WebMD BlogsMental Health

How to Stop Procrastinating

650x350_procrastinate
Seth Gillihgan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistMarch 27, 2018

Do you often find yourself putting off tasks? You’re not alone. Most of us procrastinate even though it causes stress and can hurt our performance.

So, why do we do it? There are three main factors:

1. Discomfort: We think the task will be unpleasant.
2. Anxiety: We’re worried we’ll do a bad job.
3. Reinforcement: We feel relief when we avoid something we dread, making us more likely to repeat the avoidance in the future.

Once we understand what’s behind our procrastination, we’re in a better position to break out of it. The following techniques come from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and are some of the most effective.

Make it easier to get started.

It’s hard to overstate the value of momentum, as most of us find that getting started is the hardest part of completing a task.

  • Plan to spend just a few minutes doing the first part of the task (e.g., finding and opening that email you’ve been meaning to reply to).
  • Break down an overwhelming task into smaller chunks that feel easy to do. It’s OK to go really small here! Remember, the point is to break the seal.
  • Use short work sessions of 15-25 minutes, and set a timer. When the timer goes off, take a short break before starting another work block.
  • Plan a small reward—like a cup of coffee—for completing the first part of your task—and a bigger reward for when you finish it.

Practice thoughts that encourage you to move forward.

Our thoughts often work against us by encouraging procrastination. Try these approaches instead to get your thoughts working for you.

  • Recognize the voice of procrastination that gives you permission to avoid taking action —thoughts like, “I’ll have more energy to do it later.” Replace this voice with kind and firm encouragement to get moving.
  • Acknowledge that if you don’t feel like doing it now, you probably won’t feel like doing it later.
  • Accept that there may be some discomfort and anxiety—which doesn’t mean you have to put off the task.
  • Remind yourself why you don’t want to procrastinate, including how it has cost you in the past.
  • Remember that you can’t do the task perfectly, and you don’t have to. Aim for imperfectly done.

Be careful not to beat yourself up for procrastinating, which will just make you feel bad and probably won’t help you get on task. Sometimes it’s actually better to do something later, especially if we’re truly exhausted and would perform better when we’re more rested.

There’s even some evidence that we come up with more creative solutions when we procrastinate, as Professor Adam Grant described in his book Originals. Just be sure to make a plan for when you’ll get to your task, which not only makes you more likely to complete it but helps you more fully enjoy your downtime.

WebMD Blog
© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:
About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Haverford, PA. He is author of The CBT DeckRetrain Your Brain, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple, and co-author with Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh of A Mindful Year: 365 Ways to Find Connection and the Sacred in Everyday Life. Dr. Gillihan hosts the weekly Think Act Be podcast, which features a wide range of conversation on living more fully.

More from the Mental Health Blog

View all posts on Mental Health

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More