Since there are a lot of different strategies that help against procrastinating, I’m giving you 10 more ideas to get inspiration, to fit into your situation and to finally start taking concrete steps and creating good habits that help you to kick the procrastination habit.
This is the second part to the previous blog post: 10 strategies to stop procrastinating.
* I have added some ideas for habits for each strategy. Use them for inspiration and change according to your situation and needs. But remember to keep them as tiny as possible!
Routines are conscious ways of doing things repetitively and in a specific order. They are often made up of many habits, or action steps taken towards accomplishing a particular goal.
Developing a routine can help create a sense of manageability in life, it creates comfort and stability. When we are on top of our routines, life feels easier to handle. This sense of manageability allows us to cope with unpredictable changes.
The absence of a routine can often lead to stress and feelings of unmanageability and this can lead to procrastinating.
When our day follows a routine, we eliminate the need for excessive brain power as we no longer need to think so hard about every little thing we have to accomplish. This keeps our brain fresh and we are able to focus more on the important tasks.
You can create separate routines for your morning time, working time, lunch time, writing project time, end of workday time, coming home time or evening time. Think about what your ideal day or part of the day would look like.
When you create a routine for starting the workday containing the activities that help you to make necessary preparations, eliminate distractions and set your focus on the task, procrastinating is much more unlikely.
Good and healthy routines for other parts of the day, like early morning and late evening, will also help you to fight procrastinating at work, because they will make sure you are well rested, hydrated, healthy and full of energy.
Take a look at your current routines. Are they helping you? Or they would need some improvement?
Habit ideas for morning routine:
After my feet hit the floor in the morning, I will say “It’s going to be a great day!”
After I make my bed, I will do 3 stretching exercises
After I brush my teeth, I will drink a glass of water
After I start the coffee machine, I will take my vitamins
Find a flow / get into the zone
Flow state, popularized by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, describes a feeling where, under the right conditions, you become fully immersed in whatever you are doing.
You lose awareness of time, you don’t pay attention to distractions, you are active, you are focused, you work effortlessly.
While it is not so easy to just start being in the flow state, there are some things that you can do to evoke it. Flow experiences occur when there is a balance between the challenge of an activity and the skill you have in performing it.
So the task at hand should be challenging for you and you should have the required skill set to do it, but there has to be a balance. When the challenge is too big and your skills too low, you will feel anxious instead. When you have a lot of skills, but the challenge is too small, you will feel bored.
So if you procrastinate because this task feels too boring for you, try to make it more challenging and interesting for you. For example, try to make it as fast as possible, try to make it as perfect as possible, make it a competition with your coworker.
But if you procrastinate because this task is too challenging and you feel anxiety about it, try to make it easier or raise your skill set. For example, take on only a small part of it and don’t worry about finishing the whole task or do some research about the topic before starting.
When the challenge and skill set levels are in the right balance you might get into the zone without even noticing it. Use this state and keep working.
After I feel anxiety about a task, I will ask for help
After I feel bored about a task, I will think how to make it more challenging and interesting
Set meaningful deadlines
We all have set (or gotten from others) deadlines and probably even right now you have some of them written in your calendar. Quite often they are not helpful and we still tend to struggle the day before the deadline, instead of dividing the task over a longer time period.
So when setting deadlines, don’t do it carelessly. Really think about them and understand if they are realistic, concrete and also meaningful for you. Don’t make it a habit to set deadlines, but then do nothing about them.
Deadlines should encourage you to start working early. When your target date is far in the future you will feel that you have a lot of time to do it and it is not urgent yet. In this case it is also wise to set deadlines on the way. Divide the task into smaller periods and decide when you are doing which part of the task. The closer the deadline is, the more motivated you are to work on it.
After I write the final deadline of the assignment to my calendar, I will divide it into smaller parts and set deadlines for them as well.
Create streaks, no zero days
Creating streaks or no zero days is related to gamification. With this method you are creating a chain of completed tasks that you don’t want to break. For example, you can decide that every day you have at least one block of focused work time or that you will do at least one step towards your big goal.
The longer the streak gets the more you want to keep it going. Of course it is not always possible to keep the chain intact. So to not lose the streak and motivation you can create a rule on how to fix the streak. For example, you can fix it by doing double of the work the next day. This also helps you to keep the brake small, because the bigger the gap the more you have to work to fix it.
For keeping track of the chain you can use the Seinfeld strategy (track your progress and make it visible in the calendar). Why it has become famous under this name I have no idea. Jerry Seinfeld was for sure not the first one to start marking his streaks in the calendar on the wall. But nevertheless, make your streak visible to you. Use a calendar or some other system, but make sure you see it. It will remind you and motivate you.
My personal experience with the streak is from the language learning app Duolingo. It uses this method to motivate you to learn every day. So far I have managed to build my streak up to 800+ days and I plan to keep going.
After I finish my daily important task, I will make a cross in my wall calendar.
Change your work location
Is your current working location supporting procrastinating? Are there distractions that you can’t remove? Is it uncomfortable and makes you tired fast? Maybe you can relocate?
Is it possible to find a more quiet place? Or when you need some background noise while working, can you go to a coffee place to work from there? Maybe a co-working place will be the best place for you? Or maybe you could set up a perfect home office for yourself?
During these times when most of the people are working from the home office and the “real” office is quite empty, maybe you can work there in peace?
If you work from home, do you have a certain and comfortable working place? Or are you working from different rooms every day? Sometimes behind the kitchen table, sometimes on the living room couch, sometimes in the bed?
Even if you don’t have a home office, decide where your working place at home is. Find the most comfortable and most distraction free location and use it only for working. This way you will also program your mind to associate this place with focusing on work.
