7 Procrastination Triggers & How to Avoid Them

Chances are, the reason you can’t seem to get any work done has something to do with these 7 procrastination triggers. According to Dr. Tim Pychyl, a psychologist & Associate Professor at Carlton University who researched procrastination for more than 20 years, there are 7 task characteristics that cue procrastination. But what are they exactly and what can you do to avoid falling into their trap? 

1. Boring

The first procrastination trigger is pretty self explanatory, if you perceive the task at hand to be more effective than a sleeping pill – you’re looking at the one and only: boredom. When faced with a boring activity, or let’s be real here and call it a chore, I would recommend you try one of these 2 techniques: 

  • Set a personal record related to that boring task and try to beat it each time it comes up. For those of you with a fiery competitive spirit, this can work wonders. If you have to read 10 pages, set a goal to read 11. Keep track of that number, and try to set a new high score at your next study session by reading 12 pages. If you turn something boring into an exciting challenge, you are more likely to be engaged and therefore stay awake in the process.
  • Speaking of being engaged, actively stimulating as many of your senses as possible can also help you focus on any snooze fest you encounter during the semester. Don’t just passively look at the material you’re trying to study, do something with it! Make something with it! This can mean creating a study guide, making a practice test that you and your friend can take together, write marginal notes and then read them to your little sister (I mean I can go on). Remember, your brain can’t fall asleep when your body is active. So use your senses. 

2. Unstructured

Tangible chaos leads to mental chaos. And when we are wired as human beings to survive by any means necessary, any threat (even an exaggerated, made-up threat like a messy desk that you have to tidy up one day) can result in avoidance disguised as procrastination. Having to ping-pong between textbooks or studying with clutter around you can leave one feeling uneasy or overwhelmed. 

And I’m sorry to say, but there’s no way of sugarcoating this, your mom was on to something when she was telling you to clean your room. My secret strategy to dealing with clutter is having a designated home for everything. When I come back from uni, I make sure I’m not the only one that comes back home that evening. My notes go into their class binder and my coat goes back to it’s assigned second hanger in the closet. This habit not only prevents you from having that classic excuse of turning into a maid as a form of procrastination, but it also acts as a preventative measure to maintain a tidy environment. Do this, consistently, and you will never struggle with this trigger ever again. 

3. Difficult

Often referred to as the king of procrastination, fear of failure when faced with a difficult task can paralyze us where we stand. This trigger is particularly troublesome for students with a fixed mindset. When your identity or personal value is tied to your ability to complete a task without fault, if you were to struggle even a little bit – your ego would take a massive hit. Another possible explanation for why we procrastinate doing difficult tasks is discomfort intolerance. This refers to the belief that discomfort should be avoided.

For my OG YouTube subscribers, you know very well where I stand on this topic. You need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Discomfort and hustling in general should be perceived as prerequisites to success. There is no straight line to the top, the path is more so a rollercoaster than a highway. Please keep in mind that:

It will be difficult today, but less so tomorrow.

4. Ambiguous

How do you expect to enter the flow state if you’re unsure of what to do, where to go, or how to get there? Ambiguity leads to questions and the more questions or uncertainty your mind has to take on, the more likely it is to “do it tomorrow.” 

Whenever you arrive at a crossroad, or when you get stuck doing a particularly difficult math problem, don’t just stand there – clear that ish up! Ask your teacher, your T.A., your friend, your dad, Google – because Google is your friend too in 2021. Sometimes, all you need to find clarity, is for someone to burst your bubble so that you can come back to the problem with a fresh pair of eyes. 

5. Frustrating

What do you get when you take a difficult task, add a pinch of disorganization and top it all off with a sprinkle of ambiguity? A giant plate of frustration, that’s what. And what do we do when we get frustrated – we put it off until the very last second. 

A study conducted by psychologist Dr. Hal Hershfield found that people often view their future selves as strangers. This mindset can dramatically affect decision making because hey, this annoying task in now my future self’s problem – not mine! If you’re someone that constantly puts pressure on your future self, I strongly suggest you consider doing the Future Self Visualization Exercise – the worksheet is free to download so you have absolutely nothing to lose. 

6. Meaningless

Why are you studying? Why do you even want to ace your exams? To go to university? Ok, then what? When there is no deeper meaning to what you are doing, it increases your chances of finding that task insignificant. This couldn’t be further from the truth: big results come from tiny steps made in the right direction, consistently. Even Galadriel knew this: “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” You need to discover your life purpose – your master plan to truly see how all the pieces of the puzzle come together as one to create something great.

7. Extrinsic

Extrinsic rewards and instant gratification can be obtained quite easily from what I like to call “filler” activities. That sudden urge to binge on a can of Pringles or clean your entire room is in fact your procrastination speaking. The results are obtained quickly, are very satisfying, but often short lived. Pursuing intrinsic rewards means having an inner drive that motivates you to do a task simply because it is meaningful to you. So when you catch yourself procrastinating on a somewhat trivial activity, try to visualize it as part of a mood board. Because you know what, that tiny detail you missed out on by not reading Chapter 5 could make the difference between scoring a B or an A on your final exam.