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10 Ways Stop Procrastinating and Be Productive

Do you ever wonder why you procrastinate?

Well stop wondering because it doesn't matter.

Analyzing why we procrastinate is just another way of procrastinating.

For those of us inclined toward studying the “whys” of human behavior, this is one area where the why just gets in the way of the how.

I could list 100 reasons why we procrastinate, and they might be simply fascinating to study and dissect. But if we really want to stop procrastinating, we need to explore how to stop it rather than why we do it. This, my self-improvement-loving friends, is the time for action — not introspection!

We all procrastinate. No one likes to do what they don't want to do. If you think you are a far worse procrastinator than the next guy, I can assure you, you aren't. However, you may not have learned the skills to ignore it,  sidestep it, or laugh in its face. (The notable exceptions here are those who suffer from depression or ADHD. Procrastination can be symptoms of these disorders.)

For the sake of this discussion, let's talk about procrastination related to tasks that you know must be done rather than habits you want to form or drop. Habit creation or habit dropping are entirely different animals and require a different set of skills. I've written about habits before, so you can read those posts to compliment this one if you'd like.

But in general, we all have tasks, chores, projects, decisions, or actions that we put off. Again, it doesn't matter why. But it goes without saying that we are creatures of comfort. We prefer to do what is fun and easy rather than something that is uncomfortable, tedious, hard, or boring.

As you already know, procrastinating might buy us some short term pleasure or pain-avoidance, but it fosters long-term issues that are equally or more uncomfortable than the task we are avoiding. These include guilt, anxiety, stress, and a sense of low self-confidence.

Fortunately, we have this executive level thinking capacity that urges us to do what must be done. And this is the voice that does daily battle with the primordial brain that would rather surf the net or watch TV. (Back in the ancient days, laziness was adaptive in order to conserve energy for survival — slaying beasts and running from enemies.)

So if you want your modern brain to win the battle over your prehistoric adaptations, you have to plan your strategy. You have to remind yourself you are no longer a Neanderthal and that in order to survive in the 21st century, procrastination is the only beast to be slain.

Follow these steps on how to stop procrastinating once and for all:

1. Awareness and knowledge

In every area of life in which we want to improve, shining the light of reality on the situation is the best first step. Now you know that you don't have some unique issue with procrastination. It's just a throwback to your ancient brain, just like so many other behaviors we have. Just as we no longer need to suck our thumbs, we don't need to procrastinate. We have evolved out of that need.

2. Dis-empower the urges

Don't give any additional power to the urge to procrastinate. Don't dwell on the avoidance thoughts or how bad they make you feel. Don't allow yourself to get lost in the temporary pleasure of whatever is distracting you from your task. Remind yourself that procrastinating is like thumb-sucking. You have grown out of it.

3. Make an appointment

Whatever task or action you are avoiding, make an appointment with yourself to get it done. Put it on your calendar for a specific day and time. Treat it the same way you would treat an appointment with an important client.

4. Remove potential distractions

Once you've made the appointment, separate yourself from anything that might tempt you to stray from the task at hand. If it is desk work that requires your computer, clean off your desk, close all other browsers, turn off the phone, and close your door. If it is a physical chore, prepare everything you need in advance so you can optimize the time you've allotted for this task.

5. Announce it

Tell people that you are going to complete the task or action during the appointment time and give them a day/time you will finish the it. Create public accountability for yourself to give yourself less wiggle room for avoidance.

6. Communicate with family members

Sometimes other people close to us can unconsciously or consciously sabotage our efforts at ending procrastination. They may have another agenda for you, or perhaps they are procrastinating and want you to join the fun. Communicate your plans for completing your task on your appointment day and ask for support from your family. You may need to rearrange your plans to accommodate your spouse or family, but don't use this as an excuse to avoid the task altogether.

7. Break it down

If you have a big task or project, and it feels overwhelming, break it down into the smallest possible components. Create a series of easily manageable tasks that you can schedule in your appointment calendar. Remove overwhelm as a potential obstacle to getting it done.

8. Don't think about it

In the time leading up to your task appointment time, force your thinking away from the task and your feelings of avoidance. If you find yourself dwelling on how much you don't want to do the task, redirect your thinking to something else entirely. Again, don't give any additional brain power to the possibility of procrastination.

9. Have a plan B

Emergencies or higher priority tasks can occur that will interrupt your planned task that you put on your appointment calendar. Think in advance about the specific situations that are acceptable interruptions for your appointment. Write them down so you'll remember. Then set aside a back-up day and time on your calendar if you do get interrupted.

10. Re-calibrate

If you do mess up and miss your appointment, don't dwell in guilt and self-recrimination. Just set another appointment and try again. Giving power to those bad feelings will only decrease your self-esteem, which in turn fosters procrastination. Hit the reset button in your brain and move forward. Every day is a new opportunity to kick procrastination in the butt!

