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Stop Procrastinating: 10 Useful Tips to Help You Avoid Putting Off Work

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Procrastination is spending all day scrolling through your friends’ Instagram feed, watching a few YouTube videos, posting a bunch of tweets and replying to some, and maybe sneaking in a couple of minutes of work in between, then complaining why you haven’t gotten anything important done at the end of the day.

Procrastination is promising yourself you’ll get started on your thesis just as soon as you finish watching an episode of your favorite Netflix TV show. Just one episode. Maybe two. Or three … Okay, so you’ll get started on your thesis as soon as you finish watching the entire season.

Procrastination is telling yourself you’ll finally clean your room, but not just yet. Not right now because, well, you’re not in the mood. But you will be soon …

Procrastination is waiting for inspiration to hit you because you know how important it is for you to be inspired before you start working. You’ve been waiting for quite some time now but you know – and you can almost feel it – that one of these days inspiration will hit you like a truck, and then you can finish a month’s worth of tasks you’ve been putting off in just one day.

Are you tired of procrastinating? Are you fed up with always ending your day exhausted but without any accomplishments to show for it? Are you sick of constantly feeling guilty and stressed about not getting things done? If so, then it’s time to turn over a new leaf. Here are ten useful tips to help you stop procrastinating and finally start getting things done.

1. Understand why you procrastinate

A man lying on railroad tracks that run through forest to indicate that he is procrastinating
Practicing self-reflection helps you understand the nature of your procrastinative problem and your motives for engaging in such behavior || Photo by Kasper Rasmussen on Unsplash (edited)

In dealing with most personal problems, self-reflection is vital. Self-reflection is the act of getting to know yourself better. When you reflect, you carefully examine your thoughts, feelings, and actions, and discover the reasons that may lie behind them.

The purpose of self-reflection is personal growth. When you engage in this introspective practice, you explore past learning and experiences in order to improve your present and future.

If your goal is to stop procrastinating, the first and most crucial step is self-reflection. You need to understand why you procrastinate in the first place, and find out your motives for doing so. Self-reflection is necessary in order to gain a deeper insight into the problem, and form an effective solution in response.

When you reflect, you are creating the proper mindset for success. You are aware of your procrastination problem and instead of justifying it or even outright denying it, you are taking full responsibility for it.

So why do you procrastinate? What prompts you to put off working on your tasks?

Perhaps it has something to do with your working environment. It might be unconducive to productivity. Maybe it’s too noisy, crowded, and full of distractions that keep you from focusing on the task at hand.

Or perhaps your procrastinative habit is triggered by the very nature of the task you are unnecessarily delaying. It could be that you find the task unappealing. You might feel that the task is too easy so that working on it becomes boring, too difficult that it becomes intimidating to get started on, or too unpleasant to even consider!

Or maybe it’s how you value the task at hand. Either you find the task too insignificant so that it is unworthy of your attention, or too important so that you would rather not do it at all than risk getting it all wrong.

But then again, your habit of postponing working on a task might result from deeper feelings related to that task. Perhaps you have a fear of failure that keeps you from working so as not to risk making mistakes. Or low self-esteem, so that you would rather not start at all and so not risk looking incompetent and getting negative feedback.

A brief period of introspection can go a long way. By understanding the nature of your procrastinative behavior and determining the underlying reasons, you can figure out a valid and relevant plan of action to stop procrastinating, instead of hoping the problem will sort itself out somehow.

2. Forgive yourself

Blonde woman with eyes closed and hands clasped together to show that she is forgiving herself for procrastinating in the past
Instead of pointlessly berating yourself for past acts of procrastination, forgive yourself, move on, and take the necessary steps to ensure it never happens again || Photo by Ben White on Unsplash (edited)

When you procrastinate, you are deliberately and intentionally avoiding working on a task despite knowing that it needs immediate attention. You are completely aware of the negative consequences, but still choose to do it anyway. And you know you are engaging, in some way, in some manner of self-harm. It’s this element of self-awareness that makes procrastination so much worse.

