The Full Guide to Avoiding Procrastination (W/ Tips & Signs)

27 December 2023
13 min read
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Here’s a situation most of us are familiar with: 

You’ve got a big project coming up and you know that the earlier you start working on it, the less tiresome it will be to finish it and the better quality of work you’ll be able to deliver. However, you keep pushing the start date until about two days before the deadline. 

By that point, you’re stressed, anxious, and probably disappointed in yourself.  

Let’s face it - procrastination is something many people struggle with, from students to seasoned professionals.

And, if left unaddressed, it can really take a toll on your productivity, professional or academic performance, and even your work-life balance. 

So, are there ways to avoid procrastination once and for all? 

There sure are - and you’re just in the right place to find out what they are! Here is what this article will cover: 

  • 8 Tips to Avoid Procrastination (That Work)
  • How to Avoid Procrastination Because of Social Media
  • 8 Ways to Recognize You’re Procrastinating
  • 6 Common Causes of Procrastination

And more. Let’s dive in!

8 Tips to Avoid Procrastination (That Work)

#1. Hone Your Organizational Skills 

Organizational skills are a set of skills that help you keep track of materials, information, and even your time in such a way that you can tackle short and long-term tasks efficiently. 

As such, having (or developing) organizational skills is vital if you want to avoid procrastination.

For some people, procrastination is the direct result of a lack of self-discipline. And, in many cases, lack of discipline comes from not having a good task-completion system or habits in place. 

This is where organizational skills come in. Having a well-organized working space, schedule, and task completion system means you’ll be less likely to be taken aback by an impending deadline or unnecessarily postpone a project. 

In a nutshell, honing your organizational skills involves:

  • Learning how to manage your time 
  • Prioritizing and planning your tasks
  • Thinking strategically
  • Learning how to delegate less important tasks (to your future self) 

That said, developing organizational skills is easier said than done, as it requires its fair share of time and effort. You can head over to our article on organizational skills to learn how to develop yours. 

#2. Remove Distractions

Your work or study environment is an integral part of how productive you are and how well you can tackle your tasks. 

If you sit down to work and you’re constantly distracted by the TV in the background, your social media notifications, or even your coworkers and/or roommates, your progress will naturally get derailed and you’ll be more likely to procrastinate. 

Here are some ways to effectively avoid distractions and focus on your tasks: 

  • Silence any notifications and alerts that aren’t directly connected to your work 
  • Use headphones to avoid background noise. You can either play music or white noise (if music is also distracting to you). 
  • Go to a coworking space. If you’re working remotely, go work at a space where everyone else is working. Being around other people who are working can inspire you to be productive, too.
  • Go to the library. Dorm rooms or study halls can sometimes be a source of distraction (think, passersby who may sit and chat, noise, laughter, etc). As such, it’s better to go to designated study areas (i.e. the library). 
  • Break big projects into smaller pieces. It’s easier to get distracted if you have to work on a task for hours in a row. If, however, you divide your work into smaller chunks, you can focus on completing each of those tasks without getting distracted. 

#3. Schedule Your Deep Work

Deep work is the time you dedicate to focusing on your most important, long-term projects or tasks.

Such tasks can vary from one person to another. For a student, it may be a 3,000-word research paper. For a writer, it can be writing a new book chapter. 

Deep work is arguably the most challenging part of our routines, but learning how to do it daily can make it less stressful. Not to mention, engaging in deep work for at least a few hours every day means that you won’t have to complete it all at once, with the stress of an impending deadline on your shoulders. 

Now, when it comes to how you can make yourself do deep work daily, the secret here is repetition and cueing

For starters, you should create a routine for it. Sitting down to do deep work at 11 am one day and at 8 pm the next is unlikely to help you make a habit out of it. 

And, even if your daily schedule is such that you simply can’t schedule your deep work at the same time every day, you should at least make it so that it fits into your day in the same pattern. For example, teach your brain to understand that, every day, you will get into deep work mode after spending an hour at the gym or after replying to your emails. 

The more you repeat this pattern, the easier it will be to sit and do deep work. 

#4. Tackle New Tasks Effectively

Sometimes, you may procrastinate doing tasks that you’ve never tackled before, simply because they may seem challenging, difficult, or completely out of your comfort zone. 

