Beat Procrastination by Setting Goals

beat procrastination
Written By Greg Bahlmann
Published on October 6, 2020

Procrastination is the slow, insidious killer of dreams. It’s ever-present and constantly threatens to derail our plans and impede our momentum. However, you can beat procrastination by setting – and sticking to – goals.

How big of a problem is procrastination?

Various studies on academic procrastination have revealed that between 50% and 70% of students admit to procrastinating regularly.

According to Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at De Paul University, around 20% of people are “chronic procrastinators”, which means they procrastinate regularly, resulting in a significant loss of productivity and achievement.

The upshot of this is that it is a big deal.

So, how do we reduce procrastination to increase productivity?

In order to beat procrastination, we must first understand what it is and how it works. We must then look at ways we can use goal setting and goal achievement techniques to beat it back.

What is Procrastination?

You may think that procrastination has something to do with laziness.

This is not always so. Procrastination is a choice while laziness stems from an unwillingness to act.

Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University in Canada maintains that procrastination is a failure of self-regulation. “It’s that gap between intention and action,” he says.

Let’s take a look at the term a bit closer to find out exactly what it is so that we can understand procrastination a little better.

Procrastination can be defined as

“… a habitual or intentional delay of starting or finishing a task despite knowing it might have negative consequences.”

Joseph Ferrari, “Delaying Disposing: Examining the Relationship between Procrastination and Clutter across Generations” (June 2018)

From this definitions, we notice that for a delay to be categorized as procrastination, it must be

  • habitual or intentional,
  • it can apply to the starting or finishing of a task and
  • the person procrastinating must be aware that their delay may have negative consequences.

Most experts agree that procrastination is a hindrance to productivity that can be associated with depression, guilt, low self-esteem, and inadequacy.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Our drive to get things done comprises of two opposing forces; our willpower and motivation, which is opposed by various “demotivating” factors. In short, if the former outweighs the latter, we achieve our goals. If, however, the opposite is true, we procrastinate. The situation is far more intricate and nuanced than the simple illustration given, and you can see a far more detailed discussion in this article.

Reasons for Procrastinating

According to the aforementioned article, the reasons for procrastination include the following;

  • A person’s goals are too abstract.
  • Where the rewards for the task undertaken are too far removed in time so that there is no meaningful connection between the two, a phenomenon called temporal displacement ensues.
  • There is a disconnect from the person’s future self. In other words, the person procrastinating cannot see that their present action or inaction can impact their situation in the future. The outcome is seen as “a problem for a later date”.
  • Procrastination may stem from the person hoping that better options will arise.
  • The procrastinator believes that they will be able to start and complete their task in the future, removing the urgency to act upon it at the current time.
  • The procrastination might be the result of plain old indecision. For example, the person might waste their time vacillating over which solution to choose where several are available.
  • The person might feel overwhelmed.
  • They might suffer from anxiety or depression.
  • They might just be averse to the task they need to perform.
  • Perfectionism may give rise to procrastination as the person undertaking the task may be so afraid of making a mistake that they would rather not even try.
  • The procrastinator may fear negative feedback or criticism or just fear failure.
  • The person procrastinating might be guilty of self-sabotage or self-handicapping so they have something to blame rather than their failure.
  • They may have a low self-efficacy or have a perceived lack of control.
  • They may suffer from ADHD.
  • Finally, there are a host of other personality-related factors that may result in procrastination, including laziness, lack of perseverance, low capacity for self-control, prioritization of short term mood and lack of energy or motivation.

As you can see, procrastination can spring a wide array of sources.

Why is Procrastination a Threat to Our Success and Well-being?

In a study of procrastination among students by Diane Tice and Roy Baumeister published in Psychological Science in 1997, it was found that procrastinators earned lower grades and reported higher cumulative amounts of stress and illness than non-procrastinators. Procrastination led to lower quality work and negatively affected the procrastinator’s sense of well-being.

Procrastination is one of those problems that is given little regard in the face of larger, more extreme impediments to success. However, seen cumulatively, you can image that it could have a significant negative impact on the economy of a city or country where it is prevalent. Such an impact would drag down productivity and, perhaps more importantly, lead to lower quality of life for those involved.

Reducing Procrastination

There appear to be two schools of thought when it comes to combating procrastination.

Economists support an idea put forward by Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary, in a 2007 issue of Psychological Bulletin, that procrastination is an inability to manage time. It is simply a bad habit that needs to be “unlearned”. The solution is to focus on enhancing productivity, in particular time-management.

While psychologists like Ferrari and Pychyl do not discount that there is a time-management element to procrastination, they propose that it also has an emotional component that must not be ignored.

Ferrari proposes that we move away from punishing lateness and reward early completion of tasks instead.

How Do We Beat Procrastination By Setting Goals?

Let’s now turn to the ways in which setting and achieving goals using the GREATER² Goal Achievement System can help us combat procrastination.

Some of the ways in which goal setting can counter procrastination are evident from the list of reasons why we procrastinate, above.

Firstly, Set Clearly Defined Goals

Almost all goal-setting systems advocate setting clearly defined goals for a good reason: you need to know exactly what you are trying to achieve. This makes it easier to take steps towards the goal.

Using the GREATER² Goal Achievement System, we would set goals that are

  • Gaugable, meaning they are specific, precise and possible.
  • Exigent, which means that the goal should be challenging.
  • Important, in other words, the person setting the goal has an emotional investment in achieving it.

Secondly, Use Step Goals to Counter Temporal Displacement

As stated previously, temporal displacement describes the temporal disconnect from the goal within the goal-setter. The goal is too far away in time to create a sense of urgency within them.

Dividing the planned goal path (the “path” that the goal setter will follow from where they are to their goal) into a series of step (or mini) goals forces the goal-setter to focus on achieving an immediate goal that acts as a step towards the larger, ultimate goal. The step goal is close enough in time to create a sense of urgency, motivating the goal-setter to take action.

Visualize to Reconnect With Your Future Self

As part of the GREATER² Goal Achievement System, we develop a Motivational Visualization, wherein we describe the sensations and feelings experienced by our future self at the point when our goal is achieved. This serves to keep the present self connected to the future self as we can imagine how success will feel. This, in turn, serves to motivate us to take the required action.

Create New Habits

Our habits go a long way towards defining how well we do in life and procrastination can simply be a bad habit (where no underlying emotional problems are present). Creating a new habit takes around two months, depending on both the difficulty of the habit and your desire to create it.

Once formed, habits become your default behavior, and taking the actions that are part of that habit become almost effortless. As such, forming new habits can go a long way towards countering your procrastination.


Procrastination is a bigger deal than most people think and if you find that you are procrastinating, it might be time to try to use your time more efficiently. You can do this by setting goals and working on creating new productivity habits. The more you can achieve, the more fulfilled you will feel and the more you will get out of life.

Featured Photo by Tom Morel on Unsplash

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