Why Do People Procrastinate – 20 Ways To Stop It

By: Katherine Abraham

By: Katherine Abraham

Indeed, why do people procrastinate?

It’s Monday.

You have an assignment due this Friday. That’s four days away.

So you relax, knowing you’ve got lots of time. Anyway, four days is a lot of time to fit in time for other things. You still can do household chores, socialise with friends, and watch your favourite series on Netflix. You know, your typical day.

And that is what you do. By the end of the day, you realise that you don’t have enough time left for your assignment. So you tell yourself, “I’ll get started tomorrow.”

The next morning…

You wake up determined to start on your assignment. You have three days left; that’s plenty of time. But before that, you need to make sure that you clean the house. Because how can you possibly work when the house is a mess?

And you decide to do some general cleaning… which unexpectedly takes up your entire day.

The next few days… 

In the same manner, you find ways to keep yourself busy. Before you know it, it’s Friday. Your initial four days of leeway has now just become a couple of hours until the assignment is due — and you haven’t even started.

How many times have you been in this situation before? Odds are, probably more than once. For a fact, the majority of the world will struggle with procrastination at some point.

But why do we do it? And the more important thing is, how do we prevent it from happening?

4 Types of Procrastination

why do people procrastinate

Everyone is unique. In that same vein, we all procrastinate in different ways. There are four different types of procrastination that people are subject to. These are associated with why do people procrastinate:

1 – Anxious Procrastination 

Some people aren’t good at managing their time. As a result, they tend to bite off more than they can chew when scheduling work. They limit the amount of time they have left for recreation and rest.

Realising they can’t get the work done in time, the anxious procrastinator will begin to stress out. And they often deal with this by procrastinating.

But by doing that, they end up never getting the work done in time, leaving them in a cycle of frustration and anxiety.

2 – Fun Procrastination

Let’s face it. In general, work is not fun. You can find many other fun things to do instead of starting on your next tedious project. 

That’s exactly what the fun procrastinator does. This type of procrastinator looks for other activities to do to keep the dreaded task at bay.

Subconsciously, the procrastinator believes that putting off the negative experiences associated with work will somehow make it more bearable to do. However, the task doesn’t shrink the further away you push it. 

Have you heard of delayed gratification? This is similar to that, but with delayed pain instead of pleasure.

 

3 – “Plenty of Time” Procrastination

Have you had difficulty starting a project when you knew you had loads of time to get it done? You’re not alone.

This type of procrastination puts off the task until the very last moment. It has the feeling of assurance that there is still a lot to get done.

This is especially prevalent with tasks or projects that you have no set deadlines on. The danger here is that the procrastinator runs the risk of never getting to the job. And that’s even when it’s something they want to get done.

4 – Perfectionist Procrastination

Perfectionism can either be a blessing or a curse. In the case of procrastination, it is definitely the latter.

Perfectionists are their own worst critics. And for some people, the fear of failure or mediocrity can keep them from getting any actual work done. 

“Kakorrhaphiophobia” is the term used to describe this fear. It is the more extreme version of the doubt, anxiety, and uncertainty that we all experience when pursuing new endeavours. It can be dangerous, often stemming from underlying psychological issues.

So what kind of procrastinator are you? Do more than one of these apply to you? In that case, we’re glad you’re here. Keep reading, and you may pick a thing or two you probably didn’t know about the impacts of procrastination on your life.

Why Do People Procrastinate?

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Why is procrastination such a big deal anyway? Is it something you have to worry about?

Well, truth be told, the habit of putting something off until the last minute is generally a minor issue. It can be remedied with simple tweaks in lifestyle and time management.

In most cases, people will simply acknowledge their tendency to procrastinate and make a mental note to do it less often. You have probably created this exact same mental note yourself.

However, procrastination can also be a severe issue. In some cases, procrastination can be a channel for stress and fear. It can trigger low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and chronic health issues, such as headaches and colds.

How do we best deal with procrastination? It would be best to address it as soon as possible.

20 Ways to Stop procrastination

How do we even go about treating this tendency to delay? Well, it depends on how you procrastinate and your underlying reasons for doing so. But here are 20 tips on how to combat the evil procrastination monster:

1 – Set deadlines. 

Deadlines. To the average procrastinator, they are your worst nightmare. But deadlines can be your best friend. You see, the rationale behind having deadlines is that you have a specific amount of time allotted to complete a task. Even if they don’t happen to meet that deadline, the average procrastinator will still kick it into high-gear once the deadline draws dangerously close.

