Overcoming procrastination
December 28, 2009 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone here ever actually overcome procrastination issues, so they don't bother you anymore?

I am a strong procrastinator. I have trouble starting tasks, with the added complication that I also stop work frequently and don't get started again for some time. It comes with all the usual features, self-hatred and trouble with jobs and education.
I have of course read self help books like 'The Now Habit' and such, and numerous websites. I tried all the usual tricks, from working only an hour a day to all kinds of lists and time management and so on. Once it became apparent that this is a deep seated problem, I also did psychotherapy for two years. While I learned many useful things about myself there, and it helped me a lot in becoming a better, and more happy, person, therapy actually did not have any impact on the procrastination habits.
So now I am at the point where I am wondering if I will just have to accept this as a part my personality, and try to find a job where procrastination won't have much of an impact. Of course, this would be a horrible thing to just accept, as I also never get around personal projects I would really like to do, such as learning a language or an instrument, or electronics tinkering or programming projects. Also, such a job would hardly one where I could live up to my full potential. I already have the feeling I am just wasting my time on the planet every day.

So my question is: Has anyone here ever overcome procrastination? If yes, by what means? I would also like to hear about the other side, maybe someone has been in therapy for years also and given up on it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 127 users marked this as a favorite
 
Procrastination is no stranger to me. I used to have a problem with it. Now, I don't. This is what helped me:

~ Realized I was using the procrastination game as an excuse to be hard on myself (some people use food, relationships, etc.) and I felt too invested in the life I wanted to have to keep on beating myself up over it. So, I stopped.

~ Realized I used procrastination as an excuse to play victim or martyr in my life, as if I didn't have a choice to turn it around and would have to over explain myself to whoever (take your pick - coworker, family, friend, etc.) for whatever I was late or incomplete on. Decided that was a BS lie, that I have a choice, and ultimately, I set up the rules of how I live my life, where and who I choose to spend time with, what I choose to do. Yes, you do need to follow the rules of the culture you live in and the work you do. So, you weigh out the consequences and results of your actions, and choose what's best for you at the moment.

~ Realized that I get a lot of benefits out of procrastination. It pushes me to a creative edge. I do my best work at the last minute. It helps me to see what I'm ready or not ready to commit to. Then I learn from that, which is always helpful to me.

~ I stopped focusing on what was wrong with me for procrastinating, or what was wrong with procrastination in general.

~ Meditation.

~ Homeopathy and dietary changes. Some issues, though therapy or common sense may be helpful, stem from health imbalances. If you don't have a strong foundation of health, it's hard to be clear, choose consciously (or even remember you have a choice), or change your behavior. You're just stuck in a dang loop. For me, getting healthy was at the crux for me being able to even entertain any of the methods I listed above.

Best wishes to you.
posted by healthyliving at 12:58 PM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I used to have this problem and I don't any more, thanks to Adderall.
posted by mpls2 at 1:07 PM on December 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm extremely interested in the answers here, as I've always struggled with procrastination. However, I think you've framed your question in a problematic way. You've asked whether anyone has overcome their procrastination issues so that they aren't bothered by them anymore. I'm unclear if you are asking whether people have successfully stopped procrastinating, or if people have continued to be procrastinators but learned to accept it and not let it bother them anymore. I'm assuming the former, but the latter is probably a critical first step toward the former.
posted by spicynuts at 1:08 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who is a Ph.D-holding professor of anthropology, on a tenure track at a reasonably prestigious university. Ever since I've known her, she has been a procrastinator - not just the garden variety "oh I'll do it later" type, but the type who, when in college herself, would start writing a 25-page paper that was due at 9AM at about 2AM on the day it was due.

Now that she's a professor, she's still the same procrastinator - when she has a deadline for an article, I know not to talk to her in the 24 hours before that deadline because she'll be frantically working to meet her deadline, which she didn't sweat for the three weeks she spent playing Mafia Wars when she should have been collating her research.

She's happily married, got a masters and a Ph.D in the "normal" timeframe for such things, has a tenure-track job, and has no real issues with her procrastinatory ways. It's only one data point, but it seems to be a reasonable argument towards the position that if the way you live works for you, keep living that way, procrastination and all.

