We've all been there: staring at a to-do list that never seems to get any shorter, feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to start. Procrastination can be a frustrating and even debilitating habit, but the good news is that there are strategies you can use to overcome it.
One common approach to combating procrastination is to try to increase motivation. This might include setting rewards for completing tasks, creating a sense of accountability, or setting specific goals. While these strategies can be helpful, they don't always get to the root of the problem.
So what is at the root of procrastination? According to psychological research, there are several factors that contribute to the tendency to procrastinate. These include:
Fear of failure: For some people, the fear of not being able to complete a task or not doing it well can be so overwhelming that they put it off. For example, a student might procrastinate on studying for an exam because they are afraid of failing.
Lack of interest: If you're not invested in a task, it's easy to lose motivation to get it done. For example, a person might put off cleaning the garage because they don't find it enjoyable.
Perfectionism: The desire to do things perfectly can lead to paralysis, as it becomes difficult to take action if you're not sure you can do something perfectly. For example, a writer might put off starting a project because they are worried about writing the perfect first draft.
Disorganization: If you're not sure where to start or how to tackle a task, it's easy to put it off. For example, a person might put off organizing their closet because they don't know where to begin.
So, what can you do to overcome procrastination? Here are a few strategies based on psychological research:
Break tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks: By breaking a large task into smaller, more manageable steps, it can feel less intimidating and more doable. For example, if you're feeling overwhelmed by a project at work, try breaking it down into smaller tasks such as researching, outlining, writing, and editing.
Identify the underlying cause of your procrastination: Are you procrastinating because you're afraid you'll fail? Because you're not interested in the task? By identifying the root cause of your procrastination, you can take steps to address it. For example, if fear of failure is the cause, you might try setting smaller, achievable goals or asking for help and support.
Use positive self-talk: When you're feeling overwhelmed, it's easy to fall into a negative thought pattern. Try using positive self-talk to reframe your thoughts and boost your motivation. For example, instead of telling yourself "I'll never be able to do this," try saying "I can do this, and even if it's not perfect, I will have learned something and made progress."
Get organized: Make a plan, create a schedule, and set aside dedicated time for your tasks. This can help you feel more in control and motivated to get things done. For example, you might try using a planner or scheduling specific times each day for different tasks.
Seek support: Whether it's a friend, a coach, or a therapist, having someone to support and encourage you can make a big difference in your ability to overcome procrastination. For example, you might ask a friend to hold you accountable for completing tasks or seek the guidance of a therapist to work through underlying issues that may be causing your procrastination.
Procrastination can be a frustrating habit, but it's one that you can overcome with the right strategies. By taking steps to identify the root cause of your procrastination, breaking tasks into smaller steps, using positive self-talk, getting organized, and seeking support, you can take control of your to-do list and get things done.
Ferrari, J. R., & Tice, D. M. (2000). Procrastination as a self-handicap for men and women: A task-avoidance strategy in a laboratory setting. Journal of Research in Personality, 34(1), 73-83.
Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65-94.