Imagine that you are an entrepreneur preparing to launch your own business. You have done all the research and know all the steps you need to take to launch successfully. You don’t know when you would have the time to take the first step. And so, you just tell yourself that you’ll get to it as soon as you have the available time. But for some reason, that single time slot never opens up. Before you know it, you’ve had it off for months and have already lost the passion for even continuing.

When you have deadlines, you can give yourself a general idea of when the task will be completed. Compare that with assigning yourself functions that have no deadlines. You can immediately see how the latter could very well lead to an entire checklist of incomplete tasks.

2 – Schedule your downtime.

Generally speaking, when we think of to-do lists, we don’t automatically think of recreation and leisure as our priority. Instead, we tend to schedule these things around our essential tasks and assignments. However, studies have shown that doing the exact opposite may be a more practical approach to arranging your daily and weekly planners.

So the next time you are scheduling your future tasks and projects, be sure to schedule a time for fun activities first. Give yourself ample time to get your happiness levels up, and then schedule your work around that. You’ll find that your week is a lot less hectic and a lot more efficient.

But why does this work? Though a bit unconventional, the science behind it is simple. When you schedule a time for rest and relaxation first, you prevent yourself from taking on more than you’re actually willing to handle. This tip ensures that you have enough time for yourself and keeps your work quality checked by avoiding unnecessary cramming.

3 – Try structured procrastination.

If this is the answer to why do people procrastinate, all will be well.

Maybe you’ve heard of the phrase “fight fire with fire?” In a sense, that’s what this tip is all about. Because if you are dead set on putting off that loathsome project, you might as well try structuring how you end up procrastinating. What do we mean by that? Here’s an example:

Let’s say you have a to-do list for the entire week. At the top of your list is a big project needed to get done by the weekend. If that’s the first thing on your list, it can be quite daunting. In fact, placing it at the top of your list of smaller tasks makes it look even scarier than it really is. Our subconscious notes that there are tasks that follow it and automatically register it as one overwhelming project. And before even having a chance to start on that list, you are already putting the whole thing off.

So instead of putting that big project at the top of your list, try placing it at the bottom. In a sense, you would be technically procrastinating by putting it off until the end of the week. However, you would be putting it off by checking off all the smaller tasks first and then getting to it last. By the moment you reach the end of your to-do list, that big project feels not daunting as it used to be. You would have completed all the other tasks on your to-do list. 

By adopting this form of structured procrastination, you would not only increase the likelihood of getting the project done. But you would also be a lot more productive with your time.

4 – Space out your work.

With the previous tip, this next tip also addresses putting off tasks or projects because of how work-heavy they are. The answer to this problem is to segment projects like these into smaller, manageable workloads.

Let’s say you know that you have to write a 10-page paper. If you have difficulty finding the time to get it done in one dreadful sitting, you are probably going about it all wrong. Indeed, you may want to work on the paper with an uninterrupted workflow to maximise efficiency and save time. However, if you’re not even getting around to starting the form, then you’re not really doing yourself any favours, are you?

Do not find time in a single day to get the whole 10 pages done. Instead, try finding some time each day to do two pages at a time. You will have a better time finding time slots in the week to squeeze in work. And you will be less likely to put it off because of how much smaller the task would seem.

5 – Strategically time difficult tasks.

Task difficulty could be one trigger as to why do people procrastinate.

We all operate differently. Maybe you’re an early bird and perform better in the morning. Or perhaps you’re a creature of darkness and function at peak capacity in the evening. Either way, when faced with challenging tasks, you ought to tackle them when your mind and body are at their sharpest.

Nobody in this world has more than 24 hours in a day. Why spend the peak hours of your day completing easy tasks? You could be maximising your extra efficiency by tackling the much larger projects. It only makes sense.

Doing any task when you’re at peak performance will generally lessen the amount of time consumed to complete that task. By leveraging this performance boost during your hours of optimum efficiency, you can complete your more challenging tasks faster and easier. This would not only save time. But it would also increase the quality of your work on that particular task. Ultimately, it decreases the probability of you putting it off to a later time.

6 – Motivate yourself and Incentivise getting the job done.

This is an under-appreciated skill set. But you probably know just how hard it is to finish something when you just feel so unmotivated. That’s where this comes in handy.

By keeping yourself motivated, you ensure that you get the job done well. You can stay focused on your tasks for more extended periods, leading to much more efficient work sessions.

Ask yourself if why do people procrastinate. Boost yourself up.

