How to stop procrastination and start getting things done.
For many of us, the anxiety of an upcoming deadline can be paralyzing. It starts with dread. Then, the guilt trickles in. Cue fear and stress. These emotions double down to freeze the ability to begin or they propel manic efforts to finish. While cycles of procrastination are common, they are, however, not inevitable.
This tutorial will suggest five techniques on how to stop procrastination. You will furthermore find practical tools and tips to understand why we procrastinate and start getting things done whether it is for business, hobbies, learning or personal projects.
Why do we procrastinate?
You can let go of procrastination-induced guilt once you accept that everyone is susceptible to putting things off sometimes. You are not lazy, and you’re not flawed. Reasons for delaying an important task vary, but they are all grounded in human emotion. Once you identify the root cause of the situation, you can break the cycle.
Let’s consider three different types of procrastinators:
The Perfectionist — Perfectionism and procrastination can go hand in hand. Fear of not knowing how to approach and execute a task perfectly can be incapacitating. Tasks do not need to be perfect; they need to be done. Lower your expectations and focus on starting rather than finishing. Without the pressure of the perfectly completed product hanging over you, there’s the freedom to get going.
The Easily Distracted — We live in a world of overstimulation. Multi-tasking is expected and even touted as a desirable skill. However, our brains aren’t actually wired to multitask. What the brain is doing is redirecting between tasks very quickly, and every switch burns through brain fuel1. This results in feeling tired and confused.
Centering your energy allows for more controlled and successful working. The first step is to identify trigger moments when your mind starts to wander. Are these triggers internal or external? Narrow in on these and learn how to overcome these distractions (see below).
The Adrenaline Junkie — “I do my best work under pressure.” This is a common sentiment, and while it might feel true, the work is not better. It’s just faster. Ultimately, the thrill of working under pressure is just anxiety. This strategy isn’t helpful, it’s harmful. Redirecting your nervous energy towards creating a responsible work plan will allow your thrill to result from completing a task well and attentively.
How To Stop Procrastination – 5 Techniques
Here are five techniques to learn how to stop procrastination (really).
1. Set the Scene
Dedicate a space to work. Start by assessing what type of environment you associate with productivity. It may be a bustling cafe or co-working space, where the hum of others motivates you to stay on task. Or, if you favor silence, maybe a productive space is the public library. With more and more work being done from home, here are some tips for creating a productive environment with the resources at hand.
Declutter your space
Marie Kondo might be on to something. Getting rid of physical clutter helps to get rid of mental clutter. Organize a clean desk or table, with allotted space for your computer and needed materials. And tidy up the rest of your house, too. This limits excuses for transferring productivity away from your work by getting satisfaction from doing another task, such as washing the dishes or organizing the pantry.
Look the part
Even if you are at home, you are going to work and need to act accordingly. Brush your teeth and get dressed into clean and comfortable clothes – not something you slept in the night before. Without the opportunity to totally change environments, getting ready and dressed alerts your brain to switch into productivity mode. Read all tips to be more productive.
Personalize your space
Decluttering your workspace does not mean erasing elements that motivate and ground you. There are several low-cost (or free) options to add personality. Incorporate some live green plants to your room or workspace or arrange a small vase of flowers; natural elements can relieve stress and increase calm.
Particularly if you work in a creative field, consider displaying a select few images that inspire you. However, if a separate workspace is not available and you need to work from your bedroom or couch, ensure you are seated in an upright position. Remember to get up from the bed or couch during breaks and meals.
2. Reduce Distractions to Stop Procrastination
Some distractions are internal, and some are external. You have the ability to reduce both.
Train your brain to stay on task. Mindfulness and meditation (browse meditation courses)are powerful tools for managing stress, increasing control and lengthening attention span. The more you exercise ignoring distractions, the stronger your mind will become.
