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