Why not stay motivated by repeating words of affirmation to yourself, renewing your purpose for completing the task at hand. You can also reinforce the image of your goals in your mind’s eye to see them through to the end.

We all love the feeling of getting rewarded for our work. It reminds you that hard work pays off and gives you that extra push when you want to get something done. But do we reward ourselves for the work that we do? How often?

It might sound a bit gimmicky. But giving yourself incentives for getting work done can be an effective strategy for making sure you don’t put it off until later. Finishing your appointment as soon as possible sounds good in theory. But you may be tempted now and then to drag things out longer than necessary. 

But again, our natural human desires instant gratification. It’s much more appealing to get the job done faster when there is added incentive for doing so.

Treat yourself. This strategy makes you define the incentives. You can reward yourself with a certain amount of leisure time, allowing you to relax a bit before starting your next task. Or you could commit to buying something costly for yourself if you manage to accomplish an important goal. Some people even restrict their privileges until they tend to get something done. These incentives can come in many forms, so get creative with them!

7 – Have a to-do list.

It doesn’t help to have extra time in your day when you don’t know how to effectively spend that time. And nothing ruins productivity more than not knowing what you should be doing. So naturally, to-do lists are a must.

To-do lists can come in many forms. You can have a digital list typed up and pinned to your desktop. Or maybe, a digital notes application filled with tasks on your smartphone. Or why not use a whiteboard and hang it up on your wall. The traditional and straightforward pen-to-paper strategy tucked away in a small notepad or magnetised to your refrigerator works well. Whichever you choose, creating your to-do lists will help you make the most out of your free time.

To-do lists make sure that you don’t forget any critical tasks or appointments. Because let’s face it, not everyone has impeccable memorisation skills.

8 – Set goals.

Setting goals is similar to having a to-do list. But instead of a checklist of things to complete in a short time, you want to meet a list of long-term expectations.

Merely “going through the motions” day after day? You run the risk of losing motivation for your work. And as you pay attention to this list, you know just how important it is to stay motivated. Having goals is a great way to ensure that you have a direction in life. It fixes your sense of purpose in your mind and, when written down, gives you something tangible to strive for.

Not everyone knows where to begin when setting goals for themselves. One popular model used for effective goal-setting is the SMART model, which defines goals as specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. There are likely other goal-setting models out there, but this one already checks all the boxes.

9 – Tidy up your workspace.

This tip applies mainly to people who have designated work areas (like stations, cubicles, offices, or desks). Most people prefer to operate in clean, organised environments.

Research shows that when your work area is clean and organised, your productivity levels are increased. Not only that but having a neat work area instils a sense of pride in your space, improving overall motivation and quality of work. Tidying up your workspace will also likely lead to less stress when working. Sure, it is frustrating to not find anything in your clutter. (Lost pens, anyone?)

So get organised. If you work with tools or instruments, make sure they all have designated areas in your workspace. When applicable, make sure you wipe down your space or sweep around to avoid dust build-up. And when you leave your room, make sure it is already prepped for the next day so that you arrive at a ready-to-go workspace.

10 – Eliminate distractions.

Let us say you started a task exactly when you scheduled it. But as soon as you begin to get into the workflow, you find yourself frequently checking your phone for messages or emails. Have you done this before? If you do, you know just how inefficient your time becomes.

Eliminating distractions keeps you focused on the immediate task and puts away everything else that can be put away later. When done effectively, you can develop a robust workflow. A workflow is that feeling you get as you continuously work on a single task. When you begin, your work starts at an average pace, but you notice that you soon begin to pick up speed. Taking advantage of that workflow is crucial when trying to make the most of the time, allotted for specific tasks.

In our generation today, smartphones are a premiere funnel for our distractions in life. So, when eliminating distractions for your workspace, keeping your phone out of sight and out of mind is a natural first step. Other significant distractions include walking up to get a drink of water and taking breaks. 

By keeping a water bottle on-hand and developing some self-discipline regarding breaks, you can effectively deal with these distractions as well.

11 – Avoid becoming a doormat.

You might know someone who finds it too difficult to say no to people who ask for their help. These are the kind of people who agree to help people even when they know that they don’t have the time for it. People like these are often referred to as “doormats.”

Being willing to help a friend in need is a noble thing. But, it is also important to be ready to say no when it is necessary. You aren’t doing anyone any favours when you accept a task you know you can’t complete. It is a disservice to you and harm to the people you agree to help.

