19 Chapter 19: Escape the Procrastination Trap

What is procrastination?

Definition: To delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.[1]

Why do we procrastinate?

Procrastination is not a “one size fits all” problem.  We procrastinate for a variety of different reasons.    The first step in tackling procrastination is to do some detective work – to figure out – without judgment – why it might be that you procrastinate.

Reasons for Procrastination

People procrastinate for a variety of different reasons:

  1. Not being sure of how to do the task at hand. If a task seems difficult, or if you’re not sure you know how to complete it, it is natural to avoid tackling it.
  2. The task to be done doesn’t interest you, and it seems preferable to work on tasks (e.g. other courses) that are more in line with your personal interests. You may lack motivation to work on the task.
  3. Fear of not doing well on the task. Trying hard at a task and failing might seem worse than failing because you didn’t try.  Often a root cause of this type of procrastination is perfectionism.
  4. Or, you might fear the opposite. Some people fear being too successful, because the result of this success is that people will expect more of you the next time.

Identifying the cause of procrastination can help you move towards a solution.  Here are some suggested solutions for each of the four causes mentioned above:

I’m not sure I know how to do it Look for ways to develop your skills in the areas where you feel unsure of your ability to be successful.  For example:

·        Make an appointment with a math or accounting tutor to learn how to solve a difficult type of problem

·        Make an appointment with a writing tutor to develop an outline for your paper

·        Learn from library staff how to use the research tools that are available

·        Make an appointment with a learning strategist to learn how to read more effectively

Rather than procrastinating, you can empower yourself to be successful.  The skills you gain will help you not only on one task, but on other related tasks in the future.

I’m not interested in this task/ it isn’t motivating for me ·        Choose to “just do it”, and complete the task, allowing yourself guilt free time after it is done.  Consider how continuing to dread the task might be taking away from future enjoyment of other things.

·        Consider your attitude towards things that are uninteresting – is your attitude preventing you from finding the motivation you need?  Is it realistic to expect that you will always have interesting or enjoyable tasks?

·        Consider how the task at hand relates to your long-term goals.  For example, perhaps the course is not interesting to you, but it will help you achieve your goal of finishing your degree, and obtaining employment in an area that interests you.

I’m afraid of failing/ I’m afraid of what success might mean ·        Consider whether you have developed unrealistic standards for yourself.  How can you set realistic goals for what it means to be successful?

[2]

Working Against Procrastination – The Seven Day Plan

There are various strategies to help stop procrastination. One popular method is called the Seven Day Anti-procrastination Plan. This plan presents seven strategies that are tied to a different day of the week. To help make it easier to remember, the first letter of the strategy is the same as the first letter of the corresponding day of the week.

  • Monday: Make it Meaningful (if you’re procrastinating because you don’t think the task is important, identify why the task is meaningful)
  • Tuesday: Take It Apart (if a task is too big and appears intimidating, try to break it down into several more manageable tasks instead of a huge one)
  • Wednesday: Write It Down (walking around with task to accomplish in your head is not as motivating as seeing it on paper – write it out and put it someplace where you will see it often)
  • Thursday: Tell Your Family/Friends (use your support network of friends and family to help motivate and remind you of your important tasks)
  • Friday: Find a Reward (everyone works better when there is a reward attached to a task – promise yourself something you like if you complete the task by an established deadline)
  • Saturday: Search for (what’s Causing) the Delay ( sometimes you are not aware of why you are putting something off – try to identify the reason for your procrastination and address it)
  • Sunday: Settle It Now (make a determined effort to stop any delay and start the task now) [3]

Getting Started

Stopwatch with 25 minute interval
Imaged Credit: Rawia Inaim

If you find yourself at Sunday and need to start the task now, the Pomodoro Technique can be helpful in getting you started.A key aspect of overcoming procrastination is developing strategies to get started.  Often, committing to complete one small task can be enough to begin moving ahead.  For example, just taking out your laptop, creating a document, and typing the title can create some forward momentum.

A well-known technique for managing time that can help with procrastination is called the Pomodoro Technique.  This technique is a method of managing procrastination by breaking down your work periods into small, manageable units. Here’s how it works:

  1. Choose the task you want to accomplish.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes- no interruptions are allowed!
  3. Work until the timer rings.
  4. Take a short break.
  5. Do up to 4 Pomodoros and then take a longer break.

Why the Method Works

The Pomodoro technique can help you push past procrastination and create forward momentum because it requires you to commit to only a small, manageable period of work.  In addition, it can help you discipline yourself to work without interruptions, and can create awareness of how much time individual tasks take.  Lastly, the method allows you to reward yourself with frequent breaks, which maintains motivation.

Try it!

Take some concrete steps this week to defeat procrastination.

  1. Of the reasons listed above, why do you tend to procrastinate?  What is one step you will take this week to move ahead on your project.
  2. Try the Pomodoro technique once this week.  Do you find that it helps you get started and stay focused?

Licenses and Attributions:

Content previously published in University 101: Study, Strategize and Succeed by Kwantlen Polytechnic University, licensed as CC BY-SA.

Adaptations: Added Seven Day Strategy

 


  1. Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 65-94. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65
  2. Adapted from: Oregon State University Academic Success Centre. (n.d.) Six Reasons People Procrastinate. Retrieved from success.oregonstate.edu/six-reasons-people-procrastinate ↵
  3. Adapted from Ellis, Dave, (2006), Becoming a Master Student, Cengage Learning

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Foundations For Success by David Capriola is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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