8 Steps to Breaking Your Procrastination Habit

We all procrastinate. For some of us, waiting until just before a deadline can be just the motivation we need to jolt us out of inaction. Others among us procrastinate as a way to put off a task we dread until we feel more prepared or able to do it.

Procrastination is generally not a problem until it becomes habitual. Once it does, it may cause our coworkers to feel that we’re holding up progress. It also influences our mood and state of mind in a negative way, by generating worry, fear, or added stress.

If you or others are starting to feel that you’re unreliable and unable to get things accomplished, here are 8 ways to change your behavior so you can be more productive. Learning how to beat the procrastination habit will leave you feeling more upbeat, less worried and stressed, and more confident about your reputation and effectiveness.

1. Write down the dreaded task. Writing down the task you’ve been putting off brings the project to the front of your mind so it can’t easily be ignored.

2. Identify the underlying feelings. According to psychologists, procrastination is an emotional reaction. One of three core emotions is always driving it–fear, anger, or sadness. For example, you might be worried that you won’t get the job done well enough and on time (fear). You may feel resentful because you have to do something you hate (anger). Or you might feel inadequate or ill-suited for the task (sadness). Dig down deep to identify which emotion is causing you to drag your heels.

3. Move the emotion out of your body. Emotions are pure energy; they either flow through our body when we express them, or get stuck when we don’t. If they’re not expressed constructively and physically, they build up inside us like a pressure cooker. In a private setting, do exaggerated shivering to move out the fear; punch a pillow or stomp around to release anger; or watch a movie that makes you cry to express the sadness. It may sound silly, but it works.

4. Find an antidote to each negative thought. What negative thought pops into your head when you think of this task? You can neutralize such negative thinking by replacing each one with a “truth” that contradicts it. For example, if you think “I’ll never be able to learn all this,” you might say to yourself, “If others can learn this, so can I.”

5. Break it down into small, doable pieces. You’ve envisioned the task, dealt with what’s been holding you back, and fixed your destructive thinking. Now, break the big job down into a series of little doable steps so you can stay focused on just handling the next little task. Plot out each part of the project, including details such as whom you will talk with and what about, where and when you’ll be working, and how long you expect each step to take. (This will spare you from getting overwhelmed, because each step will be doable.)

6. Praise yourself for each small accomplishment. Don’t wait until you’ve completely finished the task to congratulate yourself. Give yourself praise for each small victory, rewarding yourself for each little step completed. Doing this will keep you motivated, and it also prevents fear of failure from creeping in to the process and sabotaging your efforts.

7. Look for obstacles so you can dodge them. Once you’ve broken the task down into smaller pieces, anticipate roadblocks that could pop up along the way. For example, how will you deal with projects with shorter deadlines that land on your desk? Have a tactic ready for sticking to your original plan. One of the biggest obstacles you’ll face is right at the beginning: resistance to get started. You may find yourself making excuses, getting into bad moods, and feeling discouraged. Say to yourself, “I’ll feel better when I handle this.” Repeat it like a mantra until the urge to procrastinate passes.

8. Take satisfaction in the win. Finishing a daunting task is satisfying. Remind yourself that you’ll feel incredibly virtuous when the chore is off your plate once and for all. Accomplishing what you’re avoiding will simplify your work life. You’ll feel more energetic. You’ll sleep better at night. Relish the feeling of success–you did it!

* * * * *

Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and workshop leader. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years working with clients as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is the subject of her award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. Learn more at


30 Responses to 8 Steps to Breaking Your Procrastination Habit

  1. “One of the biggest obstacles you’ll face is right at the beginning: resistance to get started.”

    That is key to understand. As a lifelong procrastinator, I can attest that the start is always the hardest. It’s like there’s a wall standing in your way, blocking you from even beginning.

    Fortunately, walls can be walked around. Or smashed through entirely. When you understand that getting started is the hardest part, the problem of getting stuff done becomes a simple one to solve.

    You just get started.

    Because you know that it’s all down hill from there.


  2. Dan Erickson says:

    Starting is the hardest part, but once you create productive habits it becomes much easier.

  3. Jacki Dilley says:

    Hi Jude,

    One of the ideas that spoke to me was #5. Getting down to the details sounds so helpful for moving through the overwhelming feeling that a big task can create.

    I’ve found a variation on #3 to be helpful, too. I’ve learned through meditation to find where in my body I feel an emotion. Going there and just feeling it helps me work through it. Any time we can get out of our heads and into our bodies, change happens.

  4. I like the idea of writing it down. There is something about the act of writing down the task that makes you want to jump to action a little bit more. That’s something I should practice more often when procrastinating.

    I personally reward myself and incentivize the task. That may not work for everyone though because that takes even more self-discipline.

  5. Morgan Decker says:

    I am in college, and so many of my friends procrastinate because they claim that they work better under pressure. Lies! I used to be one of those people who put off all of my assignments until the last minute, until one day during my sophomore year it all caught up with me and I finally realized that wasn’t the best way to be dealing with all of my work. I am now and the queen of getting things done far in advance to get them out of the way because I feel lazy and unsatisfied if I leave off tasks until the last minute. Reward yourself with some relaxation and a glass of wine if you accomplish something in advance!

  6. Sam Matla says:

    These are great tips, I love number 4. One of the tips that I use is being conscious about your decisions: If you procrastinate now, what will you feel like in 2 hours?

