Procrastination is a common part of human behaviour and is not the same as “laziness”. Procrastination means to decide for no valid reason to delay or not complete a task or goal you’ve committed to, and instead do something of lesser importance, despite there being negative consequences to not following through on the original task or goal. Here are some useful tips for reducing procrastination.

Identify a smart goal.

Observable, specific and concrete, rather than setting a vague, global one.

NOT: “I want to stop procrastinating.”

INSTEAD: “I want to clean out and organise my garage by September 1.”

Set a realistic goal. 

Think small, rather than large, and choose a minimally acceptable goal rather than an ideal goal. Focus on one (and only one!) goal at a time.

NOT: “I’ll never procrastinate again!”

INSTEAD: “I’ll spend an hour a day studying for my maths class.”

Break your goal down into small, specific mini-goals.

Each mini-goal is more easily reached than the big goal, and small goals add up to a big goal.

NOT: “I’m going to write the report.”

INSTEAD: “I’ll spend thirty minutes working on a plan for my spreadsheet data tonight. Tomorrow I’ll spend another thirty minutes filling in the data, and then the next day, I’ll spend an hour writing a report based on the data.”

Be realistic (rather than wishful) about time.

Ask yourself: How much time will the task actually take? How much time do I actually have available?

NOT: “I have plenty of time to do this tomorrow.”

INSTEAD: “I’d better look at my calendar to see when I can start. Last time, it took longer than I thought.”

Just get started!

Instead of trying to do the whole project at once, just take one small step. Remember: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

NOT: “I’ve got to do it all in one sitting.”

INSTEAD: “What is the one first stepI can take?”

Use the next fifteen minutes.

You can stand anything for fifteen minutes. So, what you can do in fifteen minutes is of value.”

NOT: “I only have fifteen minutes, so why bother?”

INSTEAD: “What part of this task can I do in the next fifteen minutes?”

Expect obstacles and setbacks.

Don’t give up as soon as you hit the first (or second or third) obstacle. An obstacle is just a problem to be solved, not a reflection of your value or competence.

NOT: “The professor isn’t in his office, so I can’t work on my paper. I think I’ll go to a movie.”

INSTEAD: “Even though the professor isn’t in, I can work on my outline until he gets back.”

When possible, delegate (or even dump!) the task.

Are you really the onlyperson who can do this? Does this task really have to be done at all? Remember, no one can do everything – not even you.

NOT: “I am the only one who can do this correctly.”

INSTEAD: “I’ll find the right person for this task so that I can work on a more important project.”

Protect your time.

Learn how to say no. Don’t take on extra or unnecessary projects. You can choose not to respond to what’s ‘urgent’ in order to attend to what’s important.

NOT: “I have to make myself available to anyone who needs me.”

INSTEAD: “I don’t have to answer the phone while I’m working. I’ll listen to the message and call back later when I’ve finished.”

Watch for your excuses.

Instead of using your excuse as an automatic reason to procrastinate, use it as a signal to spend just fifteen minutes on your task. Or use your excuse as a reward for taking a step.

NOT: “I’m tired (depressed/hungry/busy/confused, etc.), so I’ll do it later.”

INSTEAD: “I’m tired, so I’ll just spend fifteen minutes working on my report. Then I’ll take a nap.”

Reward your progress along the way. Focus on effort, not on out-come.

Watch out for all-or-nothing think: the cup can be half-full just as well as half-empty. Remember, even a small step is progress!

NOT: “I can’t feel good until I’ve completely finished?”

INSTEAD: “I took some steps and I’ve worked hard. That feels good. Now I’m going to watch a movie.”

Use your procrastination as a signal.

Stop and ask yourself: “What message is my procrastination sending me?”

NOT: “I’m procrastinating again and I hate myself.”

INSTEAD: “I’m procrastinating again: What am I feeling? What does this mean? What can I learn?”

Adapted from Burka, J.B., & Yuen, L.M. (1983). Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It. US: DaCapo Press.