3 Tips for Getting Past Procrastination

Mary Somers
Mary Somers

Mary Somers is the Associate Director of Coaching and Education at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. She holds an MS degree in counseling from the Johns Hopkins School of Education and is a nationally certified counselor and board certified coach. Mary is also an adjunct faculty member at the JHU School of Education, where she teaches career development and career coaching courses to graduate counseling students. Prior to joining Carey, she managed career services at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education (now Carey Business School and the JHU School of Education). She also worked at Georgetown and Tufts Universities in both student services and administrative roles. Mary is a co-founder of Suited to Succeed, a Baltimore nonprofit that provides clothing and associated resources to women transitioning from training programs to employment.

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You know you have a major project—it’s due in two weeks. You’re interested in the topic, and you look forward to launching into your research, but you just can’t get started.

Has this happened to you? Maybe more than once? Why does binge-watching Game of Thrones or even cleaning a closet seem like a better idea than visiting the online resources of our library? According to Dr. Timothy Pychyl, author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, there are several strategies for eliminating procrastination. He defines this problem as, “the voluntary delay of an intended action despite the knowledge that this delay may harm the individual in terms of the task performance or even just how the individual feels about the task or him- or herself.” Simply, it is a habitual response to thinking about what we must do.

Here are some thoughts that may help you get going:

  1. Think about the benefit of getting started. How does action (or the knowledge that will come from completing your project) align with your larger career goals? Think of your assignment as a way to reach your professional success.
  2. Promising yourself that you’ll definitely get started tomorrow may make you feel better now. You’ve created a plan, so you can let go of your guilt from your inaction—at least for today. Usually, though, when tomorrow comes, the enthusiasm you had and belief that you’d be committed to jumping in to the project has likely dissipated. We aren’t very good at forecasting our future mood.
  3. Create an “implementation intention.” If you consistently tell yourself that you’ll get started tomorrow and don’t, use that as a red flag. Instead, create a new response. “When I tell myself that I’ll get started tomorrow, I’ll use that as a reminder to get started now. I won’t delay, instead I’ll work for an hour.”

To summarize, realize that the “perfect” moment when you feel like getting started may never come. What’s interesting, though, your attitude and motivation will likely change when you act on your intention. It’s action, not waiting for a positive feeling, that will move you forward.

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