Monday, 12 August 2019

Procrastination Stoppers

Carol Lieberman wrote a very interesting piece for the New York Times on procrastination, where she outlined an argument that procrastination wasn't laziness: it was self-harm (25 March 2019). She proposed this argument based on work by Piers Steel, in his 2011 book, The Procrastination Equation.

While procrastinating literally means 'putting off until tomorrow', there is an implication that by putting things off until tomorrow we are running ourselves out of time for other opportunities, hence Carol's self-harm argument (which is actually Piers Steel's argument). By being lazy without self-critique, "we are acting against our own best interest", and worse, we know we are doing it when we are doing it.

And the procrastination symptoms? Need to study? Watch some cat videos. Have to make a difficult call? Play an online game. Got to get a quote into a client? Potter about on BoredPanda.

Carol Lieberman reports Dr Sirois from the University of Sheffield, who says that “procrastination is essentially irrational. It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences”, adding that people do this because they are unable "to manage negative moods around a task." Right: we procrastinate with things that then make us feel worse. Yay. Negative jobs have a greater likelihood of procrastination, and those bad moods include being bored, anxious, insecure, frustrated, resentful, or from low self-belief because the project is unstructured and we are worried about whether we can be successful or not.

The trouble is, when we procrastinate, we feel relief that we have put the awfulness off. Great! Shot of dopamine, and we are happy. Then the reality kicks in: all we have really done is to lose ourselves some valuable project time.

We have all done it. But how do we STOP doing it?

What we need to do is to build ourselves a better offer than the shot of dopamine our procrastinatory behaviour rewards us with. Some ideas that Carol has are:
  • Reflect on what happens during bouts of procrastination. Watch our reactions and see where procrastination starts so we can derail our early procrastination steps. 
  • Consider what we could do next, if we were going to do the thing we are trying so hard to avoid. Micro-tasks are much easier to accomplish, and might prevent us procrastinating about the larger ones. Plan micro-tasks instead of huge amorphous ones. 
  • Create inconvenience in getting to our procrastination 'activities'. Carol suggests that "adding friction to the procrastination cycle [makes] the reward value of your temptation less immediate". For example, delete tempting apps on our phones, create a complicated password to access items, or lock items out during work time.
  • Make success easy. Remove as many roadblocks as we can so we can be successful. For example, if you are consistently late for meetings, have an alarm clock in the room set for fifteen minutes before you need to leave, and another one outside your office that is INCREDIBLY loud and won't turn off until you get up, go out, and turn it off. That way you are up, and will be on time for your meeting. Make the time earlier and earlier until you build an understanding of how much buffer time you actually need to ensure you are on time. 
Changing ingrained habits is never simple, but being watchful of what we are doing will help. 
Good luck!



  • Lieberman, C. (25 March 2019). Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control). Retrieved from
  • Steel, P. (2011). The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done. USA: HarperCollins.


  1. Thanks Sam, procrastination/avoidance can sometimes be useful and adaptive ...during grieving for instance where it may take more energy to complete the task than is available


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