7 Best Methods to Overcome Your Procrastination

by Jalen & Sarah Bromley

Prolong-a-thon. Deadline dodging. Assignment aversion. Call it what you like., but there’s a good chance you’ve struggled with procrastination at some point — around 20% of the population are chronic procrastinators. Maybe you’re even reading this article as a way to procrastinate.

But that doesn’t mean you should click away. We’ll cover the most effective time management strategies for studies, along with tips on staying motivated and building discipline.

What is procrastination?

We all know that procrastination involves putting your tasks off as long as possible and convincing yourself, “I’ll do it later.” But what’s happening in our heads when we self-sabotage ourselves in this way? Spoiler: It comes down to more than just laziness.

Ultimately, procrastination is about fear. You might fear you’ll be unable to do a task, which will confirm that you’re stupid and incapable (especially if you don’t have a growth mindset). Alternatively, you might fear judgment from others or the discomfort of doing something you don’t enjoy.

There are other drivers too. Some people procrastinate because they’re burned out or fatigued. Others have wired the pattern of procrastination into their brains and become too dependent on instant gratification to focus on the flow state they need to get tasks done. 

Another reason we’re so susceptible to falling into something irrational as procrastination is that human brains suck at valuing the future accurately — which is also why we find it tough to save and budget for the future. Most of us would rather have $1 million today rather than $10 million in five years, and we’d also rather delay the discomfort of doing an unpleasant task than tackle it right now. Even worse, affective forecasting means that we can temporarily improve our mood by telling ourselves we’ll do something later.

The consequences of procrastination

If you’re procrastinating, you probably know in the back of your mind that you’re running the risk of messing up your academics and making life hard for yourself. Procrastinating on studying for an exam increases the probability of failure. Procrastinate on applying for that job, and the employer might stop accepting further applications before you can even throw your hat into the ring.

Procrastination can also take a huge mental toll on you. When we’re constantly under pressure, leaving everything to the last minute, or knowing that we’re letting people down, it spikes our cortisol levels. This is awful for our mental and physical health, and an inability to complete the tasks we want can even affect our self-image negatively.

In contrast, every time we do something that makes us uncomfortable but contributes to improving our lives, we reinforce to ourselves that we can live up to our potential. 

The Zeigarnik effect

The Zeigarnik Effect says that we have a better memory of tasks we haven’t completed yet than those we finish. For example, if you’re in a class and the fire alarm goes off suddenly, interrupting everything, you’ll remember more than if the class had finished on time.

This can have powerful implications as a study tool. But there’s also a downside — the Zeigarnik effect can trick us into dwelling on unfinished tasks to the point we dread starting them. That’s where the familiar doom of procrastination hits, where we can’t stop thinking about an unfinished task yet can’t bring ourselves to start it either.

How to build self-discipline

By now, we’ve mentioned the ways in which procrastination is a dragon you must slay. But before we get into our top time management strategies, let’s lay the foundation by looking at how to build self-discipline. After all, you don’t have much chance of beating procrastination if you’re not disciplined enough to stick to any of the techniques you attempt!


Holding yourself accountable is key. Evaluate whether you achieved what you wanted from your day. If you were successful, reward yourself. If you weren’t, reflect and figure out where you went wrong so it doesn’t happen again. Many serial procrastinators hold all this information in their heads, which allows them to deceive themselves. The first step to making a change and building discipline is being honest with yourself.

If you struggle with this, “outsource” the task to family or friends, making one of them an accountability buddy. Tell them your goals and ask them to check in on whether you’ve achieved them.

Habits and routine

Yet good time management isn’t all about having an iron will. When you establish habits and create the right environment for yourself, good time management will often follow — the point will come where you don’t even have to put in a conscious effort anymore.

Establish a routine one habit at a time. James Clear calls this “habit stacking,” because you stack one habit on top of an already-established habit. For example, you might first build the habit of waking up at 7 am daily and having breakfast. Then, you can establish the routine of starting work as soon as you finish breakfast. Over time, you can get increasingly ambitious.

Distraction removal

Finally, eliminate distractions. Put your phone in another room while you work on your tasks (or better yet, entrust it with someone else and tell them not to give it back to you for a few hours). 

You can also use apps like Freedom that block certain websites within a timeframe you determine, so you won’t even need to exercise discipline. 

7 top strategies for overcoming procrastination

Now you’ve gained an understanding of what procrastination is really about and how you can boost your motivation, it’s time to tackle the meat of the issue — procrastination and time management. 

Below are our top seven strategies.

  1. Time blocking

Do you know where your time goes all day? Most people don’t — and if they found out, they’d be shocked. Time blocking breaks down your day into different blocks to help you manage your time better.

In other words, if you wake up at 7 am and sleep at 11 pm, you’d create a block for each hour in between (some people opt for larger or shorter blocks). Schedule the time you’ll spend resting or carrying out life admin (like cooking your meals) as well as the time dedicated to work.

When you lay out your day like this, you’ll realize how much you could achieve if you used your time more efficiently. You’ll likely struggle to stick to your schedule at first, but once you gain a better awareness of how you’re using your time, you’ll find ways to finetune your routine.

Many people like to use Excel or Google Sheets for their time blocking as it allows them to create a quick, easy table that visually represents their day. Others like to add events onto their calendar app.

  1. The Pomodoro technique

The linguists among you might know that “pomodoro” means tomato in Italian. But the Pomodoro method has nothing to do with food — the technique gets its name from the tomato-shaped timer its founder used.

It’s simple enough. You work continuously for 25 minutes, rest for five minutes, work for another 25 minutes, and repeat. After four “pomodoros,” you can give yourself a longer break of 10-15 minutes. After all, you’re probably not going to make it through the day if you never stop working for more than five minutes at a time!

