How to stop procrastinating

Lifehacker cites “the goal-setting web site 43 things“, where it appears that the Number 1 goal of their readers is to “Stop procrastinating.”

This is a nice idea, but it’s not a useful goal. It’s like saying, “My goal is to stop being lazy”, or “My goal is to do better in English”. Goals like these lead nowhere.

Instead, set goals that refer to specific activities that can be repeated daily. Activities that can be counted or measured. I agree that procrastination is a big problem, but when do you procrastinate? If you put off packing a lunch until morning and then oversleep, set a goal like “My goal is to pack my lunch before I go to bed.” If you put off doing homework, set a goal to “Start homework the day it’s assigned” or to “Hand in every assignment on time”.

Then keep a daily written record, and set alarms or reminders to keep on track. Find a partner, or ask your parents to help remind you—most of us do better if we’re not trying to build new habits all on our own.

But don’t get stuck trying to “stop procrastinating”!

Author: Eric MacKnight

I have been teaching English since 1980 in the United States, Morocco, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, The Netherlands, and China. Good Habits, Good Students is my first book.

6 thoughts on “How to stop procrastinating”

  1. how long do you think it takes to adopt a good habit or even a bad one? If for example I start doing homework the day its assigned, how long would it take for that behavior to become a habit? I’m guessing the answer varies and is not necessarily a time frame but a state of mind that is adopted through seeing the rewards of a good habit.

  2. Hi Peter,

    I have seen claims that a certain period of time is required to form a new habit, but experience and gut feeling both tell me that you’re right: it depends on the habit, and the person. Desire is the biggest factor, and desire comes from inspiration. If your goal-setting efforts are driven by a vision of the future, a dream you are pursuing, you will see much faster results.

    Thanks for the comment, and Happy Holidays!

  3. Your post certainly brought a smile to my face – thank you. I am an expert at procrastinating whether it’s housework, job, gardening, even hobbies.

    This fall I plan on returning to college and am already thinking how I am going to add even more ‘to my plate’. I can see where much of my time is spent trying to break a bad habit and am going to start a notebook tracking my tasks and giving myself a reward when I complete something – am hoping this will help myself and other students who might me juggling school, work, and home life.

  4. Hi Faith. Thanks for your comment. The trick is DAILY repetition. To get there, you need motivation, and if the motivation isn’t always there you need support from friends, family, or colleagues to stay on track. But I guarantee that if you repeat a behaviour every day for long enough, it will become a habit that is almost as automatic and painless as breathing. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

  5. With me,procrastination is a result of not being organized. I find that if I put things to do on my organizational calendar, I am more likely to get it done. It’s something about seeing it in writing.

  6. Rose, I agree entirely. That’s why I tell my students the two most essential habits are reading daily and using a homework diary. If it’s not written down, as you say, it’s much less likely to be done, or to be done on time.

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