Just Do It: 67 Ways to Tame the Procrastination Beast

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 11:57pm by Site Administrator

Let’s face it: even the most diligent of entrepreneurs can fall victim to the lure of procrastination now and then. It’s hard to blame them: sometimes a TV show, the Internet, or even just staring out the window is more fun than doing the tasks that really need to get done. But being a serial procrastinator is a sure way to direct your business into some pretty dire straits if you’re not careful. How can you learn to tame your short attention span when you really need to get things done? While everyone has their own little tricks, here are 67 ways we’ve come up with to help you concentrate when it counts.

  1. Take it one step at a time. A huge project can feel overwhelming and make it hard to figure out a place to start, encouraging you to put it off. Instead of trying to tackle all of it at once, break it into smaller, more manageable parts.
  2. Set time limits. Projects have a way of expanding to fill the time allotted, so set a time limit for yourself to finish a project. By focusing your time, you’ll get more done and maybe even end up with a few free minutes for yourself.
  3. Listen to yourself. Do you find yourself often saying that you "must", "have to" or "should" do something? This kind of talk is a recipe for procrastination. Instead, tell yourself that you "choose to" do the things you do. Changing your mind set can have a big impact on your productivity.
  4. Tackle your worst tasks early in the day. Often procrastination at work is due to avoidance of a particularly unpleasant task. If you make it a habit to get your least favorite tasks out of the way in the morning, the rest of your day will be a breeze.
  5. Stay organized. Clutter and disorganization can be big contributors to procrastination. It can seem overwhelming just to sort through all the papers and emails you have, let alone take care of what they discuss, so create a system for yourself to handle any incoming files, emails, and anything else so that it will stay neat and less intimidating when you have time to work on them.
  6. Plan your time. While this may sound a bit authoritarian, planning every hour of your workday can help you get a handle on the tasks you need to get done. Make sure to schedule in time for breaks and less stressful tasks as well.
  7. Prepare for tomorrow. Start your day off right by spending a few minutes at the end of each day planning what you want to get done the next day. This way, you can start working immediately when you get to work rather than spending time gathering your thoughts.
  8. Work around your most productive times of the day. Whether you’re dragging first thing in the morning or have a post lunch slump, don’t schedule important meetings or tasks around these times of day. Work with your natural rhythms to figure out your most productive times to get things done.
  9. Prevent interruptions. Your day shouldn’t be completely without relief, nor can you plan for all interruptions, but do your best to scale back on the number of things that can disrupt you. Shut your door, close your email, and send your calls to voicemail for a few hours to get some things done.
  10. Reward yourself. Give yourself little rewards for getting work done as motivation. After a few hours of uninterrupted work, allow yourself some time to surf the net or take a walk outside to break up your workday.
  11. Arrange for follow-ups. If you can’t keep yourself on task or just want a little outside support, arrange for a work buddy to check in on you periodically to make sure you’re not slacking.
  12. Stick to a routine. Following a routine can help you to get into the habit of not procrastinating. Doing the same activities each day might sound boring, but a routine can help you to prepare your body and mind for concentrating instead of running wild.
  13. Turn on music. While music can be a distraction for some, it can also be a great motivator. Pick out songs that pep you up and get you motivated to work, and you might get more done.
  14. Stop trying to make everything perfect. Procrastinators often feel that if they can’t do something perfectly, then they shouldn’t do it at all. The reality is that perfection is a subjective quality, and what you might consider imperfect might be just fine in reality. So, give yourself a break, do your best, and get done what you can.
  15. Don’t view work as eating up your leisure time. You’re less likely to tackle a large project if you view it as something that will eat up all your personal time, require you to work long hours, and ruin your social life. Instead, schedule time for everything, including fun, and simply don’t allow work to take up time you allot for relaxation. Studies have shown that working like this will actually help you get more done in less time.
  16. Allow some positive procrastination. Not all procrastination is bad. Sometimes we put off tasks by doing other smaller and easier tasks which need to get done as well. So long as you’re not missing deadlines or hurting your bottom line, this kind of procrastination isn’t necessarily a bad thing and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it.
  17. Set a timer. One way to help reel in a wandering mind is to set a timer for a particular amount of time, whether it’s 5 minutes or an hour. When the timer goes off, stop and take a look at what you’re doing. If you’re off task, the timer can serve as a reminder to get back to what you should be doing. You can also use it to measure out intervals of time in which you’ll work, and when the timer goes off you can reward yourself for a job well done.
  18. Don’t multitask. If you have trouble sticking to one task, chances are you won’t have any easier of a time trying to do several tasks simultaneously. Instead, concentrate on one thing at a time so you won’t become distracted or overwhelmed.
  19. Modify your environment. You don’t have to turn your office into a sterile, unfriendly place to be, but you aren’t doing yourself any favors if you are surrounded by tons of distractions in your work area. Keep your desk and computer desktop simple, organized, and clean, and put away things that could serve as distractions from your work.
  20. Prioritize your activities. It’s very tempting to put off tasks that may not seem particularly important, so set up a priority system for completing tasks. Things with impending deadlines or of great importance should of course take precedence, but don’t let little things go completely by the wayside.
