8 Tips For Tackling Procrastination

tackling procrastination

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step – Lao Tzu

Most of us struggle with procrastination from time-to-time, but for some people, procrastination can be a significant hurdle that can threaten the things and people you care about most. Tackling procrastination can be humbling and tough. 

Procrastination may have as much to do with emotional regulation than self control, according to the NY Times. Research suggests procrastination may have more to do with, “the immediate urgency of managing negative moods” than getting on with the task, says study author Dr. Sirois. The temptation to relieve your gloomy mood in the moment wins out against your desire to chip away at a longer term goal. 

Often the steepest hurdle to battling procrastination is understanding its relationship to anxiety, and developing specific strategies to work through the anxiety that’s holding you back.  

So if you’re wrestling with the intoxicating temptation to put things off, I would advise you to consider these quick ways to get on with things.

Here are 8 simple ways to turn the tide, temper your procrastination, and face your life (and chores) with greater effectiveness.

1.Take stock

Be honest with yourself about how often you procrastinate and recognize the unique scenarios for you that set up this process. Recognizing that you procrastinate, and suffer from its ill effects, will help you recognize its impact when you are next at risk.

For example, do you only procrastinate at work? Only when you’re tired? Only on certain tasks? Knowing where you struggle in tackling procrastination is the first step in finding a solution.


2. Understand your anxiety, and notice your avoidance strategies.  

Tune into the anxiety you feel when something is asked of you – and more importantly, the expectations and meaning that you assign to it. The more important and meaningful a task, the more you will experience anxiety about it, and the more tempted you may be to avoid it.

Responding to mounting anxiety with mounting avoidance only makes things worse and obviously doesn’t work. Understanding when you are avoiding allows you to notice when is the time to try something different.


3. Break the task into small, manageable chunks.  

So small, that it fools your resistance. For example, if you have a memo to write, the first step is perhaps to read the assignment. The second task is to create a document. And the third would be to write a title.

Thinking about it in this way, you can further break your task into very small steps that allow you to sidestep your avoidance and stimulate the momentum so you can keep going.

4. Use your anxiety to get started.

This is all about doing it right away. It will never get easier to do than it is right now. This step is really about acknowledging that avoidance behaviors don’t change with time, they often root down even more.

So when you feel that first pang of anxiety, that’s the time to take action. It allows you to sidestep your avoidance from the get-go. This could be anything from brainstorming, making a first phone call, or breaking the task into small pieces to get started.


5. Resist hollow self-assurances as well as panic – both are energy sappers. 

If, in spite of your best efforts, you find yourself in a cycle of procrastination, resist the urge to pretend that it will be “OK” or conversely, to panic. Tackling procrastination requires mental focus. 

Avoidance and worry fuel anxiety.

Action diminishes it.

Letting yourself freak out about how bad things are will only make things worse by exhausting you, and consuming more precious time. This action causes anxiety to rise making it harder to channel. Instead, direct the anxiety you feel towards facing the task at hand. Let it fuel you, not stop you.


6. Keep going until anxiety diminishes.

Once you have started, keep going. Repeat this exercise as long as you need to until you fully engage and you are no longer tempted to avoid.

When anxiety is channeled into action, it feels so good that you may forget how worried you were in the first place. This is the sweet spot of using the felt-pressure of a deadline to fuel activated engagement, and perhaps peak productivity, according to M. Csikszentmihalyi’s flow model. 

This experience is sometimes referred to as being in the zone, the groove, or flow.


7. Use tools that can help.

Especially if you struggle with attention issues, self discipline, or impulsivity, traits shown to predict procrastination, recognize that staying on task might be particularly challenging and require that you plan accordingly. Be mindful of distractions, and minimize their risk. 

Turn off music, TV, social media, telephone, email and other digital distractions if your task requires using your computer. Make sure that your workplace is also free from distraction – clear your desk space, close the door if coworkers are nearby, avoid workspaces where you might be tempted by other activities (like the kitchen, or family area). 

Some people find a timer useful to help them maintain focus and resist distraction during a fixed amount of time. Smaller 10-30 minute chunks of time are believed to be useful to maintain focus, so long as you have timed breaks as well.


8. Make procrastination inconvenient.  

Just like a dieter is warned to keep unhealthy food outside of the house or an alcoholic to avoid bars, a procrastinator will have a tougher time procrastinating if temptations are not easily accessible. 

Consider making stalling activities harder by adding mini-delays, or “micro-costs.” For example, remove a tempting game app from your phone or computer, turn off your email notifications, or disable auto login to your social media or web browser, requiring you the inconvenience of typing in your passcode. 

Adding physical distance between you and your tempting distractions can also help – including separating yourself from your comfortable home, a comfortable room, your smartphone, TV, snacks, or even your loved ones. Requiring a walk or travel time can thwart temptations.

Like with most things, baby steps can bring about huge changes. As you read over the list, make note of the things that spark curiosity, resonate for you, or simply have you reading them twice. 

Changing behavior is a process that begins with a new awareness, a decision to change, and simply a single step to begin. When it comes to tackling procrastination, why not make things simpler, try something different, and see what happens?

Today, not tomorrow.

Looking for more help in understanding anxiety? Learn more about my book Hack Your Anxiety and access free tools to help you manage the fear and anxiety going around the world today.


Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash.

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD


  1. Nick Stokes on December 29, 2015 at 9:51 am

    Nice article. I guess the best tip would be “just keep going until anxiety diminishes”. As hard as it may seem, it is the best things you can do in such a situation.

    • Alicia H. Clark, PsyD on March 9, 2016 at 10:29 pm

      Exactly. As hard as it might seem, if you keep at it, the anxiety will diminish.