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Why You Procrastinate and How to Stop

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Many of us have experienced that feeling of wanting to do anything besides the task in front of us. But what exactly is it that drives people to watch “Law and Order” reruns or alphabetize their bookshelves when a deadline looms? We’ll examine the psychology behind procrastination and how to overcome it. What tasks do you consistently put off? What tips do you have for getting stuff done?

Resources Mentioned During the Show

Focus at Will: Lyricless music service designed to help you focus.

Rescue Time: Blocks access to certain websites during certain times. Can be useful if you are distracted by social media.

Time Timer: Provides a visual cue as to the amount of time a task takes and how much alotted time remains; creates a self-imposed deadline.

Why Writers are the Worst Procrastinators: Meghan McArdle’s article in the Atlantic

Strategies Mentioned by Our Guests

1. Have a lot of things on your to-do list so you can be productive while you procrastinate.


John Perry, professor emeritus of philosophy at Stanford University, co-host of "Philosophy Talk" and author of "The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing"

Timothy Pychyl, professor of psychology at Carleton University and author of "Solving the Procrastination Puzzle"

Joshua Zerkel, director of account management and training, and certified professional organizer / productivity expert for Evernote


2. Have a sense of how long the things on your to-do list take.

3. Learn what helps you focus – lyricless music, a cafe away from your house, etc. Surround yourself with or put yourself wherever it is that makes you focus.

4. Don’t go app crazy. Collect all of your tasks in one place so that you can see them all and prioritize them.

5. Practice self-manipulation. Treat your future self like a teenager — set up the structure she needs to get things done.

6. Empathize with your future self. Distancing yourself from him makes you less invested in how things will go for him and will lead to poor decisions.

7. Recognize your emotions. “Priority is short term mood repair,” says Timothy Pychyl. Often intentions to complete a task are displaced by the desire to feel better and avoid an emotion such as anxiety.

8. Remember, you have power. You are making a choice. “This is all desire based,” said Joshua Zerkel. ‘I don’t want to do that task, I’m going to do this one instead.’ That, in of itself, is a choice.”

9. Recognize the type of delay you are participating in. Recent research identified six key types of delays including purposeful delay, inevitable delay, and hedonistic delay. “There are lots of different kinds of delay that we need to understand,” said Pychyl. “Then I think we can take some of the weight off of that one-word, ‘procrastination,’ which I want to keep for a really self-defeating form of delay.”

10. Know if you have something bigger going on, like depression. “If I know that someone is depressed, I don’t even talk about procrastination,” said Pychyl. “If you have some sort of mental disorder, choice is more ellusive. You’re not feeling the same sense of agency. Certainly, if you’re depressed, look into getting that treated first, and after that you can look at your work habits.”

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