• Rita Hitching

Are you a procrastinator? Want to Stop? Read on...

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

Do you find yourself putting this off? Maybe starting at the last minute, and then kicking yourself for not doing your best? I know I do, and this post is a few days late as a consequence. If, like me you are trying todo more in less time, so that you can do the stuff you really enjoy, then read on.

Use neuroscience to stop procrastinating, and start getting stuff done.
Stop procrastinating, and start getting stuff done.

Your teenage brain is glorious - if you didn’t know that already. Neuroscience has shown that the brain goes through critical periods of growth and development - while in the womb, the first year of life, and the early years; right into adulthood. What scientists have more recently discovered is that the brain undergoes a 'secret mission' of change during the period between the ages of 12 to 19 years that is truly unique.

Most of us put off doing things in our to do list, for a variety of reasons which I'd classify as task oriented (difficult, ambiguous, unstructured, frustrating, boring) or self oriented ( lack of personal meaning, not fun or rewarding).

Neuroscience can explain the reasons for our procrastination and it's not because we are lazy or unmotivated, but because that task is causing us anxiety. The cause of task anxiety is typically associated with not being sure how to do a task or it does not seem relevant to you. Our egos are very good at protecting us, and don't want us to feel stupid or incompetent - the best way to do that, it to give us as many reasons as we need to put off a task. Your pre-frontal cortex associated with decision making, executive function and planning, is at the mercy of the limbic system - your emotional brain. You are a sentient being and your limbic system is more powerful that your pre-frontal cortex. It's there to protect us, if something does not feel good our brain tells us not to do it!

Researchers have shown differences in brain connectivity between teenagers that have more self discipline to complete a task with those that are procrastinators. Strong functional connectivity between the venture medial pre-frontal cortex (VMPFC) and the dorsal lateral pre-frontal cortex (DLPFC), and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (DACC) and the caudate, as well as connectivity within the venture lateral pre-frontal cortex (VLPFC) is associated with increased procrastination. Remember, that although we are all wired differently our brain is imalleable and we can train ourselves to be more productive.  Here's some ways how: 

Pump the Breaks

Although the limbic system is a powerful mechanism, you still have control over it. You can pump the breaks on the procrastination by controlling your impulses. What I hear you say? Let me explain, controlling the emotional part of your brain telling you to not do a task is is possible. The simplest way to silence your procrastination is simply to start a task. Even if all you do is write the title of the assignment or make a list of what resources you might need. Your brain continues to think over a task once you start it, even if you take a break from doing it. An unfinished task is annoying for your brain and it will urge to return to the task later.

Having Everything you Need

For many of us the anxiety associated with starting a task we don't want to do, encourages us to do task associated with it, but that really are procrastination. You might feel that you can start an assignment because you don't have all the resources you need, a key book is not in the library, you don't have the stationery you need, etc. It's worth telling yourself that you don't know what you'll need until you start. Yes, a teacher might suggest a recommended list of books or articles, but you don't need every single one. Just get started.

Self-Imposed Deadlines

Believe it or not, research has shown that if you set a self-impose deadline you are more productive, perform better, and likely to complete your task. So, if your assignment is due in 2 weeks, try to say to yourself the deadline is a week earlier. Break the task down into mini deadlines. For example, read for 10 minutes about the project and make 3 notes. That's it - no more. If you set yourself a task you don't want to do for too long you'll just put it off. Remember if you really wanted to do the task you wouldn't have put it off in the first place.

Start Early

Research studies have shown that self-control or willpower and energy decreases throughout the day. Mark Twain the famous author of the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, was also famous for the quote of starting the day with the worst task on your to do list or "Eat a live frog every morning". The common sense thinking is that if you complete your most dreaded task at the start of the day, you can then spend the rest of the day without the cloud of guilt around another task you do.

Accountability & Distractions

Having a study group is a great way to reduce procrastination, as it prevents you from being distracted by something else to do. A study group also makes you accountable and you have positive peer pressure to get started.


Rewarding yourself for starting a task you are putting off is a great way to self motivate. You might consider doing a 1/3 of an assignment and watching a show or YouTube channel you like for 20 minutes, and returning to the task and rewarding yourself until it's complete.

If you are feeling anxious about an assignment or a project start discussing with your worries with your teacher. They can provide more detailed instructions on what's expected or clarify what you don't understand. Don't wait until the day the assignment was due to let them know you were unsure of what to do. The best way to deal with procrastination is to reduce the anxiety associated with the project.