When you needlessly delay doing something, you trigger negative feelings like guilt, shame, regret, and discomfort. If not immediately dealt with, these negative emotions can weigh you down and drag you further into procrastination. The more you keep engaging in procrastinative habits, the more you trigger negative emotions and exacerbate their effects. Eventually, procrastination becomes a chronic behavior with harmful and lasting consequences.

Effectively managing procrastination begins with self-reflection, and from there, developing the right mindset for handling the negative emotions triggered by procrastination. This right mindset includes practicing self-forgiveness and self-compassion.

Self-forgiveness is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of pointlessly berating yourself for past acts of procrastination and wallowing in self-blame, you forgive yourself. In doing so, you relieve yourself of the burden of guilt and other negative emotions. You can then move on and focus instead on forming a plan of action to stop procrastinating in the future.

Keep in mind that self-forgiveness is not about ignoring or excusing your past instances of procrastination. It’s about acknowledging your maladaptive habit, accepting full responsibility, and taking the necessary steps to ensure it never happens again.

Moreover, self-forgiveness does not include forgiving yourself for ongoing instances of procrastination. Remember to practice self-forgiveness in a justifiable manner so as not to risk diluting its value or effectiveness.

Self-forgiveness is part of self-compassion, which, simply put, is being kind and understanding to yourself in an appropriate manner. Remember, everybody procrastinates, and you are no exception. Indeed, procrastination is a part of the shared human experience.

So don’t be too harsh on yourself. Don’t hurt yourself with needless criticism. Forgive, forget, and focus instead on creating an effective solution to stop procrastinating.

3. Choose progress over perfection

Crumpled pieces of paper next to a notebook
More often than not, perfectionism can get in the way of progress and can only exacerbate your procrastination || Photo by Steve Johnson on Pixabay (edited)

Perfectionism is the tendency to regard anything with flaws as unacceptable. It is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in some instances, perfectionism can motivate you to exert only your best effort on a given task to ensure a quality and timely result.

More often than not, however, perfectionism can get in the way of progress. When you are a perfectionist, you are striving for nothing less than perfection. Such a goal is simply unrealistic and therefore unattainable. Thus, perfectionism usually only results in failure.

Perfectionism is blamed as one of the culprits of procrastination. When you are a perfectionist, you might delay getting started on a task because of your fear of failure. Anxious or afraid that you might commit mistakes, you end up deferring action. For fear of making the wrong move, you end up not moving at all!

Self-doubt ensues from a perfectionist mindset. Because you accept nothing short of perfection, you are afraid of producing something less than perfect. You cannot guarantee your performance will result to a perfect outcome. Rather than risk an imperfect work, you would rather do other tasks you consider safer, and so put off working on your original task.

Striving for perfection can cause you to spend needless time and effort into revising a task over and over again because you keep finding supposed faults and flaws in your work. Most of the time, however, only you can perceive these faults and flaws – in fact, these are too negligible or inconsequential for other people to even notice!

Perfectionism can cause you to fear being evaluated by other people. Because you are afraid of receiving negative feedback, you delay releasing your work for evaluation.

Perfectionism can take a toll not only on your productivity, but on your overall well-being. Pursuing unrealistic expectations has a detrimental impact on your self-esteem, and can lead to self-repudiation, self-contempt, and unhappiness.

To overcome perfectionism – and thus stop procrastinating – you need to change your mindset. Instead of focusing on your faults and flaws, highlight instead your strengths and skills. Instead of aiming for unrealistic expectations, set goals that are less lofty. Instead of harboring a fear of failure, remind yourself that everyone commits mistakes, and that you are no exception.

If you fear that your work will never be good enough, accept the fact that your work will never be perfect in the first place anyway. Remember, to stop procrastinating, choose progress over perfection. Any action – however imperfect – is better than no action at all.

