How to Stop Procrastinating: Understand Why It Happens and Learn How to Beat It

Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing tasks or actions, often to the point of discomfort or negative consequences. It's a common problem that affects many people and can be caused by various factors. Let's learn why it occurs and how to beat it!

How to Stop Procrastinating, An illustration of a student procrastinating, StudySmarter Magazine

Procrastinators usually have a hard time explaining the thought and feeling process that goes into procrastination. It is always recognized as not wanting to do something, but that is not the actual truth behind it.

Procrastinators usually have battles to go through inside their own heads, as if two people lived inside there. One of them wants to make rational decisions and get work done, while the other is constantly looking for instant gratification.

And most of the time, the latter wins the argument, and you start procrastinating, which makes you dislike and judge yourself constantly while procrastinating, which leads to more procrastination in the end. A vicious cycle indeed, but let’s see how you can understand this cycle better and how to break it.

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Difference Between Procrastination and Laziness

One of the common misconceptions you see is that people who are not procrastinators assume that it is the same as laziness, while all laziness, delaying a task for a strategic reason, and procrastination are totally different.

  • A lazy individual is someone who chooses to avoid effort rather than doing what’s right, best, or expected.
  • Procrastination is characterized by inadequate planning, which ultimately leads to higher costs for the person putting things off.

So, in other words, procrastinators do not avoid the effort of being productive like lazy individuals do, but instead, they get stuck in the cycle of battling the voice that only wants instant gratification, losing the battle, and disliking themselves (which starts the cycle all over again).

Top 10 Ways to Overcome Procrastination

Since procrastination is related to brain chemistry and human behaviour, understanding the reason behind it can be difficult, but there are many simple ways you can use to beat it. Here are the top 10 tips to overcome procrastination:

Effective Planning

Effective Planning is the process of defining the actions needed to achieve a certain goal. It helps you break big goals into small tasks and focus on one task at a time.

This is an efficient method when you are facing procrastination since looking at a big task makes you think about all the steps you need to take. This creates the stress of having to do too much at once, resulting in you procrastinating.

Instead, set clear and small tasks before you start working on any goal or project and focus on completing one at a time.

How To Stop Procrastinating, A person taking notes on a table with coffee and a laptop on it, StudySmarter Magazine

Committing to the very first step: The 2-Minute Rule

We tend to think that motivation is something we should already have before starting a task. But it is quite the opposite, motivation is something you gain after completing the first tiny bit of a task because your unconscious mind goes, “Hey, this is not that bad, I like focusing on this”.

As a procrastinator, you have probably experienced this. You delay starting a task, but once you start, you don’t want to stop. But how can you achieve this feeling more often and focus much earlier?

The 2-Minute rule is what you are looking for. It is a method mentioned in Atomic Habits by James Clear, used widely to overcome procrastination.

The 2-minute rule goes like this: When you are struggling to start a task, change your goal from completing the whole task to only completing the first 2 minutes of that task. For example, if you’d like to study, just get your coffee, sit at your desk, open your notes, and read the first sentence. And just like that, you have completed the goal that you have set for yourself.

So why is it useful? If you keep on setting the 2-minute goals, you’ll find yourself gaining the motivation to do the task you have just started. And if you apply this rule to your life in general, over time, you’ll complete more work and achieve your goals without even realizing it.

Instead of Being Scared to Fail, Start Expecting to Fail

Fear of failure is commonly seen as the root of procrastination among those experiencing it. It usually relates to avoiding the task, rather than trying and having the possibility of failing at the end of it.

The truth is, failure is inevitable, especially when you are new to learning or doing something. But the perspective you should gain is this; if you never fail, it means you are not trying hard enough. So tell yourself that not letting yourself fail is the real failure, because failure is the best teacher out there.

Take a look at the people who became the best in their fields, and in their stories, you’ll see many failures:

  • J.K. Rowling was turned down by 12 publishers before Harry Potter Books were accepted and published.
  • Stephen King was rejected 30 times for his first book that has been published afterwards.
  • Micheal Jordan‘s coach cut him from his high school basketball team.
  • Charles Darwin was considered an average student and left his career in medicine.

Life is nothing but an adventure so take the risks that you should take, and live the life you want to live.

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Identify and address your fears

Take time to think about the ongoing battle in your head. What is it that you fear, that keeps you from acting on the things that you should?

If you meditate on this stream of thought enough, you’ll get your answer. Though it may not be the answer you’d like to hear, it will be the one you need to hear.

Then simply ask yourself, “Why am I afraid of this, what are the outcomes I fear, and what chance of happening do they have?” Most of the time, you’ll find out that these unanswered questions were the only reason behind that fear and nothing much else.

Improve your environment

An environment with lots of distractions can lead to a disaster for a procrastinator. Every time you come across an obstacle in the task that you are doing, you may reach for your phone. But that is only possible if your phone is right beside you.

There is a saying, “Your room is a representation of your mind“. So tidy your room up, and leave all the distractions, such as your phone, tablet, etc., in either another room or a drawer to make it harder for yourself to pick those up and start the vicious procrastination cycle.

How to Stop Procrastinating, An illustration of a person struggling under an angry rainstorm while another person is walking happily under the sun, StudySmarter Magazine

Create Starting Rituals

Rituals are a big part of your daily life, even if you don’t recognize them. The most basic example is brushing your teeth; people usually do it right before sleep and right after waking up. For the rest of the day, you don’t even think about doing it. That is the power of rituals.

If you’re constantly checking the time, and every time you see it’s 5-past-something, you say, “I will start at the next hour“, you can benefit from creating a starting ritual.

Just pick a daily task that you do every day, like making coffee, or having breakfast, and stick to the task that you procrastinate on right at the end of this activity.

