How to Outsmart Procrastination

By: Natalie Rice-Thorp, Ph.D. | February 18, 2022

We’ve all been there; we have found ourselves facing tasks that we “should do,” maybe even “have to do,” and yet, we struggle to move ourselves toward actually doing these things. Maybe you need to study for a test, complete a work project, or start on your taxes. The scenario plays out the same, you find yourself doing everything BUT the dreaded task. I am oftentimes asked the question “Why do I procrastinate?” My usual response is “because you’re human!” We could spend hours thinking and talking about the “why’s”, but that might be more procrastination. My preference is to bypass the judgmental thoughts, stop wasting time being critical of ourselves, and get down to business.

Strategies for Outsmarting Procrastination

1. Start Small

Pick one task, break it into small steps, and write each step down. The steps can be as small as you need them to be to motivate yourself to get started. For example: open a new Word document and give it a title, locate your W-2 form, or open your syllabus. Then, move on to the next small step. If you find yourself stuck on the first or second step, don’t panic. Just break it down even smaller until you move forward. I have been known to go as small as steps such as “find a pen” or “go into the room where your computer is located.”

2. Encourage, Don’t Discourage

Once you complete the first step, check it off your list and pat yourself on the back. Do not give into the temptation to tell yourself “Yeah, but I should’ve….” We want to keep momentum going, not kill it. If this is challenging for you, think about yourself as a child. When you were a baby, did you take your first baby step and say “yeah, but you should’ve taken 40 more steps last week, AND they should’ve been steadier steps, AND really you should be running by now, you’re never going to get this done.” That would be absurd right? 😉 Babies don’t get caught up in discouraging self-talk, they just keep trying, and they accomplish an amazing number of tasks. Embrace your baby spirit!

3. Create Pressure

We are generally most productive with a medium amount of pressure. For example, we don’t tend to feel a great need to tackle a work project that is due in 10 months because the pressure is too low. In contrast, we are likely to be demotivated if we start a big project an hour before it is due because the pressure and stress is too high.

Tips to artificially create a medium amount of pressure to maximize your productivity:

    • Create accountability by telling someone your timeline. Then set up check-in times when you report back on your progress. For added social benefits, partner with a buddy and check in with each other on your tasks. I highly recommend this strategy as it got me through my dissertation process.
    • Set an egg timer for 30 minutes or less and stay on task while the timer is running. Imagine that the timer is representative of a timed test that you would take in a class. If you were taking a test in a classroom, you probably wouldn’t be roaming around the room, checking social media, or making a snack!

If you are trying to create pressure, but it is not working, go smaller, smaller steps for accountability or smaller blocks of time on the timer. I also personally love this strategy. I may have even used it to write this blog 😊.

Try to remember that procrastination is part of being human and it is manageable. It doesn’t have to be a big, scary, impossible thing to overcome. Contact a professional San Diego Psychologist at Therapy Changes to learn more about strategies for overcoming procrastination. Now go take your first baby step toward your goal!



Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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