4. Narrow down your to-do list

Woman in violet sweater writing on a notebook to indicate creating a to-do list to help her stop procrastinating
When putting together a to-do list, don’t just list tasks for the sake of listing. Instead, you have to prioritize the tasks that are really important and demand immediate attention || Photo by Артём Апухтин on Pixabay (edited)

It’s easier to stop procrastinating and start getting things done when you already know what things actually need doing. Creating a to-do list helps you avoid putting off work, allows you to become more productive, and moves you closer to your goals one task at a time.

A to-do list is your agenda. It is a catalog of all the tasks that you need (or want) to perform. It keeps your workload structured and organized, and so more manageable. It’s a simple and straightforward tool but really packs a punch. And it’s not that difficult to create, either. However, there are some points you need to consider when putting together the perfect to-do list to help you stop procrastinating.

There is more to making a to-do list than just simply writing down as many things you want to get done and then hoping you can cross off as many items as fast as possible. If you do that, you might end up with a mile-long list!

If you write too many tasks, you are likely to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of your workload. The more options you have, the harder it is to choose. You might get stuck trying to decide what to do first, a phenomenon known as analysis paralysis. Because you are unsure of what to do, you might just put off working on all your tasks!

So don’t just list tasks for the sake of listing. Instead, master the art of prioritizing. Some of your tasks are more significant than the rest, and so require more attention. Some are more trivial and can be saved for later. You have to prioritize what things need to get done and when.

Trim your to-do list by writing only the tasks that are important and demand immediate attention. If possible, try to keep your tasks as few as is allowable but as meaningful as possible. But if you do not want to remove the less significant tasks, then put them at the bottom of your list – to be tackled only after the more meaningful work is completed.

Also, keep your to-do list specific. Don’t just write down vague and abstract ideas. Make sure that your tasks are clearly defined and possible to accomplish. Avoid unrealistic expectations. And make sure that your goals can be measured in a significant manner, so that you know whether or not you are making meaningful progress.

5. Set deadlines

A marker and its cap set atop an open planner with a calendar on one page
When you set a deadline for a task, you are adding the element of urgency to that task, reducing the likelihood that you will delay or postpone it || Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash (edited)

Prudent time management is part and parcel of a successful plan to stop procrastinating. Such effective use of your time includes scheduling tasks and setting deadlines.

A deadline is the latest time or date by which a task should be completed. It helps you prioritize what things you need to work on and for how long.

When you set a deadline for a task, you are making it a priority over your other tasks. You are adding the element of urgency to that task, reducing the likelihood that you will delay or postpone it, and instead prompting you to act on it.

Without a deadline, you are more susceptible to procrastinating on a task because it lacks a sense of primacy. Because you feel that you have an indefinite timeline to work on it, you are more inclined to think that you can actually afford to shelve it or wait until the last minute before getting started.

Without deadlines, tasks that you find unappealing suffer especially. You are more likely to delay working on such tasks if you are not in the mood, believing you will be later on. In the meantime, you would rather engage in short term tasks that feel less burdensome and more pleasurable, even at the cost of long term development and progress.

Setting deadlines is easy enough, but a few tips can ensure that your deadlines are truly successful in helping you stop procrastinating.

First, your deadlines should be clearly defined. Try to make them as specific as possible. For instance, setting a deadline of “Tuesday at 10:30 AM” is preferable to “anytime next week”. Establishing a concrete deadline on a task makes it feel more important and urgent, prompting you to stop procrastinating and start working to avoid wasting your limited time.

Second, your deadlines should be realistic. Allow yourself sufficient time to get the tasks done. Your deadlines should account for the challenges and contingencies that you might encounter along the way and the time these might cost you. Add a bit of wiggle room, too.

When setting deadlines, don’t be too harsh with yourself. Deadlines that give you inadequate time to accomplish tasks can be counterproductive. These can make you more stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. Instead of inspiring you to stop procrastinating and get a move on, your emotional burden can actually demotivate you and make procrastination more likely.

But don’t be too lenient with yourself, either. Lax deadlines reduce the element of urgency and encourage you to delay unnecessarily because you feel you have the luxury of time.

