Strategies for Overcoming Chronic Procrastination

Chronic procrastination is something many struggle with and which can have negative effects on a student’s mental health and educational journey. 

While occasional procrastination is a common human behaviour and may not necessarily be problematic, chronic procrastination becomes a persistent and damaging pattern. This pattern significantly hampers one's ability to accomplish goals and responsibilities, and can have detrimental effects on various aspects of life.

In this article, we will explain all there is to know about procrastination and discuss how students can overcome chronic procrastination. 

What is Procrastination?

Procrastination is the act of intentionally delaying or postponing tasks or activities that need to be accomplished. Ultimately, it consists of avoiding or putting off tasks that are important, and rather completing more immediate and less important activities. 

Procrastination can manifest in different ways, including constantly rescheduling tasks, engaging in distractions, making excuses, or waiting until the last minute to start working on a task.

While many feel that they work best under pressure, this cycle will have negative consequences, such as increased stress, reduced productivity, missed deadlines, and a general sense of being overwhelmed.

For example, delaying the act of studying will result in a student having less time to study, which will lead to the use of negative study habits such as cramming, pulling all-nighters, and ultimately not performing well in an exam due to a lack of concentration and not having enough time to cover all necessary material properly. 

The Difference Between Procrastination and Laziness

Procrastination can in some cases be mistaken for laziness, which it is not. There are a few aspects that distinguish the one from the other. 

  • Intention: as previously mentioned, procrastination is defined as intentionally putting off a task in order to complete it at a later stage. Therefore, the procrastinator still has the intention of completing the task. However, laziness refers to a general lack of desire or inclination to complete a task. In the case of laziness, there is little to no intention to complete a task. 
  • Timing: procrastination involves delaying an action and is time-specific as it typically occurs just before having to start a task. Those who procrastinate will often leave a task to the last minute when it is clear that the task has now become a priority due to time constraints. Laziness, is more of an attitude where a person avoids effort or activity altogether, regardless of time constraints or the importance of a task. 
  • Mindset: procrastination is often driven by psychological factors, such as a desire for perfection or a fear of failure. In contrast, laziness stems from a lack of motivation or disinterest in engaging in productive activities.
  • Outcome: procrastination can lead to stress and decreased productivity; whereas laziness results in a lack of achievement or a feeling of missed opportunities. 

What Happens Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator

The mind of a procrastinator typically has three elements that result in the act of procrastination. These consist of the temptation for instant gratification, rational planning and decision-making, and finally, the panic of potentially missing a deadline. 

Procrastinators will often receive a deadline and realise that they need to put in consistent work to achieve the deadline in good time. However, the temptation of instant gratification will often outweigh the rational mind. Therefore, instead of getting to work and completing a task, they will spend their time performing other, more fun activities. 

While this does sound like fun, procrastinators will often be filled with anxiety and fear while not doing what they have planned to do, which is to complete the task at hand. 

Once the procrastinator has almost approached the deadline; they will often be driven by panic. At this stage, there are only a few days or hours left to complete a task that they should have taken three weeks to complete. 

This panic motivates them to get to work and complete the task. 

However, it is almost impossible to complete a task in three hours at the same standard as you would have had you spent three weeks on it. 

Therefore, it is important for procrastinators to find a way to overcome the urge to give into temptation and experience instant gratification. 

ADHD and Procrastination

For those diagnosed with ADHD, the cause of procrastination is slightly different to others. 

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms can significantly impact a person's ability to focus, organise tasks, manage time, and regulate their emotions. 

This, in turn, causes those with ADHD to struggle with the initiation and completion of tasks, which ultimately causes procrastination to occur. 

Luckily, procrastination for those with ADHD can be remedied in much the same way as one would prevent chronic procrastination from occurring. 

How to Prevent Chronic Procrastination

There are a number of techniques that can assist in preventing procrastination from occurring. While they might seem simple, they are very effective. 

Admit to Being a Procrastinator

It is important to recognise the tendency to procrastinate and admit that it is a recurring problem. When admitting to this habit, it can be beneficial to reflect on what exactly triggers the act of delaying a task to be completed at a later stage. 

Try to determine whether the cause is fear of failure, perfectionism, lack of motivation, poor time management, feeling overwhelmed, or something else. 

Determining the root cause can aid in preventing this from happening in future. 

Break Tasks Up Into Smaller Chucks

Vague or overwhelming goals can contribute to procrastination. However, small manageable tasks make it easier to start a project. 

For example, it is common to say; “I’m just going to do this one small task before I start studying”. This then turns into another small task, and another, and before long, two hours have been wasted on small tasks that each take a few minutes to complete. 

By taking one big and vague task to be completed and creating dozens of small tasks that take a few minutes or an hour to complete, this cycle that is typically used to procrastinate can be used to start and complete tasks. 

Set Clear and Specific Goals

Once tasks have been broken up into smaller and more manageable goals, it can be useful to set clear deadlines for each goal. The more specific they are, the harder it will be to ignore them. 

This will turn the cycle of procrastination into a productive one as deadlines can’t be pushed and smaller bursts of urgency can be used to complete each step of a large project. 

Ultimately, this will assist in staying focused and motivated to work towards achieving objectives.

Prioritise Tasks

Not all tasks hold the same level of importance or urgency. Prioritise tasks based on their significance and deadline. 

By tackling high-priority tasks first, a certain amount of momentum will be created. This will lead to a sense of accomplishment, which can help overcome the tendency to procrastinate.

For example, if there are five tasks to complete in a day and the most urgent one is completed first and within a decent amount of time, there will be more motivation to keep going and complete the rest of the tasks. 

Create a Structured Schedule and Routine

Establishing a structured schedule and routine provides a framework for organising and managing time effectively. 

Time management techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique can be very useful. This technique consists of intervals of focused work, which are followed by short breaks. 

Try to be as specific as possible when creating a schedule. Set aside specific time blocks for different tasks and allocate time for relaxation and leisure activities. A well-planned schedule reduces the likelihood of procrastination by creating a sense of routine and discipline.

Remove all Distractions

Create a space that is dedicated to focused work. It is best to have a specific room in which to study. This space should be devoid of all possible distractions. Remove phones, TVs, radios, or anything that can and has distracted you in the past. 

If you need a laptop to complete a project or study, disable certain apps such as YouTube, which could be a distraction. You can do this by making use of a productivity app that blocks certain websites or apps for a specified period, allowing you to concentrate on the task at hand.

Reward Focus with Contained Distraction

As distraction is what procrastinators crave, use this need for instant gratification as a reward. For every task completed, a reward of a distraction can be granted for a certain period of time. 

Set a timer when entering into a break and put the distraction away as soon as it rings. Remember, once another task is completed, another reward will be given. This will make focusing seem easier.  

Seek Accountability and Support

Sharing goals to be completed, and the progress achieved on certain tasks can be a fantastic motivator. This motivation is encouraged by a level of accountability created by others knowing about goals to be completed. 

Find an accountability partner, join a study group, or consider working in a shared workspace where you can connect with like-minded individuals. Engaging with others who have similar goals can foster a supportive environment that encourages productivity and discourages procrastination.

While procrastination is not easy to overcome, it is possible. By utilising the techniques mentioned in this article, it will be possible to overcome the urge to postpone tasks until a later date and complete projects on time without waiting for panic to set in. 

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Strategies for Overcoming Chronic Procrastination

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