Many people like this approach because committing to working for 25 minutes doesn’t sound as daunting as continuing a task until you finish. Plus, a five-minute rest is just long enough to give your brain a break by pacing your home, going to the loo, or grabbing a drink.

You could use the timer on your phone to set up a Pomodoro timer, but that could put you at risk of checking your notifications or browsing social media. If you’re working on a computer, using a site like Pomofocus may be safer — and a physical timer is even better.

For this to work, you must be honest with yourself about whether you’re sticking to the method or cheating. It’s okay if you mess up — just note this down so you can be proud of yourself as you see your discipline build.

  1. SMART goals

Chances are that you’ve come across Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) goals before. 

Once you make a goal smart, you’re defining precisely what you need to achieve and making sense of a goal. Many of us are too ambiguous, giving us endless excuses not to do something. We can tell ourselves that it was never really on our schedule to do something today, or that we worked just as much as we set out to.

SMART goals are also a good basis for the strategies below:

  1. To-do lists

The humble to-do list might be one of the most basic time management techniques, but there’s a reason it’s popular.

The act of putting all that junk in our heads into an orderly list feels freeing, and it’s the first step to getting things done. Often, we realize there are fewer tasks than we thought.

If you want to take your to-do list to the next level, consider an app like Todoist. You can create categories to help you manage different types of tasks in one place, and there’s a handy feature to set deadlines so your phone automatically reminds you what you need to do on any given day.

  1. Task prioritization

Prioritizing your tasks is a way to make your to-do list more manageable. Which of the entries are things you should probably do at some point, and how many are tasks that you urgently should have already completed yesterday?

Many people like to identify their “most important task of the day,” which they tackle first when they have the most motivation and energy. Others prefer to tackle the low-hanging fruit first to free up their mental energy for bigger tasks afterward. You can experiment with different methods — just make sure you’re not just working on tasks randomly.

  1. Break tasks into smaller steps

Big tasks can be scary. Let’s take the case of writing an essay. You have to find sources, read through the sources, figure out your essay structure, and write thousands of words — that’s not exactly something most people can achieve in a single sitting. But in most cases, once you break the task down into smaller steps, you’ll realize that no individual step is particularly tough.

First, you can focus on the research and tell yourself: “No pressure to start writing the essay yet, all I need to do is take notes from your sources.” Then, when it comes to the writing, you can tell yourself “I already have all the information I need, I just need to write it out now.” If you still feel intimidated, just break the task down again.

  1. Five-minute rule

As mentioned earlier, procrastination often comes down to fear. We’re afraid of what could happen to us if we tackle a task — perceived discomfort, judgment, or difficulty. The five-minute rule tackles this by giving you a get-out clause. You don’t have to commit to finishing a task or doing it for hours. You just have to spend five minutes working on it exclusively. 

The hope is that, once you’ve already committed to five minutes, you’ll realize it wasn’t as bad as you’d anticipated and you’ll stick it out longer. However, if you decide the work is every inch as bad as you expected, you can use the five-minute rule on a different task instead.

How to maintain motivation

While you’re reading this article, you’re likely at the height of your motivation. You’re determined to beat your procrastination and can’t wait to experiment with new techniques.

Similarly, when you try out the Pomodoro technique for the first time, you may be able to stay focused for the entire 25 minutes with minimal issues. But once you reach the fifth Pomodoro of the day — or the fiftieth of the week — it’s only natural that motivation will begin to wane.

So, you need to have some tools to maintain your motivation along the way.


Firstly, reflect on how your time management is going. A quick journaling session at the end of the day gives you a chance to evaluate how often you procrastinated, how well your strategies went, and where things went wrong.

This also gives you a chance to remind yourself how much you’ve achieved, reinforcing the idea that you can repeat those successes and truly improve where possible. Research suggests ticking items off a to-do list releases dopamine (just make sure you don’t tick them off prematurely to get the hit without putting in the work). 


As well as holding yourself accountable when things go wrong, reward yourself when things go right. Schedule treats for when you finish the day’s work. For instance, you might watch an episode of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” or enjoy a pizza. Of course, try to avoid treats that are expensive and unhealthy unless you’ve completed a particularly strenuous task.

You don’t have to wait until you finish your entire to-do list to motivate yourself. Give yourself mini-treats for the small wins you make throughout the day, such as making yourself a coffee or listening to your favorite song.

How perfectionism can lead to procrastination

This entire article has been about how you can beat your procrastination. But before we close things off, it’s prudent to mention another common trap people fall into: Setting unrealistic expectations and being too hard on themselves.

As mentioned earlier, perfectionism is a cause of procrastination — and this applies to being perfectionistic about your time management.

If you go into your time management journey telling yourself that you will spend 12 hours a day being 100% productive and block out your schedule in accordance with this goal, there’s a good chance you’ll fail. You’re only a human! You might think that shooting for the stars just means that you’ll fall on the clouds, but counterintuitively, the opposite can happen. 

We can put so much on our plates or that we’re so far behind on our schedules that it isn’t even worth trying anymore. We can also feel like we’ve achieved nothing and fail to recognize our wins along the way.

Time to slay that dragon

Procrastination has the same negative effect on everyone, but the right way to tackle it varies between people. You might be a fan of the simple yet effective to-do list, or you might work better when micromanaging every minute of your life with time blocking. You won’t find out until you try — but get to know yourself and how you work, and you will beat procrastination!

Once you start practicing good time management, make sure you use some of that time to get your finances under control. That’s our focus here at Frugal Student, so subscribe to our newsletter for regular tips.

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