5 Proven Strategies to Stop Procrastinating—Now! | by Dr. Sarah Evans MCC

Happy Client Sitting at Desk with Laptop who is not procrastinating!

Procrastination is a human challenge: all of us have in some way or at some time delayed, avoided or postponed doing something despite our good intentions.

But this isn't necessarily a bad or a lazy thing.

It's human nature to put off uncomfortable or undesirable tasks, or to make an easier choice in the moment. And yet. If that something is important and a legitimate priority, it will need to get done at some point.

Where procrastination becomes problematic is when it's unchecked and excessive: missed deadlines; missed opportunities; delayed, underachieved or unachieved goals. In addition, the procrastinator usually experiences frustration and anxiety (not to mention the possible negative self-talk!) and the impact on those living and working with them.

Why do we procrastinate?

There are many possible reasons for procrastinating, such as:

  • Lack of self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • A loud inner critic.
  • Limiting beliefs.
  • Fears and anxiety (including fear of failure, of success, of appearing incompetent—in short, the fear of the negative emotions associated with that task).
  • The task or action conflicting with a personal value.
  • Unrealistic expectations.
  • Competing priorities.
  • An unmet need.

And here's one more interesting reason...

In Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones,1 author James Clear points to behavioural psychology research for another possible reason: a phenomenon called "time inconsistency". Time inconsistency refers to a tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.

Clear suggests that the best way to understand this is to imagine you have two selves: your Present Self and your Future Self:

  • When you set goals for yourself, you're actually making plans for your Future Self: you're envisioning what you want your life to be like in the future.
  • Researchers have found that when you think about your Future Self, it's easy for your brain to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits. This is because our Future Self values long-term rewards.
  • However, while the Future Self can set goals, only the Present Self can take the action to get us there. So when it's time to take action, you're now in the present moment and your brain is thinking about the Present Self.
  • Researchers have also discovered that the Present Self is thinking about what you want now. It really likes instant gratification, not long-term payoff.
  • So, the Present Self and the Future Self are often at odds with one another.

Clear therefore reminds us that you can't rely on long-term consequences and rewards to motivate the Present Self. Which means that it's important to find a way to move future rewards into the present moment and make the future consequences become present consequences.

So if you want to stop procrastinating, you need to make it as easy as possible for the Present Self to get started, and trust that motivation and momentum will come after beginning.

Procrastination as a behaviour

Procrastination is a choice-driven behaviour—and can be changed. And it's important to remember that all behaviour is intentional and has meaning.

We can help our coachees to understand their procrastinating behaviour by exploring two insightful questions offered by Dan Beverly: 2

Insightful Question 1) How do you procrastinate?

We all "do" procrastination differently. Bringing coachees' patterns of procrastination—from trigger to output, including what they feel, think, believe, tell themselves and do—into conscious awareness is a great first step in providing clarity. With this clarity, there is then an opportunity for different choices and new behaviours.

(To use a personal example, I surfaced a procrastination pattern related to writing. And the irony is not lost on me that I am writing on the topic of procrastination!)

Insightful Question 2) What are you getting from your procrastination?

Inquire, explore and dig deep with your coachees to surface their source motivation(s) behind the procrastination. This offers an opportunity to also challenge any thoughts, limiting beliefs or behaviours. And as we challenge, we can make a choice to see or do things differently.

(Continuing with my personal example, what I get by procrastinating is safety. Yes, we all experience imposter syndrome! The unspoken question is "Is my work relevant?" And the biggie underlying that—"Am I relevant?" You can imagine how much fun I've had challenging that one!)

Here are 5 Powerful Strategies to Shift Procrastination Behaviours

There are a multitude of strategies to help your coachees shift their procrastination behaviours. A few of my favourites are to:

Strategy 1) Reconnect to a higher purpose

What is the intention or deeper significance in doing this?

As Simon Sinek reminds us, it's "the compelling higher purpose that inspires us and acts as the source of all we do."

Strategy 2) Visualize

Visualization is important because it helps to prepare and teach us how to respond to a situation before it happens (i.e. bring the future into the present).

So, visualize the task, and then visualize yourself working through it to completion. Visualization helps you achieve your goals by conditioning your brain to see, hear and feel the success in your mind.

A visual board of projects with steps to completion, as well as the important column of "Done" (as a motivator!), is also a visualizing strategy.

Strategy 3) Start with easy

Starting is very often the hardest part, so we procrastinate.

In her book The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World 2 one of the strategies Dorie Clark shares to get started on projects that feel overwhelming, is to "trick ourselves" with an easy behaviour change.

Instead of focusing on the enormous task ahead, Clark says to create "tiny habits" that are "so minuscule and doable that they're impossible to resist".

The goal for any activity that feels overwhelming, or where you feel nervous or fearful is to lower the bar: break down the task into easy-to-achieve steps (which of course builds in more potential wins) and find a small way to begin that does not require a lot of motivation.

Then once a behaviour is started, it becomes easier to keep going. So sometimes getting started is all that's needed, and motivation and momentum build from there.

You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Strategy 4) Bundle temptations

One way to bring future rewards into the present moment is through "temptation bundling". This concept, according to James Clear, comes out of behavioural economics research by Katy Milkman at the University of Pennsylvania. The strategy suggests that you bundle a behaviour that's good for you in the long run with a behaviour that feels good in the short run.

According to Clear, the basic format is:


Strategy 5) Change it up

Changing up the environment in which you work can interrupt the procrastination cycle and help you find focus. And, by the way, this also satisfies the brain's need for novelty.

What would you add or change in your environment?


Like other behaviours, the underlying roots of procrastination are varied, and therefore there is no one solution to address it.

However, as we support our coachees in becoming aware of their own procrastination patterns, they can find clarity, and a choice to change. There are then multiple strategies they can experiment with to accomplish what is truly important and meaningful to them.


1 Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. Avery. 

2 Beverly, D. June 29 , 2016. Two insightful self-coaching questions to beat procrastination

3 Clark, D. (2021). The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World. Harvard Business Review Press.

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Sarah Evans, MCC Guest Author

Contributing Author:

Dr. Sarah Evans, PhD, MCC, Dip. CS is passionate about working with visionary decision-makers and influencers inspired by the transformative potential of coaching. She is an executive leadership & team coach, facilitator, OD consultant, coaching supervisor, and mentor coach at Evans Leadership Group. Sarah is dedicated to cultivating resilient leaders—supporting individuals, teams, organizations and coaches lead and thrive in complexity. Her goal is to maximize human capacity, organizational capabilities, and contributions to societal well-being. Her key working themes are relationships, resilience, results! Visit her website here and connect with her on Linkedin. Sarah is a member of the International Coach Federation, where she holds a Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential.

Learn more about Sarah & see all their articles here >>

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One Comment

  1. Virginia

    Useful suggestions and analogies Sarah. Yes, Future Self is filled with good intentions and plans while Present Self looks more for ease in many cases. Linking behaviors is a good tip.


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