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 detective work – to figure out – without judgment – why it might be that you 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 is natural to avoid tackling it.
  2. The task to be done doesn’t interest you, and it seems preferable to work on tasks (e.g. other courses) that are more in line with your personal interests. You may lack motivation to work on the task.
  3. Fear of not doing well on the task. Trying hard at a task and failing might seem worse than failing because you didn’t try. Often a root cause of this type of procrastination is perfectionism.
  4. Or, 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 cause of procrastination can help you move towards a solution.  Here are some suggested solutions for each of the four causes mentioned above:


I’m not sure I know how to do it Look for ways to develop your skills in the areas where you feel unsure of your ability to be successful. For example:

  • Make an appointment with a math or accounting tutor to learn how to solve a difficult type of problem
  • Make an appointment with a writing tutor to develop an outline for your paper
  • Learn from library staff how to use the research tools that are available
  • Make an appointment with a learning strategist to learn how to read more effectively

Rather than procrastinating, you can empower yourself to be successful. The skills you gain will help you not only on one task, but on other related tasks in the future.

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 is 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? Is it realistic to expect that you will always have interesting or enjoyable tasks?
  • 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 degree, 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?



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 begin 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 that can 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. Do up to 4 Pomodoros and then take a longer break.

Why the Method Works

The Pomodoro technique can help you push past procrastination and create forward momentum because it requires you to commit to only a small, manageable period of work.  In addition, it can help you discipline yourself to work without interruptions, and can create awareness of how much time individual tasks take.  Lastly, the method allows you to reward yourself with frequent breaks, which maintains motivation.


Try it!

Take some concrete steps this week to defeat procrastination.

  1. Of the reasons listed above, why do you tend to procrastinate?  What is one step you will take this week to move ahead on your project.
  2. Try the Pomodoro technique once this week.  Do you find that it helps 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. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65
  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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University 101: Study, Strategize and Succeed Copyright © 2018 by Megan Robertson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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