Here’s why you procrastinate, and 10 tactics that will help you stop

Takeaway: The more boring, frustrating, difficult, meaningless, ambiguous, and unstructured a task is, the more likely you are to procrastinate with it. 10 strategies that will help you stop: flip these characteristics to make a task less aversive, recognize how your brain responds to “cognitive dissonance”, limit how much time you spend on something, be kind to yourself, just get started, list the costs of procrastinating, become better friends with future-you, completely disconnect from the Internet, form “implementation intentions”, and use procrastination as a sign that you should seek out more meaningful work. Whew.

Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes, 48s.

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When you send an email to Tim Pychyl, a procrastination researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, you don’t have to wait long for a response.

Pychyl has been researching and writing about procrastination for more than 20 years, and it shows–he’s one prolific guy. He records the iProcrastinate Podcast, which frequently ranks among the most downloaded on iTunes; writes a blog named Don’t Delay for Procrastination Today (which has a very nice ring to it); and is the author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, a concise guide on how to beat procrastination.

Tim Pychyl (and Domi)
Tim Pychyl

I recently interviewed Tim about why we procrastinate, and about what tactics we can use to beat procrastination. What follows is everything I learned.

Why you procrastinate

Before diving into some tactics to stop procrastinating, you should know why you procrastinate in the first place.

According to Pychyl, procrastination is fundamentally a visceral, emotional reaction to what you have to do.

When you put pressure on yourself to accomplish certain tasks, according to Pychyl you “have this strong reaction to the task at hand, and so the story of procrastination begins there with what psychologists call task aversiveness”. The more aversive a task is to you, the more you’ll resist it, and the more likely you are to procrastinate.

Pychyl, in his research and during our interview, identified a number of task characteristics that make you more likely to procrastinate. Tasks that are aversive tend to:

  • Be boring
  • Be frustrating
  • Be difficult
  • Lack personal meaning and intrinsic rewards
  • Be ambiguous (you don’t know how to do it)
  • Be unstructured

The more negative emotions you show toward a certain task, the more likely you are to procrastinate, and according to Pychyl, “any of these [characteristics] can do it”.1

As Tim wrote in Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, “[t]he key issue is that for chromic procrastinators, short-term mood repair takes precedence. Chronic procrastinators want to eliminate the negative mood or emotions now, so they give in to feel good. They give in to the impulse to put off the task until another time.” Then, “not faced with the task, they feel better.”

If you’re interested, Tim had me on his podcast a couple of months ago to talk about AYOP and procrastination. I personally really like how the interview turned out. Even though it’s 1 hour and 21 minutes long, I think you’ll find it worth your time.

10 tactics that will help you stop procrastinating

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Alas, if there were a magical cure to stop procrastinating, Tim probably would have found it during his more than 20 years of research. But even though there is no magical cure, there are numerous tactics that you can use to quit procrastinating and get more done. I’ve taken my 10 favorite tactics that Tim talked in his book and during my interview with him, and they’re below!

1. Flip a task’s characteristics to make it less aversive

Tasks that are aversive are usually a combination of boring, frustrating, difficult, meaningless, ambiguous, and unstructured. But by breaking down exactly which of these attributes an aversive task has, you can take those qualities and turn them around to make the task more appealing to you.

Tim gave the example of a task that is boring and frustrating. “You’re able to look at it and assess it and say, ‘Oh, this is so boring and I find it so frustrating’, so you make a little game out of it. How can you make it interesting? So I might play a game of, ‘How many of these could I get done in 20 minutes?’. And you find something to do–some competition within it, and so all of a sudden you make it interesting”, and much less boring and frustrating in the process.

Similarly, by making tasks less difficult, meaningless, ambiguous, and unstructured, you can mold what you have to do to be more desirable to you. When you notice yourself procrastinating, use your procrastination as a trigger to examine a task’s characteristics and think about what you should change.

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2. Know the ways your brain responds to “cognitive dissonance”

Whenever you realize that you should be doing something but that you aren’t (psychologists call this separation between your actions and beliefs cognitive dissonance), you can respond in one of several ways to feel better about yourself. In his book, Pychyl identifies a number of unproductive responses people have when they procrastinate:

  1. Distracting yourself, and thinking about other things
  2. Forgetting what you have to do, either actively or passively (usually for unimportant tasks)
  3. Downplaying the importance of what you have to do
  4. Giving yourself affirmations, focusing on other your values and qualities that will solidify your sense of self
  5. Denying responsibility to distance yourself from what you have to do
  6. Seeking out new information that supports your procrastination (e.g. when you tell yourself you need to have more information before you get started on something)

Of course, the best possible response to cognitive dissonance is to change your behaviour and get started on whatever you’re procrastinating on, but that’s often much easier said than done.

