Understanding Yourself: Break Your Procrastination Habit!

Move away from procrastination to taking action with this self coaching session from the Open University's PLA (Personal Learning Advice) service.


Welcome to our fifth addition to The Hoot! 

Each month we publish an article which presents a new opportunity to focus on your personal and professional development to support your studies, work and life. In this article we’re sharing our top five tips to help break your procrastination habit.

Is there something in your life that you’ve been putting off? Even if you feel you are a ‘doer’ who gets things finished and meets deadlines, you can experience procrastination. Whether it’s a small task or a large life-long goal, sometimes you’ll need to find a way to move away from procrastinating to taking action. In addition, science and research into how the brain works shows us that procrastination can become a habit!

Here are our top five tips to help tackle procrastination

1. Commit to yourself and others

Start by making a clear, specific decision to overcome procrastination, break the habit and achieve your goal. Write down your decision and for accountability tell a friend, family member or work colleague that you have decided to take action. 

Once you have commitment to overcoming procrastination you’ll feel more emotionally attached to your success.


2. Determine the cost of failure

If you keep procrastinating you’re unlikely to achieve your goal. Ask yourself, What are the costs or consequences of my not taking the actions I need to take? 

To help answer this question try to picture yourself in the future. Where will you be if you don’t take action? How will your life look? How will you think and feel if you’ve not taken action?


3. Visualize the benefits of success

Once you’ve determined the cost of failure ask yourself, What are the potential benefits of taking action? Write down the benefits to you, identifying what you’ll have and how you’ll think and feel. 

Return to this visualisation on a regular basis to help keep yourself motivated. 


4. Admit your fears, even if they seem nonsensical or irrational

Fear, worry or shame can be behind why we procrastinate - Will I get it wrong? What will others think? What if I fail? 

To help you acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and to move towards action try this quick three step exercise. Find 10 – 15 minutes with a pen and paper, think of a situation where you have been procrastinating and:

Step One 

List all the sensible, rational reasons you might be avoiding this action/task.

Step Two

List all the nonsensical or irrational reasons you might be avoiding this action/task. Don’t over-think this, just write down what pops into your head. It could help to ask yourself What am I secretly afraid of or avoiding here?

Step Three

Now review your lists and ask yourself:

  • Are these reasons based on fact or fiction?
  • If the reasons are facts: What can I do to change this? Who or what can help me?
  • If the reasons are fiction: Where does this information, thought or feeling come from? How or what can I do to overcome this?

For more information and ideas read Why Procrastinators Procrastinate


5. Break it down and take action

Sometimes we procrastinate because we don’t know where to begin. If you feel a goal/task is overwhelming start by breaking it down into smaller steps and actions. When you’re able to look at each small step individually, it will seem much more attainable to tackle one thing at a time, taking steps towards completion.

Once you’ve identified your smaller steps and actions it’s time to get started! Often a long ‘to-do list’ can seem overwhelming, instead try organising your steps and actions into a schedule or action plan which identifies key dates, orders actions by priority, and identifies resources for help or support.

Next, just do it and get started! 

According to Mel Robbins, author of The 5 Second Rule, there’s a simple technique to help break the procrastination habit. Try using saying out load a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 countdown to interrupt your thinking  and to start taking action. For more information watch The only way to stop procrastinating

… And Finally

Don’t forget to reward yourself for overcoming your procrastination habit, for taking action and achieving your goal. As well as being something to enjoy, this reward is important as it helps your brain reinforce the habit of getting things done in the future.

We hope you have enjoyed this month’s article. We welcome comments, questions and chat about the article and activities.   

If there’s anything you’d particularly like to see in this series of self-coaching features, please let us know.  

We look forward to seeing you again soon!


The Open University (OU) has set an ambitious Access and Participation Strategy with progressive targets over the next 5 years to tackle inequalities. The OU has many areas in which we need to improve and do better, and one focus is on the degree outcomes between students from underrepresented groups and the wider student body.  

To help address this, we have set up a dedicated team providing personalised coaching and mentoring to our students. This service is known as the Personal Learning Advice Service.  

Students who are eligible for coaching are contacted directly by us and cannot currently self-refer. We are a new service, and we are currently delivering and evaluating pilot projects with small groups of students at the OU. We worked with the OU Students Association in designing and setting up this support for students.   

If you would like to know more, please email PLA-Services@open.ac.uk 


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