How to Stop Chronic Procrastination

Some people may wonder why procrastination advice seems to never work for them and if there is a deeper issue at hand. Well, for 20% of the population who are chronic procrastinators, it is a serious problem that needs to be addressed according to Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University and a leading expert in the study of procrastination. For those 20%, telling them to just "do it" is like "telling a clinically depressed person to cheer up," says Ferrari, author of the book Still Procrastinating?

RELATED: 5 Reasons You're Late — and How to Avoid Them

It's a Serious Problem If...

So how do you know if you're a chronic procrastinator? "You find that you procrastinate at home, at school, at work, in relationships. You don’t pay your bills on time...You miss sporting events, concerts because you never got the ticket," says Ferrari. "You’re late for any social gathering, you’ll miss doctor’s appointments because you're never there on time, the refrigerator is empty because you never restock it in time, food goes bad because you never eat it on time. If you do all those kind of things, you probably are a chronic procrastinator."

Read on to find out how people become procrastinators.

How People Become Chronic Procrastinators

There are several factors that can lead one to becoming a chronic procrastinator. Here are a couple of them, according to the procrastination expert:

Your Dad

"It’s typically cold, demanding, stern fathers that cause boys and girls to be procrastinators," Ferrari says. Children with strict dads use procrastination as a way to cope because they can't rebel.

You Care Too Much About What Others Think of You

Some people procrastinate because they care too much about public perception. The pressure to seem perfect is particularly strong for these people. The chronic procrastinators prefer people to see them as procrastinators that don't get around to doing tasks rather than simply being incompetent.


We live in a world where society doesn't reward punctuality. Instead, we're penalized for being late, which doesn't give any of us incentive to complete tasks ahead of time. "We punish people if they file their taxes late. We give them a bill. If we pay off our credit card late, we charge them a late fee. But what if you pay your card on time and what if you’ve paid your mortgage off? There’s no gift here."

The Cure for Procrastination

For those who have deep-rooted issues with procrastination, it seems that cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of mental health counseling, is the most effective method. This kind of psychotherapy attempts to reroute inaccurate, harmful, or negative thoughts.

Ferrari suggests a couple more things that might help chronic procrastinators:

Surround Yourself With Doers

It's healthy for a chronic procrastinator to surround herself with people who are likely to do things. It'll be a good influence on those with a tendency to delay tasks.

Just Start Somewhere

Just take a small step at a time. For example, if you're supposed to write an essay, start with a few paragraphs, and if that's too much for you, resolve to write just one. If that's still overwhelming, stick to a couple of sentences or even a few words.

Set Up a Reward System

"People like to do things they enjoy doing," says Ferrari. He recommends rewarding yourself with something you enjoy after you complete something that you've been dreading to do. For example, reward yourself with half an hour of Desperate Housewives after doing laundry.

Public Posting

Because procrastinators care so much about how others view them, they are more likely to do tasks when they publicly announce it. Take to Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media outlet and state the task you're going to do. Then when you've completed it, let everyone know that you've done what you set out to do. The "likes" and congratulatory tweets will feel very satisfying.

So What If I Am One?

If you're reading this and feel that you fit the profile of a chronic procrastinator, you may think that it's not a big deal to be one. After all, your life might be functioning fine, and you've made it through many of the setbacks caused by your procrastination. However, keep in mind that it may catch up with you one day, and it can get to a point where it disrupts your life and negatively impact other people's opinion of your character. Further, it's not exactly comfortable living as a chronic procrastinator. In fact, Ferrari found that procrastinators have more regrets than non-procrastinators for things that they didn't do. "Stop stressing yourself over it. Life is short — leave a legacy," says Ferrari. "There are too many places to see and too many things to do in life to just procrastinate and wait and living in a bubble of fear of getting it done."

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How to Stop Chronic Procrastination

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Meg Favreau's picture

I'm not a huge procrastinator, but I do have a hard time making decisions when presented with a lot of options. I think a lot of the same principles apply -- especially "just start somewhere."

Guest's picture

I'm going to bookmark this and read it later... heh heh.

(just kidding... good article.:)

Guest's picture

I struggle with procrastination. Lists help me because I love to cross stuff off of them. I have gotten better as I've found ways to overcome this issue. Mostly, I just try to start somewhere like you said. I'm always reminding myself that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.. :) Starting is the hardest part.

Guest's picture

Great article. I agree with the reward system. I also know someone who works on a "punishment" system, e.g. I will give away 5 bucks to charity if I won't be to this task today.

Guest's picture
Carl Lassegue

I don't think I would fall under the chronic procrastinator category but I tend to put things off sometimes. The principle that helps me the most is "just start somewhere". The first step has always been the hardest for me.