How to Stop Procrastination…Now, Not Later.

Post written by Warren. Follow him on Twitter.

Stop thinking. Start doing.

Stop thinking. Start doing.

There is little in life that holds us back worse than the habit of procrastination.

What starts off as an offhanded “I’ll get to it later” often turns a simple task into a monster that looms over us as a deadline draws nearer and nearer.  Most of the time we find ourselves procrastinating the most unpleasant tasks on our to-do lists, trading a more comfortable present for a stressed-out, time-starved future where we have to rush around to finish a task that we originally had plenty of time to accomplish.

Procrastinating affects us in all sorts of negative ways, from causing us to miss work deadlines to risking our health over putting off doctors’ appointments, to damaging relationships when we continually think we’ll pay attention to our loved ones “later.”  Still, many of us are stuck in a trap that keeps us from doing the things we need to get done.  To make things even more frustrating, we often look back and realize that the time spent procrastinating really wasn’t filled with anything valuable, either.

Was it really worth putting off your school project in order to watch some old documentary on a subject you weren’t even interested in to begin with?

Probably not.

So, what do you do when you realize that it’s time to take the procrastination bull by the horns?  How do you make the changes you need in order to get on the right track?

The first step is something you’ve already done.  You need to recognize that it’s time to put a stop to the procrastination.  Of course, recognizing a problem and solving a problem are certainly not the same thing.  Still, realizing that you need to make a change really is a big step, and acknowledging that you’ve already taken a step can help you take the next one.

Now things are going to get a little more uncomfortable because it’s time to start taking action.  There are several strategies you can use to get yourself up and moving.  The one that works best for you may depend upon why it is that you’re procrastinating in the first place.

It’s Just Too Much!

For example, many of us put off projects because they are just so complex that we become overwhelmed before we even start.  If you have a multi-part project that you need to complete, take the time to break it down into its component parts.  Rather than thinking “I have to complete a 15-page report by the end of the month,” make a list of the various tasks involved and tackle them one at a time.  Your list might look something like this:

  1. Brainstorm topic ideas
  2. Get input from friends/teacher/boss/etc. and choose topic
  3. Go to library and do research (or put aside time to research online)
  4. Write rough draft
  5. Get input on rough draft
  6. Write final draft

By attacking each item in turn, you can avoid the paralysis that often comes with not knowing where to start or even feeling like you’ll never be able to finish.

I Don’t Wanna!

So much of the time, we end up procrastinating because we simply don’t want to engage in particular activities.  We may find them unpleasant or just be uninterested in them.  This might be the case with cleaning house, for example.  You think, “I’ll do the dishes later.”  Unfortunately, the longer you think this, the more dishes there are by the time you finally get around to the task.  This, of course, reinforces the idea that we didn’t want to do that darn thing in the first place.

Getting past this hurdle requires us to adjust our thinking a little bit.  In some cases, we just have to “suck it up” and get started.  The funny thing is that once we get some forward momentum with the unpleasant activity, we almost always find that it wasn’t as bad as we expected.  It’s the dread over doing it that causes us so much trouble, not the actual act of getting it done.  Logically speaking, we would actually avoid more distress by simply starting the task than we create by trying to avoid it.

There are a couple of methods you can use to get the ball rolling and start on your task.  One is to give yourself a “start deadline.”

We often think of deadlines as being the time we have to have a project finished, but creating a start deadline can help impose a sense of urgency that gets us motivated to begin.  Another common method is to give yourself a reward once you’ve completed a task.  The size of the reward should probably relate to the overall size of the task accomplished, so making a dreaded phone call might earn you a special snack, while finishing an entire months-long project at work may warrant a few days off to spend with friends and family.

“Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin.”  Victor Kiam

What If I’m Not Good Enough?

Procrastination is also a tool that we use to keep ourselves from experiencing failure.  It is not unusual for people to put off tasks because they are worried about the outcome.  This can result from multiple concerns, including fear of failure (or even success) and perfectionism.

Perfectionists will often procrastinate starting a project because they feel like they have to have everything in order to ensure it goes off without a hitch—before they even get started.  Because the timing for such things is rarely ever “perfect” (because, let’s face it, there is no such thing as perfection), this can lead to an inability to even get started, let alone finish a project.

In order to get started, the perfectionist may have to recognize that it is more important to get something done than it is to get it done to a ridiculously high standard.  Setting deadlines and asking others to hold you accountable can be a great way for this type of person to see progress instead of remaining stalled.

Fear of failure is certainly related.  Oftentimes people will delay a task for fear that even if they do their best, the end result will not be good enough.  Generally speaking, this is a self-esteem issue.  One of the best ways to get past this holdup is to spend time really picturing the end result that you want from your project.  It’s impossible to reach a goal if you never set one, after all.  By having a good idea of what it is you’re trying to accomplish, you are setting yourself up to reach that goal.

Putting Procrastination to Work for You

While we almost always think of procrastination as a negative thing, there are times when we can use it to our advantage.  If you’re trying to quit smoking, for example, you can procrastinate your next cigarette for 15 minutes.  By the time those minutes have passed, you will likely have moved past the craving and be on to something else.  If not, you can always procrastinate another 15 minutes.  Even if you don’t quit smoking immediately, this ensures that you will cut back the amount you smoke in a day.

You can also use procrastination as a tool to combat worry.  Much of our time is wasted worrying about things over which we have not control.  Let’s say you have a dentist appointment set for next week.  Is worrying about what the doctor will say or do going to have any effect on what actually happens?  The truth is that it won’t. So, when you find concerns starting to rise up in your mind, you can give yourself permission to procrastinate and worry about the situation later.



What do YOU procrastinate about the most…and what do you do to overcome it?