Well, chances are, you’ll be significantly less likely to procrastinate doing new tasks if you have a system in place to tackle them. Basically, your system for approaching new tasks (no matter their nature or level of difficulty), will become a reference point that can help you avoid decision fatigue about how to start. 

Let’s take, for example, a content creator that needs to write an article on a completely novel topic that they have no experience writing about. A system to tackle this task could be: 

  • Researching the topic to understand what others have written about it. 
  • Making a tentative outline of the article’s contents, including the arguments they will use and the sources they’ll refer to. 
  • Calculating how much time it’s going to take to complete the article. 
  • Considering possible setbacks, including distractions, writer’s block, etc. 

Of course, to tackle your new tasks effectively, you need a system in place that works for YOU. A way to do that is to remember a time when you handled a challenging task successfully and note down all the steps you took to achieve that. 

That way, you can come up with a system that suits your line of work and strengths much better than simply copying someone else’s system. 

#5. Work for Short Periods

Sometimes, our perception of “hard work” is sitting to work and not stopping for hours at a time, even if we get tired or if our productivity drops. 

Well, that perception may be skewed by procrastination itself. After all, it’s only when you put off doing something until the last minute that you just have to sit down and work until you’re finished. And, as you probably already know, that method of working in no way guarantees the result will be quality. 

As a matter of fact, working non-stop can be bad for your health, productivity, and work performance. On the contrary, doing three or four hours of deep work daily can really improve your productivity and make you feel less tired and stressed. Not to mention, it can significantly help you avoid procrastination. 

So, don’t aim to tackle a project by sitting down and working on it for hours at a time. Instead, aim to work on it productively over a few hours every day, depending on how long you can work without getting tired or noticing a drop in your performance. 

#6. Acknowledge Your Negative Feelings

Procrastination is often caused by feelings of anxiety, fear, and guilt around a task. 

Basically, if completing a task makes us feel anxious or worried, we’re more likely to put off doing it altogether. Or, if we’re obsessed with delivering perfect results, we may procrastinate doing the task due to feeling like we’re not going to be able to live up to our expectations.

Well, the first step to managing such emotions is to identify and acknowledge them. So, if your procrastination is caused by such feelings, analyzing how much a particular emotion is affecting your ability to sit down and work on it can be helpful. 

Say, for example, that you have to do a presentation for a class at university. This task may make you feel anxious, bored, and a little annoyed. Once you’ve acknowledged these negative emotions, you can address them separately. 

For example, you can tackle your boredom by setting up a reward system or working on it with a classmate you like. Or, you can tackle your annoyance by finding something you value in completing it (e.g. learning new things or getting a good grade for your effort). 

#7. Set Small Goals 

Very often, big tasks or projects have the power to overwhelm us. 

If you don’t know where to start, how long it will take you to finish, and what difficulties you’ll face while doing something, you may end up postponing it indefinitely. 

You simply don’t want to deal with all the uncertainty and effort it takes to tackle something big and unfamiliar. 

In such cases, setting smaller goals is the way to go. When you divide a big project into smaller chunks of work, it won’t feel as intimidating. Instead of trying to calculate how long it will take to finish it all, you can approximate how long it will take to complete each separate goal, or get a clearer idea of where to start and what challenges you can expect along the way. 

Take, for example, a grad student who needs to write their thesis. The idea of having to complete 40-page long research in three months may be overwhelming, to say the least, which in turn may lead them to put it off until they have only one month to submit it. 

But, if they break down the work into smaller goals (e.g. two weeks to do the research and collect sources, one day to create a detailed outline, three to four days to write each chapter, one week to proofread it, etc.), then it stops being so intimidating. 

At the same time, it becomes easier to identify potential difficulties and address them effectively this way, than if you try to pinpoint everything that can go wrong with a big-scale project. 

#8. Forgive Yourself 

Last but not least, you should learn to forgive yourself if your efforts to avoid procrastination don’t work right away. 

It takes a lot of time and effort to address the underlying issues that cause procrastination (more on those later), so you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t see results ASAP. 

