ChatGPT and procrastination – no, it isn’t about getting it to write your assignments

I think Large Language Models (LLM) like ChatGPT are getting to the point where we can have meaningful interactions with them in order to help us address aspects of our life where we might get stuck. In this post, I explore this idea in relation to procrastination.

Howdy all

I sent this today to members of the Procrastination Mailing List. What I send through to that group doesn’t generally make it to the blog, but the narrative of the email seemed to lend itself to a blog post, so I have reproduced an edited version here. Enjoy!

So, I make no secret of the fact that I am a fan of ChatGPT and other large language models (LLM). This year, I even decided to pay for ChatGPT Plus to gain access to all the different custom GPT’s that people have built on top of the core LLM. An example would be a GPT that can write you the code for a basic website.

The lure of ChatGPT is not so much that I can outsource my writing work, although that can occasionally be useful. For example, some of my information-focused blog posts (example here) are co-written with ChatGPT. If someone sends me the details of an event or program, I can get ChatGPT to provide me a blog-ready summary that includes all the necessary information. OK, so now that I think about it that is kinda cool.

That awesomeness aside, what I like most about ChatGPT, is that I have at my fingertips, a system that has been trained on a vast body of knowledge, that I can have a conversation with. I can tell it things I am working on, and it can provide advice or suggestions. I can tell it things I am struggling with, and it can recommend solutions. It is basically like having a very knowledgeable and rapid typing remote friend. And it is very different from doing a traditional web-search which doesn’t unfold like a conversation. I like the sense that I am chatting with it.

A conversational approach is very helpful when one is operating at the edge of one’s knowledgebase and are feeling a bit lost. For example, in peer supervision the other day a colleague mentioned Irvin Yalom and his work on death anxiety. I remember reading some of his work but had forgotten most of the key ideas. A quick ChatGPT query later, I had a neat overview of his work that I could share and discuss within the peer supervision session. ChatGPT felt almost like a participant in that peer supervision session, as opposed to if I had done a Google Search.

What does this have to do with procrastination?

What if you thought about ChatGPT like a wise peer, to whom you could turn to provide advice on how to get out of a rut?

In this spirit, I queried ChatGPT today – “I want you to play the role of a university student counsellor and offer some advice to a student who has attended for a session and reports falling behind on their work because they always keep ‘putting it off’.” I then asked it to word it as though it was speaking directly to the student.

ChatGPT’s answer, whilst a little formal, speaks to a number of helpful strategies.



Subject: Support and Strategies to Overcome Procrastination

Dear [Student’s Name],

I hope this message finds you well. I understand that you’ve been facing some challenges with procrastination, and I want to assure you that you’re not alone in this. It’s great that you’ve taken the step to seek help, and I’m here to support you through this.

Procrastination often stems from deeper emotional barriers such as anxiety, a fear of failure, or a lack of interest. Recognizing this is the first step towards overcoming it. Here’s a tailored approach we can try to help you manage and eventually overcome these challenges:

    1. Set Clear, Achievable Goals: Let’s break down your large assignments into smaller, manageable tasks. Setting small goals for each study session can make your work feel more approachable and less overwhelming.
    2. Develop a Structured Schedule: Together, we can create a realistic schedule that includes specific times for studying, taking breaks, and engaging in leisure activities. Balancing your responsibilities with relaxation is crucial.
    3. Prioritize Your Tasks: I can help you learn to prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. This strategy will enable you to tackle the most critical tasks first, providing a sense of accomplishment that can motivate you to keep going.
    4. Address Perfectionism: If striving for perfection is slowing you down, let’s talk about setting more realistic standards. Excellence is achievable; perfection, less so.
    5. Build a Support Network: Connecting with peers, joining study groups, or seeking help from tutors can offer additional support and motivation. It’s also a great way to stay accountable.
    6. Identify and Manage Distractions: Let’s identify the distractions that impact your productivity the most and explore ways to manage them, like using apps to limit your access to social media during study times.
    7. Encourage Self-Reflection: Keeping a diary of your study habits and how you feel during different activities can help you understand the triggers of your procrastination and recognize patterns in your behavior.
    8. Celebrate Your Progress: Acknowledging and celebrating each step you complete successfully is important. It builds your confidence and reinforces your ability to manage your responsibilities.
    9. Consider Professional Help: If you feel that procrastination is linked to deeper emotional issues, I encourage you to consider additional support, such as therapy, which can provide specialized strategies and a space to explore these feelings further.

Remember, overcoming procrastination is a process, and it’s okay to have ups and downs along the way. I’m here to help you through this journey, so please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need further assistance or just someone to talk to.

Looking forward to seeing you soon and working together on these strategies.

Warm regards,

University Student Counsellor



Now, just reading these isn’t likely to magically cure your procrastination. In fact, it is highly likely you’ve heard most of them before and you probably skimmed them with little processing.

But I share its answer, not because of the specific recommendations, but to illustrate that I was able to quickly enter into a conversation with ChatGPT about the situation.

What if you were to start a conversation with ChatGPT about your procrastination? What if you were to ask it how it would suggest you navigate your way to greater productivity?

Just the act of starting that conversation would be a small shift forward in tackling the challenge.

Just like a conversation with a friend can help you break out of a rut by providing a different perspective, engagement with a LLM like ChatGPT might help you move forward on a difficult issue by providing valuable information and ideas. I’m not suggesting they are equivalent. Human conversations resonate very differently to me than machine conversations, but both can help me move forward on issues when I feel stuck.

Now, you need to be careful to not make the assumption that everything ChatGPT recommends is gold. But I have found thus far, in the areas of wellbeing and productivity, the suggestions ChatGPT tends to make align well with advice you’d get from subject matter experts (SME). The specific advice you receive might be less important than the fact that you’ve taken a definitive step forward in tackling a difficult issue (e.g. procrastination).

If you’ve found conversations with LLM’s to be useful in your workflows, I’d love to hear more about how you are using them.

Take care everyone


PS – if that was way too much text about procrastination, a colleague just sent me this. Where on the map do you get lost most often?

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