How to Stop Procrastinating. 7 simple tips to help you stop procrastinating. Plus book and TED talks that will help you.
I have a weekly planner. On the third column is a list of things that can be done on any day of the week. The deadline is technically Saturday at midnight. These things include learning more about blogging, design, photography, updating old posts, etc. Sunday- nothing gets done. Same for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. All of the sudden it’s Friday and I have 7 tasks that need done in the next two days! I (normally) get them done, but other stuff- like writing blog posts or working on a product for my Shopify store– gets put on hold.
I hate to admit it. But I procrastinate. I’ve tried scheduling one task each day. Doesn’t work. Because I really know that I have all week to get it done.
Does any of this sound familiar?
First, let’s define procrastination. According to our good friend Merriam-Webster, procrastinate is “to put off intentionally and habitually”. Cambridge English dictionary is slightly different: “to keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring”.
Procrastination can be something as trivial as not taking out the garbage. It can go one more day, can’t it? If I just push the trash down a little, I can fit this in.
Procrastination can also be as serious as putting off making a doctor’s appointment for a worrying symptom that turns out to be a serious disease. Or putting off breaking off a relationship. Then spending years with someone you don’t really love because it’s easier than going through a messy breakup.
In the end, we end up regretting our choices. We want to kick ourselves. The housework piles up to a point it’s going to take hours to finish all these little tasks that would have taken minutes apiece if they had been spaced out. Your disease turns out to be much worse because you went so long without treatment. Or you really regret those years you could have been single or with someone else.
Luckily, we can break out of the cycle.
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Is Procrastination The Same as Being Lazy?
No, it is NOT.
Laziness is a personal attribute in which the person is mostly satisfied with their lives. They simply prefer to exert the least effort to achieve any goals. They’re not perfectionists. They don’t define their schedules. They just ramble along, usually with no destination in mind.
Procrastination is the action of putting off things you know need to be done. Procrastinators are not satisfied with the status of their lives and (usually) feel overwhelmed with the number of things that need to be done. The problem with procrastination is that we end up feeling guilty, tasks pile up, and we miss achieving our goals.
How to Stop Procrastinating
We’ve looked at what procrastination is and determined we’re not lazy. Now, let’s get to the meat of the matter. How to stop procrastinating. The following tips to stop procrastinating should apply in a multitude of situations. Procrastination doesn’t usually attack a person in just one area of life. Since procrastination is a genetic tendency, it will affect multiple parts of your life: housework, finances, job, etc.
Below are practical steps and tips to help you stop procrastinating.
• Get organized
Figure out everything you need to do. Make multiple to-do lists- categorized. Then rank items in order of priority.
Then start attacking items one by one. Don’t let your work to-do drive out everything else. This is a problem that a lot of workers have. They focus all their energy on work and don’t have time for anything else.
• Set goals
Research has shown that procrastinators tend “to fail to activate and maintain short-term and long-term goals, thus supporting the view that goal-management ability underlies the genetic commonality between procrastination and impulsivity”. In other words, people who procrastinate aren’t using goals and systems to get their work done.
Part of the goal-setting system I use is breaking down goals into small, simple steps. You start with your big goal, then break down what you want to do over the year. Then the next quarter. Then the next month. Once you know what you want to do this month, break it down into weekly tasks.
Your goal may not be a year-long goal. Even with smaller projects, breaking it down into simple steps and attacking them one at a time will work.
• Create a schedule
I have a free printable planner for every year (just scroll to the bottom of the post to see the current year’s -or- go to the menu and it will be under “Printables” when you hover). In it are not only goal-setting worksheets, but planners for you to use. Start setting out time to get things done.
Related to creating a schedule is setting deadlines. Make a deadline that a task has to be done by. This will force you to stop procrastinating. If a task is large, break it into multiple steps and set a deadline for each step.
• Eat the frog
This is one of the best tips I’ve ever received in my life. Eat the frog. This means tackle your most unpleasant task that you’re dreading right away in the morning. Get it done. The rest of the day will be much easier now that you’ve eaten the frog.
• 2-minute rule (or 5-minute rule)
David Allen, whose version of the two-minute rule states, “If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.” I’ve also heard of a version called the “five-minute rule” that is similar. If it takes less than five minutes, do it now.
• Visualize the future you want
This method is fabulous and one that I love. In fact, I wrote a whole post on “How to Be Your Best Self“. The second step in there is to visualize your ideal self. In the case of procrastination, envision a future in which you stopped procrastinating and GET IT DONE. Now, visualize a future in which you continue to procrastinate. Which future do you want to live in?
