer working hours, leaving him with more potential time to write.

However, he’d usually use up this free time for a 4-hour-long nap, dinner with his family, a walk, and some exercising. Then, the time he should have been writing he mostly spent writing letters or entries in his diary.

And yet, he managed to write The Trial.

Margaret Atwood 

Margaret Atwood, the author of the now famed Handmaid’s Tale, claims that procrastination is the reason she managed to write this novel (alongside her other work).

Her winning formula includes procrastinating the entire morning before settling down to work no earlier than 3 p.m.

Such a routine seems to work considering her full bibliography contains: 

  • 18 poetry books, 
  • 17 novels, 
  • 8 short fiction stories, 
  • 8 children’s books, 
  • 10 non-fiction books, 
  • 3 graphic novels, 
  • 2 librettos, 
  • 3 television scripts, and 
  • 1 radio script thus far.

Douglas Adams 

Apart from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams gave us (and lived by) an insightful quote: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

He claimed to hate writing and always procrastinated to no end. However, he eventually managed to produce 9 books in his lifetime — but only because he’d lock himself in a room and force his editors and publishers to watch over him to make sure that he actually worked.

Truman Capote 

And, lastly, Truman Capote, an American novelist, short story writer, playwright, and screenwriter famous for books Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, truly took procrastination to the extreme.

One novel he signed a contract for, Answered Prayers, was scheduled to be finished by January 1968 — Capote even got $25,000 as an advance for it.

When he missed that deadline, the contract was re-negotiated to a trilogy of books, slated for completion by January 1973 — with $750,000 worth of an advance.

But, as time went by, Capote accused his lover of stealing the manuscript (though he later all but denied the manuscript even existed), and the deadline kept being pushed back.

Eventually, Capote was so overwhelmed with other projects, personal problems, the unexpected success of his previous novels, as well as his own perfectionism that he never managed to finish Answered Prayers.

An unfinished version of the novel was published after his death.

Procrastination stories of everyday people

It’s not just the famous who procrastinate — it’s the people around us too. 

So let’s hear some of their stories. Our coworker, Predrag Rodic, Enterprise Sales Specialist at Clockify, explains that he’s actually too lazy to allow himself to procrastinate:

Predrag Rodic - Enterprise Sales Specialist at Clockify

“After being down that rabbit hole so many times, if I ever catch myself even thinking about leaving something for tomorrow now, flashbacks of pain from piles of chores hit me harder than the pleasures of current idleness. That and being an apostle of ‘If you can do something in less than 2 minutes, do it right away.’ Now, please, don’t put this in a blog or something, I have a reputation to keep.”

In regard to how he tackles his tasks, VP of Engineering at Clockify, Ljubomir Simin, says that he puts an event in his calendar:

Ljubomir Simin - VP of Engineering at Clockify

“When the notification pops up, I’m not only reminded, but I also have time to do it because my time has been reserved. That’s how I write emails and compile reports.”

A Software QA at Pumble, Marko Nemet, recalls how he battled procrastination during his studies: 

Marko Nemet - Software QA at Pumble

“When I started attending law school, I knew it was too difficult for me. I used to always put off studying, telling myself that learning 30 pages a day for 10 days is enough time, then I’d postpone it for a day because, in 9 days’ time, I could learn up to 31-32 pages a day, and that went on until I reached 2 days. Then I’d tell myself that 2 days would be enough, flicked through 150 pages, and that routine continued for two years.” 

Although he graduated, Marko realized the main reason why he procrastinated for so long was that he lacked interest in law from the start.

In summary: Procrastination is an annoying habit, but with effort, it can be beaten

Procrastination can happen for many reasons, such as fear of failure and lack of motivation, or it may happen that it simply isn’t your day.

So don’t be too harsh and beat yourself up, because you’ll only end up even more stressed about your deadline. 

Moreover, even though procrastination often gets a bad name, it is not necessarily a negative thing. Also, it can happen to anyone, from famous people we’ve all heard of to everyday people, as you can conclude from the examples above.

However, if the deadline getting closer is just stressing you out the solution is simple — crawl, walk, run. Start working on improving your self-regulation habits. 

Understanding how you allocate your time to different tasks and activities is the “crawl” part and, as we’ve mentioned, time tracking software is the easiest way to do so. 

So, find the right way to manage your time, better organize your daily activities, and, most importantly, never stop believing in yourself.

Aleksandra  Dragutinovic

Aleksandra Dragutinovic is a time management and productivity writer who has appreciated and used tools to improve her productivity since she was a child. She couldn't imagine her life without a planner (or several) and is always on the lookout for the latest time management and productivity techniques and strategies to test (and write about).


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