Finally, your deadlines should be serious and meaningful. There should be consequences attached to your deadlines – penalties for missing them, and rewards for meeting them. This way, you ensure that your deadlines are not just random dates and numbers, but are in fact meaningful and effective mechanisms to help you stop procrastinating.

6. Remove distractions

A clean, organized, and well-lit workspace with a computer, other necessary work equipment, and no distractions helps one stop procrastinating and start working
Keeping your workspace clean, organized, and free from distractions helps you stop procrastinating and focus instead on the task at hand || Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash (edited)

Your working environment can significantly affect your productivity. A working environment that is chaotic and rife with distractions can exacerbate your procrastinative behavior. On the other hand, a clean and organized working environment fosters productivity. If you want to stop procrastinating and start getting things done, always strive to improve your work surroundings.

The ideal working environment makes it easier for you to get started on a given task and keep going until the end. To create such an environment, reducing or completely eliminating distractions from your workspace is your first step. By removing all unnecessary objects that might catch your attention and throw you off focus, you reduce your susceptibility to distraction and therefore procrastination.

Nothing is more distracting than social media. Uncontrolled use of social media can only worsen your procrastinative habit. If not effectively managed, it can rob you of valuable time and productivity.

So if social media is not part of your job, make it harder for you to check on your accounts while working. Log out of your accounts, or consider temporarily blocking the sites.

In general, limit your phone usage overall. If your phone does not have anything to do with the task at hand, put it on silent mode or airplane mode. Or better yet, keep it out of your sight and reach. Only allot time to check your phone for emergency calls and other important notifications.

Keep your workspace clean and organized. Having a chaotic workplace can cost you precious time. Nothing can slow you down more than not knowing the location of the things you need, and having to rifle and rummage through all your mess just to find whatever it is you’re looking for.

So remove all the clutter. Keep only the devices, tools, and equipment you need in your work. A clean environment helps you not only focus on the task at hand, but makes you feel relaxed and less suffocated as well. If you declutter your workspace, you are in a way also decluttering your mind.

There are times, however, when improving your workspace just can’t cut it. In that case, you need to change your location altogether. If you find that no matter how you try to improve your work area, you still can’t stop procrastinating, then work somewhere else. A change of environment might enliven your brain and produce a fresh mindset, allowing you to stop procrastinating and focus instead on working.

7. Do the hardest or least appealing tasks first

Green frog perched on a truck surrounded by leaves and vegetation
According to Mark Twain, it’s best to start your day by getting the task you hate the most or find least appealing – i.e. eating a frog – out of the way || Photo by seth0s on Pixabay (edited)

Celebrated humorist Mark Twain is known for his remarkable wit and wise words. He was not one to state things in a bland and simple way. Rather, it was his style to proffer advice in a clever, amusing, and sometimes confusing manner.

Throughout his life, he has uttered words of wisdom to inspire a better way of living, from guidance on how to gain broader perspectives to advice on how to stop procrastinating. Concerning the latter, one popular quote of his goes as such:

If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.Mark Twain

It’s safe to say that when he uttered that quote, he wasn’t really referring to actually eating frogs. He was alluding to tasks you find difficult, unappealing, and unpleasant.

Getting the small and simple tasks done is easy enough. Getting the enjoyable tasks done is even easier. But what about the bigger, more complex tasks, those that demand no small amount of effort and take a lot of time to finish? What about the tedious, boring, frightening, or even disgusting tasks?

The hardest or the least appealing tasks are the ones you are most likely to procrastinate on. Whether out of fear, intimidation, disgust, or simply because you are not in the mood, you are more likely to put off working on such tasks for a later date, if at all.

According to Mark Twain, however, it’s best to start your day by getting the task you hate the most or find least appealing out of the way. In doing so, you devote your best effort and most of your energy on the task that really demands it since you are not yet exhausted like you will be at the end of the day. Plus, your focus will be uninterrupted since there are fewer distractions to compete for your time and attention early in the morning.

