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’re 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, .
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. Create awareness and knowledge.
In every area of life that 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 it.
Create public accountability for yourself to give yourself less wiggle room for avoidance. You can do this in person with someone you know or on social media or in a forum.
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. Try the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s as a way of increasing productivity with time management.
The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. The Pomodoro Technique was named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used.
This method can help you avoid procrastination as you know you’ll be able to take a break and feel less overwhelmed starting a big task.
9. 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.
10. Change your environment.
When I’m feeling particularly procrastinate-y, I’ll take my computer and leave the house.
Working at a coffee shop or bookstore forces me to get down to business and focus on the task at hand.
A simple change of scenery can inspire you and transform your attitude.
11. Tidy up your work environment.
Sometimes we procrastinate because our workspace is a mess. Clutter is agitating and can have a subconscious impact on your motivation to tackle a project.
Create a work environment that invites focus and productivity. Clean off your desk or whatever area you are working from, and put away any visual distractions.
If you are working on a computer, shut down browsers, pop-up notifications, and other digital clutter that might quelch your willingness to start a task.
Make your work environment welcoming and inviting with the right lighting, a comfortable chair (if necessary), the tools you need handy, the right background music (if music helps you), and anything else you need to get the job done.
12. Create interval deadlines.
If you have a deadline for a project, don’t rely on that one deadline to motivate you to get the job done. You may delay until the last minute.
Instead, when you break down the project into smaller chunks, set interval deadlines for those smaller chunks.
13. Eliminate procrastination temptations.
Do whatever you can to remove the temptations that pull you away from starting a project. If you are tempted to watch TV, unplug it. If you love to scroll through Facebook, put your digital devices away.
Use these temptations as rewards for completing your task or project.
14. Team up with someone.
If it makes sense for the project or task you’re working on, partner up with another person to avoid procrastination.
For example, maybe you’ve been putting off cleaning out your garage. Invite a friend to come over and help you at a specific time. When he or she shows up, you’ll have to get started.
15. Eat that frog.
As Brian Tracy suggests in his book, Eat That Frog, get a difficult project out of the way first.
Eating a frog is a metaphor for tackling your most challenging and valuable tasks first before you do anything else.
Accomplishing this most important task first helps clear the cobwebs of procrastination and inspires you to tackle the next items on your list.
16. Make your bed.
When you get up in the morning, make your bed before you do anything else. Making your bed is a keystone habit, one that inspires you to begin other positive habits during your day.
By making your bed, you’ve accomplished a goal before you even get dressed. As a result, starting other necessary tasks feels less daunting.
17. Aim for completion rather than perfection.
When we begin a project thinking it has to be done perfectly, we’re overwhelmed before we even begin.
Perfection requires a lot of time and energy, and more often than not, we don’t feel like we’ve reached perfection no matter how hard we try.
That creates a sense of disappointment and frustration that we remember every time we try to begin a new task or project.
Give yourself permission to do a mediocre job during your first attempt. Just try to get through the project. Then you can go back and refine and improve which is much easier than starting from scratch.
18. Follow the 2-minute rule.
This is a great procrastination-buster from author and habit expert, James Clear. He suggests that you determine how long you think a task will take. If it takes two minutes or less, do it right away.
He goes on to suggest that you start bigger goals and tasks (that take longer than two minutes to complete) by limiting the amount of time to just two minutes. For example, if you want to write a book but you’re procrastinating, just write for two minutes.
Get past the inertia of just starting will help you keep the momentum going so you can easily continue — especially if you know you can stop after two minutes if you wish.
19. Divide your day in half.
Begin your day by setting a few goals for the morning (before lunch). This is the time most of us are most productive. But even if you don’t finish your list, give yourself a second chance with a “morning re-do” after lunch.
At 2:00 clean your slate and start over, as though your morning is just starting. Keeping your energy level in mind, evaluate what you’ve accomplished re-prioritize your goals, and begin again.
20. Have a plan B.
Emergencies or higher priority tasks can occur that will interrupt a planned task that’s on your appointment calendar.
Think in advance about specific situations that are acceptable interruptions for your appointment. Write them down so you’ll remember.
Then set aside a backup day and time on your calendar to complete the task in case you do get interrupted.
If you do mess up and procrastinate on something, don’t dwell on guilt and self-recrimination. Just reset your attitude and try again.
Giving power to those bad feelings will only decrease your self-esteem, which in turn fosters more procrastination.
We often have the (false) belief that if we procrastinate once, we’ll never be able to beat it. 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.