You’re the only one who can know if you can’t assist without making compromises. Or maybe, you simply can’t assist to the best of your ability. Better allow the person to find someone who has the time and energy to help.

Not having the time to help a person is often a good enough basis for saying no to someone who asks for your help. However, you should also note whether you can be personally invested in helping someone. If you aren’t in the proper mindset to offer appropriate assistance to someone, let them know. They can find someone who can. Odds are, if you are genuine and discreet, they won’t hold it against you.

12 – Take breaks.

It may sound counterintuitive to take breaks to avoid procrastinating, but hear us out. We promise that there is a method to madness. 

Some studies have suggested that taking small, scheduled breaks while working on a task may increase productivity. We still stand by the principle of eliminating spontaneous breaks while working. Incorporating intervals into your routine can help break the monotony of specific tasks. By having scheduled, timed breaks, you eliminate the risk of getting up and walking away from your work for indeterminable periods.

The strategy works like this:

  1. Set the alarm for when a certain amount of time has elapsed. If you are just starting to develop more focused work sessions, try setting 20 minutes as your baseline.
  2. Begin working. When the alarm goes off, use that time to get up and stretch your legs. Or, get some fresh air for just two minutes.
  3. Reset the timer, resume working, rinse and repeat. As you get better at staying focused for more extended periods, you can increase the amount of time between breaks.

13 – Hold yourself accountable to others.

A great way to fight procrastination is to have others check in on you and monitor your progress. Finding someone to keep track of your goals provides an extra layer of assurance that you will achieve your goals.

Making others aware of your goals gives you an external auditing entity with no direct control. With this, you don’t determine when you are checked in on. Then, you are more careful to always be alert and on top of your goals. No one likes the feeling of admitting to others that they are slacking on the goals that they have set for themselves. People will try harder to avoid that negative experience.

Find someone who you can rely on regularly and consistently checks in on you. Ensure the person you choose to hold yourself accountable to is trustworthy and can be personally invested in helping you achieve your goals.

14 – Get similar tasks done together.

If you’ve ever heard of “killing two birds with one stone,” you probably understand the principle behind this tip. We actually suggest trying to kill more than just two when possible.

When tasks have similar requirements to complete, you can often leverage that to get multiple jobs done quickly and effectively. This saves you time, allowing you to free up your schedule to do other things or activities you enjoy doing.

Define your tasks’ parameters: 

  • Where to complete it, 
  • How to achieve it, and 
  • Who to meet it with. 

If you have functions that share these parameters, schedule them into your day to get them done together. You will find that your schedule is a lot less tight than you expected.

15 – Incorporate fun into your routine.

We have mentioned that fun could be a trigger on why do people procrastinate.

“Work hard, play hard.” You should grind and earn the privilege of having time to enjoy yourself. But who says that work and play have to be mutually exclusive? Definitely not us.

When you enjoy your work, you are a lot more productive than when you are bored out of your mind. When possible, try to spice up your tasks by making them fun to do. Not only will you stay focused on what you need to do, but the time will fly by much quicker.

There are lots of strategies you can find online to incorporate fun into your workflow. Some popular tricks include the Seinfeld strategy, the Pomodoro technique, and even simple self-challenges to get you through your workload. Pick one that works for you, and have fun with it!

16 – Get a good night’s rest.

Sleep is a significant thing to consider when trying to avoid procrastination. Why? You can have all the time and willingness in the world to get your work done. But if you are running on fumes, you’re much more prone to taking naps when you should be working.

Sleep deprivation is a serious thing. And as society continues to place more value on productivity and work output, there seems to be less emphasis on health and proper rest. When you are well-rested, you not only ensure that you have enough energy to get through your workload without lagging. You also keep your body in good condition so that you remain productive for many more years to come.

Did you know that every hour spent sleeping before 12:00am is twice as effective as every hour after? 

Use this to your advantage. Go to sleep earlier. And you can wake up before the sun rises and not have to compromise your health for work. No more naps while on the clock!

Fun fact: the hours between 10:00pm and 2:00am are the most critical hours of sleep that you need for a healthy body.

17 – Use quality tools.

We can’t stress enough how distracting it can be to use cheap tools while working. Whether you be a mechanic or a writer, your tools’ quality is essential to stop procrastinating.

Things can go wrong when you use tools that are of low quality. At best, it can merely throw off the aesthetic of your work environment. At worst, it can break and leave you unable to complete your tasks until you can get a replacement. Whatever is the case, you are a lot less inclined to want to do work. Even if you manage to get started on your tasks, you’re definitely going to get frustrated much more often. Eventually, you’d want to put the job away for later.