To push back against these biases, recognizing them is key. Then, Tim recommends that you “list the things that you commonly say or do to justify your procrastination”, and use these biases as triggers that you should respond to your behaviour differently.

3. Limit how much time you spend on something

One of my favorite tactics that Tim recommended is to limit how much time you spend on something. He spoke about his German colleague who limits how much time he allows academic procrastinators spend on an assignment. “He will limit the time they can work on an assignment. ‘Okay, we’re working today and you’ve got twenty minutes to work on that assignment, and you may not work any more.’ And so they go: ‘I’ve got twenty minutes. I better make the best use of it.’” And they do.

Limiting how much time you spend on a task makes the task more fun, more structured, and less frustrating and difficult because you’ll always be able to see an end in sight.

There are some huge productivity benefits to the idea as well. When you limit how much time you spend on something instead of throwing more time at the problem, you force yourself to exert more energy over less time to get it done, which will make you a lot more productive.

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4. Be kind to yourself

According to Tim, when you procrastinate “negative self-talk comes out in spades”, which is completely counterproductive.

When I interviewed David Allen, who wrote the terrific time-management book Getting Things Done, one stat he mentioned still sticks out in my mind: that 80% of the thoughts you say to yourself in your head are negative. And it’s pretty difficult to procrastinate without deceiving yourself.

The reason you deceive yourself when you procrastinate is simple: at the same time that you know you should be doing something, a different part of you is very much aware that you’re not actually doing it, so you make up a story about why you’re not getting that thing done. (This is the cognitive dissonance I mentioned in tactic #2.) Be mindful of how kind you are to yourself, and watch out for times when you try to deceive yourself.

5. Just get started

People, as a rule, overestimate how much motivation they need to do something. After all, usually you just need enough motivation to get started. For example:

  • To work out, you don’t need to be motivated for an entire hour to finish a workout; you just need to be motivated for the 10 minutes it takes you to pack up and drive to the gym. Once you’re at the gym, you’ll always work out.
  • To clean out your basement, you don’t need to be motivated for the entire afternoon; you just need to be motivated for the five minutes it takes you to transition from what you’re doing now to getting started.
  • To go for a swim in a cold pool, you don’t need to be motivated for your entire swim; you just need to be motivated for the 30 seconds it takes you to jump in and start swimming.

One of the biggest recommendations Tim had was to simply get started. “Once we start a task, it is rarely as bad as we think.” In fact, once you get started on something, your “attributions of the task change”, and what you think about yourself changes, too.

Tim offered up a great tip in his book: “When you find yourself thinking things like ‘I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow,’ ‘I work better under pressure,’ ‘There’s lots of time left,’ I can do this in a few hours tonight’, let that be a flag or signal or stimulus to indicate that you are about to needlessly delay the task, and let it also be the stimulus to just get started.”

6. List the costs of procrastinating

The costs of procrastinating can be enormous; as Tim put it in his book, “[w]hen we procrastinate on our goals, we are basically putting off our lives.” Since procrastination is very much an emotional reaction to what you have to do, activating the rational part of your brain to identify the costs of procrastinating is a great strategy to get unstuck.

In his book, Tim recommends that you make a list of the tasks you’re procrastinating on, and then “[n]ext to each of these tasks or goals, note how your procrastination has affected you in terms of things such as your happiness, stress, health, finances, relationships, and so on. You may even want to discuss this with a confidante or a significant other in your life who knows you well.” At the end of the day, “you may be surprised by what they may have to say about the costs of procrastination in your life.”

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7. Become better friends with future-you

According to Pychyl, we’re “not very good at predicting how we will feel in the future. We are overly optimistic, and our optimism comes crashing down when tomorrow comes. When our mood sours, we end up giving in to feel good. We procrastinate.”

Research has shown that we have the tendency to treat our future-selves like a complete stranger, and according to Pychyl, that’s why we “give future-self the same kind of load that we’d give a stranger”. (This is also the reason you have 10 food documentaries in your Netflix queue.)

The solution to this? Become better friends with future-you. Here are a few of my favorite ways:

  1. Create a future memory. Interestingly, research has shown that all it takes to delay gratification is to imagine your future. This is easy to do–for example, if you’re debating between writing a work report today or next week, create a future memory by imagining all you will be able to get done next week if you start the report now.2
  2. Imagine your future self. Research has shown that all it takes to increase your future-self continuity is to imagine yourself in the future. The more vivid the future feels, the better.3
  3. Send an email to your future self. Seriously, do it. FutureMe.org lets you send an email to yourself in the future at a date you specify. A great way to bridge the gap between your present and future selves is to tell your future self how your current actions will make your future self better.