  21. Estimate your time. Before you begin a task, estimate how much time it will take you to complete it. This will help you to more effectively schedule your time throughout your day and keep you from feeling too stressed out or bored.
  22. Keep your mind and body fit. Stress, depression and illness can all play a big part in the decision to procrastinate, so do your best to keep your mind and body as healthy as you can by working out, eating right, and practicing relaxation methods that work for you.
  23. Don’t overdo it. It can be tempting to create a huge to-do list for yourself and overestimate your abilities, but don’t do it. You’ll be discouraged if you don’t finish everything you planned, so create short, manageable to-do lists that will leave you with a sense of accomplishment and a desire to feel just as productive tomorrow.
  24. Limit Internet usage. While the Internet can be a great productivity tool, it can also be a great productivity thief, stealing hours that you could have spent doing much more productive things. If you can’t manage your net time on your own try a program that will help you or simply disconnect your computer for short amounts of time so you can get to work.
  25. Create non-negotiable rules. Battle your procrastination with rules that you must absolutely follow, whether they stipulate that you will respond to emails for only one hour each morning or that you won’t ever leave unfiled papers on your desk. Share them with others and make sure you stick to them without exception.
  26. Consider what it means to do nothing. Have you ever really thought about what it means not to do a particular task? Could it cost you your business or your reputation? Often just thinking about the potentially serious consequences of inaction will be enough to get you up and running.
  27. Make a conscious effort to avoid excuses. Procrastinators are experts at making excuses both for themselves and others as to why they aren’t working. Anytime you hear yourself starting to make an excuse for not staying on task, stop and take a minute to think if you’re really justified in putting tasks off until later.
  28. Make your commitments public. One sure way to get yourself motivated is through fear of letting others down or embarrassing yourself. It sounds terrible, but it works. You’ll be much less likely to put off starting things if you know others are counting on you to come through.
  29. Put money on it. Depending on your level of commitment to procrastination, this could be a foolhardy mistake, but for most of us, the thought of wasting or losing money is motivation enough to step up. For entrepreneurs, many of the things you’re putting off doing are actually costing you money. Thinking about it like that can put things in a whole new perspective and give you motivation you didn’t know you had.
  30. Realize that easy isn’t always the best solution. Sometimes we choose to do things the easy way because it’s faster in the short term and we forget about the long term ramifications. While it might be against your procrastinator’s nature, sometimes putting in a little extra effort in at the front end can save you hours of work later on.
  31. Think less. Don’t over think tasks to the point of mental paralysis. Many people get stuck in the initial phases and fail to move on, but ideally you should be working as much as you are thinking or planning a project.
  32. Commit to five minutes. There are certain tasks that we just can’t avoid but that really are unpleasant. Tackle these by promising yourself that you’ll do at least five minutes of uninterrupted work. If you make it through the five minutes commit to five more until the project is finally completed.
  33. Balance your day. Don’t make your workday all work and no play. Make sure you take breaks and time to get away from your desk and relax.
  34. Decide if something is worth keeping right away. It’s easy to let mail clutter up your workspaces, but you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you decide whether or not something is important enough to keep immediately, then put it in a place where you’ll work on it or file it right then. This keeps stuff from piling up on your desk and keeps you from procrastinating in taking care of it.
  35. Use free time wisely. Have a few minutes waiting for your food to heat up in the microwave? Use that time to catch up on an email or file a few papers instead of just standing around. Those few minutes will add up over the course of the day.
  36. Take responsibility. You’ll never stop procrastinating until you can stand up to yourself and say that you don’t want to procrastinate anymore and mean it. Demonstrate your dedication to ending procrastination through daily action and eventually you’ll start to see a long term change.
  37. Identify where you procrastinate. Sometimes the key to beating your habit of putting things off is simply to figure out what it is you’re putting off. Maybe there are certain small tasks you hate or big projects you’re nervous about. Once you know what you’re avoiding you can start figuring out ways to make doing those tasks easier and more pleasant for you.
  38. Don’t get discouraged. Everyone has days when they’re simply more productive than others, due to lack of sleep, emotional issues or even just natural rhythms, so if you have an off day don’t feel like you’ve ruined your whole week and give up. Just start over tomorrow!
  39. Keep it simple. Don’t make getting things done more complicated than it needs to be. Clear off your desk, pare down the steps it takes to do tasks, and do whatever it takes to make accomplishing things as easy as possible.
  40. Do it now. It might seem overly simplistic, but the easiest way to keep from putting off tasks is just to do them as soon as you think of them. If you know you need to send an email to a client, don’t wait, just get it done. You’ll feel better about accomplishing it and you won’t have to worry about it later.
  41. Don’t put to-dos on your list that take longer than 30 minutes. This doesn’t mean that all your tasks should be quick, but if you have an item on your list that will take longer then you should try breaking it up into smaller chunks. This will keep you from feeling bogged down by one particular project.
  42. Determine your limits. Everyone has a breaking point or limits of what they can or are willing to do. Figure out where yours lie and don’t try to exceed them just to squeeze more into a day. You’ll end up tired and cranky and with less done than if you had respected your working limits.
