How to Overcome Procrastination for Improved Mental Health

Procrastination is one of those things that even the most well-organized and punctual fall victim to at some point or another. Think about the last time you found yourself watching television when you really should have been doing homework. While common, procrastination can have a detrimental impact on your life, including your grades.

So what can students and other people do to overcome procrastination and avoid the stress, anxiety and poor performance that stems from completing assignments at the last second?

Researchers suggest that developing a schedule, carefully planning academic tasks, and improving time-management skills are all effective ways to cope with procrastination.

Deal with Your Fear

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Fear is one factor that contributes to procrastination. This can involve a fear of failure, a fear of making mistakes, or even a fear of success.

Psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Psychology Today contributor and author of The Search for Fulfillment, suggests that challenging your faulty beliefs is important.

If you are afraid of success because you secretly believe that you don't deserve it, it is important to realize that your self-handicapping might be keeping you from achieving your goals. By addressing the fear that is keeping you from getting started, you can begin to overcome your procrastination habit.

Make a List

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Start by creating a to-do list with things that you would like to accomplish. If necessary, put a date next to each item if there is a deadline that you need to meet.

Estimate how long each task will take to complete, and then double that number so that you don't fall into the cognitive trap of underestimating how long each project will take.

Break Projects Down Into More Manageable Segments

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When you are faced with a big project, you might feel daunted, intimidated, or even hopeless when you look at the sheer amount of work involved. At this point, take individual items on your list and break them down into a series of steps.

If you need to write a paper for class, what steps do you need to follow? If you are planning a big family event, what are the things you need to do and what supplies do you need to obtain?

Once you have created a list detailing the process you need to go through in order to accomplish the task, you can start working on individual "baby steps."

Recognize the Onset of Procrastination

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As you start to tackle items on your list, pay attention to when thoughts of procrastination start to creep into your mind. If you find yourself thinking "I don't feel like doing this now" or "I'll have time to work on this later," then you need to recognize that you are about to procrastinate.

When you feel tempted to procrastinate, don't give in to the urge. Instead, force yourself to spend at least a few minutes working on the task. In many cases, you might find that it is easier to complete once you get started.

Eliminate Distractions

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It's hard to get any real work done when you keep turning your attention to what's on television or you keep checking your friends' Facebook status updates.

Assign yourself a period of time during which you turn off all distractions—such as music, television, and social networking sites—and use that time to focus all of your attention on the task at hand.

Reward Yourself

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Once you have completed a task (or even a small portion of a larger task), it is important to reward yourself for your efforts.

Give yourself the opportunity to indulge in something that you find fun and enjoyable, whether it's attending a sporting event, playing a video game, watching your favorite TV show, or looking at pictures on a social sharing site.

Final Thoughts

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Breaking the procrastination habit isn't easy. After all, if it was simple there wouldn't be an estimated 80% to 95% of students engaging in procrastination on a regular basis. The urge to put things off can be strong, especially when there are so many things around us to provide fun and entertaining distractions.

While procrastination might not be something you can avoid entirely, becoming cognizant of the reasons why you procrastinate and how to overcome those tendencies can help. By implementing these strategies, you might find that it is easier to put your nose to the grindstone and get started on those important tasks.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Grunschel C, Patrzek J, Klingsieck KB, Fries S. "I'll stop procrastinating now!" Fostering specific processes of self-regulated learning to reduce academic procrastinationJ Prev Interv Community. 2018;46(2):143-157. doi:10.1080/10852352.2016.1198166

  2. Häfner A, Oberst V, Stock A. Avoiding procrastination through time management: an experimental intervention study. Educ Stud. 2014;40(3):352-360. doi:10.1080/03055698.2014.899487

  3. Psychology Today. The Paradox of Procrastination. 2012.

  4. Steel P. The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failurePsychol Bull. 2007;133(1):65-94. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.