8. Disconnect from the Internet when you have to get something done

Interestingly, even though his book has only ten chapters, Pychyl dedicates an entire chapter to the importance of disconnecting from the Internet when you have something important to do. In fact, one of Pychyl’s studies found that 47% of people’s time online is spent procrastinating, which Pychyl calls a “conservative estimate” since that study was conducted before social networks like Facebook and Twitter became popular. “There is little doubt that our best tools for productivity–computer technologies–are potentially also one of our greatest time wasters.”

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“To stay really connected to our goal pursuit, we need to disconnect from potential distractions like social-networking tools. This means that we should not have Facebook, Twitter, email, or whatever your favorite suite of tools is running in the background on your computer or smartphone while you are working. Shut them off.”

That might sound harsh, but according to Tim, “if you are committed to reducing your procrastination, this is something you really need to do.”

9. Form “implementation intentions”

Tasks that aren’t clearly defined are ambiguous and often unstructured, which makes you a lot more likely to procrastinate with them. The cure? Form implementation intentions for those tasks.

That’s basically just a fancy way of saying that you should make your tasks more concrete, by thinking about when, where, and how you’re going to do them. Tim is a big fan of implementation intentions. “I have to make sure that I’m not lying to myself right off the top with making a broad goal intention. ‘Yeah, I’ll do that writing on the weekend.’ Well, both the timeframe and the task are defined too broadly to be meaningful at all.

“So, one of the very first things is start making a more concrete and start tying it to something in the environment. And so, these are called implementation intentions. Move from broad goal intentions to specific implementation intentions. So that’s a cognitive technique, where you’re going to do some thinking around: “What am I going to do when?” And that pre-decision is really important.”

10. Use procrastination as a sign you should seek out more meaningful work

You procrastinate a lot less with meaningful tasks that are intrinsically rewarding. For that reason, Tim recommends reexamining your work if you find yourself constantly procrastinating with what you have to do.

“Sometimes I would say procrastination is just a symptom that your life just doesn’t match what you’re interested in and you’re putting everything off because all of your goals are kind of falsely internalized and you’ve got no intrinsic motivation in any of this, and so maybe you should do something else.”

In every job there are going to tasks you find aversive, but when you constantly find yourself procrastinating because your work is aversive, there may be other jobs that are more aligned to your passions, that you will be much more motivated and productive in.

 


  1. Interestingly, Pychyl’s earlier research shows that depending on the stage of a project you’re in, the effects of these characteristics differ. For example, lack of autonomy will impact how aversive a task is to you a lot more during the “action” phase of a project compared to the “inception” phase of a project. But as a general rule, the more of these characteristics a task has, the more aversive it will be to you. 

  2. Source: The Willpower Instinct

  3. Source: The Willpower Instinct

  • Pat Szkarlat

    I am a lifelong, chronic procrastinator. And so much of this article resonated with me. Holey moley. The bit about being online and procrastination is me to a T! Crazy. I’m going to put these suggestions into practice. The time is now! Thanks Chris :)

    • That’s awesome Pat! Happy it helped! :)

      If you’re looking to level up even further, I highly recommend Tim’s book. It’s short (I finished it in an hour or two), and really practical.

    • Darlene bertholet

      Me too Pat! This article was super helpful, procrastination has really reeked havoc in my life from being on time to work and almost getting fired for it to taxes to finishing any kind of degree or high school. Turning 27 this year and really committed to tackling this. I’ve noticed a lot of the emotional reaction to the things I have to do are based in fear. And the the part where you say that the work needs to be meaningful to not procrastinate rings true as well, especially for being motivated to being on time for work. I realize that I have to look at the value the job brings to my life more :”) thanks for this!!

  • Pat Szkarlat

    I am a lifelong, chronic procrastinator. And so much of this article resonated with me. Holey moley. The bit about being online and procrastination is me to a T! Crazy. I’m going to put these suggestions into practice. The time is now! Thanks Chris :)

    • That’s awesome Pat! Happy it helped! :)

      If you’re looking to level up even further, I highly recommend Tim’s book. It’s short (I finished it in an hour or two), and really practical.

  • Mike Empey

    Love the article – reveals why I procrastinate on some tasks rather than others. I normally hammer out my structured, straight forward tasks (independent of effort, interest, boredom) before I even look at my unstructured tasks, even when the unstructured tasks are more important and or/urgent!

    • Same! I think it’s one of those ideas that seems obvious in hindsight, but that’s invisible when you’re in the thick of things. Tim’s one smart dude :)

      Your comment reminded me of a quote from Eisenhower: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”.

  • Mike Empey

    Love the article – reveals why I procrastinate on some tasks rather than others. I normally hammer out my structured, straight forward tasks (independent of effort, interest, boredom) before I even look at my unstructured tasks, even when the unstructured tasks are more important and or/urgent!

    • Same! I think it’s one of those ideas that seems obvious in hindsight, but that’s invisible when you’re in the thick of things. Tim’s one smart dude :)

      Your comment reminded me of a quote from Eisenhower: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”.