So, set realistic expectations about what you can expect of yourself, find a system that works for you, and keep engaging in friction-filled work as much as possible (i.e. work that requires more time, energy, and effort than simple, automatic tasks). 

If you stick to your system for long enough and don’t get discouraged from procrastinating once again, you’ll notice your efforts to avoid procrastination will soon take off! 

How to Avoid Procrastination Because of Social Media

While procrastination existed before social media became a thing, the latter has definitely made procrastination easier. Mainly, that’s because social media is easily accessible and especially appealing (i.e. less demanding and more entertaining than your actual tasks). 

This study by Statista shows that the average internet user spends at least two hours on social media daily

Do you also spend the time that you should be working, studying, or working on an important project on social media? 

We’ve got your back! Here are three effective ways to avoid procrastination caused by social media: 

#1. Limit your access to them. 

One obvious way to avoid social media-related procrastination is to limit your access to the platforms or the Internet. 

For example, you can leave your cell in a different room from the one where you’re working, delete social media apps from your phone entirely, or turn off your Internet connection (if your job doesn’t require it, that is). 

If you’re tempted to check social media apps on your laptop too, consider installing productivity Google Chrome extensions (e.g. StayFocused). Such extensions block your access to social media altogether so you can stay focused on work.

#2. Make it harder to log in. 

If you’re working remotely, chances are you need the Internet to connect with your team and do your job. 70% of remote workers say they can’t do their job without an internet connection. In such cases, you should make it harder to get into social media platforms. 

Are you addicted to your Instagram feed? Log out of the app every time you close it and make it super difficult to log back in (e.g. by setting a hard-to-remember password, for example). Do you spend too much time on Facebook? Use two-factor authentication every time you log in. 

#3. Minimize triggers. 

Have you noticed how, sometimes, the notifications your phone makes when you have social media activity are enough to get you to spend more time than you can afford on social media? Or how unlocking your phone to take a call and seeing the icons of your social media apps can trigger you to open them? In such cases, you can avoid procrastination by minimizing said triggers. 

For example, you can mute notifications from certain apps on your phone or put all social media apps in a separate file, not on your home screen, to avoid seeing them every time you unlock your phone. 

What Causes Procrastination?

If you can pinpoint exactly what’s causing you to procrastinate, you can address YOUR procrastination more effectively. 

If, for example, your procrastination comes from perfectionism or avoidance, you can probably tackle it on your own through the strategies we mentioned above. If, on the other hand, your procrastination is the result of, say, undiagnosed ADHD, you may need to consult a professional. 

So, let’s go through some of the most common issues that cause chronic procrastination: 

  • Perfectionism. Perfectionists set unrealistic expectations for their work and, as a result, develop a fear of failure. This leads them to put things off until the “perfect” moment comes when they can do a seamless job - a moment which, needless to say, never arrives.
  • Avoidance. This procrastination cause is when you put off a task or project that makes you feel anxious or worried. These procrastinators are task-averse, putting short-term pleasure over long-term progress.
  • Trouble focusing. People who have difficulty concentrating are more likely to procrastinate on their tasks. Sometimes, trouble focusing may come from undiagnosed medical conditions like ADHD, autism, etc. 
  • Waiting until the last minute. Some procrastinators wait for the adrenaline rush and positive stress induced by doing something under time pressure. Often, it comes under the pretext they “work better under pressure.” It goes without saying that doing this causes decreased work quality and increased stress, which can eventually lead to burnout
  • Decision fatigue. This type of procrastination is caused by having too many options and difficulty choosing. Making decisions takes energy and concentration, so when starting or working on a task depends on your decision, you may prefer to put it off instead of putting in the effort of choosing. 
  • Avoiding challenges. Procrastinators that avoid challenges are, for the most part, people who are afraid they aren’t up to the task and face it feeling afraid, anxious, and even guilty. This leads to a slippery slope that gets them to procrastinate further. As a result, they end up avoiding tasks that may help them learn something new, grow, or improve their self-esteem significantly.  

8 Ways to Recognize You’re a Procrastinator 

Let’s be honest—we all procrastinate now and then. 

Whether it’s pushing off laundry until you have no clean clothes left in your closet or doing your taxes two days before their deadline, you’re probably not a stranger to procrastination either. 