After a few weeks, you may find yourself seamlessly going straight to your desk to study after grabbing a coffee, because you have done it enough times before, that it has become a ritual.

Increase your motivation

Everyone likes that boost of motivation, and while it may not last long, it can be enough to end the procrastination cycle you are stuck in.

So to end the cycle and start working on a task, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this task? What is the outcome?” to remind yourself why you do what you do and what your goals are. If you still feel unmotivated, try listening to music that gets your mood up while starting the task, and stop listening when you have finally gained focus.

Minimize to-dos

Always keep the pleasure outweighing the pain. This is the ultimate way to overcome procrastination.

Every procrastinator loves planning big because planning is not actually doing anything. While planning is good, it’s better to plan with minimal to-dos. This way, you can finish one task before you get bored or frustrated. And so, the pleasure of completing the tasks will increase, outweighing the “pain” that comes with each task.

Eat The Frog

Eat the frog is a metaphor used to explain one of the best ways to overcome procrastination. The idea is this:

If your task is to eat a frog, do it first thing in the morning. And if your task is to eat two frogs, eat the bigger one first.

Of course, everyone has different frog-tasks, so determine which of your tasks you avoid doing the most, and do it first thing in the morning. Of course, the other side of the coin reads to push the easiest tasks to the later hours of the day.

Remember the “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

Whenever starting a task seems scary, or too big to even start, recall your experiences. By experience, we mean all those moments when you procrastinated starting a task, but once you did start, it was rather joyful to work on, and when you finished, you said, “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

Well, this time, nothing is different – but the task. And most of the time, you will see that it ends in the same way, and your life gets much better for it.

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How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Studying?

For some of us, when it comes to studying, falling into the procrastination pit is almost inevitable. So how should you approach this situation to get over procrastination as quickly as possible? Here are the 2 best ways:

#1 – Forget Logic

Put logic aside. Once you decide to do something, your inner voice that wants instant gratification might fight you. It’s like a baby that needs food, sleep, and playtime, and can’t be argued with using big words. If you’re hungry, tired, or feeling down, this ‘voice’ will rebel just like a cranky toddler.

So, here’s the game plan. Build a routine where you reward yourself when you do well and set small penalties if you mess up. Your brain also loves the feeling of excitement and even a bit of fear, so use that.

Listen to epic music and imagine all the great things that will happen if you succeed or the not-so-great things if you fail. Most important is to just start. Starting is like pushing a snowball down a hill; it gets easier as you go along. And keep distractions away while you work.

#2 – Don’t Leave a Bad Situation Just to Get Into Another

Think about doing work as walking through a dense, foggy forest, while procrastination feels like sitting on a gloomy, dull playground. Both situations aren’t enjoyable. The gloomy playground might seem more appealing because you’re not doing anything difficult.

But here’s the catch – the foggy forest, while initially challenging, leads you to a sunny meadow of happiness and accomplishment. In contrast, the gloomy playground keeps you stuck under grey clouds of guilt and regret.

The encouraging part is that once you’ve made some headway into the foggy forest of work, things begin to change. Making progress feels good! It’s like finding a golden apple of self-pride along the path.

This golden apple might not completely deter the temptation to run to the gloomy playground, but it sure does make the journey through the forest more bearable. And you know what? Once you’ve crossed about two-thirds or three-fourths of the foggy forest, especially if you’ve enjoyed the journey, the end starts to become visible.

The sun starts to break through the fog, and you’re not far from the sunny meadow. That’s a crucial moment when you realize all the effort is worth it.

How to Stop Perfectionism Procrastination?

Perfectionism procrastination is a type of procrastination caused by the person thinking that everything they do should be perfect, and if they are not in the right state of mind to perform perfect work, there is no point in even starting.

If you are stuck in the perfectionism procrastination loop, you probably know this idea is completely wrong, but you still can’t get over it. So what to do?

Making your goal outcome independent is the safest way to beat perfectionism procrastination. Try to set goals that are independent of the outcome of the action you will take and make taking the action the goal itself.

For example, instead of saying, “I will finish revising this chapter today“, start saying, “I will study for 2 hours today“.

The goal you set determines whether you have achieved perfection. If you set time goals, studying for that amount of time means you have perfectly achieved your goal.


About the Author
Oğulcan Tezcan is a writer, translator, editor, and an accomplished engineer. Oğulcan is also a keen researcher and digital market analyst, with a particular interest in self-development, productivity, and human behaviour.

Frequently Asked Questions About Procrastination

What is the 2-minute rule?

The 2-minute rule goes like this: When you are struggling to get started with a task, change your goal from completing the task to only completing the first 2 minutes of that task. For example, if you'd like to study, just get your coffee, sit at your desk, open your notes, and read the first sentence. Then you have completed the goal that you have set for yourself.

What are the 4 levels of procrastination?

The 4 levels of procrastination are The Statement (where you state what you don't want to do), Fear (where you fear not doing the task), Motivation (where you convince yourself that the pressure makes you work and you start working on the last minute), and Acceptance (where you accept defeat).

What is the 70% rule for procrastination?

The 70% rule is not specific to procrastination but a decision-making principle suggesting that if you have 70% of the information needed and feel 70% confident, then it's generally good enough to make a decision or start a task. This can help combat procrastination due to perfectionism or overthinking.

Is procrastination due to low energy?

Yes, low energy can contribute to procrastination. When we're tired, we tend to put off tasks requiring mental or physical effort. It's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to manage energy levels effectively.

Is procrastination because of boredom?

Boredom can indeed lead to procrastination. If a task is not stimulating or challenging, one might postpone it in favour of more engaging activities. Finding ways to make the task more interesting can help combat this type of procrastination.