  • wwinslow

    Tim has a really cool job! Thanks for bringing something we all “suffer” from to the forefront.

    • Agreed, I’d give anything for someone to pay me to research this stuff all day long! It was pretty comforting to hear Tim talk about how everyone procrastinates–even the most productive among us :)

  • wwinslow

    Tim has a really cool job! Thanks for bringing something we all “suffer” from to the forefront.

    • Agreed, I’d give anything for someone to pay me to research this stuff all day long! It was pretty comforting to hear Tim talk about how everyone procrastinates–even the most productive among us :)

  • ealt

    Thanks for the article and the references! What about procrastinating on something that you are 100% sure it is meaningful and rewarding to you?

    • You bet, happy you found it valuable! I’d personally recommend finding ways to change the other characteristics of the task that make it aversive (e.g. make it less boring, frustrating, less ambiguous, more structured, and less difficult). I think Tim’s idea of being mindful of which of these characteristics a task has is huge.

  • ealt

    Thanks for the article and the references! What about procrastinating on something that you are 100% sure it is meaningful and rewarding to you?

    • You bet, happy you found it valuable! I’d personally recommend finding ways to change the other characteristics of the task that make it aversive (e.g. make it less boring, frustrating, less ambiguous, more structured, and less difficult). I think Tim’s idea of being mindful of which of these characteristics a task has is huge.

  • Karen Robinson

    #7 (become better friends with future-you) has worked wonders for me. My mother recently fell ill, and I’ve taken over caring for her six cats. It’s a never-ending, sometimes unpleasant job – feeding them twice a day, rinsing out the cat food cans so they can be recycled, scooping their kitty litter, cleaning up their messes, washing their dishes – and the worst part for me is that it mostly has to be done on a schedule, not when it’s convenient. For the first few months, I was constantly putting off the more unpleasant bits, only, of course, to eventually have to do them anyway, when they were even more unpleasant. For some reason, getting myself to clean their dishes and the cat food cans in a timely manner was almost impossible.

    About two months ago, I read about the concept of a future-you. I figured it couldn’t hurt to treat future-me like another person I cared about; it all sounded a bit silly, but nothing else was working, and it wasn’t like I had to tell anyone about it. So every time I started to walk away from the dirty dishes and cans, I reminded myself that future-me would be sad to come back later and find them undone. That was enough, sometimes, to get me to grudgingly wash them up, but not reliably.

    Then I started thanking myself. On the occasions that I came into the kitchen and saw that I *had* done the washing up, I would tell myself, “Thank you, past-me, it was very kind of you to take care of that for me,” or “Thank you, past-me, it’s so nice to see everything done already.” It was embarrassing to do at first, like I was a toddler being thanked for putting my toys away, but it worked. Within a week or two, I was washing up the dishes and cans as soon as the cats finished eating almost every time – and the only times I didn’t was when something else pressing had to be done first, and I came back and did it as soon as that something was done. By this point, it’s an established habit. I don’t even think about not doing it anymore.

    I’m expanding the practice now to dusting and vacuuming. Hopefully future-me will be grateful. :)

    • That’s incredible, I love it! :-)

      During our chat, Tim mentioned how one of the biggest challenges of procrastination is how you think of yourself as a different person, and I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t read about the research on future-self-continuity, I probably would have though it sounded like B.S. But it works!

      Here in Ottawa, the weather has finally warmed up (after about nine months of winter, it seems), and yesterday I finally started wearing my spring coat again. When I went to put my headphones into the coat pocket, I noticed a beautiful $20 bill and a few candies that I had left in there from last year. Even though it wasn’t intentional, I think it illustrates how powerful the idea can be!

      Great story :)

  • Karen Robinson

    #7 (become better friends with future-you) has worked wonders for me. My mother recently fell ill, and I’ve taken over caring for her six cats. It’s a never-ending, sometimes unpleasant job – feeding them twice a day, rinsing out the cat food cans so they can be recycled, scooping their kitty litter, cleaning up their messes, washing their dishes – and the worst part for me is that it mostly has to be done on a schedule, not when it’s convenient. For the first few months, I was constantly putting off the more unpleasant bits, only, of course, to eventually have to do them anyway, when they were even more unpleasant. For some reason, getting myself to clean their dishes and the cat food cans in a timely manner was almost impossible.

    About two months ago, I read about the concept of a future-you. I figured it couldn’t hurt to treat future-me like another person I cared about; it all sounded a bit silly, but nothing else was working, and it wasn’t like I had to tell anyone about it. So every time I started to walk away from the dirty dishes and cans, I reminded myself that future-me would be sad to come back later and find them undone. That was enough, sometimes, to get me to grudgingly wash them up, but not reliably.

