“Procrastinate now, don’t put it off” Ellen DeGeneres

In an article in the New York Times, Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield wrote: “Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks”.

I think this is an important point to emphasise: procrastination is not a time management problem, it’s an emotional one. In fact, people who procrastinate a lot tend to have a larger amygdala (the emotional centre of your brain) than those that do not. So, if you struggle with procrastination it doesn’t mean you’re ‘lazy’, it just means you need to learn to manage your ‘monkey mind’.

The next time you feel like ‘putting it off’, use the following tips.

1. Consider your goals / the bigger impact or purpose of the task (your ‘why’)

The next time you feel you’re procrastinating, pause to consider your long term goals. It may seem mundane if you’re doing your expenses, but what greater purpose does it serve? What is the big picture? Will completing the task facilitate a larger goal? Is there someone else who will benefit when you complete this task? The more you can engage with the outcome of the task the better.

2. Break the task into smaller steps

If you feel a task or project is too large or overwhelming, break it down into small chunks – the smaller the better. Think ‘what is the smallest step I can take to move forward with this?’ then focus your energy on that single first step.

3. Give yourself a deadline

You’ve probably noticed times in the past when a looming deadline has prompted sudden activity, so use deadlines to your advantage. If deadlines set by others helps, set your own deadlines for the tasks and projects that are entirely up to you. Sometimes it’s the only way to create the sense of urgency you need.

4. Work in uninterrupted sprints

Once you have a sense of the smallest next step, and you’ve given yourself a deadline, commit to working on the task for just 10 minutes with uninterrupted focus. You can always manage just 10 minutes – but lack of interruptions is key. Turn off any digital distractions and begin. Once you get started you will likely realise how easy it is, and you’ll gain a sense of momentum that will help you continue the work to completion.

5. Reward yourself for completing the task.

Sometimes making progress is all the reward you’ll need, (reflecting on your progress is important here and tracking your work can make this easier), but you can also use positive reinforcement to incentivise yourself further. What small reward can you give yourself once you’ve completed the task? This use of ‘operant conditioning’ is simple but effective, and a fun way to work with, rather than against, your ‘monkey mind’.

Best of luck.


5 point review

  • Consider the outcome or impact of completing the task with regard to your goals
  • Break the task into the smallest first step
  • Set yourself a deadline to create a sense of urgency
  • Work in short (10 minute) uninterrupted sprints
  • Reward yourself when you complete the task
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