  7. Hi Jude,

    You mentioned moving the emotion out of the body. There is an NLP technique (Well, more specifically a DHE technique by Richard Bandler) where you notice the energy as it flows through your body. As you watch it, you can notice that it circulates around and around. It has to, or it would dissipate and not bother you anymore. The goal then, after you notice the direction it is circulating in, is to move it in the opposite direction and notice how the feelings change. You can use this to overcome food and alcohol cravings as well as nervousness, lack of motivation, fatigue, anger, fear, and jealousy.

  8. Rynessa Cutting says:

    Quite honestly I don’t have this problem and I am so thankful- the only way I’m going to wind up doing something at the last minute is if I forgot or was just too busy. But still, #1 is something I should really look into because I always feel like I’m going to remember stuff and it just doesn’t always work out that way. I need some tips on organization!

  9. jude says:

    hi rynessa,
    Writing tasks down (in a place where you’ll see it) really takes a load off your mind. It’s satisfying to cross items off when you complete them and little and big things don’t slip thru the cracks.
    cheers, jude

  10. jude says:

    Hi michael,
    I like the emphasis on emotions but i have found that we need to move the emotional energy out of our bodies physically and constructively and naturally (modelling what children do) in order for the pure sensation to dissipate so we can move back to our clear and present selves. it just takes a couple of minutes and feels sooo good.

  11. jude says:

    hi sam,
    that’s a great question to ask yourself. i’ll give it a try!

  12. jude says:

    hi morgan

    the reward element is really important. nice to look forward to and it’s a nice way to tell yourself “good job.”

  13. jude says:

    Hi Trevor,

    I agree that getting started is hard. That is why it is so important to start with handling your emotions and then breaking the big seemingly overwhelming task into a series of little doable pieces. once you have finished your planning, you will no longer be stuck but rather raring to go on the first small step. any project gets easy when you know you can do it!

  14. jude says:

    hi jacki,
    absolutely, when we get out of our heads and into our bodies, change happens. i’d suggest trying some shivering, trembling, quivering, and shuddering. you might feel goofy at first, but just literally one minute or so of good shivering (put on music if you so desire) really moves the energy and allows the fear to move out of your body. give it a try, ham it up. and while shaking, don’t dwell on the task but on just making sounds to express the agitated energy. then you’ll feel ready to attend to what’s on your plate.

  15. jude says:

    hi vincent
    yes to writing it down. and yes to rewards for completing each little step!

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  17. Aaron Morton says:

    Hi Jude, when a person does the technique Michael is referring to, they will typically imagine the spinning feeling come out of them and then have it move in the opposite direction whilst ‘outside’ of them. When they do this they imagine this new spinning feeling go back inside of them. In doing so they create a spacial metaphor for the better feeling. This technique done this way would fall within the criteria with which you have stated.

    Take care

  18. Aaron Morton says:

    Hi Morgan, some people do work better when there is pressure and an impending deadline. The buzz provides the motivation, while the thought of a deadline being a month away, for example, doesn’t provide as much of a push to get going.


  19. Aaron Morton says:

    Hi Jude, Nice article and I would like too add that environment plays a big part in someones drive to get stuff done. I have worked with writers in the past. Something that is true about writers is a lot like to write in places like coffee shops. The buzz, the atmosphere, the site of everyone else working creates a motivation for them to work. They are primed to work.

    However this same person might complain that they just can’t seem to get started when they are at their desk in their room. You tend to find their room has a TV, a bed obviously and other comforts. This room is primed for relaxation. No wonder they are putting it off.

    State drives behaviour.

    Take care,

  20. lee says:

    Sounds like an interesting article. I’ll be sure to read it later.

  21. This is awesome Jude. Best strategies on procrastination I have ever read especially because it places so much focus on the emotions we feel and the being behind the actions. Most of what I read on this topic focuses on strategies and actions, but the real root of the problem is the emotion and the being behind the procrastination.
    I also love how you address the idea of celebrating little wins. More often than that, I notice that people don’t do this in life. As a coach, I find this practice invaluable as well. It conditions a positive self talk as well.
    Thanks a ton for sharing Jude. Amazing post! I look forward to checking out a lot more of your work

  22. Mary Slagel@Shape Daily says:

    Reading this article made me slightly more motivated to accomplish the goals I have set for April. The only thing standing in my way is telling my landlord I am moving in a month and figuring out how to make the move legally official with my landlord. I have four more days to do this and yet I have made no step forward in doing it. I need to put the awkwardness aside and call my landlord. I know the moment it is all done I will feel so relieved and stress free. I just have to get it done.

  23. jude says:

    hi mary

    i suggest you shiver and shake all up the spine, out the limbs, in your jaw — fairly hard and with abandon to move the fear that is holding you from doing what you need to do. as you ham it up while quivering and trembling tell yourself “it’s just fear. It’s okay. I’ll feel better when i do this.” then write out a simple script, saying what’s true for you, such as “I’ve enjoyed living her (or whatever is true) but have decided to move. please consider this my 30 day notice.” (you might inquire if he wants you to state your intention to move in writing.) short and sweet. practice it a few times. then shiver some more and pick up the phone. move the energy then gulp and leap. you’ll be proud of yourself.

  24. jude says:

    hi akshay
    thanks for writing. yes indeed procrastination is about honoring the emotions that stand between us and doing what we know we need to do. and praise… it does good things.

    cheers, jude

  25. jude says:

    hi aaron,
    yes. if we know a certain environment is helpful for us accomplishing what we know we need or want to do, then for sure, seek that place out.



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