Procrastination: Why It’s So Hard To Break The Habit

Harmon and Cullinan: I feel that same sense of relief every time a social engagement gets cancelled. Apparently, I am as addicted to cancelling plans as I am to making them! How does that translate to procrastination?

Williamson: What if your sense of relief was actually driven by the satisfaction you get when you decide to postpone a task, instead of simply an aversion to the task itself? If seeking out this dopamine reward from procrastination has become a habit for us, then it will always feel better to put something off than to do it, and this pattern would have nothing to do with the task and everything to do with chemicals in your brain.

So the cure for the procrastination habit is substituting one payoff for another. For teenagers, an allowance might be enough of a payoff to combat the reward of postponing an undesired task. For professionals, a paycheck is rarely sufficient—we need something stronger.

Next time you’re inclined to postpone something important, try one of these strategies:

Set a 25 minute timer and work steadily until it goes off—a strategy known as the Pomodoro Technique
Make a list of the first three things you could do to advance the big task and do just those to see how it feels
Head to the library or a coffee shop or somewhere with less distractions and see if the new setting provides renewed inspiration

Experimenting with these and other techniques to advance work when you feel stuck is the best way to avoid the lure of procrastination and start to build new, sustainable work habits. Find ways to celebrate those small wins along the way and watch your accomplishments pile up!