14 Surefire Ways to Overcome Procrastination & Get to Work

February 15, 2011

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You’ve got big dreams, but somehow the steps to get from Point A to Point B never seem quite urgent enough to demand your time.

Are you lazy? Unmotivated? Too busy?

No. Nope. And hell no

You’ve got the drive, and you’ve got the time — but you are p r o c r a s t i n a t i n g. 

Procrastination is one of those nasty little critters we all deal with. Yes, even the world’s most successful people struggle with procrastination. But thankfully, there are a ton of strategies to avoid it.

Keep reading to learn the biological, psychological, and emotional reasons humans want to procrastinate — and the tactics to overcome those impulses.

Ready to learn how to stop procrastinating and start getting things done? Let’s do this.

Why You’re Procrastinating

Procrastination doesn’t mean you’re lazy, disorganized, or bad at time management. Getting organized might help you be more productive, but ending chronic procrastination is a whole different beast.

Psychologists at the University of Vermont found that procrastination stems from our beliefs and emotions as much as from our actions.

According to the researchers, we procrastinate because of:

  • Fear of failure
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Rebellion against control
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Trouble being assertive
  • Fear of success
  • Dislike for the task
  • Anxiety about being judged
  • Perfectionism

Time management skills, while important, aren’t THE most important factor in whether or not you’ll procrastinate. 

The overarching indicator? Fear.

We procrastinate because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of what will happen when we actually get up and do something. We could fail or be judged. We could succeed and face consequences like more responsibility and higher expectations.

Procrastination feels safe. But it also keeps you from doing… anything.

Who’s Most Likely to Procrastinate?

Procrastination is universal, but some people are more prone to it than others.

Based on the UV study, you might be more likely to put things off if you struggle with self-esteem, assertion, confidence, decision-making, or perfectionism.

Another study at Columbia University discovered a tie between procrastination and impatience. If you have trouble waiting for gratification, you might also be prone to procrastination. 

Ironic, huh? But think about it: Both impatience and procrastination are about self-control. It takes willpower to delay gratification and stick to your goals. That means overcoming procrastination is more about mental fitness than time management. And we can work with that!

While procrastination itself isn’t a mental illness (yes, this is a real fear many people have!), research says you might procrastinate more often if you live with mental health issues like:

  • Depression, which makes you likely to put off even simple tasks.
  • Anxiety, which could increase your fear of failure, judgment, or making the wrong decision. 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder, because compulsive activities can distract you from things you want or need to get done.
  • ADD and ADHD, which are connected to distraction and poor organization.

You may need to work with a doctor or therapist to address underlying mental health issues before you can tackle procrastination. But for those of us who are just putting off an important task? It’s time to kick your tush into gear.

How to Overcome Procrastination

If fear and uncertainty keep you from taking the first step, know this: 

Fear is not the enemy. Waiting to stop feeling afraid is. 

Try these strategies to break through procrastination habits and get started.

1. Name It: How to Recognize Procrastination

Procrastination is a dangerous habit, especially when you don’t realize you’re doing it.

You might think you’re totally on top of that novel, business idea, or pitch prep — you’re just waiting for the right time to start. Or there’s something “more important” to do. But while those stories might make you feel better, let’s call it what it is: plain ol’ procrastination.

Check yourself to make sure you’re not filling your day with busywork to avoid the tasks that really matter.

2. Kill Time Vampires*: Know What’s Worth It

Life will always hand you a million ways to waste time. Unfortunately, a lot of these distractions disguise themselves as opportunities to learn, grow your business, or explore new passions.

To make real progress, you have to learn to recognize the difference between good opportunities and time wasters.

That means getting clear on your short- and long-term goals so they can guide your choices. Anytime you’re faced with a potential opportunity, ask yourself, “How will this help me achieve my goal?”

Got an invitation to be a guest on a podcast? Discount on an online course? Stack of recommended books on your nightstand?

Those could be solid opportunities for growth.

Or they could mean hours of wasted prep time to appear on a podcast that reaches the wrong audience. Weeks of completing a course to learn a skill you’ll never need. Or a weekend spent reading a book you’ll never put into action. 

Beware of procrastination disguised as “research and planning.”

Saying “yes” to everything is a sneaky way to procrastinate, because it keeps you busy without ever letting you get anything done.

If you want to move your life and business forward, accept opportunities with intention. And don’t be afraid to say “no.”

*Time Vampires = Something that sucks your time like a vampire sucks blood.