  43. Alternate the pleasant with the unpleasant. It can be easier to jump into an unpleasant task if you know it will be followed by something you find pleasant. Almost everyone can muddle through an hour or two of more tedious work if they know there will be a period of relief or a reward afterwards.
  44. Make it fun. Something is only a chore if you think about it as a chore. Make your tasks as enjoyable as you can and they’ll be easier to stomach getting through.
  45. Be your own coach. Give yourself a little pep-rally before starting a big task. It might sound cheesy, but a little motivational thought can go a long way.
  46. Maintain perspective. Sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day trivialities of our jobs that we forget to think about the big picture. Consider how getting smaller tasks done will affect your long term goals both for yourself and your business.
  47. Remove uncertainty. Are you hesitating to start a task because you are uncertain of how to approach it or you just don’t know where to begin? Start figuring out where to begin as a separate task altogether and one that must be completed before you can move on. Do your research, ask questions, or just sit and think, whatever it takes to get you working.
  48. Give yourself positive feedback. Make a big deal out of checking things off of your to-do list and rewarding yourself for a job well-done. After all, you not only completed the task but conquered your procrastination as well.
  49. Work with others. Sometimes it can be helpful to seek the guidance and support of others to get motivated to work on a task. Use your coworkers and colleagues as inspiration and partners in getting your work accomplished successfully.
  50. Join a support group. For the serious procrastinator, it might be helpful to find a group of like-minded individuals to discuss your problems with motivation with. Often, others can be a great source of ideas and support and can help you get started on the right track.
  51. Stay in your space. If you’re like many people, you have a hard time staying at your desk and you tend to want to wander around to get a drink of water or talk with coworkers or employees. While this is acceptable some of the time, try to keep yourself firmly planted in your seat, as even small departures can send you way off track if you’re not careful.
  52. Let others know when you’re working. Help yourself to limit distractions by letting others know when you don’t want to be disturbed. It might sound rude, but sometimes you really just need to get things done without any interruptions. Put up an away message or hang a sign on your door if you need to.
  53. Create an incentive plan. Create a plan for yourself where certain intervals of work elicit certain rewards. The bigger the task accomplished, the bigger the reward so you have a reason to work hard.
  54. Learn to say no. One form of procrastination is taking on other tasks to avoid doing the ones you already have. Learn to say no when you have work to do.
  55. Be honest with yourself. Do you really need to spend half an hour looking for the perfect font for your presentation? Chances are, unless designing presentations is your only job, you’re simply wasting time. Learn to be honest with yourself about what’s really necessary and you’ll get a lot more done.
  56. Decide what doesn’t need to get done. Sometimes we procrastinate because the things we have on our to-do list aren’t really things that need to get done or are things that someone else could do. Delegate or eliminate these tasks from your to-dos and free up time and energy for more important tasks.
  57. Identify your biggest time eaters. For most people, this is the Internet, but for you it might be daydreaming, taking coffee breaks or talking on the telephone. Whatever it is, create a strategy to manage it so it doesn’t eat up your whole day.
  58. Change your thinking. Stop thinking "How will I finish this?" and start thinking "How can I start this?" After all, starting a project is the hardest part.
  59. Think about how procrastination makes you feel. Chances are pretty good that when you procrastinate you don’t feel good about it nor about yourself. There’s no reason to put yourself through this kind of damaging cycle. When you’re tempted to procrastinate, try imagining how you’ll feel later if you’ve gotten nothing done.
  60. Surround yourself with productive people. No one wants to be the office slacker, so surround yourself with others whose different attitudes towards work might rub off on you.
  61. Get started early. For most people, even those who aren’t great with mornings, accomplishing a lot in the morning can be a great feeling and will help you feel much better about the rest of the day. Remember, once you’ve gotten your work out of the way you can take a nap if you need to.
  62. Take care not to redo work. You can add hours onto your work time by going through files you have already handled or mail you didn’t bother to throw away. Take care of things once and do it well so you won’t have to come back later.
  63. Stop being so hard on yourself. You can work yourself into a rut by beating yourself up for not getting enough done. While it is important to be strict with yourself about time management and getting things done, in reality there is only so much you can get done in one day.
  64. Get some rest. One of the biggest obstacles to productivity is lack of sleep. How can you be expected to concentrate when you’ve only had a few hours of sleep? Whenever possible, try to get a full night’s sleep so you won’t be nodding off at your desk during the day or glued to the coffeepot.
  65. Don’t do the same task for too long. Unless you’re really wrapped up in what you’re working on, try to take breaks or chop up your projects into smaller parts. Doing the same task for too long can lead to feelings of tedium, and you’ll get bored or lose your motivation.
  66. Think of yourself in a positive manner. Keep a small list of things you’ve accomplished throughout the day or the week to help you think about yourself in a positive way. Thinking about all the hard work you’ve already done can help you feel more motivated to complete the rest of the work that you have to do.
  67. Keep it last minute. You can’t procrastinate if there isn’t time to procrastinate in. While you should allow a little cushion time in case of emergencies and unforeseen circumstances, sometimes the best thing a procrastinator can do is force him or herself to work under the gun so there will be no room for excuses.

