Nearly everyone struggles with procrastination at some point in their life. It could be delays around starting an exercise program, working on a new project at the office, or fixing up the house.
What most people don’t realize is that people who procrastinate aren’t lazy. Instead, there are often underlying psychological reasons causing people to put off what they need to get done.
Jim’s Story. Let’s look at an example. Jim wanted to start an exercise regime so he would be fitter and lose weight, but he kept procrastinating. When Jim started exploring the psychological dynamic behind this pattern, he realized that there was a part of him that felt pushed and controlled by his efforts at exercise. He called this part the Rebel. It said, “Don’t tell me what to do! You can’t control me.” So it refused to do the exercise. But all this had been happening outside of Jim’s awareness until he started exploring it.
We all have different parts of us that affect our emotions and behavior. Often our parts help us to live the way we want, and other times they cause us to act in ways that aren’t in our best interests. Jim has a Rebel Part that often rebels against people that try to control Jim. Jim realized that in this case, as strange as it sounds, his Rebel Part was actually rebelling against him. The part felt that Jim was trying to control it by instituting the exercise regime, and it got stubbon and refused. It didn’t want to be dominated, so it refused to go along with his plan.
How Jim Changed. So how can you deal with your parts? As crazy as it sounds, you can start by having an internal conversation with them. Here’s what Jim said to his Rebel Part, “I would like to be in better shape so I can play soccer without getting so winded. I also want to lose 15 pounds so I’ll be more attractive to women. I’m not trying to control you. I just want my life to be better.”
He continued,“What do you think? Would it be worth doing the exercise in order to be better at soccer and be more successful with women?” This worked, the Rebel felt that it no longer had to fight Jim and agreed to let him go ahead.
Though Jim was dealing with a Rebel part, other people procrastinate because of unconscious fears. They may be afraid of failing, being judged, shamed, rejected, or other painful consequences.
Here are the top 10 tips to overcome procrastination and actually accomplish your goals and dreams in life.
1. Forgive Yourself for Not Accomplishing Past Tasks
Start Over. Procrastination is in the past and now it time to start anew. Make sure to forgive yourself for not getting things done. Its ok. You are going to begin now. Don’t worry about the past and think forward to the future. Positive thinking will help you accomplish your tasks and get over the negative habits of procrastination.
2. Get Organized
Disorganization and a messy work area can cause extra stress. Taking some time to organize school and work items including filing items can make a world of difference. A work area should always be cleaned and organized. Take 5 minutes every day to organize and tidy your area. This small task can create a huge difference in work production and reduce procrastination.
3. Minimize Distractions
Is the TV on? How often do you check you Facebook, Twitter or other social media? All of these are small distractions which can add up to lost time, increased stress, reduced attention and contribute to procrastination. Along with a tidy work area, an area with little to no auditory or visual distractions is key to accomplishing your work. In addition, paint colors that are neutral or even dark make people want to stay longer in the given environment. Maybe there’s a reason so many studies are dark colors? If you live with roommates make sure to set noise and friend boundaries to reduce distractions. Even having certain time periods in the day or agreed upon time can help to avoid procrastination.
4. Set Small Daily Objective (Not Goals)
Objectives are measurable actions that are small increments of a larger goal. Objectives may look like goals but are fundamentally different in that there is a component for completion, criteria of completion and time period to complete the objective.
I will do my English work.
I will read 20 pages of the novel by lunchtime.
5. Tethering Actions with Events in a Day
In programming, this is similar to a trigger or webhook. Basically, it’s using an everyday occurrence like drinking coffee or brushing your teeth and adding a behavior that you would like to add as a habit. Having an event that already occurs in your life as a “reminder” to perform the desired habit or new skill. So for an example, you need to grade 100 papers which takes about an hour per 20 papers.
Drink morning coffee – grade 25 papers
After morning run – grade 25 papers
After eating lunch but before resting – grade 25 papers
Before going out for happy hour – grade 25 papers
6. Change or Create A Routine
It’s really easy to slip into procrastination after being sick or sustaining an injury. During this time, you needed to rest in order to get better. However, sometimes it’s difficult to get back into accomplish work and tasks around the house or even at work. Break the cycle by creating a routine and sticking to it.
7. Take Breaks
Part of your routine or study sessions should include breaks. Breaks are important to help maintain focus and continue on tasks. It’s ok to take a break.
Sometimes with extreme frustration or stressful day, taking an exercise break is a great idea. Exercise helps to reduce stress levels and maintain focus on topics.
8. Get Support
Find a friend who will help and support you in doing this practice. Tell them your plan, and check in with them every few days or every week to let them know how it is going. This will help keep you on track.
9. Track Your Performance
Track your success by taking notes on what happens. Reward yourself whenever you break through and get something done that you have been avoiding.
Overcoming procrastination can improve your career and personal life. You can have more opportunities, less frenzied work hours, guilt, and most important, more success and self-confidence!
Jay Earley, PhD, is a psychologist, teacher, trainer, and author who has created the Pattern System. He writes and teaches class in Internal Family Systems Therapy, which is a way of working with your parts. He is the author of Taking Action: Working Through Procrastination and Achieving Your Goals, Self-Therapy, Activating Your Inner Champion, Letting Go of Perfectionism, and many other books.
Originally Published 10/8/2012, Updated 10/22/2020