Think of training your attention in the same way you would train for a race. Maybe you start by running for five minutes, then walking for three minutes. Repeat until you’ve gone a mile. Apply the same approach to focus. Dedicate five minutes to focusing on a given task. Then, you can take a three-minute break. Continue for one hour. Increase the time to focus to fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, and so on.
A quick web search on mindfulness or meditation for focus will lead you to a plethora of resources. Take the time to explore and find something that resonates with you. Remember to keep at it. Habits of procrastination and stimulus overload may have developed over years. It’s okay if they aren’t deconstructed overnight.
Reduce the number of screens and pings
Cell phone – If possible, turn your phone off or on mute and place it out of sight. If you need to have your call readily available, only pick it up when you absolutely have to.
Email – Email tends to be critical for work communication and it can be easy to get caught up in responding for hours. Designate blocks of time to check your inbox, but don’t keep email open all day long. When you check your inbox, designate messages as high or low priority. Respond to the high priority right away and make a note, including specific deadlines, to respond to low priority. Control your email habits to break and stop procrastination habits.
Browser tabs – Close them. If you don’t need it at that moment, close the tab. This visual and mental clutter is not helpful.
Social media – Start by turning off notifications for your social media accounts. Facebook and Instagram both offer a daily reminder once you’ve reached a self-assigned time limit. If social media is a part of your work, treat it like email with designated blocks for engaging.
People around you – Set clear boundaries. If you share a home or workspace with others, politely but firmly communicate the level of privacy you need.
3. Make a To-Do List
Making a list is an effective way to get organized and can help you stop procrastination cycles. But not all lists are created equal. These tips help you smartly create and accomplish your list.
Paper or Digital?
First, consider the best approach to creating your list. Research suggests2 that handwriting, instead of typing, may help commit information to memory more intensely. Consider a daily planner, notebook, or even a blank sheet of paper.
There are certain benefits to digital lists, such as the ability to easily edit the list while keeping it visually neat and tidy. Many to-do list apps such as Todoist, Asana or Remember The Milk offer reminders to help hold you accountable.
Write down specific, attainable action items
Be intentional when creating your list. Create a daily to-do list and write down one or two of the highest priority items that you must get done. Consider these your non-negotiables. To maintain a manageable workload, limit your daily list to between three and five items.
Tasks should be specific and attainable. Instead of “work on essay,” write down something like “brainstorm 5 key points to include in the essay” or “draft 500 words.”
Have more than one list
Creating multiple lists might sound overwhelming. But really, this is a process for breaking down big projects and goals into manageable chunks. Have a daily checklist, a weekly checklist and a monthly checklist. You can also write down larger, longer-term goals and visions. It may be helpful to put your weekly and monthly checklists out of sight when not using them, to remain focused on your daily agenda.
Schedule each task with a deadline; then, honor that deadline. Whether self-imposed or designated, instill a sense of urgency and formality with deadlines. Put them down and commit the date to memory. The more you commit to creating and meeting deadlines, the more intensely the practice will stick.
4. Start Small
Procrastination can come from feeling overwhelmed or fearful about the inability to complete a task. Sometimes you don’t know how or where to start. There is a simple solution: start small.
Using your daily to-do list, pick one task related to the project or assignment that you feel confident you can accomplish. Then, proceed to complete it. Take the time to physically check the task off your list and enjoy the satisfaction. Small, achievable tasks build confidence and momentum toward accomplishing larger tasks.
Or, go big
For the scariest task on your list, set a timer and work on this task for 15-30 minutes. What you produce during these 15-30 minutes doesn’t have to be perfect, or even good, you just have to be working on it. When the timer goes off, you have a choice: keep going or choose another, less intimidating, task from the list. If you choose to shift to a smaller task, return later to another 15-minute block of the large task. These will add up to real progress.
5. Use Rewards to Stop Procrastination
Treat yourself! Just, not right away. Use incentives and breaks as motivation. Do not associate a reward with the final completion of a project, as that still allows the work to pile up until the last minute. Instead, associate a reward with completing itemized steps along the way. Allow yourself to reward the process, not just the result. This way, learning how to stop procrastination can be fun and playful with long-lasting effects.