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Posted on September 23, 2009

Happy Comments

22 Responses to “How to Stop Procrastination…Now, Not Later.”
  1. Dayne,

    The ever-popular notion of creating to-do lists, to me, is a hidden form of procrastination because having a large clump of tasks to accomplish looks intimidating on paper.

    The one great point I took away from the book Getting Things Done is to right your tasks on a single scrap of paper if you want to feel good about focusing and finishing it.

    Thank you for the article, as always.
    .-= Pete | The Tango Notebook´s last blog ..How Dancing Tango in Philadelphia Made Me Shrink =-.

  2. Excellent advice on a downfall that a LOT of people suffer from. I’ve been procrastinating a lot lately but I finally got it together (somewhat) today and I feel a lot better. Take it from one who knows — now is better than later!
    .-= Positively Present´s last blog ..get happier (.com)! =-.

  3. Kaushik says:

    Great Dayne. Procrastination, it feels, may be a form rebellion. One corner of the mind rebelling against another…when I can be still and release conflict, procrastination goes away.
    .-= Kaushik´s last blog ..Finding Passsion and Purpose: The Tipping point in the fulcrum of change =-.

  4. Walter says:

    Procrastination is indeed the enemy of success. And your advice above “start deadline” is extremely effective in countering the habit of procrastination. It may not be easy at first, but it is our choice to elevate or not. :-)
    .-= Walter´s last blog ..How to unleash your true capacity =-.

  5. First off great that you showed that procrastination can also be positive if used correctly. Not something seen a lot. My favorite way to stop procrastinating is I ask myself if I’m doing the most important thing I could be doing with my time.
    .-= Justin-´s last blog ..How to Find Your Own Voice in the Crowd =-.

  6. Colin Wright says:

    I find that just getting started in any way helps. When it comes to writing, I’ll quickly open up a word processor and start writing something – anything! – so that I have that document open and ready when the words start to flow. Generally it happens right away – I’ll start writing soon after opening up that window – but even if it takes a few minutes to get there, having it ready for me breaks through that first wall of getting started (which for some reason seems to be the hardest part for me and many other people).

    Really solid post with good advice! Thanks!
    .-= Colin Wright´s last blog ..Today I Exhaled =-.

  7. Karlil says:

    Have less priorities and list of things to do help counter procrastination. It is easy to be overwhelmed when you have too much. And overwhelmed is yet a good excuse to procrastinate, which only make things worse.
    .-= Karlil´s last blog ..Why I Wish I Were Dead And How To Overcome Suicidal Ideation =-.

  8. Very true Danny. Procrastination is the thief of time that steals the cookie out of the cookie jar while mom is sleeping. Its essential to take action right now, to end it.Why? We as human live by your routine, everything we do daily. This is how we are defined. By keep putting things off your giving into procrastination without knowing it.
    .-= jonathanfigaro´s last blog ..14 Principles Timeless To Achieve Your Dreams =-.

    • Jonathan, yes, just taking action…whether we like it or not…is essential. If not, we tend to get into routines like you say and we sure as heck don’t want to create a procrastination routine in your lives. :)

      Thanks again!


  9. Erin says:

    Who told you I was a procrastinator? Terrific, well though out post.

  10. The way I deal with procrastination is, if I’m feeling less than inspired, I do the little, easy, no-brainer tasks first. It’s sort of like warm-up. This gives me a sense of accomplishment and sure enough, gets me in the mood to do the meatier stuff that I’d been putting off.

  11. Hi Dayne,

    Great topic, and a great post.

    I would add…


    My way of handling procrastination is to not even give it light of day – I call it no-crastination.

    What I mean is, procrastination – putting off actions until tomorrow – implies belief in the concept of tomorrow. A belief in, and reliance on an abstract notion that never arrives. For me, my focus is really on the here and now. I don’t give tomorrow much credence, so find it very difficult to defer things to it.

    My daily routine is simply to create a list of tasks in order of decreasing friction – starting with the ‘highest friction’ task i.e. the task that I least want to do, then the next highest friction etc.

    As I complete the tasks, they get progressively more enjoyable (less friction), so the day is constantly improving.

    Hope that’s not all too abstract, but it works for me and is contributed to stimulate some discussion.

    Best, Robin
    .-= Robin Dickinson´s last blog ..Innovation booster: Medieval French Poetry =-.

    • Robin, you always leave some amazing comments! I LOVE the idea of “No Crastination”…perfect! I also like your method of doing the hardest thing first. It makes total sense. It’s interesting what works for one, doesn’t really work for another. Take Belinda (see above) for example, she starts with a smaller task first to get going. The opposite of what you tend to do. But the thing is…both work. :)

      I think the key is for us to find what works for us individually and most of all, stick to it. :)

      Thanks for your awesome comment Robin!


  12. Neccola says:

    Really good advices, one more great source is I hope that you will enjoy this blog as much as I did. later
    .-= Neccola´s last blog ..Overcoming procrastination part 1: GOALS =-.

  13. Hi Dayne, great post and amazing blog!

    Give yourself a reward once you’ve completed a task-> I like this advice :).

    You’re absolutely right about procrastination: we consistently avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions. We must free ourselves from this harmful habit.

    Shaquille ONeal said once: “Excellence is not a singular act, but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.” Big truth from a big and great man :).
    .-= David |´s last blog ..CREATIVE THINKING: HOW TO BE AN INNOVATOR FOR LIFE =-.

  14. Anthony says:

    I wonder where I fit in, I am great at starting things and getting them going but then when it comes to finishing them I back off. I have done this on projects and in a business I started. Once things seem to get going I start to back away from it. I don’t know if its fear or boredom. What ever it is I haven’t been able to overcome it. It has been holding my success back for years now.

    Any thoughts?

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