When picking the right tools for the job, make sure that you are happy with the tool’s quality. Check the instrument’s look, its feel, and the experience of using it. Even if you can’t check all of these boxes, just make sure you don’t settle for anything less than what the job deserves.

18 – Just do it.

Thinking through your tasks is a great way to make sure that you haven’t missed any crucial details. Do not spend an unproportionate amount of time thinking rather than doing. You end up getting much less done than you would have liked.

Many people underestimate the importance of simply getting started. Just take that first step towards getting a task done. That feeling of getting something finished gives you the momentum to carry on into the next job and the next. Eventually, everything on your to-do list will be crossed out, and you will have great satisfaction in knowing that you spent your time efficiently.

But there is a difference between planning and daydreaming. If the task seems to be too small to worry about, just do it. If you think it requires much more thought, then go ahead and adequately plan for it. Just don’t spend more time thinking than it would have taken to get the job done.

19 – Work on one task at a time.

One mistake that many people end up making is trying to multitask as much as possible. When done correctly, multitasking can be an effective way to cut down on time spent completing tasks throughout the day. We think there is a fine line between being efficient and biting off more than you can chew.

When you choose to juggle multiple jobs at once, you risk burning yourself out quickly. And when you’re burnt out, the last thing you want to do is more work. It is best to work through your task list one task at a time to avoid this.

When you feel like doing multiple tasks, ask yourself how much time you will realistically spend juggling those tasks. If you are likely to get it done in one sitting, get it on. 

20 – Turn tasks into routines.

Doing a job can sometimes feel like, well… a job. And when you are actively thinking about the job at hand, it can be pretty draining. 

Develop habits and manage to establish routines with your work. You use a lot less mental energy to get the same amount of work completed. You may even get it done even quicker than without a pattern.

For one thing, you don’t need to continually stop thinking about what you need to be doing next with routines. With the help of muscle memory, your body will naturally move into the next task. Besides saving you time and energy, having a pattern also allows you to think of other things while working. (Just make sure you aren’t handling anything dangerous or fragile). 

Develop a routine by creating a consistent workflow and not allowing anything to disrupt that flow. Through repetition, you will find that the work eventually begins to feel more and more natural.

To Procrastinate or Not to Procrastinate?

Procrastination is the habit of delaying something or putting something off, especially something that needs to be done. 

Over its lifetime, the concept of procrastination has come to adopt a negative connotation (and for a good reason). But is there an “appropriate time and reason” why do people procrastinate?

Most of this article covers the harmful effects of procrastination and how to avoid them. However, it is essential to note that there is a positive end to the procrastination spectrum. Here are some instances where procrastination may be of some use:

When You Need Focus

When you have too much time to work on a project, you can get easily sidetracked. You’re willing to break your workflow, even if it’s not the most productive, because you know that you have extra time.

But being behind on a deadline can really put pressure on you and force you to stay laser-focused on a particular project. In fact, the urgency that comes with procrastination can sometimes even allow you to work on a project non-stop. 

When You Need to Be Efficient

Maybe you’re the type of person that takes forever to make decisions when it comes to tasks. You have the tendency to analyse all your options and often spend a lot of time doting on the what-ifs. In that case, a healthy dose of procrastination may be just what the doctor prescribed.

Nothing breeds efficiency quite like procrastination. Because you know you’re crunched for time, you settle for just the bare minimum and waste no time on unnecessary polish and shine.

This is especially useful for perfectionists who are experts at getting lost in the details of a project. In the end, done is better than never starting.

When to Make Big Decisions

Sometimes people just don’t take enough time to think through major decisions. Rushing into a decision can actually be more harmful than putting it off.

That’s where procrastination has your back. 

Why do some people put off a significant decision on something? They may find that it’s because they are either undecided or doubtful of whether they still wish to move forward with that decision.

A little procrastination goes a long way. It can often provide the time you need to better assess the decisions you are about to make. Get feedback from trusted advisors, and obtain overall clarity on the findings at hand.

So. Procrastination. Is it something you need less of or more of in your life? Only you can know for sure. However, it’s our hope that this information can be of future use to you. Whether you plan a future project, make important life decisions, or simply try to develop better work habits, this is for you. But then again…

Why do people procrastinate? Why do you or will you procrastinate?


More inspiring messages are waiting for you when you tune in to ‘Chasing Hope’ podcasts and blogs.

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