13 Escape the Procrastination Trap

What is procrastination?

Definition: To delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.[1]

Why do we procrastinate?

Procrastination is not a “one size fits all” problem. We procrastinate for a variety of different reasons. The first step in tackling procrastination is to do some self reflection – to figure out – without judgment – why you might procrastinate.

Reasons for Procrastination

People procrastinate for a variety of different reasons:

  1. Not being sure of how to do the task at hand. If a task seems difficult, or if you’re not sure you know how to complete it, it’s natural to avoid tackling it.
  2. You might lack motivation to work on the task. If a task doesn’t interest you, you might prefer to work on something else (e.g., other courses) that are more interesting.
  3. Fear of not doing the task well. Trying hard at something and failing might seem worse than failing because you didn’t try. Often a root cause of this type of procrastination is perfectionism.
  4. You might fear the opposite. Some people fear being too successful, because the result of this success is that people will expect more of you the next time.

Identifying the reason for procrastination can help you move towards a solution.  Here are some suggested solutions for the causes mentioned above:

Table: Procrastination Reasons.[2]
  • I’m not sure I know how to do it
  • I’m not interested in this task/ it isn’t motivating for me
  • Choose to “just do it”, and complete the task, allowing yourself guilt free time after it’s done.
  • Consider how continuing to dread the task might be taking away from future enjoyment of other things.
  • Consider your attitude towards things that are uninteresting – is your attitude preventing you from finding the motivation you need?
  • Consider how the task at hand relates to your long-term goals. For example, perhaps the course is not interesting to you, but it will help you achieve your goal of finishing your program, and obtaining employment in an area that interests you.
  • I’m afraid of failing/ I’m afraid of what success might mean
  • Consider whether you have developed unrealistic standards for yourself.
  • How can you set realistic goals for what it means to be successful?
  • If you need more support, consider talking to a Student Advisor or Counsellor. (NSCC Office 365 login required)

Getting Started

Stopwatch with 25 minute interval
Imaged Credit: Rawia Inaim

A key aspect of overcoming procrastination is developing strategies to get started.  Often, committing to complete one small task can be enough to start moving ahead.  For example, just taking out your laptop, creating a document, and typing the title can create some forward momentum.

A well-known technique for managing time and to help with procrastination is called the Pomodoro Technique. This technique is a method of managing procrastination by breaking down your work periods into small, manageable units. Here’s how it works:

  1. Choose the task you want to accomplish.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes – no interruptions are allowed!
  3. Work until the timer rings.
  4. Take a short break.
  5. Repeat up to 4 times and then take a longer break.

Why the Method Works

The Pomodoro technique can help you:

  • Push past procrastination by creating forward momentum because it requires you to commit to only a small, manageable period of work.
  • Develop discipline, work without interruptions, and can create awareness of how much time individual tasks take.
  • Reward yourself with frequent breaks, which helps maintain motivation.

Try it!

Take some steps this week to defeat procrastination.

  • From the reasons listed above, why do you tend to procrastinate?
    • What is one step you will take this week to move ahead with a project or assignment?
  • Try the Pomodoro technique this week.
    • Did you find that it helped you get started and stay focused?

  1. Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 65-94
  2. Adapted from: Oregon State University Academic Success Centre. (n.d.) Six Reasons People Procrastinate. Retrieved from success.oregonstate.edu/six-reasons-people-procrastinate


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