The Top 10 Tactics to Stop Your Procrastination


Do you sometimes find yourself futzing around, putting off what you know you should be doing until later?

That my friend is what we call procrastination.  Not getting down to it, taking the scenic route...  Why do today what you can put off tomorrow?

The problem with delaying stuff, of course, is that it is frustrating, both for us and for others.  More than that though, things don’t get done, tasks get harder to do the longer we leave them, and your to-do list just gets longer and longer.

There is no doubt that some personality types are more likely to procrastinate than others (especially those who are motivated by pressure and deadlines), but it can strike any of us...and that, generally speaking, is not a beneficial thing.  

Here are our top 10 tactics to throw procrastination to the kerb.

1) Use the 5-second rule

According to Mel Robbins, there is a 5-second window between the instinct to take action and the internal voice of excuses kicking in.  So instead of thinking, when you feel the instinct to act, count backwards from 5 to 1 and physically move into action, i.e. act don't think!

Counting backwards requires focus and activates the pre-frontal cortex of the brain which puts you into rational decision-making mode.  Physically moving commits you to taking action.

2) Just try it out for a few minutes

According to Professor Richard Wiseman, when you start a task and try it out for a few minutes, the Zierganick effect kicks in...basically your brain will fully alert until the task is completed.  So, if you use the 5-second rule to get going and just keep going for a few minutes, your brain will naturally desire to complete the task.

3) What is the rascal saying?

We all have that inner critic (what we call the Rascal here at MU) that can stop us in our tracks or even prevent us from starting in the first place. Often the Rascal takes on the voice of perfectionism, saying that it is better not to start than to fail and it not be perfect.  So notice what your Rascal is saying, and then decide as to whether it is worth listening to or not.  Usually, the answer is not...after all; imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.

4) A lack of clarity breeds resistance

The above was a saying from my mentor Peter Thomson, and what it means in this context is that it is difficult to execute when you are not sure what the next step to take is. So, the antidote here is to find clarity.

It might be that task in front of you seems so huge that you are not sure where to start.  Well, you can either slice and dice it, i.e. cut it up into much smaller chunks until it becomes clear what the next step to take is...or you can take a slightly more intuitive approach, and simply ask yourself, "What is the next logical step?".  Whatever the answer that pops up is, do it, and that will get you into action.

5) Sprint it

Another variation of slicing and dicing that is at the heart of ‘Agile' project management is the concept of sprints.  When the task or project at hand just feels so big that it is going to be one long slog, that is enough to demotivate anyone.  So, take a very small piece of it, set a timer on your phone for 10 minutes and work non-stop until the timer goes off...then take a break.  Then do it again until you finish that chunk or tackle a different piece.

This often works because action on small tasks is just psychologically less daunting.  You may even want to carry on beyond the sprint (i.e. the Zierganick effect).  If this style of working works for you, be sure to check out the Pomodoro technique.

6) Gamify it

Let’s face it, we human beings love fun, games and a bit of healthy competition.  So, is there a way that you can turn the task or activity into a game?  If it is something that you do on a regular basis, can you turn it into a bit of a competition with yourself to see if you can do it better/faster/cheaper/whatever than the last time?

A friend of mine wants to increase his physical activity, so he and his partner regularly compete using their Fitbits to see who can rack up the most steps in one week.  The winner gets a lay-in on Saturday morning and breakfast in bed, while the other looks after the kids.  As you can imagine, the competition can get fast and furious!

7) Clear your head

Sometimes your head is just a bit too full actually to be able to get the clarity to get moving.  You might be overthinking all the different things that you have got to do and trying to make sense of it all.  If so, do yourself a favour and dump it out of your brain and onto paper.  It is much easier to see what's next when it is in front of you.

At other times, you might be confronted with a problem that you don't know how to solve or find yourself pre-occupied with other things.  In essence, you are not in a productive state.  The best thing you can do is get outside and take a walk.  The movement will often shift your energy, perspective and emotions, unblocking the creative, problem-solving part of the brain.  You will often find that you have the way forward on your return.

8) Focus on the why

If you are stuck, take a moment to recall why you are doing this task or activity.  What is the benefit for you and for others of doing, and completing what you are doing?  If you can connect with the benefit for yourself or others you care about, you will often get the impetus to take action.

Sometimes though we are faced with something because we feel like we have to, we should, or we have no choice.  That is instantly disempowering and demotivating.  So, change the language...tell yourself that you are choosing to take action (putting it back in control) and you are doing it because it will make a difference to the other person.

9) Change your environment

If you are finding that your surroundings are not exactly supporting your action habit, change them!  Go out to the local coffee shop or the library.  Even better, if it's a beautiful day, work outside.  Often just the change of scenery alone will give you the burst of energy to shift forward, but it can also help remove the things that distract you (internet browsing, chatty colleague, daytime TV…).

10) Know your rhythm

The truth is that we all run on different rhythms and at different speeds..and you will always be more productive if you follow your natural rhythm.  If you are an ‘early bird’ who gets up early, you are likely to have more energy and be productive early in the day meaning it is ideal to tackle the tough tasks first thing.  

If you are a night owl, you might find that your energy takes time to ramp up during the day, so the tackling the tough tasks first may not work.  You might be better waiting until the afternoon or even the evening when your energy is a lot higher.  Knowing when your energy peaks and aligning your heavy lifting with that will help kick out procrastination.

And a bonus one: Set rewards

Giving yourself a treat or something to look forward to at the end of your task or activity might just be the very thing that pulls you into action.  That caramel latte after the piece you are writing, new jeans when you have lost weight or that film you have wanted to see after a day full of meetings...all just examples, but you know what will work for you.

Having a carrot to motivate you can help...but the reward has to be motivating and more powerful than the procrastination.  So pairing this tactic up with gamification can work really well, as you saw in the example above.

YOUR TURN: What 1 tip do you have to overcome procrastination?