Beating Procrastination

Research has shown that people who procrastinate typically make five cognitive distortions which promote procrastination. — John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Every human being experiences some degree of procrastination at some point in their lives. Others also associate procrastination to laziness, but procrastination might sound harmless in relation to other issues. However, continuous use of this mechanism may hinder an individual in achieving his full potential and his goals.  As the proverbial phrase goes, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” In order to overcome procrastination, one needs to be familiar with its many intricacies.


Defining Procrastination

Procrastination is not a modern subject, in fact, it dates back to ancient times where Greek philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle described “Akrasia”. It is a state of acting in a not so sensible manner or lacking self-control. Also, Victor Hugo’s book, Hunchback of Notre Dame, is an epitome of conquered procrastination. His publisher was forced to set a deadline in order for Hugo to focus on writing his book since he dallied away the first few months pursuing other projects such as entertaining guests and partying thus, delaying his work.

Procrastination is simply defined as the avoidance of doing a particular task. It is the practice of doing more pleasurable things over less pleasurable ones or focusing on mundane tasks instead of urgent ones; therefore putting off impending tasks to a later time.

We begin to believe, on an unconscious level, that ‘I am the problem. When I feel rejection or failure, it is my fault and I must punish myself.’ — Danielle B. Grossman, MFT


In the study of academic procrastinators, it shows that 90% of college students are procrastinators and 25% of those students are chronic procrastinators.  In a 1992 study, it shows that 52% of the participants indicated having a moderate to high need for help in dealing with procrastination.

Reason for Procrastination

The basis for procrastination varies from a different psychological perspective or it can be the totality of these views. Pleasure principle plays a role in delaying task as one may prefer to avoid negative emotions and stressful task. Also, the belief that one works best under pressure provides an added enticement to postpone tasks. Moreover, research discovered a phenomenon called “time inconsistency”.

Time inconsistency is when the brain gives more weight to immediate or short term rewards as compared to significant, long term rewards. It can be best described as the “present self” and “future self.” The future self sets long term rewards through constant goal-directed decisions; however, the present self is the one taking actions and it wants instant gratification. Thus, it’s always a push and pull over these two selves that ultimately decides on whether to procrastinate or not. This phenomenon explains why people, even though they realize the benefit of saving and retirement, would still go on a shopping splurge. It is a reason why one has donuts for breakfast even though he knows that it is not the best option for his weight loss goals.


Strategies to Beat Procrastination

Procrastination is common and experienced by all, but it shouldn’t dominate our everyday lives. There are various strategies to stop and curtail procrastination.

  1. Reward Immediate Actions

According to behavioral economics research by K. Milkman, temptation bundling is a concept that may help in procrastination. It brings future rewards into the present. In simple terms, it is strategically bundling behavior that both satisfy the present self and future self.

These are common examples of temptation bundling:

  • Exercise while listening to your favorite music or audio books
  • Answer overdue emails while getting a foot massage
  • Doing household chores while watching your favorite movies/shows
  • Hold difficult meetings while dining in your favorite restaurant
  1. Find Immediate Consequences for Procrastination

Numerous ways are available in order to make one pay for procrastination. For instance, find a workout buddy that would make you accountable for skipping gym dates. Abandoning a friend for a scheduled workout is quite a jerk move.

StickK is an online start-up company that allows you set goals and penalize you when you aren’t able to achieve such goals by monetary stakes or by a referee.

When we compare ourselves to others, we may feel better or worse. It may be more useful to minimize comparison and instead consider our connections to one another and all life forms on the planet if we are working toward building a healthier relationship to the self. — Frances L. Hennessey, LICSW

  1. Anticipate Future Actions

Commitment device is anticipating procrastinating possibilities and designing your environment to avoid chances of falling to its trap.

Examples of these strategies are:

  • Halt future food binge by purchasing food in individual packages.
  • Stop wasting time on app games and social media by deleting them from your phone.
  • Save monthly by automatic transfer of funds to a savings account.
  1. Create Achievable Task

The hardest part of starting a behavior is the beginning. Once it is started, the excruciating portion is already addressed. Thus, it is advisable to reduce the size of the habit.

Use the 2-minute rule which states that a task should be easy as possible that it can be done within 2 minutes.

We have to bear in mind the importance of creating an achievable task.

  • Small measures of progress maintain momentum over the long-run.
  • Faster completion of productive task hastens the development of productive and effectiveness attitude.

Procrastination can be progressive and persistent that can debilitate everyday life. For these individuals, procrastination may be a sign or an onset of a psychological disorder. People who have been experiencing extreme procrastination were observed to have been experiencing low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, irrational behavior and ADHD. Thus, it is essential for extreme procrastinators to seek out a trained specialist.