    Then I started thanking myself. On the occasions that I came into the kitchen and saw that I *had* done the washing up, I would tell myself, “Thank you, past-me, it was very kind of you to take care of that for me,” or “Thank you, past-me, it’s so nice to see everything done already.” It was embarrassing to do at first, like I was a toddler being thanked for putting my toys away, but it worked. Within a week or two, I was washing up the dishes and cans as soon as the cats finished eating almost every time – and the only times I didn’t was when something else pressing had to be done first, and I came back and did it as soon as that something was done. By this point, it’s an established habit. I don’t even think about not doing it anymore.

    I’m expanding the practice now to dusting and vacuuming. Hopefully future-me will be grateful. :)

    • That’s incredible, I love it! :-)

      During our chat, Tim mentioned how one of the biggest challenges of procrastination is how you think of yourself as a different person, and I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t read about the research on future-self-continuity, I probably would have though it sounded like B.S. But it works!

      Here in Ottawa, the weather has finally warmed up (after about nine months of winter, it seems), and yesterday I finally started wearing my spring coat again. When I went to put my headphones into the coat pocket, I noticed a beautiful $20 bill and a few candies that I had left in there from last year. Even though it wasn’t intentional, I think it illustrates how powerful the idea can be!

      Great story :)

  • I agree wholeheartedly with #5. Just getting started. That’s actually the only real challenge. There’s almost no task I failed to complete once I got my lazy ass to actually just start doing it. If we all master how to get started again and again consistently every day, I think a lot of us would actually achieve our goals.

    Great article, Chris. You sure made it look like the go-to source for anyone looking to beat procrastination. Very in-depth with useful tips. Great stuff!

  • I agree wholeheartedly with #5. Just getting started. That’s actually the only real challenge. There’s almost no task I failed to complete once I got my lazy ass to actually just start doing it. If we all master how to get started again and again consistently every day, I think a lot of us would actually achieve our goals.

    Great article, Chris. You sure made it look like the go-to source for anyone looking to beat procrastination. Very in-depth with useful tips. Great stuff!

  • Lea

    I too use the tip of limiting the time spent on a task. It helps me concentrate on that task only by eliminating the opportunity for distractions.

    Because I know I only have a bit of time for it I make sure it’s all about the task.

    Great post Chris!

    ~Lea

    • Thanks Lea! Happy you enjoyed :-)

    • Hey Lea, I’ve played around with this tactic as well. I know it works but the challenge is enforcing the rule. This is easy if you have a boss or co-worker to enforce this but harder if you work solo.

      How do you do this if you work alone?

      • Lea

        Hey Alec, I’m used to working independently (even with an employer) so it’s easy for me.

        You could watch the clock (so to speak), although for some people it’s distraction because they focus on it too much. Like if I start something at 10am and I want to move on in 2 hrs I pull everything together before noon. I, personally, can look at the clock every now and then without becoming distracted by it.

        Another technique is using a timer, on your phone, egg timer or whatever.

        It’s a bit of an adjustment to manage yourself. I set up most of my time frames based on the average it takes me to do the task. If it’s too unrealistic you’ll be freaking out when you should be working.

  • Lea

    I too use the tip of limiting the time spent on a task. It helps me concentrate on that task only by eliminating the opportunity for distractions.

    Because I know I only have a bit of time for it I make sure it’s all about the task.

    Great post Chris!

    ~Lea

    • Thanks Lea! Happy you enjoyed :-)

    • Hey Lea, I’ve played around with this tactic as well. I know it works but the challenge is enforcing the rule. This is easy if you have a boss or co-worker to enforce this but harder if you work solo.

      How do you do this if you work alone?

      • Lea

        Hey Alec, I’m used to working independently (even with an employer) so it’s easy for me.

        You could watch the clock (so to speak), although for some people it’s distraction because they focus on it too much. Like if I start something at 10am and I want to move on in 2 hrs I pull everything together before noon. I, personally, can look at the clock every now and then without becoming distracted by it.

        Another technique is using a timer, on your phone, egg timer or whatever.

        It’s a bit of an adjustment to manage yourself. I set up most of my time frames based on the average it takes me to do the task. If it’s too unrealistic you’ll be freaking out when you should be working.

  • Chris – some fantastic tips and reflections here on how to conquer procrastination. Great interview and thanks for reaching out to Tim for all of us. The tips that most resonated for me were putting a time limit on how long we do a task, just getting started, disconnecting from the internet and super powerful is #10 – go do more meaningful work. Work that I care about and am passionate about, i do instantly. Everything else, I drag my feet on. so, the advice for myself would be to focus on more work that I care about. I am moving closer and closer in on this as I’ve actually give up a profession, career and better paying jobs to do what has the most meaning to me. Naturally, i procrastinate very little in this kind of work. As all creatives and writers though, there is that resistance that we must each confront and slay:) it never goes away – always trying to tempt you with the next youtube video or buzzfeed list post. lol Thanks for this piece!