When I say "works for you", I mean - has your procrastinating harmed others? Has it harmed you in any tangible way, except for causing this general feeling that you shouldn't be procrastinating? You mention "trouble with jobs" - is this trouble coming from people that are not you, or is it all self-guilt induced by your procrastination (I ask because I procrastinate at work a lot (hi mefi!) but it hasn't really harmed my career in any significant way). If it has not, learn to accept it and go on about your business - people procrastinate like this all the time, and it's not the end of the world nor is it a major character flaw.
posted by pdb at 1:23 PM on December 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


1. Open stopwatch software.
2. Press "start," work until timer hits 10 minutes.
3. Stop, rest for 10 minutes, repeat.

This is the only thing that's ever really worked for me. You can vary the time unit as you see fit, but there's really nothing like the sight of seconds literally flying by to make you work. And 10 minutes totally stress-free rest where you don't have to kick yourself for not working will have you raring to go for the next round.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:30 PM on December 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh, the other component of my strategy is to leave the house. I know this isn't always possible, like for an office job, but it's immensely effective.

The fact that I have to leave the coffee shop and go *all the way home* to see what's on TV means I will stay there working at least an hour.

It also helps because I know when I'm there, I'm supposed to be working, and when I'm home, I'm "off." So I don't spend every spare minute at home kicking myself for not writing.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:34 PM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not that I'd necessarily recommend this as a solution, but I found that having kids beat the procrastination out of me. Too much shit to do, really and truly no time to screw around.
posted by Sublimity at 1:46 PM on December 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


I haven't completely overcome my procrastination habit, but I've made some progress and I'm still dealing with it so I may be able to help. One thing that helped was recognizing and internalizing what I'm good at. I separated being good at meeting deadlines from being good at tasks. I realized being a procrastinator doesn't make you a poor worker, there are probably many things that you're good at regardless. So start by feeling strong - you're good at certain things, but you need to work on others, including getting moving.

Another thing that helped was I didn't assume that my procrastination had a single cause. I had to do different things to address each issue, and if your habit has multiple causes then you may need to address each of them separately. So maybe you shouldn't treat 'procrastination' as a monolithic issue. Here are the specific issues I had to combat:

I had/have problems with a fear of criticism. That just required getting used to turning in work that was 'good enough' once I'd done all I could with it. Sometimes you want to put more effort into something, and sometimes you're worried that others will criticize it. But you don't know until you put it out there, and usually turning something in on time is more important than making it perfect. I'm still getting praise for some work that I thought was half-baked.

I also have problems with concentrating on 'uninteresting' tasks - things that don't line up nicely with my interests. It's a fact of school and work that you don't always get to do the most interesting thing in the world. But you can influence this by choosing courses and volunteering for assignments because they actually interest you, not because you think they're impressive. Hopefully that will increase the % of your work that you're actually excited to get started on.

I also had guilt over 'taking too long' to get something done - if I didn't have a lot of creative energy, I wouldn't start on something because I'd end up frustrated later on after 'getting nothing done.' That just required getting realistic with myself. I used to underestimate how long other people spent on tasks, which made me worry that I wasn't good at said task and resulted in feeling frustrated. I also had to realize that even if I'm not feeling inspired enough to get something done all at once, I can make a little progress, and when I do come back to that task I usually find that I made more progress than I thought because it gives structure to the work I do later.

So that was a really long brain dump, but maybe some of it will resonate with you.

I have a question for you OP: did any of the self-help books such as "The Now Habit" help? Did you find anything useful in them? I haven't gotten into any books directly related to procrastination because I didn't really think they could help - so I'd like to hear your perspective.
posted by Tehhund at 2:07 PM on December 28, 2009 [10 favorites]


I have learned to spot my own energy levels, and take advantage of them.

For example: I supplement my income by writing web content for a couple web sites. I get paid by the article - $4-$10 per article, paid out monthly (if I write just one article for a month, I only get four bucks that month).

