How to Stop Procrastinating: Research, Remedies, and More

Really, stop procrastinating! Today. Or maybe tomorrow.

How to Stop Procrastinating

For some people, procrastination a way of life (20% of adults in the United States are chronic procrastinators). For others, it’s an occasional — and unwelcome — nemesis. Whichever camp you fall into, studies show that procrastination increases stress levels and contributes to a myriad of unwanted health issues.

Even if you do your best work under pressure, procrastination is no fun. Maybe that’s why it’s one of the most common New Year’s resolutions. Ready to put this habit behind you, once and for all? Read on.

From a self-assessment and the latest research to inspirational remedies to an important silver lining, you’ve got a powerful procrastination resource center right here.

Wondering how to stop procrastinating, once and for all? These 5 strategies can speed you on your way:

1. Determine What Type of Procrastinator You Are

Knowing your patterns is the first step to breaking them

Do you love a good infographic? Looking for an excuse to put off that email for another few minutes? What better temptation is there than a diagnostic that will tell you what type of procrastinator you are.

What Type of Procrastinator Are You? is a lighthearted — but practical — flowchart by ParcelHero that quickly assesses your deadline-related habits and determines your procrastination archetype. Answer the questions and follow the arrows to land on their best guess at what makes you tick.

Fair warning: your diagnosis might come with a little sting. Once you trace your finger through questions about your decision-making style, your commitment to quality and few other factors, you’ll arrive at a self-description that is written so matter-of-factly, it can make you squirm.

But with the sting comes some salve: each pronouncement also comes with its own tip to break through what really is holding you back when you procrastinate.

Whether you’re a daredevil, an ostrich or one of the other 3 types, this infographic will make you stop and think. (And taking the self-assessment doesn’t count as procrastination, we promise!)

2. Understand Your Brain on Procrastination

What’s going on behind the scenes?

Although procrastination might feel uncomfortably familiar — not too many of us really know what’s going on in our brains when we make the choice to procrastinate.

Turns out the behavior of procrastination — and how we rationalize it — is fascinating stuff, and learning what’s going on between our ears might help us actually beat the temptation. Entrepreneur James Clear tackles both the cause and the cure in Two Harvard Professors Reveal One Reason Our Brains Love to Procrastinate.”

As Clear explains, behavioral science research reveals procrastination is a battle between two people: present you vs future you. Present you — the one who holds all the decision-making cards — is a bit myopic when it gazes into the future. The result? “We like to enjoy immediate benefits in the present, especially if the costs of our choices don’t become apparent until far in the future.”

In plain talk, that means you’re more likely to choose Netflix over doing your tax return, at least while the calendar still says February.

Clear’s crisp writing on the behavioral research helps put our motivations into context. And a better understanding of what’s really going on makes for better deadline-related habits — and the discipline to make better long-term choices.

Clear winds up his article with three excellent suggestions on how to make the future you just as persuasive as the present you. (Tip 3 — on removing procrastination triggers — completely resonated with us.)

Cracking the code on procrastination can be the first step to a breakthrough. If you’re looking for insight into why you do what you do, this article offers great food for thought.

3. Bust Through Your Top 5 Procrastination Excuses

Find out specifically how to respond to each one

Buckling down to work on a non-favorite task can take immense willpower (and sometimes a small miracle). It’s even worse when we’re distracted or momentarily unmotivated.

For those times when focused attention seems nigh on impossible, TalentSmart president Travis Bradberry has penned the ultimate guide, “How to Make Yourself Work When You’re Not in the Mood.” It’s a powerful primer for getting traction on projects when motivation is at its lowest.

Bradberry picks the 5 most troubling excuses procrastination can throw at us, and walks us through how to prevent them. No scientific-speak here, the excuses are “real talk,” his breakdowns are insightful, and his strategies for preventing them feel like a breath of fresh air.

When much of the discussion on procrastination assumes we’re avoiding tough projects or hard work, Bradberry turns the tables and acknowledges that sometimes the flip side presents an even harder battle. It’s too easy and I just don’t like it are excuses that we might not often voice, but they sure are hard to deal with. It’s refreshing — and helpful — to see those addressed.

For those moments when procrastination is sourced to motivation (or lack thereof), this article stand ready to get you over the hump.

4. Crowdsource Your Remedy

Explore a wealth of ideas for how to stop procrastinating

Looking for fresh ideas to beat procrastination? Sometimes the best inspiration comes from seeing how others have tackled it.

Intrigued? Check out Beating Procrastination: 72 Successful People Reveal their Most Powerful Tips by productivity coach Peter Banerjea for Huffington Post. It’s full of tips and tricks from published authors, business owners, CEOs, and all-around successful people who have taken on a deadline or two and won through.

They all address the question “What’s your number one method for overcoming/avoiding procrastination?” — and the answers are as varied as the backgrounds of the respondents, and range from the complicated to the very simple. Given the variety — and the sheer number of responses — you’re bound to find one that resonates.

Some highlights: Guy Kawasaki lets fear (and humor?) motivate him into action by imagining the college tuition bill for his four kids will generate as he gets down to work. Problogger Darren Rose — along with several others — relies on a strict weekly schedule to his momentum up.

In fact, you’ll see a lot of suggestions for “systems” — for mornings, or for each day of the week — that are set up to keep folks on track. Most answers are specific enough for you to take the advice and adapt it to your own priorities. (And there were so many references to the Pomodoro technique that we finally broke down and tried this popular idea ourselves. Now we’re completely sold on its effectiveness!)

This article is one you’ll want to check out. Solid strategies, handy techniques, inspirational words: if you’re a procrastinator — or know one — you’re bound to find an idea or two to try.

5. Find the Silver Lining: Procrastination Makes You More Creative

Why you just might want to procrastinate on purpose

Good news! Procrastination appears to have an important silver lining.

In fact, if you’re tackling a creative task, you might want to work procrastination into your workflow.

We promise we’re not pulling your leg. Wharton School professor Adam Grant, in his article “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate” for the Sunday New York Times, reports that the right kind of procrastination might make you more creative.

It may sound too good to be true, but research from the University of Wisconsin shows when supervisors rate the creativity of individuals on their teams, procrastinators earned significantly higher creativity scores.

It seems that while procrastinators postponed active work on a task, their minds stayed surreptitiously at work. And when they finally did buckle down, they demonstrated more novel approaches than their peers who began work right away.

It’s so effective a technique, that some famous creatives — including luminaries such as Steve Jobs and Frank Lloyd Wright — embrace procrastination as a key part of their creative edge.

See how to put Adam Grant’s insights to work by letting your ideas percolate >>

Now, before you get too carried away by the good news — the research shows there is such a thing as taking this practice too far. There’s an important aspect to “creative procrastination” that separates it from its garden-variety cousin and it’s critical to harnessing the creative upsides you’re looking for.

Check out the article to see what this critical element is — and how to stay on the happy side of procrastination.

Grant’s article is also filled with links to procrastination research, additional articles and even a couple of YouTube videos. There’s plenty of fodder for an afternoon’s diversion. And remember: it’s all time well spent. You’re not procrastinating, you’re just…getting ready to be creative.

Not quite ready to get back to work? Find out why one expert recommends beating procrastination by planning happy hour for your office >>