Procrastination: Tips to Obliterate it!

Feb 22, 2017

by Beth Peterson. Writing about procrastination is kind of tough because there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. We try to not procrastinate, we fail, we feel guilty and then we go eat chocolate. This is a viscous cycle that most procrastinators get trapped in.

I’ve procrastinated, I live with procrastinators and I’m an academic coach who works with students who procrastinate. We all have varied excuses for putting things off. It can become a habit and then, before you know it, you’ve become a serial procrastinator. Why is it that bad habits happen so fast but good habit formation takes so much time?

So, although there’s a plethora of strategies to help you obliterate procrastination, I know reading a long list of tips will probably throw you back into that vortex of inaction.

I’ll keep it short. I have a list of 15 tips, but will share my top three today. Keep your eyes open for future articles from me just in case you need some more ideas later.

1. Make it incredibly easy to start your task

How? It depends what you’re doing.

I asked my seventh grade study skills class to offer advice to procrastinators (99% of them are experts too). Many of them advised us to “just do it”.

However, that tip came from students who often turned in late work. Good advice, but it didn’t always work.

My non-procrastinators, or ones who said they rarely put things off, suggested writing down a plan on how to break the task into mini to-do’s so you do a little chunk at a time. I suggest to my students to use a calendar or planner to make this external. Get it out of your head and commit to it on paper. You feel like you have achieved something when you complete each one of those chunks. Progress feels good and it helps alleviate stress and guilt.

I also teach them a strategy coined “ABC123” that I use from the Rush Neurobehavioral Center.

All of your assignments are written down. Determine which ones are most important and due soon. Write an A next to those urgent ones. The next important is B, then C follows. You might have two or three super important assignments, so if you have more than one A, prioritize them with a 1, 2, or 3. This can take under 10 seconds and you don’t have to think about what to do next. Just follow your plan.

Now, let’s say you want to start exercising more or eating healthier. Experts would suggest making that first step super easy so you have initial success and want to move forward. For example, get rid of all unhealthy food in your house. Hard to do, but it’s easy to avoid eating chips and junk food when you don’t have them handy.

A non-procrastinator, whom I have lived with for over 27 years, puts his shoes on the elliptical trainer and his shorts at the end of the bed. When his ungodly, loud and very early alarm goes off, he pulls on his shorts, slips on his shoes and starts the elliptical before his brain can talk him out of it. It doesn’t get easier than that. Am I right?

2. Build in a reward for completing the task

Rewards for procrastinators often have to be external. If you had figured out how to internally reward yourself, then you probably wouldn’t need to read this article.

Most of us in school know that our grades are our reward, but jeez… that just doesn’t work for most procrastinators. It’s…. too… long…. to ….. wait…..for…. report cards. We need immediate gratification.

Tim Pychyl, a Canadian social scientist from the Procrastination Research Group, says that some of us procrastinate because we have an emotional regulation control problem. He says that self –deception is at the core of procrastination. We basically procrastinate because we want to avoid bad feelings like stress or the horrible pain that the task will cause. So, find something that brings you joy and reward yourself when you complete that hard task.

Remember my previously mentioned non-procrastinator friend? He loves sleep. REALLY loves it. So, he goes back to bed after his early morning workout. It’s his built in reward.

Other folks might consider calling a friend after a chunk of their assignment is finished. If your student is in middle or high school, their parents could help with some sort of reward system. Some students are happy choosing the next restaurant to eat at when the family goes out, deciding what the next movie you all get to watch together is, or getting to use the car for one night.

If you want a list of rewards, then check out an article from one of my favorite psychologists Peg Dawson. Her article Homework: A Guide for Parents has a section on incentives. Here’s another article from The Child Development Institute that has a range of suggestions for different age groups.

3. Use the Pomodoro technique

Yes, a pomodoro is a tomato. How does a tomato help you?

It doesn’t.

Back in the pre-digital age, there was a popular kitchen timer shaped like a tomato. Then someone used it to help them break down tasks into manageable chunks of time and get stuff done.

Why? Well, often a procrastinator will look at the LARGE daunting task that’s ahead of them and run the other direction. Your task is still there, it didn’t run away, only you did.

The Pomodoro Technique is based on the principle that you have a certain amount of bandwidth to be efficient with your task. You work for 25 minutes straight, stop regardless if you are finished or not. Take a five minute break. Get some water, play with your cute puppy, do jumping jacks, check your texts (exercise some self-control with that last one). Then, work for another 25 minutes straight. Take a five minute break and so on. They suggest doing four “pomodoros”, then take a 30 minute break.

If you Google the Pomodoro technique there are plenty of free apps to help you manage your time a little better.

We all have a limited attention span, our brains crave distraction and the forces of the digital age are working against the procrastinator’s brain. We can all agree that procrastination can cause unnecessary stress. We all know that stress can lead to early aging, increased brain fog, wrinkles, anxiety and depression. If you can take baby steps to obliterate it, then you might also live a happier, healthier life.

Beth is a former classroom teacher and mom of three boys who is busy now as an academic coach and consultant. Peterson Academic Coaching serves students from grade 4 to college helping them plan, organize and prioritize to achieve school success, maximize their strengths and boost self-confidence. Check out some resources at:

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