What Is Procrastination? How To Identify & Stop This Destructive Habit

procrastination drawing I will ll do it tomorrow
8 min read

Welcome to this procrastination guide. The purpose of this guide is twofold. First, I will define what procrastination is. Second, I share tested and proven ways to beat procrastination

Like my guide on improving productivity, this is a dynamic guide. I’ve been researching these concepts for 10+ years. I’ll continue to update this page as I find new ways to improve it. Feel free to bookmark this guide as a reference. I hope you find it useful.

Content Of This Guide:

The Best Definition Of Procrastination 

Procrastination is the act of putting off work for no particular reason. Some guides and experts say that you’re procrastinating when you’re not doing a task that needs to be accomplished by a certain deadline. 

That’s a false definition. It implies that we’re not procrastinating as long as we get the work done. If that’s true, most people don’t procrastinate. Which is of course not true. 

In fact, a recent study I did with 2,219 respondents showed that 88% of all people admit to procrastinating at least one hour a day. That’s more accurate. Why? Because we all delay or postpone a task for no reason. Sometimes, we start a task or project, but we end up delaying the work. We don’t get it done.

Examples Of Procrastination

When you delay work for a good reason, you’re not procrastinating. What’s a good reason? When your work improves with the delay. Think of someone who needs to write a report but runs into a new challenge that must be included in the report. One can argue that the work will be better by spending more time on researching the new challenge.

However, most of our work does not get better by delaying it. If you want to go to the gym, your performance will not be better tomorrow. It will probably be worse because of entropy. 

Two years ago, I gave a talk at Stenden University in The Netherlands. I mentioned my findings on procrastination to the professor who invited me. When I met him recently to discuss my next talk at the University, he shared a graph with me that says everything about a student’s behavior:

procrastination students

The University has an online application for students to practice for exams. The above graph shows how students at the beginning of the semester almost don’t practice at all. 

You see a few spikes in the beginning, probably because the professor explained the online application. But after the initial period, the number of online exercises a student completes is zero. 

Until four days before the exam. That’s when the exam comes close, which is when most students start panicking. Now, most of us form this behavior in college and remain working this way long after we’re graduated.

In the workplace, we procrastinate in the same way. How often have you delayed work on a project until the last minute? Again, this pattern is not only limited to education and work. In our personal lives, we do the same.

When are you submitting your yearly income taxes? Exactly, on the last day. Will we do a better job with our taxes on the last day? Probably not. I argue that we’re even more likely to make mistakes because of the time pressure. 

Some people say that they love deadlines and claim that’s what fuels them to do good work. I know journalists who swear by it. But it’s not a sustainable way of living and working. When you’re close to your deadline, and you haven’t done anything, you experience more stress. While stress may improve your concentration, it also has negative effects on your long-term well-being. 

Long-term, or chronic stress, can lead to depression, anxiety, heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, obesity, eating disorders, and a handful of other health problems1Source:https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/qa/what-are-the-consequences-of-longterm-stress. Procrastination is not a problem we should take lightly.

Benefits Of Beating Procrastination

Procrastination is an inner struggle that can seriously destroy our overall well-being. There are three main benefits to beating procrastination:

  1. Lower anxiety2Source:https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2003-08811-006—The more we procrastinate, and the longer we wait to get started with important things, the more anxiety and stress we have. Doing work is never easy. And if you wait until tomorrow, you will only feel more anxious about getting started. If you overcome procrastination and take immediate action, you will get things done. You remove the anxiety from that task before it gets to you. 
  2. Higher self-discipline3Source:(https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00224545.1995.9712234—Research shows that procrastination is not only a time-management problem. One of the biggest reasons we procrastinate is low self-discipline. The main benefit of beating procrastination is that you automatically increase your self-discipline. 
  3. Better work4Source:https://www.scirp.org/(S(351jmbntvnsjt1aadkposzje))/reference/ReferencesPapers.aspx?ReferenceID=1288435—People who don’t procrastinate accomplish better work. When you work with less stress, anxiety, and high self-discipline, you give yourself the chance to do better work. 

Most scientific research into procrastination focuses on the downside. The negative effects are clear. But the benefits are often not talked about. It should be clear that overcoming procrastination is the foundation of all achievement in life. Delaying important things is a destructive habit. In contrast, when you don’t delay tasks and take instant action, your well-being and work will improve.