Procrastination is simply a word that represents a feeling. It is a feeling stimulated by an ancient, outdated mental adaptation. You no longer have to hunt or gather, at least not the old-fashioned way!

Just ignore the procrastination urge. Step over it. Push it out of the way. Pretend it doesn't exist.

If you have something that needs doing, make an appointment and just do it!

You may also want to read my friend Steve Scott's book on How to Stop Procrastinating: A Simple Guide to Mastering Difficult Tasks and Breaking the Procrastination Habit.

  • [email protected]

    Hi, Barrie. Great post. When I got back from Iraq I had fallen into a depression and it kept me from doing ANYTHING! There weren’t that many distractions but because I was depressed I didn’t want to do anything. It took me awhile to come around but when I did I started procrastinating for no good reason. I finally applied 2,3 and 4 to my life and now I am right on track. Thanks so much for the post. =)

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Dwayne,
      First, thank you so much for your service and sacrifice. I am so very grateful for you and your fellow service men and women.
      Yes, depression can keep you from taking action on just about everything. I’m so glad you have moved past it and have found a way to beat procrastination!

      Nilmini Klur

      Barrie –

      There are certain statements that really stand out in one’s life and you certainly made a classic:

      “Ever wonder why you procrastinate? Well, STOP WONDERING! That’s just another way of procrastinating.”

      I’m using one of my extra large sticky notes to put that statement on the wall!

      Thanks,
      Nilmini Klur

        Barrie Davenport

        I’m so glad that one resonated with you! Getting stuck in our minds is a way of putting off what we have to do. Action, action, action!

  • John

    This is a good post. Procrastination is a habit that is very detrimental to success. I like this website Berrie, keep up the good work.

      Barrie Davenport

      Thank you John! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Please come back again. 🙂

  • David

    Thankyou for the tips Barrie,
    procrastination has a habit of sneaking up on us…..being aware of this and creating action to get the job done, must occur OR decide the job isn’t worth doing and leave it alone & move on to doing the next one on the list.
    be good to yourself
    David

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi David,
      Yes it is sneaky, isn’t it? The longer you procrastinate, the more anxiety you build up around whatever it is you are putting off. Just close your eyes and get it done!

  • Jasmina

    “Analyzing why we procrastinate is just another way of procrastinating.”
    That says it all.

      Barrie Davenport

      Yep — imagine if we spent that time wondering “why” and actually did something toward whatever it is we are procrastinating about! We would be so productive. Thanks Jasmina.

  • Jon Sollie

    Once I’m backed into a corner and absolutely must take some kind of action, I find that taking baby steps towards the desired goal works best for me. These small steps often build momentum, and lo and behold, before I know it I’ve become an unstoppable human dynamo :-)!

    All the best,

    Jon

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Jon,
      It’s too bad we have to wait to be backed in a corner, but that’s human nature. Sometimes we have to get to the point of no other option to make things happen. 🙂

  • Paige | simple mindfulness

    I’ve often wondered why we procrastinate on things that we know will make us feel better and give us a sense of accomplishment. But, like you’ve said, what’s the point of wondering. Just shut up and DO IT! Thanks Barrie!

      Barrie Davenport

      Well, there is that “old brain” wiring that tell us to avoid activity so we can conserve energy for hunting and gathering. But we have to override that urge by just doing it anyway.

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  • Galen Pearl

    Great steps! I try to identify one thing I want to be sure to get done every day and I put it on my calendar. That makes it “official” and I will more times than not get it done. Which reminds me, I better get busy on today’s item!

      Barrie Davenport

      That’s a great tip Galen! I’m going to give that a try. One thing a day doesn’t feel overwhelming.

  • Steve Rice

    Ugh! This one hit me right between the eyes. I can be such a procrastinator sometimes.

    Usually, it is because I am either 1) unfocused/unclear or 2) afraid. If I can focus my intention and face my fear, then I can usually overcome my tendency to procrastinate.

    Each of the tips you provide above are so helpful because they provide really actionable, practical ways in which we can clarify our focus and get a head start on our fears.

    Thanks for sharing.

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Steve,
      Yes fear is a big reason for procrastinating. But sometimes the fear dissipates once you begin the task. It’s like stage fright — it goes away once you are on stage. 🙂

  • sophia Fernandes

    Thank you Barrie, for sharing this wonderful post, infact this is my weak point, and i realise the value of giving priority, its just a step forward and everything falls in line
    most of our stress is created by not responding at the right time.infact what you rightly said Dis empower the urges, i agree with you . your reflections are truly great, simple but so relevant and apt. My life now is hectic, so many deadlines , now i just want to focus my gaze on what is most important to complete.
    Bye Barrie, have a good day

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