What to Do If You're a Chronic Procrastinator

Procrastination can be hardwired into your brain. But you can kick the 'I'll do it later' habit. Here's how.
November 23, 2015

You know the feeling. You have 20 unread emails, the reports are piling up and you could really use a lunch break. Two hours ago you said you'd take care of it in five minutes.

If this sounds like you, you are far from alone. In fact, you're simply suffering from one of life's most ubiquitous woes: procrastination. We've all been guilty of it at some point, but some of us struggle with it daily. Chronic procrastinators repeat “I'll do it later” like a mantra, before all that put-off work comes crashing down on them like the contents of an overstuffed closet.

This begs the question, why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves through so much extra stress just to prolong the inevitable? As it turns out, procrastination might be something that's hardwired into our brain. Let's take a look at why we love to procrastinate and then examine some methods of quitting that nasty habit once and for all:

Why We Procrastinate

According to research published in the Journal of Research in Personality, some chronic procrastinators are so adept at putting things off, the habit actually becomes intertwined with their personality. This makes procrastination a very tricky problem to beat, because certain personality traits actually encourage us to do it. In fact, almost every person procrastinates but according to Psychology Today, 20 percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. So if you struggle with organization, efficiency and self-motivation you are more likely are chronic procrastinator.

How do we beat procrastination? Let's look at two scientifically proven methods:

1. Just start.

Simply getting started on a project can actually be the hardest part for procrastinators. But if we manage to make it over that hump, we'll find ourselves more compelled to actually keep working. Why? Because our brains are susceptible to a little something called the Zeigarnik effect. Essentially, we're more likely to complete a task once we gain momentum. The only way to gain that momentum is by kick starting it.

2. Break down big tasks.

That's all well and good, you may think, but my problem is with getting started. We put off big tasks because they're terrifying. We just know they'll consume all of our time, leaving us no room to do the things we really want to do (like relax on the couch with popcorn and Netflix).

Luckily, there's a proven psychological trick to overcoming this fear of starting: Take a big task and break it down into smaller steps. It's actually easier to commit to two or three smaller tasks at a time than a single big one, so that initial starting phase will be much easier. Like we said above, getting started builds momentum and before we know it, the entire project is complete, and we end up with more free time than we would have if we let procrastination get the better of us.

So, the most effective way to beat procrastination is to use these two tips in tandem. By breaking down big projects into smaller steps, you'll find yourself more motivated to get started, and ultimately you will build enough momentum to see a project through to completion.

How do we know it's so effective? Well, it worked for me writing this article—so it will work for you, too.

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