    • You got it man.. even though AYOP is very much aligned to what I’m most passionate about (as strange as it might seem to be obsessed with productivity), there are some days when I have a huge amount of mental resistance, particular when writing, which can be very ambiguous. I’ve found lately that the things that I feel the most resistance to usually have one of the other characteristics that Tim mentioned, which has helped me a ton in just getting started!

  • Chris – some fantastic tips and reflections here on how to conquer procrastination. Great interview and thanks for reaching out to Tim for all of us. The tips that most resonated for me were putting a time limit on how long we do a task, just getting started, disconnecting from the internet and super powerful is #10 – go do more meaningful work. Work that I care about and am passionate about, i do instantly. Everything else, I drag my feet on. so, the advice for myself would be to focus on more work that I care about. I am moving closer and closer in on this as I’ve actually give up a profession, career and better paying jobs to do what has the most meaning to me. Naturally, i procrastinate very little in this kind of work. As all creatives and writers though, there is that resistance that we must each confront and slay:) it never goes away – always trying to tempt you with the next youtube video or buzzfeed list post. lol Thanks for this piece!

    • You got it man.. even though AYOP is very much aligned to what I’m most passionate about (as strange as it might seem to be obsessed with productivity), there are some days when I have a huge amount of mental resistance, particular when writing, which can be very ambiguous. I’ve found lately that the things that I feel the most resistance to usually have one of the other characteristics that Tim mentioned, which has helped me a ton in just getting started!

  • Cognitive dissonance is an interesting term. Thanks for the mention. To recognize that you have a different action from what you believe in strikes a guilty feeling in me :) Yes, indeed, there are these moments when- Hmmm I am enjoying watching this TV series—- Hmmm I should be working on my blog…— you know that kind of feeling? Then it’s time to make intervention. I feel that it’s a matter of balancing. It’s easier to do what you have to when you get far from the doors of temptation. Great post Chris!

    • Thanks man! I know that feeling well; I felt a lot of that kind of guilt in my experiment to be a slob for a week :) I think that’s why awareness is so huge, particularly when you’re aware of what characteristics a task you’re procrastinating on has, and when you’re aware of the self-talk that goes on in your head around those tasks. It’s strange that guilt can be so motivating! haha

  • Cognitive dissonance is an interesting term. Thanks for the mention. To recognize that you have a different action from what you believe in strikes a guilty feeling in me :) Yes, indeed, there are these moments when- Hmmm I am enjoying watching this TV series—- Hmmm I should be working on my blog…— you know that kind of feeling? Then it’s time to make intervention. I feel that it’s a matter of balancing. It’s easier to do what you have to when you get far from the doors of temptation. Great post Chris!

    • Thanks man! I know that feeling well; I felt a lot of that kind of guilt in my experiment to be a slob for a week :) I think that’s why awareness is so huge, particularly when you’re aware of what characteristics a task you’re procrastinating on has, and when you’re aware of the self-talk that goes on in your head around those tasks. It’s strange that guilt can be so motivating! haha

  • I agree you shouldn’t waste time on work that doesn’t excite you. If you feel it is meaningful but still procrastinate you should link pain and pleasure to it as Anthony Robbins explains in his book. Again, great tips you provide in this post man, really got me thinking about where I want to go! awesome.

    • That’s awesome brother, thanks! I love that way of looking at things :-)

  • I agree you shouldn’t waste time on work that doesn’t excite you. If you feel it is meaningful but still procrastinate you should link pain and pleasure to it as Anthony Robbins explains in his book. Again, great tips you provide in this post man, really got me thinking about where I want to go! awesome.

    • That’s awesome brother, thanks! I love that way of looking at things :-)

  • Dan Erickson

    I’ve never been a big procrastinator, but the older I get the more willing I am to just let things go. I think sometimes we put too much emphasis on productivity and punctuality in our culture. I especially liked #3 on this list. I’ve found that if I do a variety of projects in small increments, I’m much more prone to complete them in time. If we spend too much time on one project we get burned out and want to put it away for good.

    • I like that :) It’s an interesting connection, how the less you bite off the more you accomplish. I think it has something to do with the flow of the tasks you have on your plate–I sometimes think of them as analogous to the flow of traffic on a highway. With traffic flow, it’s not the cars themselves that control the flow of traffic, but the space between them. The less we bite off, and the less we take on (within reason), the more we can accomplish because we can move more elegantly from one task to the next.

  • I’ve never been a big procrastinator, but the older I get the more willing I am to just let things go. I think sometimes we put too much emphasis on productivity and punctuality in our culture. I especially liked #3 on this list. I’ve found that if I do a variety of projects in small increments, I’m much more prone to complete them in time. If we spend too much time on one project we get burned out and want to put it away for good.