All last month and most of this month, I couldn't be arsed to do anything for them, and thus last month I made a grand and glorious fourteen bucks. But I chalked a lot of that up to me just being completely wiped out from Christmas prep - the reason I couldn't get motivated to write for them was because I was just exhausted from doing other things, and trying to force myself to write for them when I didn't have the energy would have made me feel crappy, so I didn't.

But - today, the first full day I've been home after the Christmas holiday, I woke up with a sudden burst of energy -- and I siezed on that energy and used it to propel me to my computer to write. My tradeoff for not pushing myself when I was exhausted was that I DID have to push myself when I DID have the energy. And, since I had the energy, it was easier, which meant I got things done, which itself was a motivator (because when you get things done you get that "wow, look at me, I finished a task!" glow of accomplishment).

It's okay to not work when you don't have the energy for it -- sometimes procrastination is your mind's way of saying "Look, I don't have the steam for this right now, let me catch my breath". If you recognize when that's what's going on, that's a big help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:23 PM on December 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Maybe this will help.
posted by kgn2507 at 3:12 PM on December 28, 2009


anonymous: “Has anyone here ever actually overcome procrastination issues, so they don't bother you anymore?”

No. No one has. No one who really has these problems deals with them in such a way that they disappear forever, never to bother them again. That's not how it works for most humans.

“I have of course read self help books like 'The Now Habit' and such, and numerous websites. I tried all the usual tricks, from working only an hour a day to all kinds of lists and time management and so on.”

Self-help books are generally worthless for any serious issue in life. Throw them away and forget about them; they're just a distraction. Also, trying "tricks" that worked for other people is useless until you come to a deeper understanding of your own underlying problem and what's going on with it.

“Once it became apparent that this is a deep seated problem, I also did psychotherapy for two years. While I learned many useful things about myself there, and it helped me a lot in becoming a better, and more happy, person, therapy actually did not have any impact on the procrastination habits.”

Then why did you go for two years? It sounds like you got distracted. That's okay; I do that all the time. The solution is simple, though: first, find a good psychiatrist. Second, say to that psychiatrist: "I am here to deal with my procrastination habits, and I have a habit of getting distracted. I need you to keep me on track and make sure I work on that. Okay?" Psychotherapy isn't a passive thing; you don't just see you have a problem, go, and wait until it gets better. You have to engage with it, and the first step is communicating with the therapist that you insist on confronting the problem you really want to confront.

“So now I am at the point where I am wondering if I will just have to accept this as a part my personality, and try to find a job where procrastination won't have much of an impact. Of course, this would be a horrible thing to just accept, as I also never get around personal projects I would really like to do, such as learning a language or an instrument, or electronics tinkering or programming projects. Also, such a job would hardly one where I could live up to my full potential. I already have the feeling I am just wasting my time on the planet every day.”

You feel frustrated with where you've ended up on this over what you perceive as years of work, and so you're simplifying the situation and reducing it to a binary situation where it's not. The choice is not between decisively and definitively overcoming procrastination forever and giving up and accepting that you're a failure. There are many, many options between those two, thankfully. What I think you'll have to accept is that your solution will be between those two.

You will always be a procrastinator. You will always have to take into consideration the fact that you tend to procrastinate. You will never be able to forget that that's a part of who you are. But you can work on your own habits and arrange your life in such a way that you experience some success in the things you care about most. I am not a highly successful person, but I'm a procrastinator (ADD) that has succeeded at some things I care about.

Go back to the therapist; or, if you don't think she or he was very good, find a better one. Learn about the basis of your procrastination; is it just biologically part of your character? Is it rooted in a fear of failure? Are there other sources? Then, try to ease the causes of your procrastination. Learn what techniques work best for managing your procrastination; different things work for different people, and maybe you'll need to write things down in a particular way, or have someone who'll remind you of certain things, or set alarms in a certain sequence.

No, you will never wake up one day completely "cured," able to manage any and every project smoothly and happily with no snags. You will always have to manage your procrastination; but that's okay so long as you learn how to do it and keep doing it. Take heart from the fact that some of the most productive people in history have been procrastinators who knew how to properly manage it.
posted by koeselitz at 3:41 PM on December 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


I struggled with procrastination for years. I read a dozen books, and eventually found one explanation that helped me kick the habit.

