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The Psychology of Procrastination and How to Overcome It

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There are some tasks awaiting you, but you can get yourself together to start doing them. Most likely, you think that’s just you being lazy, right? But being lazy is about simply not wanting to do something. Here, you know that you need to do the task, but you do anything you can to avoid doing it. Does that sound familiar to you? And what about these:

  • Doing everything at the last moment
  • Constantly putting various things off
  • Easily getting distracted

Let’s be fair; when you don’t have enough time, you google “help me write my essay” and order your paper from a custom writing service. But you’re putting off ordering your essay from the service until it’s too late. In the end, you decide to write it several hours before submission. 

You can write it in one, actually, but the writing process expands to hours because you get easily distracted. Like, you get distracted while writing a sentence with your own thoughts. And then you can’t recall what you were writing. Essay writing aside, you experience the same with other tasks. If that’s your case, chances are that you’re suffering from procrastination. 

What is procrastination?

So, what is procrastination? In brief, it’s a habit of unnecessarily and irrationally postponing something despite knowing that such an action will lead to negative consequences. Frequently, procrastination was mistaken as simple laziness. There’s one thing that separates procrastination from laziness – it can be active.

It’s not like you do nothing ignoring the task. You can do a lot of things while delaying, let’s say, writing an essay. You’ll wash the dishes, clean the house, run a marathon, do charity work, and do anything but that essay till the very last moment. And the main reason behind this postponement is not the absence of desire to do it or lack of willpower. 

Despite the contradicting reasons behind procrastination that you can find online, generally, psychologists agree that procrastination serves as a coping mechanism for fear of failure. You’re not sure that you can do a given task properly, but you surely can’t do anything wrong with washing dishes, cleaning the house, and so on. In other words, we allow our brain to focus on something different to get the necessary relief. 

And then, at the very last moment, you rush into writing an essay or preparing for the exam. The price you pay is sleepless nights and writing or learning while trying to overcome the insane level of anxiety. The good thing, though, is that after figuring out what procrastination is and the reasons behind it, you can start finding out how to overcome it. 

Take a different approach

When the thought “Time to do that task” pops up in your head, you try to switch your attention to something else. Let’s get back to our already classic example; you realise that you need to start writing your essay, and you run washing the dishes. After you finish washing the dishes, you realize that you need to take the trash out. Then you realize that you need to do some urgent shopping. And it goes on and on. Just stop!

You need to fight the urge to do something else. “Time to do that task,” just start doing this task. Basically, you need to try to surprise yourself. Instead of following the standard procrastination pattern, start doing the task rather than switching to something else. Besides, no one says that you need to finish the task in one go. 

Take small steps

You get distracted while working on the task, as you start thinking that you’re going to devote several hours to this task. And you end up wondering why can’t it be done on its own in a blink of an eye. But no one says that you need to do it all in one take. Take small steps. Gather the materials and take a break. Write an outline and take a break. Write a draft and take a break. You get the picture. 

Be kind to yourself

Another thing related to procrastination is guilt. Basically, your actions follow the next scheme: you procrastinate, do the task at the last moment, and feel guilty that you didn’t do it earlier. We often like doing things out of guilt. And in the end, you get addicted to this pattern – finally doing the task at the last moment serves as a kind of punishment for procrastinating. 

But you don’t have to follow this pattern. Try being kind to yourself. Think about the pattern which you’re about to follow if you procrastinate right now. Can’t you wash the dishes later and focus on the task right now? This way, you will avoid spending a sleepless night writing your essay and hating yourself for not starting to work on it earlier. 

Avoid distractions

It’s much easier to advise it rather than follow the advice. You are not excited about preparing for the exam or writing that essay. But if you put some music on, it probably won’t be that monotonous, right? And you do so, thinking that you are really that good at multitasking. Then you start humming the melody, then sing along. And then you get so focused on the song that you forget about the work you were doing. 

The same goes for listening to a podcast or letting some show on Netflix run while you’re working. But it only hampers the process. Try to stay focused on the work, and you will finish it quicker. Then you can devote your time to listening to music or podcasts. Don’t mix study/work time with leisure time. 

Final thoughts

Remember that procrastination is not simple laziness. The first step is to recognize that you suffer from procrastination, and then you need to acknowledge it. Then you can follow the tips from the article. In case it doesn’t work, don’t be ashamed to reach out for help. You can opt for college counselling services where mental health experts will advise on how to cope with procrastination. 


Jordan Wayne, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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