Manage Procrastination

birds eye view of coffee, computer keyboard, and notebook

People procrastinate for a variety of reasons. Contrary to popular belief, laziness and poor time management skills are not primary causes. Emotional and motivational factors, research indicates, play a bigger role. Common causes include:

  • Fear of failure.
  • Performance anxiety.
  • Perfectionism.
  • Not finding the work intrinsically motivating (personally satisfying or meaningful or enjoyable). 
  • Not feeling confident that you can do the work. 
  • Lack of clarity about the goal of the work or your own goals.
  • Not knowing where to start.

Often, the hardest part is getting started.  

To get the upper hand on procrastination, try some of these tips:

Set a clear, concrete action as a starting point.

Taking that first step can build momentum, help you focus, increase your confidence, and raise your interest level.

Set up external motivators.

If you are not finding the work intrinsically motivating, then you can set up external motivators to get yourself to do the work. Here are some examples of external motivators:
  • Plan rewards (e.g., play time with your dog, a piece of chocolate, a walk with a friend) to give yourself after you complete a specific chunk of the work you must do.
  • Create a community among fellow students who also have work to do. Getting together with your study group or accountability group is the external motivator that brings you back to your work.
  • Consider sharing your plan with your adviser or committee and setting up progress check-ins with one or more of them.

Find internal motivation.

If you are not finding the work intrinsically motivating,

  • Reframe it by focusing on why you want to do the work. The task at hand might not be intrinsically motivating, but your long-term goals are. 
  • Envision success. Ask yourself, "How will I feel when this project (or today's work) is done?" For example, imagine the good mood you'll be in when it is done, and then tell yourself, "I am one work session away from a good mood."
  • Turn the work into a game or a race: How many words can you write in 30 minutes?


Practice yoga, meditate, go for a run – anything that lowers stress. If you feel calm and confident, you’ll have an easier time getting started. Visit Harvard's Center for Wellness and Health Promotion for more tips! 

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Get energized!

Listen to an upbeat song, dance, do jumping jacks, or anything that wakes you up and puts you in a positive mood.


Take five minutes (but not more) to clear your desk of everything except what you need for the task at hand.

Set a timer.

Try setting a timer for 15 minutes and forcing yourself to work on the task until it rings. Most of the time, you will probably be on a roll by then. If you still can’t get going, take a break and do something totally different.

Work with a partner.

Just knowing someone else is working at the same time, even offline, can help you get your work done. Some people call one another on Zoom, mute themselves, and get to work.

Join an accountability group.

The ARC offers accountability groups and has tips for creating your own. 

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