Rewards can take different forms, such as a cup of tea or walking around the block. Offer yourself praise. You can say it out loud or write it down. At the end of a productive workday, reward yourself with your favorite TV show, a relaxing bath, or a visit with friends.
It is important that if you are going to take a break during the workday, take a real break. Have you ever had a Netflix show open in one tab and another tab open with your work projects, glancing between the two? You’re not allowing yourself to be fully entertained or fully productive. Compartmentalize either being in work mode or relaxation mode. When you make the decision to take a break, remove yourself from your work environment and duties.
Tip – Before sharing a few more tips, here is a tutorial to learn the principles of deep work by Cal Newport. To take things even further, consider project management courses that will teach you the key skills to create effective workflows.
Additional Tips to Stop Procrastination
The five techniques to stop procrastination can be supported by several other practices, incorporated across your life. Experiment with all of them to find the ones that work for you.
Visualization – Visualize yourself completing tasks and achieving your goals. Creating a mental image of the desired outcome helps us believe in the possibility of achieving it3.
Get an accountability buddy – Tell your goals to a friend or colleague verbally or in writing and ask them to check in periodically. This way you are answering yourself and to others.
Regulate your emotions – Take your emotional temperature throughout the day. Note how you are feeling – whether it’s stressed, calm, productive, irritable, or whatever. Write it down and try to identify the outward and inward causes of this emotion. This helps you identify patterns and adjust behaviors to be more in control of emotions and actions.
Add smart routines into your life – Incorporate waking up at the same time every day, having a healthy breakfast, making your bed and exercising. These all provide the foundation to be more productive and confident. Such routines help stop procrastination habits.
Don’t take on too much – Say no. If you simply are unable to complete a task or give it the necessary attention, don’t commit to it. Although saying no to a proposition can be uncomfortable, it’s less uncomfortable than failing to complete the assignment.
Ask for feedback – Fear of doing something wrong or imperfectly can paralyze us from even starting. An easy way to avoid this is to ask a trusted mentor to provide feedback for milestones as you complete a larger task. This holds you accountable and presents the opportunity to readjust and build confidence as you go.
Check in on your goals – You have your lists of daily and weekly tasks, and your list of longer-term goals. It’s helpful to revisit these broader goals periodically for several reasons. They may have evolved, and that’s okay. You can adjust and refine your goals while reinforcing their meaning and your ability to succeed.
Get Inspired – Inspiration comes in many forms, and this is deeply personal. Explore what energizes you. Start by getting outside, researching a topic you find fascinating, connecting with or learning about successful people, listening to music and surrounding yourself with inspirational quotes, books and art.
How To Stop Procrastination – Now What?
Wrapping our tutorial on how to stop procrastination. A history of procrastination does not make you faulty, and it does not bind you to the habit forever. Acknowledging the reason why you procrastinate helps you identify triggers and successfully use tools to stop procrastinating and start producing.
Be gentle with yourself. There will be days when not every item is checked off your to-do list, and there will be times when you justify drinking too much coffee and lingering on emails to avoid confronting an assignment.
When this happens, remember to re-center yourself. Take control of your workspace, minimize distractions, put down a realistic list of tasks, start right away with something attainable from the list and then reward yourself.
You have the tools to begin retraining your brain today. Now is the best time to confront, overcome or stop procrastination habits directly and build healthier, happier and higher-achieving habits.
How To Stop Procrastination – 5 Techniques
- Set the scene – Declutter and personalize your space.
- Reduce Distractions – Phones, email, notifications.
- Make a To-Do List – Write down your actions.
- Start Small – Set and complete doable tasks.
- Use Rewards – Treat yourself when reaching milestones or goals.
What are the best tips and hacks to learn how to stop procrastination in your experience? Let us know in the comments below.
Additional resources: 1- The Guardian | 2- Research suggests | 3- HuffPost