Preventing Procrastination Part Three: Course Correction for All Seasons

Seven powerful steps to prevent procrastination.

Posted Nov 12, 2010

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Does this saying apply to preventing procrastination? Here is a surprise answer. When your procrastination roots first sprouted, you were too young to know. You can't go back in a time machine to cut the roots before they grow. This form of primary prevention isn't in the cards.

You can't prevent something from happening that has occurred. You can prevent reoccurrences by taking self-improvement steps.

You have a procrastination habit you want to correct and stop from getting worse. You can take preemptive action to stop paying the same procrastination toll over and over again. That investment fuels your travels on a positive, purposeful, productive path. On that path you gather dividends in the form of opportunities for guilt-free fun as you get more done.

When prevention is about curbing a recurrent procrastination process, it is called tertiary prevention. With tertiary prevention you take preparatory steps to change course from ingrained procrastination patterns to productive actions.

Prevention comes with a price. If you're going to pay either a procrastination or prevention toll, why not invest in meeting positive goals?

Let's start with two classic prevention methods to help halt future procrastination. Then learn how to use a seven-phase tertiary prevention system to get things done in a reasonable way so that you can add to your accomplishments and your opportunities for health and happiness.

Investing in Prevention

It's self-defeating to put prevention on the back burner and figure you'll get around to doing this someday. It is normally wise to get on top of a problem before it gets on top of you.

Primary prevention is making an investment in you. To create a healthy lifestyle you routinely eat a healthy diet, exercise, get adequate sleep, directly deal with stress, and work at keeping a realistically optimistic view. These primary prevention actions help you reduce your risk for physical disease and psychological disability. By initiating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you increase your psychological resilience and drive down your risk for procrastination.

Secondary prevention is for early procrastination detection. Assume the role of a detective. Where is this time thief likely to strike? For example, writing is a common procrastination hotspot. What's the time thief's modus operandi when delaying a writing task? Start this surveillance by monitoring your thoughts and feelings to catch procrastination as it breaks onto the scene.

An awareness of what you do when you procrastinate, is normally not enough. It takes corrective action to get on a productive course. For example, use a combined bits-and-pieces and five-minute system to kick start productive actions. Here's how. As best you can, break the task into workable parts. Start at the logical beginning. Agree with yourself to actively engage the challenge for five-minutes. At the end of the first five minutes, decide whether to go five minutes more, and so on.

You don't have to reinvent the wheel to develop a secondary prevention attitude. Here are two sample considerations:

1. Recognize procrastination thinking clues and what to do about them:

2. Recognize emotional triggers and what to do about them:

Tertiary Prevention

I originally developed PURRRRS to help people overcome procrastination and I later found that you can use the system to curtail a broad range of negative psychological states. The acronym stands for pause, use, reflect, reason, respond, revise, and stabilize.

Use PURRRRS for these three conditions: (1) preventing procrastination before it starts; (2) stopping procrastination from escalating past an initial impulse; (3) stopping procrastination that has been in process for a while.

1. Pause is the point where you stand back and recognize you are near a choice point where you can follow a productive or procrastination course. By using a reminder system you may increase the odds that you'll pause before procrastination ignites. Put a green dot on your thumb to remind yourself to deal with procrastination urges before they overtake you.

2. Use your inner resources to resist procrastination impulses and side-tracking yourself. Consider your options and choices. Think about how to assert your positive values, such as integrity and responsibility. What can you do to cope with primitive discomfort dodging impulses?

3. Reflect and probe more deeply and analytically. Anticipate and explore emotional pressures, such as anxiety about uncertainty or discomfort. If a frivolous reactance belief (perceived loss of freedom or privilege) stirs procrastination, then consider the short- and long-term benefits of giving into rebellious impulses versus finishing the task.

4. Reason it out. How might the cognitive and emotive conditions you deduced from reflection lead to procrastination? What do you believe when you procrastinate? What do you know about a procrastination belief? For example, you believe that later is better. You know that the later belief is normally false. Do you abide by a procrastination belief or abide by what you know? What's your prevention plan? Include in your plan what you do when you reach a choice point between procrastinating and operating productively.

5. Respond by following your plan. Talk yourself through the paces.

6. Review and revise your plan as conditions warrant. Use the results to endorse the plan or to fill in gaps for next time. Adaptions and adjustments are critical to the effective use of PURRRRS.

7. Stabilize your productive thinking and actions by practicing prevention. By routinely using PURRRRS to promote productive outcomes, you stabilize your preemptive efforts as you avoid repeatedly paying procrastination tolls. Over time, practicing prevention becomes automatic. However, vigilance is necessary. In your weaker moments you may discover procrastination sneaking back.

I designed PURRRRS to help you put corrective actions into a logical order to improve your procrastination prevention and intervention efforts. You can outline PURRRRS in your mind, but preferably first on a computer screen or on paper where you list each PURRRRS factor with ample space between each dimension. Write down your responses in the space. When you face a procrastination hotspot situation, execute your PURRRRS plan. Record what happened.

Find additional PURRRRS examples in



Preventing Procrastination Parts One and Two can be found at:


Dr. Bill Knaus