Break the Cycle of Procrastination!

People who procrastinate rarely do nothing instead of the task at hand. Procrastinators often find themselves cleaning their room, feeding the cat, calling their aunt, going down a very interesting but pointless YouTube rabbit hole—they’re not doing nothing, but they’re not doing the thing they want and need to be doing.

The first step in breaking your procrastination cycle is to figure out why you’re not doing whatever it is you really should be doing.

Why do you procrastinate?

I procrastinate because I’m overwhelmed  

  • Chunks are your friend.
    • Turn big assignments into smaller more manageable chunks.
    • Break your time up into chunks, spending no more than 1-2 hours at a time on each project or class.
    • Chunk your daily studying: study each subject a little bit each day so you don’t get too far behind any one class.
    • Set up a five-day study plan.
  • Get exercise or meditate before you get started on your project.

I procrastinate because I’m frustrated 

  • Plan breaks into your work.
  • Remember that learning new things can be challenging and sometimes frustrating. It’s part of it.
  • Fostering a growth mindset can help!
  • Get help with challenging material! Go to office hours or tutoring, get yourself in a study group, ask a friend.

I procrastinate because of perfectionism 

  • Perfectionists often feel they need to sit on their ideas until the project will emerge perfectly. This is not how things usually work. DRAFTS!!! Remind (or convince) yourself that drafts are a powerful tool. Most ideas/projects/papers are improved if you make a draft and let it sit for a while. Drafts give you time and space to let your ideas stew productively.
  • Start off by setting a goal not to finish a paper, but to get started a draft.
  • Does the final project actually need to be great? Try to get yourself comfortable with “good enough” being good enough. It’s not a good idea to strive for mediocrity all the time, but when employed strategically “good enough” is really, truly ok.

I procrastinate because of inertia 

  • Many people find it’s easier to finish a project than start one. So, don’t set “finishing” your assignment as your goal, just start!
  • How can you get started? Set your timer for 5 minutes, turn off all distractions, and work on your project until the timer goes off. If you feel like working more, do. At least now you’ve started!
  • Do you wait for the Panic Monster to visit you before you get started? If you would prefer to NOT require a feeling of panic in order to get things done, keep the panic monster at bay by working on your time management and calendaring

I procrastinate because I’m not that motivated 

  • Figure out how what you’re supposed to be working on connects to your goals so you can access big-picture motivation.
  • Watch your self-talk language: try replacing “I have to” with “I want to.”

I procrastinate because of self-doubt 

  • Take a minute to pause negative self-talk and honestly inventory your accomplishments. Congratulations! You’ve worked hard to get where you are. Keep up the good work!

I procrastinate because of anger 

  • If you’re not doing an assignment because you’re mad at the teacher or you don’t like the class, ask yourself honestly: who are you hurting by not doing the assignment?
    • How can you channel your anger productively?

I procrastinate because I truly genuinely do not have time 

  • Why are you so busy?? What commitments can you renegotiate with yourself or with other people?
  • Get better at planning your time and give yourself permission to stop over-scheduling.

©Cornell University Learning Strategies Center