Many people, students and workers alike, struggle with procrastination. They may leave tasks or homework until the last minute or have to extend their deadlines. They might also spent a lot of time excessively worrying about the amount of work they have to do instead of actually doing them.

Some people struggle with maintaining their work for a long period of time whereas others struggle with getting started. They may picture the large mountain of work ahead of them, feel overwhelmed, and decide to watch a show on Netflix or scroll on Instagram.

Regardless of the difficulty, challenges in completing work can often stem from anxiety because of impending deadlines, all the other work that needs to be done, or general life stressors and concerns. Therefore, it’s important to learn strategies that help to reduce chronic issues with procrastination.

This post provides some strategies that might be helpful to getting out of unhelpful patterns and getting your work done!

Identify the specific problem

Before engaging in strategies, it is first important to identify what your issue is to begin with. For example, is it starting work? Keeping a steady flow of work going? Organizing your time to complete a task? Perhaps it’s a little bit of everything.  

Afterwards, consider what might be the reason this is difficult to you. Some examples include:

  • Unhelpful thoughts (e.g., “there’s way too much”, “I’ll never get it all done”, “I won’t do a good job”)
  • Lack of resources from feeling stressed all the time; feeling overwhelmed
  • Not seeing an end to the work (there’s always something else)
  • The work is uninteresting and doesn’t feel meaningful
  • Constant distractions from other things in the environment

Becoming aware of the barriers is the first step to resolving them.

Below are several strategies that you can employ to tackle your procrastination and anxiety.

Break the work into smaller steps

Getting started is sometimes the hardest step. Sometimes, we psyche ourselves out and make it even harder by thinking about all the steps we need to do to complete a project. As a result, we avoid the whole thing and engage in something more pleasant.

A good saying to tackle this issue is: “if the first step causes us to avoid, then the first step is too big”.

Break the work into smaller chunks until it feels right for you. For example, your task might be to read and make notes on a chapter for school. Instead of thinking of completing the whole chapter, start by saying to yourself “I’ll just work on one page” or even “I’ll just get started on the first paragraph”.

Once we get started, we may find that the momentum turns into further motivation to continue your work.

Build momentum by completing smaller projects

If you are feeling very motivated, then it is certainly encouraged to work on the most important tasks for the day.

However, if you’re having a bit of trouble getting started, another way to build some momentum is to complete a few smaller tasks (e.g., responding to an email, making an appointment). Completing these tasks can give a small dose of dopamine and provide feelings of satisfaction and productivity, especially if you have a list of tasks that you can cross out once completed.

Organize your time using a planner

Another strategy that can be helpful to strengthen time management and planning skills is to use a planner. “If it isn’t in the planner, it doesn’t exist” can be a good saying to remember how to track the work that needs to be done and ensure that you have a specific time you have allotted to complete the task.

You might want to start small in case the number of tasks feel overwhelming, which can make people decide that a planner doesn’t work well for them.

Visualize the future / provide yourself rewards

For some people, their current work doesn’t get done because they can only think about the next thing they have to do. This causes them to feel less motivated because there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

Therefore, it can be helpful to do some visualization work and make some rewards for yourself once you completed the task. For example, you might think more short-term (e.g., “I will rewards myself with an episode of my favorite show once I am finished”) or long-term (e.g., “thinking about the summer vacation you will be taking or your future career”). By having something to look forward to, we may be able to break out of feelings of hopelessness.

Tackle unhelpful thoughts

As discussed, there are many unhelpful thoughts that can get in the way of getting started. These thoughts might be “if it isn’t perfect, then I will have failed” and “I am going to do poorly”.

Therefore, it’s important to identify these thoughts and challenge them. For example, you might consider alternative thoughts, such as “never let perfect get in the way of good”. Another strategy is to identify that these thoughts are generally unhelpful – not working on something because you’re worried it won’t be good might lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The use of thought records can be a useful evidence-based strategy to challenge unhelpful thoughts.

Nourish yourself

When we are constantly stressed and overworked, we can feel depleted in our day to day life. This impacts our motivation and productivity.

Consider activities in your life that nourishes and depletes you. For example, nourishing activities might be spending time with friends, keeping healthy, and engaging in leisure activities. On the other hand, working, drinking alcohol, or spending time with people you don’t like could be depleting activities.

Here’s a helpful post on a few ways that you can try out to nourish yourself.

Reduce distractions and poor associations

Sometimes, certain contexts can make engaging in consistent high quality work more challenging. For example, working in your room may be difficult because you have access to games. Moreover, because time spent in your room might usually be associate with relaxing, gaming or sleeping, our brain may have made a connection that makes work even harder.

In these cases, it can be helpful to identify a place that is more likely to be associated with work and contain minimal distractions. For example, a library or café can be great places to keep yourself on track.

Best wishes,