Once you have completed the worst task, the rest of your work will seem easier. By doing the painful part first, your experience will only improve from bad to good, encouraging your brain to think of that experience as a fond and delightful one. So stop procrastinating and go eat that frog!

8. Break large tasks into small, doable parts

Woman in business attire sitting on bench while typing on her laptop
Breaking large and complex tasks into a series of small and simple steps makes it easier for you to stop procrastinating and get started on working instead || Photo by rawpixel on Pixabay (edited)

Since large and complex tasks demand a lot of time and effort, getting started on such tasks can seem daunting. Faced with a seemingly insurmountable workload, you might be paralyzed into inaction, tempted to waste time procrastinating, or worse, be forced to give up altogether. And given the sheer immensity and complexity of such tasks, all three consequences seem almost justifiable.

Instead of trying to take on whole problems and risk being overwhelmed, the better approach is to break the large and complex tasks into smaller and more specific parts. By doing so, you make your workload feel more manageable, making it easier for you to stop procrastinating and start working. Not only will you feel more in control of the situation, you will also feel more comfortable working.

Besides, breaking larger tasks into smaller ones can motivate you. It allows you to experience an uninterrupted and rewarding series of progress as you complete one small task after another.

When dividing tasks, break out the parts that logically go together. Each part should be specific, actionable, and sequentially related to the other parts. Each part should bring you one step closer to accomplishing your primary goal.

Don’t make your parts too big. Otherwise, dividing tasks is simply a waste of time. But don’t make your parts too small, either. Otherwise, they become meaningless and keep you from completing your tasks in a timely manner.

For instance, if you are writing a book, you are unlikely to finish it in one sitting. To make it easier to work on, break it into a series of smaller, specific actions, among which might be writing a certain number of words per day. Writing 10,000 words a day is too ambitious a goal and almost certainly impossible to accomplish. Writing just 10, on the other hand, will bring you no significant progress and can only slow down the process. Instead, a goal of writing 3,000 words per day is highly achievable and constitutes a consequential step towards your goal.

You are more likely to delay working on a project spanning weeks or months. Given its lengthy timeline, you might be tempted to think you can afford to work on it when the deadline looms closer, and in the meantime, to just focus on other tasks.

To stop procrastinating on such a project, break it into weekly or monthly milestones, with each milestone representing a significant stage of the project. You can further divide each milestone into smaller, specific steps or actions. Once you finish all the steps, you complete the milestone and move on to the next one.

By dividing a large project into a series of milestones, you are making it easier to stop procrastinating and start working on it. Instead of the project seeming too distant in time and so far from your priorities, you are bringing it to the present because of the smaller goals you need to do now, thus making it feel more urgent and therefore requiring immediate attention.

9. Take breaks

A glass coffee pot, a cup, saucers, napkins, and a potted plant all on a small table with leaves hanging overhead
Taking short, regular breaks between tasks and during long tasks can improve your productivity by helping you maintain optimum brain performance || Photo by Free-Photos on Pixabay (edited)

It’s impossible to keep working for hours on end without taking any breaks, while still maintaining optimum productivity. Your brain can only take so much before it starts to stress out and fatigue, leading to a decreased performance and causing the quality of your work to suffer.

Contrary to popular belief, skipping breaks can actually reduce your productivity. When your brain is forced to exert continuous effort for an extended period of time, its performance eventually deteriorates.

Monotonous work without scheduled interruptions eventually causes your mind to wander and lose track of the task at hand. Once you are thrown out of focus, you are more susceptible to procrastination.

Without breaks, you are more likely to suffer from mental exhaustion, leaving you overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and no longer able to meet the constant demands of your work.

Not only does skipping breaks affect your mental state, it also impacts your physical health. Sitting at your desk for too long takes a toll on your blood circulation and can distort your posture. You are also more likely to suffer from heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Staring at your computer screen for prolonged periods can cause headaches and eyestrain, and can eventually lead to poorer eyesight.

It is important to take breaks when working. You need to take breaks between tasks, and especially during long tasks.

