Avoiding the Procrastination Trap


In Part I of this article, we learned how understanding the cycle of procrastinationfocusing on the long term, and breaking down large, overwhelming tasks into smaller, manageable bits can help prevent us from putting off important tasks.  Below are a few additional strategies for keeping us productive and committed to our goals:

1. Find the fun in it!

Tasks or activities that are too difficult for our skill level tend to evoke fear or frustration, whereas those that are too easy tend to cause boredom.  Motivation typically suffers in either of these scenarios, increasing the temptation to put things off.  In contrast, when the level of task difficulty closely matches our skill level and concentrated attention is required to complete the task, we tend to feel a greater sense of enjoyment and engagement with the activity referred to as “flow” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008).  Thus, to increase your enjoyment of a task (and decrease your likelihood of procrastinating), aim to match your level of skill to the challenge 

Woman raising her hands and feet while sitting on office chair

you are facing — if a task is too difficult, break it down into easier, more manageable pieces; if it is too easy,  try turning boring or tedious tasks into a game.  For example, you can make a dull task more fun and interesting by challenging yourself to complete it as efficiently or precisely as possible (e.g., aiming to beat your “personal best”), and rewarding yourself when it is finished.  How we think about a task is often more important than the nature of the task itself in determining how much (or little) we enjoy it.

2. Just say “no” to distractions

Limiting access to the distractions that most often get in the way of completing tasks (e.g., TV\\internet, video games, social media) can go a long way in maximizing our productivity.  We are most productive when we focus on just one task at a time and devote our undivided attention to it.  To limit the negative impact of distractors that compete for our time and attention, try working in a distraction-free environment and commit to avoiding distracting activities until you have finished a certain amount of work (e.g., responding to all answered emails ) or spent a designated amount of time (e.g., 40 minutes of uninterrupted work) on a task.  

Laptop, blank notebook and pen on table

While completing these tasks, try putting your phone in a different room so you aren’t seduced by the little flashing light or ping of a new text or e-mail.  If you’re working on a computer or tablet, you might also try using software (e.g., “RescueTime”) that is specifically designed to limit access to distracting websites like YouTube, Pinterest or Facebook.  

3. Make it a habit

One of the most effective antidotes for procrastination is to develop good habits that turn boring or unpleasant tasks into automatic routines that require less effort.  To increase the likelihood of benefitting from this strategy, try setting specific and measurable (vs. vague) goals that minimize the need for later planning (e.g., “This week, I will walk for 10 minutes after dinner every evening” vs. “I will try to get more exercise”).  It can also be helpful to pair each new goal activity with an already-established routine — for example, if you have a tendency to put off doing laundry, try doing it immediately before enjoying your Saturday morning coffee. By consistently pairing these activities together, your Saturday morning coffee routine will act as a reminder to tackle the laundry.  

Man writing now with red marker and crossing out the word later

As a bonus, your coffee will also act as a guilt-free reward for getting your chores done!  Using this example, after several weeks you will likely find that doing laundry on Saturday mornings begins to occur as naturally and effortlessly as brushing your teeth before bedtime.

Although some amount of procrastination may be unavoidable because some tasks just aren’t fun, using the strategies outlined above can help to address the problem and give you more time to do the things you enjoy!

Dr. Chris Parrish

Dr. Chris Parrish is the director of the Mindful Living Centre, a CBT and Mindfulness-Based Psychology Practice in Milton, Ontario.  Contact The Mindful Living Centre today, where our team of Clinical Psychologists can help empower you to live better!

Please note: this article is for informational purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for therapy or advice from a qualified professional.