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A guide to procrastination and how to overcome it

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Mon, 19 Sep 2022
A guide to procrastination and how to overcome it

Dr Alla Demutska shares a deep dive into procrastination, including how to identify and change the habit.

Imagine this: Your homework or assignments are piling up. You tell yourself that you’ll get to them soon, when you’re feeling more motivated, or you convince yourself that you perform better under pressure. Meanwhile, you find yourself putting off tasks and finding other things to do — from scrolling through TikTok to binge-watching yet another Netflix series.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Procrastination (the act of delaying or postponing an action) is something many of us have been guilty of. According to some studies, approximately 75 per cent of students identify themselves as procrastinators, and 50 per cent of students identify themselves as chronic procrastinators (i.e., it happens a lot and causes significant problems for them).

Procrastination was shown to be related to:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Insomnia
  • Deterioration on emotional well-being
  • Lower quality of life
  • Relationship issues
  • Compromised immune system

Procrastination as a habit

The truth is, you are not born as a procrastinator. Dr Alla Demutska, Lecturer of Clinical Psychology at James Cook University in Singapore, shares, “Your family and life history play a role in the development of procrastination. For example, a harsh controlling family environment is often linked to the development of procrastination. Procrastination is a learned response, which means you can unlearn it. First, you need to understand why and how you use procrastination, and then learn how to change this habit.”

She adds, “Procrastination is often linked to the unhelpful ways of regulating difficult emotions and states such as fear, anxiety, boredom or sadness. We distract ourselves by focusing on something else, for example, checking emails or cleaning the apartment. This momentary relief reinforces the procrastination cycle. While long-term we still have to face our emotions and also the consequences of our procrastination.”

“When we feel anxious or insecure, our amygdala, ‘the threat detector’ part of our brain, perceives the task we are facing as a threat. The amygdala starts to hijack the brain and triggers a fight-or-flight response. This causes problems in our logical and analytical thinking and we have even greater difficulty prioritising things and organising our thoughts,” Dr Demutska explains.

Change your procrastinating habit with mindfulness

Changing old habits can be hard, but not impossible. Dr Demutska offers some tips for identifying and changing the habit of procrastination:

  1. Cultivate curiosity. Bring awareness to sensations in your body when you noticed the desire to procrastinate. What are you feeling right now? Where do you feel sensations in your body? Can you stay with your sensations and just observe them for some time without trying to distract yourself?
  2. Have you noticed any thoughts that get in the way of you actually doing work? What happens when you identify with them — Does this increase or decrease stress? Does it make it easier or harder to focus on the task in front of you? Practice letting go of these thoughts and returning your focus to the task at hand. Gently. Compassionately. Without judgment. Notice when your mind goes into ‘auto-pilot’ and gently bring your attention back. Keep practising patience and persistence!
  3. Motivation comes after action. Just get started, do not wait for motivation. Commit to doing something, and once you have some momentum it will be much easier to keep going. Just 5 minutes in front of your work with the intention to get started, noticing what gets in the way, will let you start to learn more about the habit of procrastination and be able to change it.
  4. You can use a weekly and yearly planner so that you can see at a glance when things are due and anticipate busy periods while planning out your time in advance.
  5. Do not multitask. Multitasking may lead to increased stress and reduced performance.
  6. Rewards are important. When you completed some part of your work or spend sufficient time at the task at hand, do something pleasurable for yourself. Do it afterwards, not before you started the task. Allow yourself to enjoy the feeling of completing the task and the feeling you get from the reward.

While procrastination can have substantial negative impacts on a person’s life, there are ways to address it and there is hope for those caught in a pattern of chronic procrastination. By effectively prioritising tasks, being mindful, and practicing self-compassion, we can start to overcome the problem and be one step closer to fulfilling our dreams and goals.

In addition, students at James Cook University in Singapore have the opportunity to attend a Mindfulness for Academic Success workshops. This six-week course aims to enhance students’ well-being, reduce stress and improve study habits to foster a more productive and welcome academic experience. Students can follow James Cook University in Singapore on its social media channels to stay updated on when the latest Mindfulness for Academic Success workshops become available (as of this writing, the next round of workshops begin in November 2022).

Follow James Cook University in Singapore on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Find out more about our Psychology courses.

Find out more about the JCU Singapore Psychology Clinic.

Discover further information on areas of research and research strength at James Cook University in Singapore.


Media: Mr Edwin Teo [email protected]