Five ways to overcome procrastination

Break the cycle and turn procrastination into motivation.

Sarah Chan

Likes museum trips and is sometimes artsy. Can be found in pattern prints.

Published: 22 January 2021, 9:15 AM

A project deadline looms closer but all you have still is a blank document. You just can’t seem to feel that spark to work until you realise it is due in 24 hours.

Then the sudden rush for time fires up your panic system and you descend into pure submission hell, trying to complete a month long assignment in one night.

Sounds familiar? Most of us, myself included, are guilty of this.

Procrastination is a chronic habit, a toxic cycle that we easily fall into. Many of us procrastinate to give ourselves momentary relief from our fears of starting a task, without considering that our actions have consequences like burning the midnight oil the night before a deadline.

So what can you do about it? Here are five habits you can pick up to break the cycle of constant procrastination.

1. Practise the Five Second Rule

No, this Five Second Rule is not related to food hygiene.

Rather, it is a method of thinking where you act on instinct immediately (or within five seconds) before your brain starts to procrastinate on a task.


The Five Second Rule was first introduced by author Mel Robbins as a tool to beat hesitation and take action in any situation. PHOTO CREDIT: DARIA NEPRIAKHINA VIA UNSPLASH


Imagine a scenario of someone struggling to stay afloat in the swimming pool. Rather than contemplating how to save the person, you would jump in immediately to rescue them instead. The Five Second Rule works on a similar notion.

The short time span eliminates any chances of second guessing or over-analysing, so you can focus your mind on what is important and break out of the cycle of indecisiveness.

While procrastination often happens because we are afraid to start something new, the Five Second Rule pushes you to confront these fears instead.

You don’t have to worry about producing high quality pieces the moment you commit to that spark. As long as you’ve made a headstart on your work, you have essentially broken out of the cycle of constant procrastination.

2. Organising your workload

The hardest part of work is getting started. We procrastinate because of the overwhelming feeling that a project is too daunting to be completed. If you find yourself procrastinating because of this reason, organise your workload and break down your work into smaller tasks.

Create a list of tasks that are specific and actionable to give yourself clear directions on what to do. These tasks will make it easier to take action while improving your confidence as you find yourself making progress in what you once thought was an impossible task.


While submission periods can be confusing as you juggle multiple project deadlines, it is important to keep your work organised to maintain your productivity. PHOTO CREDIT: THOUGHT CATALOG VIA UNSPLASH


Start a planner and have your deadlines visualised clearly to identify how much time you have left to complete a project.

Organise your workload by planning your time and setting appropriate goals. Whether you are productive at sunrise or in the middle of the night, take advantage of your most productive hours to work on important tasks.

Use the Eisenhower Matrix, a decision making tool, to prioritise urgent and important tasks so that you can optimise your use of time and eliminate unnecessary habits.

3. Enlist the help of others

Peer pressure is a double edged sword but it can be a force for good if you would like to break out of the cycle of procrastination.

Enlist the help of friends to check up on you as you work or set up a group of study buddies to be accountable together during your submission periods.


Tell your friends about your goals so that they can hold you responsible in working towards them. PHOTO CREDIT: ALEXIS BROWN VIA UNSPLASH


Working together allows you to tap into each other’s strengths and you can pace yourself with others so that you do not fall behind in your work. You might also end up making good memories together as you and your friends ride through these stressful periods together.

4. Tackle the hardest task first

We procrastinate on the hardest task most, but at what cost? By putting off that large project until the last minute, you not only have to burn the midnight oil, but also suffer the mental stress from coping with the large amounts of incomplete work.

Start by identifying the costs of your procrastination and get started on your hardest task right at the start of the day. By starting the task with a clear mind when you are most energised, you might find yourself moving faster than you expect.

Tackling your most dreaded task first will also lighten your workload immensely and you can focus on other tasks with ease without the worry over that looming project deadline.

5. Include an incentive

Chill out and take a break with your favourite shows, but only when the work is done. PHOTO CREDIT: NICOLAS J LECLERCQ VIA UNSPLASH


Aside from breaking down your tasks, you can also find ways to reward yourself as you work. By associating the reward with the effort put into a task, you create something positive to look forward to, which becomes a motivation to keep going when you feel like procrastinating.

If you are easily distracted by your smartphone or are itching to watch your K-dramas, establish a routine of dedicating a set amount of time to focus solely on your work before rewarding yourself with these activities in between.

The incentives you choose should be a reward for your efforts, but be mindful not to spend too much time indulging in your rewards instead of your work.

Beating procrastination is a long and arduous process, it takes willpower just to get your gears running and there are no immediate results unless you take the first step.

But every step you take – whether big or small – will show and soon enough, that piece of work that you’ve neglected might just be complete before you know it.

If you are looking for more mental well-being resources, check out Youthopia’s resource page with everything from mental health self-assessments to tips for coping with challenging seasons in life.

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