Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

The Research-Backed Ways to (Finally!) Stop Procrastinating

The chronic procrastinators of the world (myself included) know that the struggle to find a way to get themselves motivated is real. We block distracting websites. We try meticulous to-do lists to help us prioritize the tasks we don’t really want to do. And—perhaps most commonly—we give ourselves fake deadlines to pressure ourselves into doing said tasks.

Well, I’ve got some bad news for you. Recent research suggests that self-imposed deadlines simply don’t work.

In the study, researchers Alberto Bisin and Kyle Hyndman asked three groups of students to alphabetize three word jumbles, telling them they would receive $15 for each jumble completed on time. The first group of participants were given evenly spaced deadlines for each jumble, the second group a final deadline for all the jumbles, and the third allowed to set their own deadlines.

The results? Those who had set their own deadlines completed fewer jumbles than any other group. Researchers and procrastination experts believe that this is because the authority of the deadline isn’t there when it’s self-imposed, and therefore the motivation to actually get it done never comes. As reported by Eric Jaffe of Fast Company:

If time management were the essence of the problem, a self-imposed deadline should help. But Pychyl and other researchers have come to believe that emotional failures rest at the root of procrastination. Procrastinators delay a task because they’re not in the mood to do it and deceive themselves into thinking they will be later on. When that time comes and they’re not, they’re in the same emotional place but with less time until deadline.

Luckily, there are a couple things any of us can take from this research to help nip our procrastination habits in the bud. One effective (and incredibly actionable) strategy is to set hard, spaced out deadlines with your boss; prior research suggests that evenly spaced deadlines leads to the highest level of on-time completion and quality.

And in terms of getting over the “I’m not in the mood” speed bump? Jaffe reports that some experts believe it’s all about finding something enjoyable or meaningful in whatever task you’ve been avoiding—inspiring you to get it done. In this case, some of Steve Errey’s tips on finding purpose in your work could be beneficial.

Photo of fire courtesy of Shutterstock.