3. Do What Matters: The Difference Between Urgent and Important

Are you procrastinating on big, important moves by filling your days with unimportant, seemingly urgent tasks like responding to emails and tweets? You need to learn how to prioritize

The important things — writing, contacting clients, going for a run — are the tasks that support your dreams, so do those first. Then get to the “urgent” stuff. The urgent stuff often relates to other people’s goals, not our own.

The great thing about putting your important work first is it guarantees you’ll get everything done.

Now, you have to remember, the urgent stuff is always going to get done because it has to. But if you prioritize the urgent things it’s easy to blow off your important work at the end of the day since the important work isn’t usually attached to deadlines, paychecks, or other people’s expectations.   

Do the important tasks first, and watch just how easy it is to “find time” for the urgent stuff later. (And if any task on your list is not important or urgent, drop it or delegate it.)

4. Screw the “Right Time”: Start Before You’re Ready

Too many creative and ambitious people believe that there’s some mystical “right time” to do everything.

You’ll start exercising after the holiday parties. You’ll launch your business when your kids are older. You’ll write a novel once you get the outline juuuust right.

Then, guess what happens? While you’re waiting for the right time something else comes along, and the right time suddenly isn’t so right anymore.

Stop with all the brainstorming, planning, waiting, and strategizing! These. Are. Distractions. 

Get out there, and start the work — before you’re ready. You don’t need to know everything about your dream, nor do you need to map out every step in advance. Stop hiding behind books and websites. Instead develop a bias for action. Make appointments. Have real-life conversations. You’ll learn more and make faster progress.

5. Know Your Why: Bring on the Rewards

When you commit to doing something — whether it’s brushing your teeth twice a day or publishing a bestseller — make sure you know why you want to do it.

Does your to-do list help you achieve what you want to do with your life? If not, remember this mantra: 

Purpose fuels persistence.

The quickest way to overcome procrastination is to revisit your goal and ask yourself, "What’s the reason I want to _________ [start this business/run a marathon/apply to grad school]?" Many people set goals for the wrong reasons, so when it comes time to actually make progress on their dreams, they procrastinate.

To accomplish anything big, you have to believe in it 10,000%. The more heart and emotion that you have in your why, the better. It will be easier for you to stay committed and stay passionate about getting what you want.

6. Baby Steps: Aim for Progress, Not Perfection

If you’re putting a task off because you’re afraid of judgment or failure, you might suffer from perfectionism — the ultimate dream killer.

Most of us waste way too much time tweaking and perfecting, instead of shipping the damn thing.

I’ve certainly been guilty of this. To avoid it now, I live by this mantra: Go for progress, not perfection.

If you wait for perfection, you’ll never take the first step — because “perfect” is an illusion. No matter how perfect you think you’ve gotten something, you’re probably going to change it after you’ve put it out into the world, and that’s okay. Experimentation is how you learn and grow.

I’ll admit, the first public version of almost everything I’ve done is mortifying in retrospect. But I get started anyway, and I learn quickly, because that’s the only way forward.

7. Social Accountability aka “The Embarrassment Factor”

Social accountability is the secret to following through on your goals.

It’s simple, but powerful. I enlist friends to embarrass me past procrastination.

Next time you face an important task that scares the bejeezus out of you — the kind that begs you to blow it off and cozy up into your comfort zone — try this: Tell everyone you know when you plan to get it done.

Tell your friends and family. Your mastermind group. Your co-workers and boss. Your partner and sister. Your neighbors. Declare it publicly through your blog, newsletter, and social media.

When the deadline comes along, chances are someone’s going to ask you how it’s going. You don’t want to have to tell them you’ve put it off so you could spend the day rearranging your closet, do you?

I didn’t think so.

8. F O C U S: Get Rid of Distractions

You know those days when you sit down to finally write a chapter, make your budget, or cold-call clients, then you immediately get 17 text messages from friends you haven’t talked to since college, and by the time you’re caught up on everyone’s lives it’s dinnertime?

Those distractions are no excuse for procrastination! Don’t give into them — get rid of them.

Here are five ways to stop distractions from the people around you:

  1. Issue a “rude” alert. Let people know when you’re going to focus on work, and warn them you’ll be unresponsive if they interrupt you during that time. Then set your phone to “do not disturb.”
  2. Close the door. A closed door signals “do not disturb” and keeps distractions out of sight.
  3. Don’t send mixed signals. When you tell people you’re working, work! Don’t pop into conversations, complete quick chores, or stealthily like all their Instagram posts from last year’s trip to Mexico.
  4. Wear headphones. Like a door for your ears, headphones can block distracting noise and let people know you’re not to be bothered.
  5. Get outta Dodge — or, at least outta the living room. You can’t expect everyone around you to go silent around your work schedule. Head to the library or a cozy coffee shop when you need distraction-free work time, and let them carry on.

