We all struggle with ways to stop procrastinating from time to time.
Joseph Ferrari, a renowned psychology professor in Chicago, aptly puts it:
“Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator.”
Sometimes it’s the unexciting things that get most affected.
Like cleaning out the garage, reconciling accounts, or finally unclogging the gutters.
But generally, it’s the bigger, more serious, stuff that calls for more of your time and commitment.
And it’s the serious stuff that will put you at risk of looking thoughtless or getting drained emotionally.
Looking back, my “aha” moment with procrastinating was during my final year in college.
I had this huge project that was due before the Christmas holiday and my subsequent graduation in January.
“Easy peasy”, I thought when it first got assigned, “the deadline is months away!”
Initially, it was all smooth sailing.
I quickly settled on a topic and completed my research early enough – well before November rolled in.
Then along came procrastination.
Boy, that was one of my longest and most taxing holiday seasons ever. Period.
Rather than spend quality time with family, I had to commit all my time and energy to polishing up my project.
I’m sure many of you have a similar story, where if it wasn’t for procrastination you wouldn’t have ended up facing a big problem.
Before we cover some of the actual remedies to stop procrastinating, knowing its root cause is winning half the battle.
So, Why Do You Procrastinate?
It’s easy to get hung up on slaying this procrastination “monster” and averting your focus from why you actually do it in the first place.
But having an idea of why you procrastinate, will help in defining the approach you’ll use to overcome procrastination.
I’ve analyzed some of the common reasons people give for procrastinating below:
- It’s Too Overwhelming for Me
- I Procrastinate Because of the Task at Hand
- The Fear of Failure
1. It’s Too Overwhelming for Me
One sure way of stifling your productivity is taking on too many demanding tasks at a time.
When there’s too much going on, prioritizing becomes a nightmare.
Sometimes we find ourselves with a lot of pressing things to do, that it feels impossible to handle them all.
So instead of rolling up our sleeves and getting to work, which would seem more logical, we go off on a tangent and put off these urgent tasks hoping for clarity to appear down the road.
For example, you might have an urgent report to write with a tight deadline.
Additionally, you have a presentation that needs to be finalized, and a backpacking trip to prepare for.
Then, you unexpectedly receive an email from someone asking for advice on a non-urgent matter.
Responding to it will take a good amount of your time (say, 15 minutes), but it’s a straightforward task and you won’t have to think too hard about it.
So instead of a courteous “no” or “not now”, you reply to the email – because it’s easier- at the expense of your overwhelming and urgent mountain of tasks.
When you’re done here, check out this piece on Top 10 ways to say no and save time – it’s also a goldmine of information on how to stop procrastinating.
Feeling overwhelmed can be a sign that you’re uncertain about where to begin on a task.
This usually results from:
- Sub-par directions from a superior, for example.
- Trying out something that disrupts your comfort zone.
- Working on a task that needs to be well organized at every stage of the process.
Whatever the cause, being unable to find a starting point often leads to you procrastinating more and compounds the feeling of being swamped.
2. I Procrastinate Because of the Task at Hand
We rarely need any form of encouragement when doing something we find exciting or enjoyable.
It’s no surprise then that a sure trigger for procrastinating is coming face-to-face with a job you have zero interest in.
If you find yourself putting something off repeatedly, ask yourself whether you’re really up for it at all.
When faced with an unappealing task, the majority will come up with enough excuses and ways to put it off – sometimes indefinitely.
What if it’s too difficult? Or too boring and easy?
If a task is too easy, it can negatively affect our productivity the same way a difficult task can.
You might be surprised to discover that your procrastination stems from being bored by super-easy tasks.
If that’s the case, it might be time to move on to more challenging tasks with bigger responsibilities.
On the flip side, if a job is too difficult, we tend to procrastinate because our brains are naturally wired to “abandon ship” at the first sign of distress.
This is particularly true because difficult tasks demand more of our input – like learning new skills, brainstorming, and asking tough questions.
3. The Fear of Failure
To stop procrastinating, we have to overcome our fear of failure as scary as it may sound.
This fear usually manifests itself as countless revisions, endless tweaking of your work, and the urge to present a “perfect” sample of your work.
While it’s okay to want to give your very best on an assigned task, obsessing over the outcome is counterproductive.
In reality, an incomplete task will not get reviewed and criticized by others – which is a good avenue for personal growth.
A missed deadline is bad for business and a late project submission will not go down well with a client.
What’s even scarier sometimes is our fear of success.
What if everything goes according to plan?
What if I get propelled to new heights? will I be ready for that?
In all these instances, we need to acknowledge and boldly face our fears.
Only then can you stop procrastinating and live a more productive life.
Now, a lot has been analyzed and written about how to stop procrastinating.
But my main focus today is on three proven techniques that, when used together, will help you get things done without procrastination creeping in.
How to Stop Procrastinating
- Distinguishing between what’s urgent and what’s important
- How to better manage your time
- Leveraging your energy levels
Let’s get down to it!
1. Distinguishing Between What’s Urgent and What’s Important
Procrastinating is often misinterpreted as being in a perpetual state of laziness.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
When you procrastinate, you still manage to get things done but at the expense of your “important” list of things.
Keep in mind that it’s very easy to find an urgent task to do when procrastination is lingering – but remember, being urgent doesn’t necessarily make it important.
Which begs the question: what’s your definition of important?
And does the time you spend on a task honor its importance to you?
If these two don’t align, then you need to make a few small changes to keep your productivity levels in check.
One way you can do this is to always ask, “how does doing this serve my future purpose?”
And try to answer it as honestly as you can every time.
