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

Tip #4: Don’t shoot yourself in the foot to make yourself feel better.

Waiting until the last minute creates a problem: not enough time to do something well.  But waiting until the last minute also creates a convenient excuse.  Indeed, procrastination allows us, in advance, to blame our failures on something other than ourselves.   This is called self-handicapping.  It preserves our positive beliefs about ourselves: “I got a D, but I’m still smart, I’m just not good at time management.”  Other examples of self-handicapping besides procrastination might include getting drunk when you’re supposed to be studying or deliberately going to a distracting environment, like studying for a test in a busy student lounge.

In a 2012 experiment, researchers asked high school students, many of whom were self-handicappers, to generate “if-then” thoughts about how to do well on a math exam.  One group was given the following positive “if-then” statement as an example: “If I think about the problems thoroughly, then I will do better on the exam,”  while the other group was given a neutral, unrelated statement.  Then the students were left to come up with additional statements of their own.

After they made their lists, the self-handicappers who were exposed to the positive sample studied for an average of two and a half hours longer than the self-handicappers who were exposed to the neutral sample.  Why?  Self-handicappers, it turns out, are generally uncertain about their abilities and what to do next.  Getting them to think of specific positive actions reduced their procrastination. 

So the tip is this: Think of concrete ways to improve your performance and you just might end up using them.

Tip #5: Use technology to fight technology.

The internet is an endless treasure trove for procrastinators.  But the bane can also be the benefactor.

Use apps like RescueTime or Antisocial to keep yourself off Instagram and on task.  You can also set a periodic alarm—say, every 15 minutes—on your smartphone or device (or even a good old fashioned kitchen timer) to snap your attention back to what you’re supposed to be doing for the duration of your designated work time.

Tip #6: Rethink procrastination.

Vindication for procrastinators came in the form of a 2005 study from Columbia University and McGill University.  Researchers found that the kind of procrastination you engage in can make a difference.  Passive procrastinators match our traditional understanding of procrastination: they are paralyzed by indecision, can’t get started, and cope poorly.  Active procrastinators, however, make a deliberate decision to put off doing work until the last minute to maximize motivation or performance.  If you procrastinate because you do your best work under pressure, you’re an active procrastinator. 

In the study, the research team found that active procrastinators looked more like non-procrastinators and less like passive procrastinators in terms of using time purposefully, believing in one’s own ability to achieve goals, coping effectively, and most of all, achieving excellent academic performance.

So, no need to wait until the eleventh hour to see what works best for you.  Before you know it, you’ll be turning procrastination into motivation.


Chun Chu, A.H. & Choi, J.N. (2005).  Rethinking procrastination: Positive effects of “active” procrastination behavior on attitudes and performance.  The Journal of Social Psychology, 145, 245-64.

McCrea, S.M. & Flamm, A. (2012).  Dysfunctional anticipatory thoughts and the self-handicapping strategy.  European Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 72-81.

Sirois, F. & Pychyl, T.  (2013).  Procrastination and the priority of short-term mood regulation: Consequences for future self.  Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7, 115-127..


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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.