Common Procrastination Challenges

Before I share the most commonly used tips to beat procrastination, I want to focus on the biggest obstacles. If you don’t address these common blocks, none of the tips will stick.

  1. No intrinsic reason—What’s your drive? Why do you do what you do? Too often, we set goals and pursue things for extrinsic reasons5Read more:https://dariusforoux.com/how-i-measure-happiness/. Doing things for approval, status, or simply because others expect you to do something will only encourage procrastination. But that’s how most of us live. We lack intrinsic reasons. To beat procrastination, you need to be driven by things that are within your control. Hence, pursue things that give you inner satisfaction. 
  2. Fear—There are many kinds of fear that make us procrastinate. Fear of failure, rejection, novelty, success, suffering, hardship, you name it. To overcome fear, we must focus on the present moment6Read more:https://dariusforoux.com/best-self/.
  3. Lack of knowledge—If you don’t know how to do something, learn how to do it. But if you think you can’t do that, you’ll never start. That’s one of the key characteristics of a passive mindset—you don’t even bother trying. But to beat procrastination, we must adopt an active mindset7Read more:https://dariusforoux.com/the-active-mindset/

These are common challenges that every person experiences at some point. It’s a part of life. We must focus on what’s inside of our control and commit to continuously improve ourselves.

Widely Used Tips For Beating Procrastination

To beat procrastination, use the below tips. I’ve been teaching a course on this topic since 20168It’s called Procrastinate Zero 2. And everything I share is based on research. Beating procrastination requires a holistic approach because it affects so many aspects of our lives. The techniques I share below are a good place to start.

the slope of procrastination
perfectionism-productivity-and-procrastination
goals and systems

Best Books That Help With Beating Procrastination

Understanding human nature helps with beating procrastination more than anything. The books you’ll find below are the most important books for dealing with aimlessness, fear, excessive desires and changing your mindset. To become a productive person who doesn’t procrastinate, you don’t need to know the best tactics, you need to know what drives you. These books will do that:

  • Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl — Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist before the war. His ability to observe the behavior of his fellow prisoners in Auschwitz resulted in Man’s Search For Meaning. This unique book describes how we choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances. Even during the horrible conditions of a concentration camp, humans can endure the suffering and find meaning in living because of inner decisions.
  • A Manual For Living by Epictetus — A Manual For Living is exactly what the title says it is. This book also gives you a larger perspective on humanity. People have always had problems with self-confidence, family, work, other people, etc. In a way, nothing has changed. And that’s pretty comforting.
  • Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers — Fear is something that holds us back on a daily basis. And Susan Jeffer’s book gives you practical tips on how you can manage fear. I say ‘manage’ because fear is something that will never go away. And that’s why I like to read this book every year.
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck — Life is about solving problems and finding solutions. If you always look at the risks and consequences of everything, you might play it safe, but you’ll also never grow. Carol Dweck’s book is one of my favorite books about developing the mindset you need to succeed in life.

Tools and Apps That Actually Help

Beating procrastination is an inner game. You don’t need many tools for that. The ones that I share below are primarily focused on managing yourself. When you manage yourself every day, you make sure you’re making progress. And progress is the enemy of procrastination.

  • RescueTime — I don’t track my time every day. But when I notice that my productivity is going down, I use RescueTime to measure myself. You’ll be surprised how much time you’re wasting on useless activities. Measure it with RescueTime, become aware of the time-wasting activities, and then get rid of them.
  • SelfControl (Mac) / FocusMe (Mac & Windows) – I use this to block distracting sites. If you’re easily distracted by news or social media sites, use this. When I’m writing or working on important tasks, I often use it too. You can be very focused but you’ll still get distracted. So block those annoying sites so you can’t access them when you’re working.
  • Notebook and a Pen– I prefer A5 sized notebooks with a soft cover and good quality paper. This Moleskine does the job well. It might sound unimportant, but pens are probably the most important thing in note-taking. And I’ve tested a lot of pens. I like gel pens best. And this uni-ball gel pen is the best pen I’ve used. I use the 0.7mm line size (it’s the one from the link).
  • Day One – When I don’t use pen and paper for journaling, I use Day One. I prefer to have a dedicated journaling app. Otherwise, my Evernote gets too cluttered.

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