5 Steps to Overcome the Procrastination Trap

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Written by Tami Moser Ph.D., DBH

I’m a professional learner and professor. After spending 15 years in the corporate world, I moved to the crazy world of Higher Education. My learning journey resulted in a Ph.D., DBH, and a MPA. My free time is spent as a coach for working professionals and academics looking to expand their careers through higher education.

July 28, 2020

Procrastination is a productivity killer‼️ For those of us that struggle with the act of procrastination, we know that the penalties can be great. Yet, we still procrastinate.

Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.” – Wayne Gretzky

Procrastination is the purposeful delay in taking action even when the delay creates hardship (Steel, 2007). Procrastination can and often is contextual. You may be very disciplined about work specific actions and always complete work in a timely manner and without delay. However, academic work may not be as easy for you and this leads to the action of inaction. Procrastination is really just a habit that we can fall into and then struggle to break away from in some areas of our life.

Because procrastination tends to be contextual, you more than likely only exhibit this behavior in certain areas of your life or with certain types of work within that area. Understanding where you are likely to delay taking action is an important step to breaking the habit.


Not all delays are really procrastination. Some delays or changes in your schedule are necessary and make sense. There is not a hardship created by the delay nor is the delay a bad choice. It is a purposeful decision based on a holistic review of your responsibilities and a realistic option under the circumstances. Understand the difference between the two and get clear on when you are really engaging in the act of procrastination.

There are underlying reasons for true procrastination. Adult learners in online graduate programs are self-directed learners. There are specific competencies that are important for effective self-directed learning. Procrastination management is one of these competencies (Khiat, 2017). In adult learners, procrastination might be caused by an inability to get organized, fear of doing the work wrong, a focus on perfectionism, or a lack of drive to complete specific work. In other words, the content doesn’t trip your trigger.


Understanding what drives your engagement in procrastination is a first step to getting control of this behavior. One of the challenges of procrastination is that it has a flow-on effect on the timeliness of your work. Even if you are able to hit deadlines, the work will suffer because of the delay in getting started. If you have a paper due and fail to start early, outline the work, research effectively, write and edit before submission, then the work is not as strong as it could have been. Procrastination means that the work you submit does not reach the level it could if you started earlier.

Why you Procrastinate: Read this article!

In addition, creating a consistent schedule for school work and sticking to it becomes a challenge if you always delay a start because you are falling into the Procrastination Trap. There is always a reason not to get started. The reality is that human beings are great at rationalizing behavior. We can rationalize the reason for the delay every time. You may be so good at this that you fail to realize that you have an underlying problem with procrastination. You have fallen into the Procrastination Trap.

An additional challenge is that while procrastination tends to be contextual when you procrastinate in one area of your life there are impacts in other areas. For instance, you put off starting that assignment that is due in two weeks. The clock is ticking ⏰ 5 days before the assignment is due, your stress levels are rising and that stress starts to impact your attitude, presence, and behavior with the people at work and home.

Now the assignment is due in 4 days and your spouse reminds you that one of your children has an important event that you are supposed to attend on Friday (assignment due Sunday). You can’t go! There is no way! ?  have an important assignment due. Now your family is upset. You feel defeated and like you have failed your child. The assignment suffers because while working on it the guilt of what you are missing eats at you.

The Science of Behind Procrastination. Read this article!

This is not a pleasant vignette, but it will resonate with many of you. The people and events may be different, but the feelings are legit. Had you not procrastinated, attending the event on Friday night would have been no problem. At that point, you just need to do the final edits on Saturday before you submit the assignment. So, even though you only tend to procrastinate over assignments. That can negatively impact other areas of your life including your feelings of well being.



NOT a Procrastinator

This is not a core component of your identity that will haunt you for the rest of your life.


SIMPLY a Bad Habit

This causes a certain amount of grief at this point and time. Like with all habits that you form, this can be broken.

How do you break out of the Procrastination Trap?

  1. Identify where you are likely to delay taking action even when that delay causes some level of stress or pain. This is an important step. You need to know the context.
    • Keep a record for a two-week period. Write down every time you decide to delay starting (procrastinating). Make note of the activity and the context (work, school, etc.)
    • Make note of any pain associated with this delay. Consider emotional, physical (think rock hard shoulders because of the stress‼️, mental, family (the argument with the spouse), etc.
  2. At the end of the two-week period, evaluate all of the procrastination events. Were these really procrastination or was it a needed delay? Be real people and tell the truth to yourself. Remember, you are GREAT at rationalization.
  3. What context(s) trends do you see? Where do you tend to procrastinate?
  4. What did that procrastination give you? See, here is the other part of the equation. Sometimes, we do feel that we gain something from that procrastination. What did you gain? Why did that gain mean more than the pain of the delay?
    • This might be difficult to identify and will be a painful process for some. But you need to know.
  5. Now, are you willing to break the habit? This is what it ultimately comes down to. You have to decide to stop procrastinating and break the habit. Like all habits that we make, it took time to make them and it takes time to break them.

If you are willing to commit to breaking the habit, then my recommendation is to create a clear schedule of when and how you are going to address the work that you tend to procrastinate completing. Back to the example of the assignment. If your plan is to start an outline on Wednesday of the week before an assignment is due, complete the first draft by that Sunday, edit on the next Wednesday, and do a final edit and submission on Saturday. Then for every assignment, you need to add this to your task list and do not end the day without taking that action. The repetition of the new habit is CRUCIAL!!

My guarantee to you is that this will be PAINFUL ? ! Thought I was going to say this was easy, sorry. You are moving through a learning phase that is difficult because the Procrastination Trap is easy. Although the feelings are negative, you understand and accept them as familiar. You have to break that cycle. I would love to say this is as easy as hitting 21 days with the new behavior, but that is a catchall number that really doesn’t represent the reality for many people. Forming a new habit and breaking old ones can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days (Lally et al, 2010). This varies based on the person and the repetition in the context in which you need to form the new habit.

Are you really Serious?

  1. If so, then track the behavior.
  2. Be consistent in following the schedule you set for the context you tend to procrastinate.
  3. Be realistic with the schedule or plan you create to overcome the Procrastination Trap.
  4. Keep at it every time this context comes up and you start to procrastinate.

How will you know when you have succeeded?

Well, this is the fun part. One day, you will just follow your schedule or plan without thought, and with no consideration of delaying your start. You now have formed a new habit and broken out of that Procrastination Trap. CONGRATULATIONS ?


Khait, H. (2017). Academic performance and the practice of self-directed learning: The adult student perspective. Journal of Further and Higher Education. 41(1). p. 44-59. doi: 10.1080/0309877X.2015.1062849.

Lally, P., vanJaarsveld, C., Potts, H., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology. 40(6). doi: 10.1002/ejsp.674.

Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychology Bulletin. 133(1). p. 65-94. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65.

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