9. Schedule It: How to Stop Procrastination Before It Starts

Schedule time for your important tasks, so you can’t ignore them. Pick a spot on your calendar that’s free from your day job, kids’ activities, date night, or family obligations, and write in that step you’ve been meaning to take toward your dream.

This is also a useful test for how important your goal really is. If you can’t seem to make time for the work, it could be a sign you’re chasing the wrong goal.

If you’re not willing to put it on the calendar, you’re probably not willing to do it.

Write that down. That’s mantra material! This one insight can have a huge impact on the rest of your life. For reals.

One more time for the people in the back:

If you’re not willing to put it on the calendar, you’re probably not willing to do it.

10. Jezzdoit: The Easy Way to Complete Any Task

Time for a hard truth: There’s no magic secret to moving past procrastination. You just have to start the work..

This tip might help though: Do each task as it comes up, instead of adding it to your neverending to-do list.

That doesn’t mean letting yourself get distracted by unimportant tasks, but it could mean harnessing the energy you have in this moment to make progress. For example:

  • Next time you have a brilliant blog post idea in the shower, don’t add it to your overflowing “ideas” doc. Hop out and take 15 minutes to write an imperfect first draft right away.
  • When a potential client follows you on LinkedIn, don’t stalk their account for months before dipping your toes in the connection pool with an occasional like or share. Send them a message and ask them about their business goals.

I promise, when you hop on these opportunities quickly instead of sticking them on a to-do list, you’ll move forward faster than you ever thought possible.

Want more tips to stay productive? Check out this MarieTV on the four-minute method to massive productivity.

11. BFFs: Make Time Your Friend

Let’s be honest: We talk smack about time waaaayyy too much. It’s never enough. It’s always running out. It flies by.

Smack-talking time is a great way to blame it for your lack of productivity, but you’ve got to take responsibility, my friend.

When you hate on time, you set it up as your enemy and guarantee you’ll always struggle against it. To shift your thinking, start saying nice things about time. Channel your inner Mick Jagger, and think, “Tiiiime is on my side.” Because it is, if you’ll let it.

Making time your pal is a simple but effective way to eliminate it as an excuse for never getting around to your dream.

12. Work It: Get up and Move

Feel like your mind’s not up to the task at hand? Get your body moving!

Studies show that exercise optimizes your brain, mood, and ability to focus — and, therefore, your ability to get things done.

That’s why I try to sweat my buns off for at least 30 minutes every day. It infuses my brain with energy and helps me focus, so I can tackle the tasks I need to get done. I’m partial to workout videos, but you can choose any kind of activity that gets your brain flowing, like yoga, taking a walk, or riding a bike. 

Make it a priority to move every day, and I guarantee you’ll find it a lot easier to get to work, too.

13. Don’t Blow Yourself Off: Prioritize What’s Important to You

If you want to do important work in the world — and I know you do — you have to take yourself seriously. 

Letting others set your priorities for you is an easy way to fall into a procrastination trap while still feeling productive. What others expect of us feels important in the moment, but it might just be an excuse to put off something harder (or scarier).

We have to protect our time to make room for work that matters to us. 

Believe in your work. Then, prioritize it. Ignore invitations, emails, and other distractions that support your procrastination habit. Get your work done, and leave everything else for later.

If you don’t take yourself seriously, who will?

14. Forgive Yourself: Allow Some Cheat Days

To be clear, overcoming procrastination doesn’t mean burning out. You’re not a computer. Humans need to rest and play to be effective in our work.

Before you burnout and can’t get anything done, build in intentional, smart breaks to step away and recharge so you can do your best work.

Schedule breaks in advance, including short breaks throughout the day and longer time off throughout the year. Then put them in your calendar. This will help you stick to your rest just like you stick to your work. If you use these breaks to feed your soul and move your body, you’ll come back refreshed and recharged.

Did someone say dance break?

Stop Procrastinating: Turn This Insight Into Action

Procrastination isn’t an affliction you’re stuck with. It’s an impulse we all feel, but it’s one you can totally overcome.

Use the strategies above to avoid procrastinating, and develop a habit of getting sh*t done.

Now it’s time to turn this insight into action.

Grab a notebook and spend 5-10 minutes answering these questions:

Do you struggle with procrastination? What beliefs and emotions keep you from getting started? What insights can you take away for overcoming procrastination, and how can you turn those insights into action today?

Don’t think your answers. Don’t say, “That sounds interesting, I should try it someday.” Do it now. Remember, nothing works unless you do. Taking action is the only path to change. I believe in you.

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