Advice for Hardcore Procrastinators

Last week I received an email by Natalie who lives in Brisbane, Australia:

Hi Anuschka,

I love your psychology posts and the advice you give so I was wondering if you could give me some tips.

I am an undergrad student and I have such a hard time finishing my assignments on time because I just can’t stop procrastinating.
Weeks before I stress about the deadline but I never manage to start working until there is just enough time to do a mediocre job. Do you have any advice for a hardcore procrastinator like me?

x Natalie

This is my reply:

Dear Natalie,
I think the magic secret for overcoming procrastination is to realise that you are actually working a lot harder than people who don’t procrastinate. Let me explain. As a serious procrastinator you have built up a certain mindset about your work habits. This mindset has turned into something like a thick concrete wall that takes a serious amount of effort and motivation to overcome every time you need to work. The wall is not something you were born with, it’s the result of beliefs you have acquired over many years, which means you can definitely get rid of it. Once you have detoxed your mindset, you won’t have to break through the wall anymore and will need a lot less motivation, time and energy to start working.

If you think about people you know who procrastinate a lot and those who don’t, you will notice that they use different approaches to think about all the stuff they have to do. Serious procrastinators tend to focus on the negative aspects of it (This is so boring, I’ll be at this forever, I hate writing essays, I’d rather check my pinterest, eat ice cream etc). Non-procrastinators don’t necessarily have more discipline or like the tasks more, but their thoughts focus on the positive aspects (When I get this done I can do xyz, I want to achieve xyz). One mindset is a motivator, the other is not only demotivating, it also causes you to spend a lot of time thinking about the negative aspects of your work ethic and in a sense ‘practice’ and manifest your negative beliefs. Here are three tips for breaking through ‘the wall’ that will help you start associating ‘not-procrastinating’ with less effort and positive emotions, rather than boring, hard work.

Think about it: You said that you eventually do your assignments in the end but stress about them weeks before. All that emotional stress might even be harder work than the assignment itself. When it comes to tasks that have to be done eventually, non-procrastinators only have the effort of completing the assignment, but a procrastinator has to endure that plus a constant mix of stress/ guilt/ anxiety.

It is super important that you set aims for yourself, but not for the usual reasons: you need a specific aim in order to know when it’s time to stop working.  One of the biggest motivation zappers is feeling that you are not ‘doing enough’, but unless you define an aim and make your job finite, you will never have worked enough. So set out a realistic amount of work for one day and when you get there STOP. Don’t start working until you have clearly defined all the steps and divided them into daily goals. If you have to go through an entire text book, split up the chapters, otherwise you will have that nagging feeling that you should be working more for days or even weeks until you finish the whole book. If you divide your task into little one-day jobs, you can enjoy your free time without guilt, feel satisfied about your accomplishments and eventually build up more positive beliefs about your willpower.

Rather than trying to avoid failure, the main motivator for non-procrastinators is the feeling of satisfaction and/or pride after the job is done. As opposed to focussing on the bad things that will happen if you don’t start working soon, try to imagine how good you will feel once you have completed the assignment. Focussing on positive aspects is something you can practice: The next time you finish something, really try to relish the positive emotions you feel, so you’ll remember them for next time. This way you will slowly start to associate the items on your to-do list with the satisfaction afterwards, rather than dreading them and eventually be super motivated to start working.

I hope some of these tips can help you, let me know how it goes! :)

For more ideas on school/uni productivity read this post: The Burned Out Student.

*image via Tattly


  1. I’ve been plagued by procrastination for sooooo many years. Just recently, I was prescribed Adderall, and I thought it would whisk my procrastination problems away, magically. I’m slowly learning that it doesn’t work like that. I need to work on myself for me, and not rely on things like that. At least as far as procrastination goes. This breaks it down into easy steps I can take to improve my task and time management in language I understand. Thank you so much for this. <3

  2. I have read this before, yet needed to re read it. Thank you, so much. Now, instead of waiting till tomorrow to start this one page paper…I am starting it now…Oh, I can already feel the goodness.

  3. Reblogged this on Derrick Lee and commented:
    ‘One of the biggest motivation zappers is feeling that you are not ‘doing enough’, but unless you define an aim and make your job finite, you will never have worked enough. ‘

  4. Awesome post. I’m a postgrad student and know how hard procrastinating makes work seem. I also find that changing my environment helps; if I’m at uni the entire day I usually move from a study space to a cafe to outdoors etc every hour or so.

  5. Excellent advice! I read a book called The Now Habit, and it gives great advice on how to incorporate these techniques into your daily live to help deconstruct the thick concrete wallyou’ve described. Check it out!

  6. Excellent tips. May I also add rewards? If there is something you would rather be doing then why not set yourself a reward? If I do two hours of study, then I can watch that TV show, or go to the beach or whatever. Commiting to a couple of hours is easy the reward is immediate. Something that works for me is doing a bunch of projects all at once. I find that I can get at least part way through a project and change to another before I get bored. It does mean a lot of unfinished projects, but I can also spend a couple of hours on a dull part and reward myself with a fun part. Also it means that instead of thinking about doing something for a year, I find that at the end of the year I’m almost halfway through the project!

  7. Really great tips! I often set super-unrealistic goals and then work till late at night, only to find that I still haven’t finished. Will definitely try these out :)

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