    • I like that :) It’s an interesting connection, how the less you bite off the more you accomplish. I think it has something to do with the flow of the tasks you have on your plate–I sometimes think of them as analogous to the flow of traffic on a highway. With traffic flow, it’s not the cars themselves that control the flow of traffic, but the space between them. The less we bite off, and the less we take on (within reason), the more we can accomplish because we can move more elegantly from one task to the next.

  • Point no. 7 is interesting and it reminded me of a Ted talk by Daniel Goldstein about the battle between our present and future self (http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_goldstein_the_battle_between_your_present_and_future_self).

    I still haven’t connected well with my future self and I’ll keep the tips you gave in mind.

    • Awesome buddy! Fantastic talk, thanks for sharing :-) Love me some TED talks.

  • Point no. 7 is interesting and it reminded me of a Ted talk by Daniel Goldstein about the battle between our present and future self (http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_goldstein_the_battle_between_your_present_and_future_self).

    I still haven’t connected well with my future self and I’ll keep the tips you gave in mind.

    • Awesome buddy! Fantastic talk, thanks for sharing :-) Love me some TED talks.

  • Hi, I also think that procrastination can be a symptom of a deeper issue, such as depression. Which just adds fuel to the whole ‘beating yourself up about it’ thing which is common.

    I’ve learned to let things slide and not to put any mental stress into fighting procrastination. If I have one of those days when nothing seems to work I will give myself a day off with the promise that I will come back stronger the next day.

    I’ve also written about number 7 a few times too. I love the idea that our brain treats our future and past selves as different people.

    • Interesting approach, I like it :) One of the things Tim mentioned during our chat was just how important awareness is when you’re fending off procrastination. I’ll admit that I don’t understand depression too well, but any practice that would make you more aware of how much energy and motivation you have would seem (at least on the surface) to be a great first step.

  • Hi, I also think that procrastination can be a symptom of a deeper issue, such as depression. Which just adds fuel to the whole ‘beating yourself up about it’ thing which is common.

    I’ve learned to let things slide and not to put any mental stress into fighting procrastination. If I have one of those days when nothing seems to work I will give myself a day off with the promise that I will come back stronger the next day.

    I’ve also written about number 7 a few times too. I love the idea that our brain treats our future and past selves as different people.

    • Interesting approach, I like it :) One of the things Tim mentioned during our chat was just how important awareness is when you’re fending off procrastination. I’ll admit that I don’t understand depression too well, but any practice that would make you more aware of how much energy and motivation you have would seem (at least on the surface) to be a great first step.

  • Love #5 “Just Start”

    I’ve found when I just start the motivation soon comes. Thank you for a great post!

    • Absolutely, I find the exact same. When you just wait for motivation to strike you, you sometimes have to wait quite some time haha! Especially with writing, motivation has always followed when I’ve simply started, even if that has meant writing crappy for a few minutes.

      • I’ve also found it especially true with writing, seldom I’m motivated but if I just start the motivation usually comes. Keep writing great content!

  • Love #5 “Just Start”

    I’ve found when I just start the motivation soon comes. Thank you for a great post!

    • Absolutely, I find the exact same. When you just wait for motivation to strike you, you sometimes have to wait quite some time haha! Especially with writing, motivation has always followed when I’ve simply started, even if that has meant writing crappy for a few minutes.

      • I’ve also found it especially true with writing, seldom I’m motivated but if I just start the motivation usually comes. Keep writing great content!

  • Pip

    Just discovered your blog and am reading feverishly! This is a brilliantly comprehensive post on procrastination and I am now off to buy Pychyl’s book. I have always been a dreadful procrastinator, leaving everything to the last minute in order for fear to motivate me, then having no choice but to complete the task in a slapdash fashion. It’s a quality I have never liked in myself. Definitely going to investigate the future-you concept, I would never put the pressure on someone else that I put on myself! Enormous thanks :-)

    • That’s awesome!! You won’t be disappointed by Tim’s book; it’s a quick read, but it’s chock full of incredible stuff. Thanks for reading :-)

  • Pip

    Just discovered your blog and am reading feverishly! This is a brilliantly comprehensive post on procrastination and I am now off to buy Pychyl’s book. I have always been a dreadful procrastinator, leaving everything to the last minute in order for fear to motivate me, then having no choice but to complete the task in a slapdash fashion. It’s a quality I have never liked in myself. Definitely going to investigate the future-you concept, I would never put the pressure on someone else that I put on myself! Enormous thanks :-)

    • That’s awesome!! You won’t be disappointed by Tim’s book; it’s a quick read, but it’s chock full of incredible stuff. Thanks for reading :-)

  • Katie

    I keep coming back to #10 because I don’t know if this applies to those of us who procrastinate are truly passionate about what we do. I am a postdoctoral researcher and I find that I love certain aspects of my job: designing studies, coming up with ways to ask a specific research question, meeting and talk with colleagues, giving talks, teaching lectures, coming up with grant ideas. However, I am not a fan of writing up my results. I have a hard time taking such a big task of writing a paper (or a grant) and building my argument, researching the relevant literature. It’s the “less fun” part of my job and I avoid it. But much of the advice in the “writing productivity” camp is that I’m not practicing enough, I’m not consistently writing my 30 minutes a day – which should result in less “will power” devoted to this effort and more positivity about these tasks. So I think needlessly telling someone they should change professions or career choices might be too strong when ultimately it’s just that part of the job is not as fun and should be addressed through the first tips.

