Help for Chronic (and acute) Procrastinators

Some great things can occur through procrastination: your room will miraculously turn spotless, you finally will write that thank-you note to your Grandma...

Why do we procrastinate? We see what we have to do as hard, inconvenient, boring, or frightening. Identifying what is negative about the task or why it is unpleasant may help to get on to doing it. We may also procrastinate because of perfectionism, feelings of inadequacy or discomfort, or worrying.

Common signals that you are procrastinating, and what to do about them

"I work better under pressure anyway!" If this is truly the case, establish early deadlines for yourself. Agree with your professor that you will give a rough draft of your paper to them a week before it is due. Tell your roommate that you are going to study for your Thursday test as if it was going to be Tuesday. The keys to this technique are:

  1. Establish specific goals (for example, a test, a paper, a project).
  2. Identify when they actually need to be met.
  3. Make an early deadline for yourself.
  4. Tell someone (your roommate, mom, professor, coach, ...) about that deadline, and agree with them to meet it.

"I just don't know how to do it!" Don't let this stop you from getting your work done! The point of college is to LEARN HOW TO do it! Talk with your professor, e-mail them, or go talk to others in your class. Tricks to deal with procrastination:

  • Take advantage of impulsiveness. When you get the urge to start working on that project, start right then. Don't put it off.
  • Figure out what you need to do first. Then do it. What needs to come next will probably fall into place as you're doing the first step.
  • Use your imagination. If something seems terribly hard to do, go over it in your mind, imagine doing it, or talk about it out loud with a friend.
  • Be your own best friend: be positive, not critical, of yourself.
  • Work in a study group
  • Ask for help
  • Use your friends. Talk about it with someone, let all your frustrations out in an e-mail to a friend (not your professor!), etc. This may help get a block out of the way. (Don't spend too much time and let this turn into another procrastination technique, though!)
  • Remember that nobody's perfect. Don't expect your work to be either.
  • Rewards: give yourself rewards when you complete a task--and really earn it, don't just let yourself have it if you haven't accomplished your goal
  • Tell people what you're going to do. Be affirmative, direct, and clear. Say "I will ..." (not "I'm going to try to ..." or " I think maybe I'll ..." or ...)
  • Get off the phone. Yes, you.
  • Delegate when possible. If you're the president of the ScubaSurfing club, you don't have to do ALL the minor tasks involved in running the organization. Ask others to help you.
  • Avoid busy-work rationalizations: Your room can in fact be messy.
  • Relax before you start. This will help deal with fears and perfectionism, which you can handle better when you're relaxed.
  • "The Secret to conquering procrastination": Start now. Just begin. Don't agonize, do. It will be much easier to work on it once you've begun.
  • Ask yourself if this is a piano. A what? A piano. Is what you're working on a piano or a barn frame (picture?)? Everything you do doesn't have to be perfect. You can spend less time on the little things and when a piano (or a term paper) comes around, you can spend extra time on the minor details.
  • Study on the phone with a friend. Arrange a time to call, say "hi", but don't get started on a conversation. Put the phone down on a table and start to work. Check in at a pre-set time. Note: Don't try this if you share a phone line or if your friend lives a long-distance call away!

Think you've got these tips down?

Top 10 reasons not to procrastinate

  1. wasted time
  2. missed opportunities
  3. too much attention given to low priorities
  4. poor performance
  5. low self-esteem
  6. increased stress
  7. being swamped at the end of the semester
  8. angry parents
  9. lack of sleep
  10. having to do a paper while your friends are having fun

Play the Procrastination Game

Give yourself point rewards.

  • 1 pt = 5 minutes of reading
  • 1 pt = an easy part of a project
  • 3 pts = a medium part of a project
  • 5 pts = the most difficult parts of a project
  • Take a break when you reach 10 points.
  • Give yourself a big reward when you reach 100 points.
  • Play this game with your roommate or significant other. See who can reach 10, or 100, points, first. Encourage each other to reach the goals together, and then reward yourselves together by going to the park, etc.

Reward ideas:

  • Take a walk
  • Get a sitter for the kids
  • Fly a kite
  • Read the comics
  • Drink a Coke or a cup of coffee
  • Play Racquetball
  • Rollerblade
  • Watch a soap opera
  • Have coffee/snack with a friend
  • Spend $5 too much on a luxury
  • Go dancing
  • Play with one of your gadgets
  • Plan your Spring Break
  • Buy a CD
  • Take a (bubble) bath
  • Call an old friend
  • Rent a movie
  • Play Basketball
  • Go on a picnic
  • Forget about your diet for a meal
  • Go to a concert
  • Dye your hair
  • Play music or sing
  • Play with your kid's toys (or someone else's) when they're not looking
  • Can be as simple as just doing something--anything--else, simply allowing yourself to procrastinate