Chunking to Conquer: Overcome Procrastination (Now!)

Working at a dark, untidy desk, late at night.
Photo by Kevin Yudhistira Alloni on Unsplash

Why Do People Procrastinate?

People whose lives are less-dominated by deadlines find procrastination difficult to comprehend. I recall many conversations with well-meaning friends who were puzzled by why I repeatedly put myself through this. And it’s not only the during the final push that procrastination is unpleasant. Before finally committing to action, every reminder of the deadline is like a poke in the eye with a burnt stick, something from which I would instantly recoil and start looking for relief, usually in the form of distractions. No wonder my friends would ask, how come you don’t just start earlier?

Procrastination & Distraction

One solution I tried was dealing with distractions. Distractions go hand-in-hand with procrastination, which is why people often think distractions cause procrastination. That idea has prompted any number of parents to try banning games or screens from procrastinating children, while an entire industry exists to produce tools for removing distractions from computers and phones.

Person standing beside the ocean’s edge but looking at their phone instead.
Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

Goals Cause Procrastination

Although simple, that never worked for me until I discovered how I was tripping myself up, luring myself into self-destructive procrastinating habits. And the solution was recognising another paradox: goals are the root cause of procrastination.

So, what can procrastinators do?

Some people try to manage procrastination by tying goals to rewards, while others think they should punish failures to make people less likely to repeat them. Neither works well and never for long, because both effectively add a goal on to that big, fear-inducing goal, making it even scarier. Punishment is at least honest about trying to scare people but a moment’s reflection makes it clear that is simply going to make things worse.

Graffiti image of person saying “Act Now”
Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Calming Distractions

There are two key skills that limit the power of procrastination, the first of which is subtle and takes time. Procrastinators need to learn to be comfortable with the thought of failure, especially the thought of their failure to yet achieve their goals. Consciously, repeatedly, procrastinators need to mindfully recognise the anxiety produced by goals, especially when reaching for that distraction. This mindful acceptance is the start of the process of curing procrastination.

Cutting Failure Down to Size

There’s a second skill for managing procrastination that works in a very different way: change the size of your failure so that it is less distressing. Every failure is the same size as the goal you haven’t achieved so the easiest way to diminish a failure is by changing the size of your goal.

Close-up of elephant’s eye. Is it worried?
Photo by Inbetween Architects Jerome Charignon on Unsplash

Rising Above Your Fears

In other words, chunking is the perfect match for mindful acceptance of goal-induced anxiety. Each time I mindfully accepted my anxiety, I was able to mindfully refocus on the next activity, the next bit of reading, writing, and analysis. It wasn’t until I’d submitted that sucker that its size came back into view, at which point I noticed my feet were no longer touching the ground — instead of recovering from terror, I was floating with pleasure at my achievement.



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Arthur Poropat

Arthur Poropat


Arthur’s work on personality, leadership, & performance helps people work together, bringing the best out of each other.