Well, when it’s a one-time thing, procrastination isn’t necessarily harmful. 

It’s when it becomes a habit or a chronic occurrence that it can really start impacting your personal and professional life for the worse. 

Here are some ways to recognize whether your procrastination is becoming a harmful habit that you should address:

  • Regularly missing deadlines, both at work and in your professional life. 
  • Putting things off in all areas of your life (going out with friends, doing chores, etc.).
  • Getting distracted easily. 
  • Noticing that you procrastinate on a weekly - or even daily - basis. 
  • Filling your time with less important or urgent tasks.
  • You are noticing a decrease in your sleep quality and overall social jetlag.
  • Failing to stop putting things off even when they cause negative consequences at work or school. 
  • Finding excuses for your procrastination instead of admitting that you have a problem. 

FAQs on Procrastination

Below, you can find answers to the most frequently asked questions about procrastination and how to avoid it (that we haven’t already covered):

Q — 

1. What is the main cause of procrastination?

The main cause of procrastination is feeling fear or anxiety about an impending task or project.  

That said, procrastination is also caused by a variety of other reasons (perfectionism, low self-esteem, or trouble focusing), which vary from one person to another. 

Q — 

2. What are the types of procrastinators? 

According to an Indiana State University study, the six types of procrastinators are the perfectionist, the dreamer, the worrier, the defier, the crisis-maker, and the over-doer. 

  1. The perfectionist postpones tasks and projects due to fear of failure. 
  2. The dreamer is the kind of procrastinator who thinks they shouldn’t have to put effort into getting what they want; often, they are people who have grand plans but who get bored or frustrated by the thought of having to do something to achieve them. 
  3. The worrier postpones tasks because they worry they’ll be unable to do them. 
  4. The defier is someone who thinks a task assigned by a superior is simply not worth doing. 
  5. The crisis-maker believes that they work better under the stress and pressure that’s so typical during last-minute work, so they push their work to the last minute. 
  6. The over-doer is the procrastinator who commits to many things and then fails to do them, either due to failing to prioritize them properly or due to the sheer overload of tasks.
Q — 

3. How to avoid procrastination when studying? 

To avoid procrastination when you need to study, try getting organized by prioritizing your tasks and setting goals and deadlines, eliminating all distractions, taking short but frequent breaks, and rewarding yourself after completing chunks of work

Q — 

4. Is procrastination anxiety or laziness? 

Procrastination is linked to anxiety much more than to laziness. Specifically, procrastination is mainly concerned with the inability to manage negative moods related to a task - be they anxiety, stress, guilt, etc. 

So, basically, procrastination stems from deeper and more complicated emotions than laziness and anxiety is one of them.

Q — 

5. How can I avoid distractions to stop procrastination?

Some ways to avoid distractions are to silence notifications and alerts that aren’t directly connected to your work, to use headphones to avoid background noise, to go to a coworking space (if you’re working remotely), or to go to the library (if you’re still a student).  

Alternatively, if you’re working on a big project, you should try to break it into smaller pieces. When you divide your work into smaller chunks, you can focus on completing each of those tasks without getting distracted.

Key Takeaways

And that’s a wrap! By now, you should know everything there is to know about procrastination, including what causes it, how to spot it, and how to avoid it. 

Before you go and avoid YOUR procrastination, let’s go over the main points we covered in this article: 

  • Procrastination is caused by perfectionism, avoidance, trouble focusing, decision fatigue, or the tendency to avoid challenges, among other things. 
  • Some telltale signs of procrastination include regularly missing deadlines in your personal and professional life, filling your time with less important or urgent tasks, noticing a decrease in your sleep quality, and putting things off in all areas of your life. 
  • Some tried-and-tested ways to avoid procrastination are to work on your organization skills, remove distractions, schedule your deep work, acknowledge your negative feelings, set small goals for yourself, and, last but not least, forgive yourself if you don’t get rid of procrastination right from the start. 
  • Being a procrastinator doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re lazy. Typically, procrastination is linked with the inability to navigate complex negative feelings, including anxiety, fear, guilt, perfectionism, etc.