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Procrastination - Managing Yourself

Originally published 19 May 2003

I should have written this article a bit earlier – but I’ve been putting it off…

How do you spot procrastination? Well, have you developed a sudden, yet classic, interest in making hot drinks, tidying your home or office or helping others solve their problems? If so, you may be suffering from procrastination.

Why do we procrastinate?

There are four main reasons that we put off doing things: boredom, fear, mood and self-doubt. We all do it though – common causes of procrastination include difficult people and phone calls, unfamiliar or boring work, large daunting projects and minor tasks.

Displacement activity

Procrastinating actually makes us feel guilty – to make ourselves feel better we get on with other things. Psychologists call this displacement activity.

You may recognise some of the following – when you catch yourself doing these things you’ll know that you’re procrastinating.

  • Excessive Socialising – spending excessive time getting to know your colleagues or fellow students in the interest of being a good team player.
  • Priority Inverting – getting up to date with that filing system or discovering an urgent need to colour in your project plan or revision timetable.
  • Creative Thinking – deciding that in depth research is necessary before you can really start your project.

Another sign of procrastination is adopting an unusual attitude towards a particular piece of work. Have you ever caught yourself thinking:

  • I won’t do it - rebel
  • I can’t do it – self-doubter
  • I need more time and information to do that - perfectionist

But what can you do about it?

Once you have identified that you are procrastinating, here are some helpful tips to help you deal with it.

  • Accept that every one procrastinates – it doesn’t make you a bad person
  • Identify the areas where you are procrastinating and write them down
  • If you are procrastinating because you’re putting off unpleasant jobs – do it now you’ll feel better
  • Commit yourself to a start time – put some time aside to do the work and make sure you do it when you planned to
  • Work out the part of the day when you are most productive – it might not be first thing in the morning – and dedicate that part of the day to getting the important jobs done
  • Practice single handling – deal with e-mails and paperwork as they come in, don’t put them to one side and let them build up.
  • If you are postponing starting a big project because it seems daunting take some time to think it through and break it down into manageable smaller tasks
  • Remember your prioritisation get the important jobs out of the way – don’t let yourself get distracted by urgent or easy tasks
  • Socialising should be a reward for getting the job done – not a reason not to start
  • Use the five-minute rule – get started on that job that you’ve been putting off, even if you only do five minutes work on it your subconscious will be working on it for you

If you are having problems organising yourself there is help available – try contacting the University’s Counselling Service -

Or check out the following website:

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