One way to stop procrastinating is to find others to hold you accountable. This might be easier in a work situation where you have coworker friends you can tell “I’m going to get this done by that date.”
In other situations- such as household chores- you might tell your significant other what you’re planning for the day. For example, when my husband asks what I’m doing today, I’ll answer “sweeping kitchen floor, testing another potato salad recipe, and photographing the ham and bean soup“.
Work Out Your Why
People procrastinate endlessly. And they have reasons. The task isn’t urgent. You’re too busy. Too stressed. You’re afraid of failure. You don’t think someone as young/old as you are can achieve that. It will disrupt your life.
In the case of the task not being urgent:
When you have a deadline coming up, it’s easy to get things done. But other things- such as starting a retirement fund, organizing the drawers in your house, or going back to school- don’t seem urgent. So you keep pushing it off.
The way to overcome this is to look at the BIG picture. Evolution has trained us to consider present dangers and situations over long-term circumstances. But we- with our analytical brains- can take a step back and analyze the long-term effects of our decisions.
Starting saving NOW is vitally important to living your retirement in comfort. I emphasize this (and have charts showing why you need to start saving now) in my book Personal Money Management.
While organizing the drawers doesn’t seem like a big deal, you’re wasting time every have to dig through drawers looking for that single item. Multiply that times two times a day and look at all the time you’re wasting in a week. Or in a month.
If you’re procrastinating going back to school, it has serious long-term effects on your income.
In a lot of cases, the excuses to procrastinate boil down to being afraid of failure. You might say “I’m too stressed to this” but what you really feel (deep down inside) is a feeling that you’re destined to fail. Being afraid of failure makes you afraid to even start a task, let alone finish one.
There are two ways to tackle this. The first is to accept that perfection isn’t achievable. I’m a perfectionist and struggle with this everyday working on my blog. The graphics aren’t quite right…the blog post missed something…was my newsletter enticing enough? But I learned a couple of years ago that I have to be satisfied with things not being perfect. Otherwise I would spend hours on something that should take 15 or 30 minutes. And then I couldn’t get anything else done.
The other way is to remember that your performance in a certain tasks does NOT equal your self-worth. There is a difference between what you achieve and who you are. You’re a variety of things- the people you love, your qualities and traits, your strengths and your weaknesses. This particular project is simply something that you’re doing. Again, this is easy to say and harder to do. Back in school, I judged myself by test scores. Now I judge myself by page views and income. But I have to remember to take a step back and remember that not getting 100,000 page views this month does NOT mean I’m a failure.
I’ve looked at two of the situations in which you might be procrastinating. Now it’s your turn. Think of something you’re procrastinating. And figure our your “why”. Then, decide how to overcome that.
Best Books On Procrastination
Eat That Frog!– one of the highest ratings out of all the books. Practical tips and exercises that you can apply to your life. Eating the frog has changed my life.
Procrastination– this book covers a multitude of causal factors with techniques to manage or overcome procrastination.
The Procrastination Cure– this goes into practical tips that you can apply to your life today.
Now Habit– goes into the “why” behind your reasons for procrastinating. Attempts to stop you from procrastinating by looking into the root causes and changing them.
The Procrastination Equation– explains the how and why behind procrastination. But doesn’t have a lot of practical tips to apply now.
Solving the Procrastination Puzzle– clean, practical, short, concise book. Has practical tips.
TED Talks on How to Stop Procrastinating
Tim Urban- one of my favorite bloggers (you can see his blog at “Wait, But Why“)- gives a fabulous talk on how procrastination works. Very funny video that helps you understand why you might procrastinate.
Adam Grant takes Tim Urban’s theory a bit further. With data derived from experiments, he shows how there is actually a benefit to procrastination.
Valerie Brown shows how procrastinators can actually be more creative and provide better results despite their tendency to procrastinate.
Tali Sharot shares some amazing data from experiments to show you how to change your habits.
Do It Now
You can read book after book on how to stop procrastinating. You can absorb tip after tip. But it’s fundamentally going to come down to you wanting to change.
No one procrastinates their way to success. Goals don’t get achieved by procrastinating. So if you want to achieve your goals and reach success, just DO IT NOW!
Feel free to comment below with which tip you found the most helpful! Or share a new tip you think should be added to the article.