Imagine that you need to walk across a plank held six inches off the ground. You'll just run across it immediately. There's no reason to delay a task where failure has no consequences.

Now imagine the plank is moved between two skyscrapers. Messing up means falling to your death. Now you will procrastinate. Finally, someone lights a fire on one end of the plank. The deadline of the fire overshadows the danger of falling, energizing you to run across.

In other words, perfectionism makes us into procrastinators. You talked about "living up to your full potential" and not "wasting your time on the planet". I wanted that too, and it made me strive for perfection. Starting early means lots of time to fret over details, do all the extra credits, double-check everything. Starting late forces a bound on how long I can obsess.

Once I realized this, I read books for perfectionism instead of procrastination. I practiced starting tasks early and stopping once it was "good enough" (but not perfect). I allowed myself to be mediocre when it doesn't really matter. That gradually fixed my procrastination.
posted by cheesecake at 5:38 PM on December 28, 2009 [40 favorites]


I think cheesecake has something re perfectionism.

For me, part of stopping being a procrastinator was realizing that the "product" I needed to create (in my day job, usually a legal paper of some kind) was just that -- just a product. It would never be life or world changing, it's just a thing to get done (well or at least competently). Once the pressure was off, I could start writing. Now, I write the "easy" parts first, or sketch out an outline with some parts filled in. I just start. 'Cause it's just a problem to tackle, it's not a big Symbol of my self worth or my life or whatever.

I think my work has improved in quality since I stopped getting so obsessed with it being perfect.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 6:30 PM on December 28, 2009 [7 favorites]


Dextroamphetamine - Extended Release.

Seriously. The first month or so I was on it, I literally /couldn't/ procrastinate. Instead of doing homework the night before it was due (college), I was suddenly 1-2 weeks AHEAD.

After that first month or two I the effect wasn't quite as pronounced. However I no longer forget about projects or assignments, further, my ability to estimate completion time has improved radically, which also helps. So can I procrastinate? Yes, but the entire time I've got an internal monologue in the back of my mind going "Okay you need to do this, and get at least part of that done..."
posted by handle_unknown at 6:36 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've been working on it for years. I have my ups and downs. As I get older, patterns start to become more obvious.

I like what "healthyliving" said about using it as an excuse.

I've started to notice that although I procrastinate, I actually manage to do a fairly good job at most things.

Regarding the pharma route - all i can say is, good results for a lot of people - but regarding ritalin/focalin/dex/etc...... - they're strong CNS stimulants. They are addictive. Use has risks and consequences. ADHD is not the same as procrastination. I'm not saying do or don't go the pharma route, but consider other options.

Everyoen else has pretty much hit it on the head. It's about perfectionism, perceived lack of focus, and internally generated stress about your procrastination leading to more.

I've found The Cult of Done Manifesto helpful - print it out and put it somewhere, and read it daily (or more often).
posted by TravellingDen at 7:29 PM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


And since ADD is a much more commonly-discussed disorder now than it has been in the past, I want to emphasize something that I think you might not have thought enough about, anonymous. Procrastination can come from a lot of different places; what if it's psychological? What if there's some event within your life the memory of which is stopping you short and keeping you from achieving what you'd like to? I was somewhat hasty in saying that you could never overcome procrastination; I said that because I think you're wrong in thinking of it as being like a light cold you just have to cure, but it may really be based on some issues that you really need to uncover and confront.

The question isn't really "what do I do about procrastination?" The important question is: why do I procrastinate? Don't assume that the answer is obvious - it's not. And you can't figure out what to do about your problem until you find out what's causing it.
posted by koeselitz at 9:25 PM on December 28, 2009


handle_unknown: “Dextroamphetamine - Extended Release.”

