Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


11 Ways to Reduce Your Procrastination

Here is a buffet of tactics that can keep that career killer under control.

Alexandre Norman, CC 2.0
Source: Alexandre Norman, CC 2.0

A major reason why many of my career counseling clients have trouble finding and keeping work is that they’re procrastinators.

Indeed, procrastination is a career killer. I remember giving a talk to unemployed people and asking them to raise their hand if they considered themselves to be a procrastinator. Most of them raised their hand. In contrast, when I asked an audience of college presidents to raise their hand if they were a procrastinator, only a few did.

Do you want to procrastinate less? Really? If so, here are 11 strategies that may help:

1. Ask yourself, “Why don’t you procrastinate MORE?” For example, you might answer, “Because I’m afraid I’ll end up a bag lady." Or "because my wife will divorce me.” Whatever. Often the reasons you come up with for why you don't procrastinate more may be more persuasive to you than any reason I could suggest.

2. Have a conversation with your wiser twin: What do you tell yourself that rationalizes your procrastinating? The most common rationalization is: “I’ll feel more like doing it later.” How would your wiser twin respond to that?

3. Replace your Core Principle. Many procrastinators operate from the principle, “Work as little as I can get away with.” They opt to seek pleasure even if it means they’ll be only minimally productive.

Even if that doesn’t get them fired, they fail to realize how central productivity is to the life well led. I often try to explain that to clients this way:

Imagine there are two clones of you. Clone 1 strives for as much pleasure as possible and when feeling uncomfortable—for example when working on something hard—tries to escape to something pleasurable. Clone 2 realizes that you can have a lifetime of 100 percent pleasure by doing nothing but watching sitcoms, eating, laughing, getting stoned and having sex but, because the person who has done nothing for others, indeed been a parasite on others, is unlikely to feel good about how he or she is living life. So Clone 2 accepts that tackling some tasks will be uncomfortable in the service of being as productive as possible.

Is your core principle: Be as productive as possible or, get away with doing as little as possible? Do you want to change?

4. Procrastinate consciously. When tempted to procrastinate, ask yourself if the short-term pleasure of avoiding the task is worth sacrificing the long-term benefits of getting it done—whether pleasing your boss, reducing your risk of getting fired, or simply the good feeling of having gotten it done.

5. Make yourself do the first one-second task, even if it’s just to turn on the computer. Then do the next one-second task. You may well find yourself building momentum. Often, the hardest part is getting started.

6. If you get stuck, struggle for only one minute. If you don’t make progress by then, you probably won’t. Instead, you’ll get frustrated and thereby be more likely to procrastinate in the future. So when you hit a roadblock that you can’t solve in a minute, get help or see if you can complete the task without solving that problem.

7. Find the fun way to do it. Because procrastinators seek pleasure over responsibility, whenever a client is facing a task on which he might procrastinate, I encourage him to ask himself, “What’s a fun way to do it?” If you’re choosing a career, what’s the most fun career that would be realistic for you to aim for? If you’re looking for a job, would you find it more fun to schmooze, cold-contact employers, or answer ads? If you have a report to prepare, would you find it more fun to review the literature or to interview people?

8. Remember that if you don’t try, you guarantee failure. If you don’t try because that will allow you to save face: “I could have succeeded if I tried, ” ask yourself if that’s worth the price of guaranteed failure?

9. Break it into baby steps. Although that advice has become cliché, most people, especially procrastinators, are more likely to complete tasks when they break tasks into bits. Maybe even create a chart in which you list all the baby steps, so you can get the pleasure of checking them off and seeing your progress.

10. The Pomodoro Technique. This technique gets its name from those tomato-shaped kitchen timers—Pomodoro means tomato in Italian. You set a timer for 20 minutes—that’s called a pomodoro. You work until the bell goes off, then take a 5-minute break. Work another pomodoro and take another five minutes off. After the third pomodoro, you get 10 minutes off. Sounds hokey but it often works.

11. Try a to-do-list app, for example, Wunderlist or Todoist.

In sum, if you can make yourself use one or more of this article's 11 tactics, you’ll likely soon get in the habit of trying to be as productive as possible and, in turn, be happier about yourself and the life you’re leading.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

More from Marty Nemko Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today