Asking this simple question when you’re about to do (or put off a task) is more powerful than it appears on the surface.
For example, before starting on any project, I always find myself asking this ‘why ‘ question.
If my answer positively serves my future self, I’ll keep going.
Sometimes it means not committing too much time on a task, and other times it means closing it down because it’s just not worth the time and effort.
Food for Thought: When asking this question, try to be as honest with your future self as possible.
And remember, there’s no right or wrong answer here.
The ultimate goal is not perfection but moving forward and becoming a better version of yourself.
2. How to Better Manage Your Time
Okay, now that we have a framework for defining what’s really important to us; how can this information be useful and help you to stop procrastinating?
I’ve found that concentrating your efforts on time management makes one feel more in control of a project and reduces any urge to procrastinate.
There’s an endless list of time management systems out there with varying degrees of success to the problem of procrastinating.
But these 2 are sure winners if applied consistently.
a) The GTD Approach
The GTD or Getting Things Done system is well suited for people with busy lifestyles and you can definitely find a way to make it work for your own unique situation.
It helps you get and stay organized while boosting your productivity using these 5 “pillars”:
- First, Identify everything that’ll require your attention and pen it down somewhere.
And don’t leave out anything on your to-do list, even the smallest task.
- Be clear on what needs to get done on each task.
Don’t just write it down, plan a course of action.
If you need to delegate, for example, this is the time to do it.
This way, there won’t be any barriers or surprises when you get down to do the actual work.
- Organize and prioritize to stop procrastinating.
This is the stage where you assign due dates, set reminders, and prioritize all your tasks beforehand.
You’re not getting anything done just yet but creating a workable plan for your to-do list.
- Review your progress from time to time and adjust your list accordingly.
- Engage and take action.
This system is designed in a way that makes this final step easy to figure out since we already have a ready-made list to follow. (refer to “pillar” #1).
At its core, the GTD methodology allows your thoughts and ideas on upcoming tasks to flow freely without interrupting what you’re working on at the time.
b) Stop Procrastinating Using the Pomodoro Technique
While GTD is great for setting up a framework to get things done, the Pomodoro technique is all about taking action.
The idea behind this technique is to break down your tasks into smaller 25-minute intervals called Pomodoros.
Each Pomodoro is a chance to work on a specified task for at least 25 minutes without any interruptions and without admitting defeat.
After the 25 minutes are up, you break for a while before starting on the next Pomodoro.
Then, after you’ve completed four Pomodoros, it’s standard practice to take a longer break this time.
This gives your brain time to process what you’ve been working on and readies you for the next task.
Depending on the kind of work you’re doing, you can adjust the 25-minute interval accordingly for a better fit.
When I’m writing for, example, I’ve found that 1-hour intervals with slightly longer rest in between Pomodoros makes me more productive.
3. Leveraging Your Energy Levels
Sometimes, how enthusiastic we are about a task largely depends on how high our energy levels are.
I’ve observed that energy levels tend to vary depending on the time of day you pick to complete a task.
Certain times have a more energetic kick to them and other times it just feels draining trying to get anything done.
With that in mind, it’s advisable to schedule tasks that require less energy (both physical and mental) for low-energy time.
Save your more demanding projects for those times your energy level is at its peak.
For example, I respond to emails, do some light research, and analyze charts when I’m feeling less energetic.
Day trading and other high-focus projects come when I’m sure I’ll be more energetic.
First Things First
Another technique that will help you leverage how energetic you’re feeling is doing the most important thing, first thing.
Sounds simple enough, right?
But not many people actually apply it to their routine.
Productive people understand that productivity is not all about getting many things done each day.
It’s about maintaining a steady speed on a couple of things, not going full throttle on everything at once.
Productivity is nurtured and involves consistently getting the most important things on your “to-do” list done first.
If you start applying this strategy, it’ll gradually develop into a habit and you’ll always get an important task done every day.
Two of the reasons this technique works so well:
- When you wake up, your mind isn’t cluttered by the trivial details of the day: the first email you open, that first story on your news feed, or that first conversation you have.
All these can make your thoughts spiral in a different direction instead of putting in some work.
Instead, take advantage of this ‘clean’ state we usually wake up in and set the agenda for that first hour.
I’ve often found that after doing this, the rest of my day normally goes smoothly.
- Secondly, being close to a sleeping state is good for creativity.
When we’ve just woken up, our conscious minds tend to be a bit sluggish for a while.
But our subconscious mind – which is responsible for creativity – is more strongly activated at this time.
Sometimes when I can’t get myself to focus at all, a relaxed outdoor stroll is enough to clear my mind and restore my energy.
Other times, I’ll go check on my garden for a couple of minutes in between my pomodoro breaks.
We’re about to wrap it up guys…just a few more pointers…if you didn’t put off reading this article that is! (:
Well, I can’t guarantee you’ll stop procrastinating cold turkey.
But once you’re able to pin point why you do it, you’ll be able to better manage this energy-draining behavior.
Procrastination slows us down and frustrates us once it starts creeping in.
And the irony of procrastinating is its ability to feed on itself.
When you’re procrastinating, new tasks coming in also tend to suffer.
The end result?
A compounded feeling of being overwhelmed which results in more procrastination.
While some of us procrastinate more frequently than others, becoming more productive is a matter of consistently implementing the right tactics in your daily routine.
You’ll probably need to experiment a bit to find what works best for you and your own unique situation.
So don’t be surprised if some of these ideas don’t work as well for you.
Overcoming procrastination is an effective time management technique that can help you live a healthy, wealthy, and prosperous life.
And because I learn just as much from you as you do from me, please share in the comment section below your favorite strategies on how to stop procrastinating.