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  1. Brilliant and comprehensive reminders of how to tackle getting stuff done. I’d add one more – don’t spend too much time wading through what-to-do guides!

    Comment by Jim — November 15, 2007 @ 12:53 am

  2. Thanks so much for these tips. I am indeed boot-strapping my company and appreciate these procrastination busters. Cheers!

    Comment by Moe Kerr — November 15, 2007 @ 1:33 am

  3. these are great tips that I am sure will help me with my procrastination problem. Printing this out to look at often.

    Comment by Jamaipanese — November 15, 2007 @ 3:20 am

  4. Christina:

    Just the thing for the readership at my blog! I like the comment from Jim above. Good stuff and I hope to send an army of newly-converted procrastinators your way to learn how to “git ‘er done.”

    I cross-posted on your piece to http://blog.innovators-network.org The Innovators Network is a non-profit dedicated to bringing technology to startups, small businesses, non-profits, venture capitalists and intellectual property experts. Please visit us and help grow our community!

    Best wishes for continued success (and a happy Friday!),

    Anthony Kuhn
    Innovators Network

    Comment by Anthony Kuhn — November 16, 2007 @ 9:56 pm

  5. Thanks for a very helpful bit of instruction.
    peace and wonder,

    Comment by CG Walters — November 27, 2007 @ 10:36 am

  6. That’s a fantastic list! Especially number 24. If I go to look at my emails first thing it is deadly. Before I know it 4 hours have gone and all I have done is read and replied!

    I also have a “Buddy” and we call each other each day to say what we will do that day and what did/did not get done. Neither of us want to say we didn’t get something done for 2 days in the row so it makes procrastination difficult :-) but I still manage to do it sometimes!

    Comment by Diane Corriette — December 9, 2007 @ 8:14 pm

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