Taking regular breaks heightens your productivity. It allows your mind to rest and recuperate. Breaks reduce mental fatigue, boost brain function, refresh attention, and sustain concentration. Breaks restore your brain’s optimal performance, which allows you to make better decisions, avoid or stop procrastinating, and be more productive.

Moreover, taking regular breaks enhances your creativity. When you allow yourself a breather every now and then, your mind uses the downtime to better process and consolidate information taken in – in short, your brain is trying to make sense of what it has just learned. Once refreshed, you are able to think of new ideas and creative solutions to the task at hand.

Taking regular breaks benefits your physical health as well. It affords you enough time to stand, walk around, stretch your muscles, and do some exercises to improve blood circulation and increase blood flow to the brain. It gives you a chance to rest your eyes, too. Plus, you have time to grab nourishing food or drink and ensure that you’re getting enough sustenance to keep your mind and body at peak performance.

Taking regular breaks also makes you feel happier and increases your enthusiasm for your job.

So make sure that your schedule accommodates short, regular breaks between tasks and during long tasks. Even five-minute breaks for every hour of work can do miracles and help you stop procrastinating and instead be more productive.

Don’t forget to take longer breaks from work, too, like a vacation or a holiday. Just like short breaks, longer breaks from work help you be more productive in the long-run, benefit your physical and psychological health, and allow you to achieve a good work-life balance.

10. Reward yourself

Woman smiling while holding a sweet treat in on hand to indicate that she is rewarding herself for not procrastinating
If you keep engaging in procrastination because it is a rewarding habit, why not make not procrastinating an even more rewarding habit? Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash (edited)

Though we are fully aware that procrastination is a damaging habit, we still engage in it more often than we care to admit. Why?

Because procrastination is rewarding. It makes us feel good, even if only for a while. It grants us temporary relief from the stress of working on tasks that we regard as painful or threatening. And though we know that that reward is negligible when compared to the long term damage of procrastination, we still keep engaging in such bad behavior.

After all, we are creatures of habit. We stick to habits that make us feel good, habits that are pleasurable, habits that are rewarding. The more rewarding the habit, the harder it is to part with it.

So, if procrastinating is a rewarding habit, why not make not procrastinating an even more rewarding habit?

By rewarding yourself for not procrastinating, you are increasing the likelihood of avoiding needlessly delaying or postponing your important tasks. You are making it more worthwhile to stop procrastinating. And once the rewards of not procrastinating outweighs the rewards of procrastinating, then you become less susceptible to the latter.

Rewards can make tasks more appealing and motivate you to stop procrastinating and be productive instead. Attaching rewards to the tasks you find dull, difficult, daunting, or disgusting can make them interesting and reduces the likelihood that you will delay or postpone them.

Rewards can also make it more appealing to work on long-term tasks now than waiting until the last minute to get started. You can break long-term goals into shorter tasks, then add small rewards for meeting shorter tasks, and a large reward for completing the long-term goal.

Rewards, however tiny, can help you stay motivated to keep working towards your goals. Rewards make it easier to stick to a certain behavior, especially if that behavior is a good one, like learning to stop procrastinating. Rewards also help reduce stress and tension, and make you feel loved and appreciated.

So go ahead. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Celebrate your triumphs big and small. For every meaningful task that you accomplish, every goal that you achieve, and every deadline you meet, reward yourself.

Just don’t overdo it, though. Be reasonable. Otherwise, you risk diluting the potency of rewards so that rewarding yourself will actually cease helping you stop procrastinating.

One last thing…

If you want to stop procrastinating, then be prepared for a long and laborious struggle. It is a difficult habit to part with, especially if it has been ingrained in you for so long. Remember that you cannot cure procrastination overnight. It will take time and no small amount of patience and willpower to do so. But as long as you’re willing to put in the effort and make the necessary sacrifices, then the odds of success are on your side. Learn to accept the failures, and learn to celebrate the victories. Above all, learn to love the struggle – it is what moves you forward.

Now, it’s time to get to work.

 

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