I'm not going to go all preachy here about this. I'll only say two things: first, if you want to do this legally and get a prescription, the diagnosis you need is ADD, so call a psychiatrist and tell her that you think you might be ADD and would like a diagnosis. Second, it's really up to you, and you should make your own choice; but I have a sneaking suspicion that you aren't ADD, and that there might be something in your past or present psychological situation and outlook that's leading to this problem of procrastination. If that's the case, going on dextro-amphetamine might help a bit for a while and even make you feel as though your procrastination is really getting better, but that will ultimately just obscure the fact that the underlying problem is still there. It'd be great, I think, if you could come to a revelation about what this means without having to take amphetamines. And the nice thing is, if you're going in for a diagnosis anyway, it doesn't hurt to start by saying "I procrastinate a lot; can you help me figure out why and fix it?" instead of "I think I have ADD; can you diagnose me?"

Anyhow, best wishes.
posted by koeselitz at 9:35 PM on December 28, 2009


1) Find your computer's "HOSTS" file
2) Edit the file and add the following lines:
127.0.0.1 www.metafilter.com
127.0.0.1 ask.metafilter.com
127.0.0.1 talk.metafilter.com

I did that and it helped for a while. (As you can see, I eventually broke down and changed it back.)
posted by Jacqueline at 10:43 PM on December 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Give your friend some money, ten dollars/pounds or whatever, and tell them the deadline and what you need to achieve in that time, with the condition that if you don't do it then they can keep the money. At least now you have something to lose.
posted by tumples at 11:59 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have found that reading business/self-help books really tend to help with my business/job procrastination. Right after reading a little bit of one of those books I tend to do a bunch of work. The effect wears off within a few hours, but then I just read a little bit more of my book.

When I want to stop procrastinating on my photography work, I view the work of photographers I am inspired by or at photographs I think are really creative. These works of art push my own creativity and willpower to create something similar.

For you, it does not need to be business books or photography, just read, watch, draw, or look at something that inspires you.

Another thing that will surely help is finding out why you are procrastinating. I have found that watching TV shows is my biggest vice. It is perpetuated by me working from home where I have free access to TV whenever I want. I have learned (more or less) to control my TV-watching habit by only watching TV when it is night. That way at least if I must procrastinate, I will need to find something else to do. That sounds hard... Back to work now.
posted by 1awesomeguy at 3:12 PM on December 30, 2009


Hiya,
I also somewhat have a problem with procrastination, but in the past it was a much bigger problem for me. The one thing that helped me the most was the book "The Now Habit". It explains WHY you procrastinate and how you can stop.

I only read about 1/3 of the book but that alone helped me overcome my procrastination (this was coupled with the fact that I didn't want to fail lol so I took the pearls of wisdom from this book and ran with it)

The gist of the book is this:
1) When we're given tasks, or have to do something, we feel OBLIGED, and that we HAVE TO. In some ways we react to this "HAVE TO" by rebelling and NOT doing it. Like if I HAVE TO clean the kitchen, I'll rebel by not doing it. So change the way you think about it.

2) Every action we take is a choice, and not a task that is forced upon us. So if you have to write a paper don't see it as something that is forced upon you, but realize you're CHOOSING (if you want to) to do this paper to improve your grades/learn more about a topic/improve your writing etc. You ALWAYS have a choice, and you always have the power.

3) There's a lot more but honestly I can't explain it as well as the author, but some of it is related to "HealthyLiving"'s first post.

If possible, I'd try to buy this book, it's terrific. You can buy a used version of the old edition on Amazon, but there's also the new edition which addresses technology and procrastination.
posted by metakiwi at 8:45 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oops sorry I didn't read the longer version of the question, where you mentioned that you've read the book I just suggested lol Sorry!

Best of luck though!
posted by metakiwi at 8:48 AM on January 3, 2010


"Give your friend some money, ten dollars/pounds or whatever, and tell them the deadline and what you need to achieve in that time, with the condition that if you don't do it then they can keep the money. At least now you have something to lose."

One of my favorite college memories: I had put off an incomplete assignment for about five months when I was out to dinner at a bar with some friends and the subject came up. One of my friends offered to take me out to the restaurant of my choosing if I could finish the assignment by noon the next day. I did the whole thing in one fifteen-hour sitting, and two weeks later, the night before graduation, my friend treated me *and my father* to supper at the nicest restaurant in town.
posted by tyedie at 3:43 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


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