    • Bordô

      I have pretty much the very same problem. I wouldn’t say I really like academy, or better saying, the academic environment I am into, but I do love the intellectual production, the reading, the investigation… different from you, I do like the writting part, the expression, the language, but it just doesn’t happen anymore. Pressure and depression may be what are bugging things here in my case.

  • Katie

    I keep coming back to #10 because I don’t know if this applies to those of us who procrastinate are truly passionate about what we do. I am a postdoctoral researcher and I find that I love certain aspects of my job: designing studies, coming up with ways to ask a specific research question, meeting and talk with colleagues, giving talks, teaching lectures, coming up with grant ideas. However, I am not a fan of writing up my results. I have a hard time taking such a big task of writing a paper (or a grant) and building my argument, researching the relevant literature. It’s the “less fun” part of my job and I avoid it. But much of the advice in the “writing productivity” camp is that I’m not practicing enough, I’m not consistently writing my 30 minutes a day – which should result in less “will power” devoted to this effort and more positivity about these tasks. So I think needlessly telling someone they should change professions or career choices might be too strong when ultimately it’s just that part of the job is not as fun and should be addressed through the first tips.

  • KayJ

    This article has been great to help me generate class discussions with my homeroom and summer school students. One of my students also brought a useful video… Here it is if anybody else can benefit from it too. Gives a teen perspective.
    http://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/family/teenagers/what-your-peers-say/about-procrastination/

  • Nick Waan

    We are procrastinating because we outweigh the short-term benefits over the long-term ones. E.g., we decided to workout but delay it permanently, instead eating piles of donuts. We prefer the short-term benefit of eating a donut to the long-term benefit of being healthy. I think we have to remind ourselves of the future benefits as they are more important eventually. I just track my time for this, I use Yaware.TimeTracker (http://timetracker.yaware.com/time_management_app_9)

  • Yeasin

    I found the ventilation of procrastination interesting. My own theory of procrastination that has evolved on pinnacle of five decades is that the key is ANXIETY and its avoidance. For some, encountering shakeup surrounding a task leads such people to speedily ruckus the task. But for many others, encountering shakeup leads them to put aside the task, thrust it out of consciousness to quell the shakeup. It’s not a long term do as the task usually has to be performed. But we procrastinate to avoid the shakeup, on your own finally the stage the task subsequently the penalty for non-court battle is hence big that it begins to dwarf the nervousness surrounding temporary the task. I think this theory subsumes your and the author’s habit in based concerning insecurity and feelings of self-worth.

    See Also – what is procrastination

  • Ed DLR

    Hi Chris,

    great blog and really rings true. One thing I think is left out is habit – sometimes I think we (I) procrastinate so much it becomes almost default behaviour.

    Can I ask your advice on the imagining thing. There seem to be quite a lot of techniques I’m reading about lately involving visualising/imagining – imagining the ‘future you’ in this case, but in other contexts could be imagining yourself in a stressful situation (then imagining it black & white, smaller, on TV not real etc, to reduce your stress response).

    Thing is I’m rubbish at it – just can’t seem to form or hold a vivid image in that way. Do you know of any advice on how to get better at it?

    Thanks for the blog, Ed

    PS I’m procrastinating right now. Definitely an aversive thing…

  • Mohd Mujahed
  • Julian Nash

    Great post and really informative. I work in a pretty stressful job and it is easy to get distracted, so these tips are helpful.

    a word of advice from anyone looking to help with productivity is no try nootropics. I have been using a supplement called modafy and have been having great results so far.

  • Monika

    Although written a fee years ago, I had stumbled upon this article today. I would add that if a task is truly awful, sometimes there is the option of never doing it, by either paying someone else, trading work with a spouse or friends, or deciding that the task is unnecessary. In my family of origin, all of the women would cook for days before Christmas–stressed and unhappy–because a feast was expected. I would dread this annually, so decided to skip the traditional food when I became an adult. If someone is doing tasks often that they have an aversion to, usually that person is avoiding the relational conflict and boundary setting that would create a more meaningful life for themselves.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • FreeSteamKeys

    I’ve been struggling with procrastination all my life until I discovered procrastination bulldozer method. I really worked for me.

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