How to Stop Procrastinating

Procrastination happens to the best of us.  None other than Leonardo DaVinci noted, “It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”  So don’t delay!  Read on for 6 tips to stop procrastinating.  

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #5

Procrastination is the opposite of inspiration.  It's when we shilly-shally away our time when we’re supposed to be doing something bigger and better. 

Today our topic comes by request from Savvy Psychologist listener Anson N. of San Mateo, CA.  He speaks for millions of us when he asks how to stop procrastinating..

So without further delay, here are 6 tips to help you stay on task.

Tip #1: Change “I have to” to “I want to.”

A subtle shift in perspective can be just the nudge your psyche needs to get moving.  Try changing the dig-in-your-heels phrase of “I have to do this,” to a chomping-at-the-bit “I want to do this.” 

So, for example, “I have to write this stupid paper,” becomes “I want to get enough credits to transfer.”  Or, “I have to clean out this disgusting fridge,” becomes “I want to make this smell go away.” 

Tip #2: Aim for greatness, not perfection.

”Perfectionism” is actually a misnomer.  Perfectionists aren’t focused on achieving perfection; they are focused on avoiding failure.  It’s an all-or-nothing mindset: If I’m not perfect, I’m a total failure. If I’m not a winner, I’m a loser.

Perfectionism often comes from conflating performance and worth.  Perfectionists believe that their grades, evaluations, rankings, or other measurements determine their worth as a person.  In my clinical practice, perfectionism shows up most often as depression or an eating disorder.

So to deflate perfectionism, try two things: If you must evaluate yourself, approach your performance not as black or white, but as a continuum.  Rather than 100% or 0%, with nothing in between, evaluate using all percentage points from 0 to 100.  And don’t cheat by using only the ends of the scale.

Even better than a different way to evaluate yourself, think of yourself differently so you can stop evaluating.  Rather than tie your worth to one measuring stick, broaden your view of yourself to include hundreds of interlocking skills, relationships, talents, and gifts.  That way, one assignment can’t sink your ship.  If you are your performance, you’ll end up feeling stressed and shallow.  If you are you—complex, multilayered, glorious you—you’ll not only procrastinate less, you’ll be much more comfortable in your skin.

Tip #3: Change your mood by diving in, not by stepping away. 

In a 2013 study, Dr. Timothy Pychyl and colleagues found that individuals procrastinate not necessarily to avoid a tedious or overwhelming task itself, but to avoid the unpleasant feelings related to such a task.   When faced with starting a school project, doing your taxes, or even folding the laundry, we “give in to feel good,” or do something that we think will make us feel better, like check Twitter, have a snack, or doodle.  Some procrastination is even quite honorable, like cleaning our desk before we get down to business. 

If you are you—complex, multilayered, glorious you—you’ll not only procrastinate less, you’ll be much more comfortable in your skin.

Procrastination may offer short-term mood relief, but it costs us by prolonging guilt and stress.  Instead, paradoxically, what will most likely make us feel better is doing the very task we’re avoiding. 

So when tempted to improve your mood by procrastinating, first tell yourself procrastination is a fake, fleeting boost.  Then, improve your mood for real by diving in.  You’ll feel relieved to get started and satisfied that you’re getting something done.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.