Even if this means that you still have to sit behind the kitchen table, have a seat in another place where you usually are while eating. Or in the living room, don’t sit where you watch TV. Don’t do anything else but work when sitting in your working place. No social media, no eating, no watching TV, no gaming – only working.
If possible, make some rearrangements in your home and design a working corner. Buy a standing desk, a comfortable chair, good lights, extra monitor etc. Set up some motivational posters or photos, remove distractions, and create a perfect working area. When you have made these kinds of investments, it’s also easier to convince yourself to really use them and focus on working.
After I sit in my working place, I will say to myself: “It’s working time!”
After I finish working, I will set the standing desk back to up position
Don’t give yourself time to think, use countdowns
If you delay taking action your mind has time to start figuring out reasons why you shouldn’t start at all. When you get an impulse to do something or you know that now is the time to start working on the task you should take action immediately.
I, as an introvert, have trouble making phone calls. It’s a stupid fear and rationally I know that there is no reason to be scared of anything, but emotionally I start postponing it. I start thinking about what I should say. I’m finding reasons why not to do it now and the more I delay the more thoughts I will get and the more anxious I am about it.
What has worked for me is taking action immediately. I know I have to call, so I take the phone and do it without giving me time to start thinking about it. Sometimes I also use countdowns. I count in my head from 3 to 1 and then I know I have to call.
Short countdowns can be useful, but you have to practice them and you have to make an agreement with yourself that after the countdown finishes you really have to take action. It has happened to me quite often that I use the countdown, but I still don’t start. To make it work, you have to condition yourself to obey.
Use the countdown at first for the easier tasks that you will do for sure. This way you program your brain to start taking action when you hit zero. Later, when you face more difficult tasks and use counting, it will be easier and in some time it can even come automatically for you.
Be sure to use short countdowns from 3 or 5. When it will be too long you start thinking and this can still end with your brain convincing you not to take action.
After I’m ready to work, I will count from 3 to 0 and start working immediately
Use nudges / prompts
To make you take action you can surround yourself with different prompts or nudges. These are some kinds of modifications that you add into your environment in order to get yourself doing what you need.
Prompts can be external or internal. External ones are surrounding you in the environment. Something that you see, hear, smell. For example a motivational message or a photo on your working desk or on the wall. An alarm going off that tells you to start working. Somebody else telling you to do something. Your desktop background picture, glass of water, a book, calendar on the wall etc.
Internal prompts are your thoughts, feelings and emotions. If you feel hungry, you are prompted to eat. If you feel sleepy, you will take a nap (or a coffee). How could you create internal nudges for starting working? What could you think about? How could you make yourself feel good and energetic?
Prompts can also be hot or cold. Hot prompts make you act immediately. For example, ringing of the phone, someone telling you to do something immediately, an alarm going off etc.
Cold prompts are triggering you over a longer period of time. You see something once, twice, thrice and maybe then you finally will take action. It can be a book or movie recommendation from different friends, some ads that you are seeing, some motivational quote or video. You keep seeing these prompts and finally you take action because of them.
What kind of prompts could you create for yourself?
After I see my colleague in the morning, I will tell her to push me today to finish the important task
After I make my bed in the morning, I will put the book that I want to read in the evening to the pillow
After I start the lunch break, I will set a reminder for X time to get off the social media and start working
When you have a lot of choices to choose from it’s often difficult to make up your mind. The fewer choices, the faster is your decision. The more decisions you have to make the more difficult it will get. Making decisions is tiring and causes your willpower to decrease.
Try to limit the daily decisions you have to make. Set up useful routines. Decide beforehand. For example, choose the clothes you are going to wear for work in the previous evening. Make your meal plan on Sunday for the whole week. After work, write down the order of the tasks for the next day. Or let somebody else decide some things for you.
If you tend to procrastinate because you can’t make up your mind, set time constraints for decision-making. Set a timer for 3 minutes and make the decision in this time.
After I have to make a big decision, I will set a timer for 10 minutes
Eat that frog or cake
Eat that frog is a classical advice from Brian Tracy. It means that you should start every day with working on the most scary, difficult and important task. Just get it done while you are still fresh and rested.
- At the end of the day make a list of all the things you have to do tomorrow.
- Evaluate the list using the ABCDE and 80:20 methods.
- Figure out the most important A1 task, that has the most serious consequences when not done.
- Make all the preparations you need so that starting in the morning is as easy as possible. Clean your working space so there wouldn’t be any distractions and only this “big frog” would stare at you.
- Force yourself to start on this task before you do anything else. No emails, no social media, no meetings, nothing that would distract you.
- Do this every day until it becomes your habit.
This approach is usually opposite of what people really do. We tend to start from the most tiny and easy tasks that are not so important. We know that this big task takes effort and we fool ourselves that we will gain momentum by doing the small stuff first. The reality is that most often the easy things will tire us, distract us, there will appear new tasks, new obligations and finally we don’t have time to do the important task or we even forget about it.
But still, some people like to start from the dessert and it might be totally fine. You just have to know yourself and understand what works for you. Maybe you need to start with some easy tasks to wake yourself up, get some things quickly done, get some energy from this and be able to take on the big business. Especially when you are not a morning person. Do some small things in the first part of the day and start with the “frog” in your most productive time.
Test which approach works for you. Wake yourself up with easy tasks to take on more difficult ones or start immediately from the big tasks until you are still fresh.
After I get to work, I will start from the A1 task
After I finish my workday, I will make a prioritized to-do list for tomorrow
Immediately complete small tasks
When you get a small task related to your work and it would take only a bit of time to do – do it immediately. It is easy to postpone the little things and think that I can do it later. Often it happens that these insignificant things start to pile up and together form a big burden.
It can sometimes take longer to find the place in your busy schedule and write the task to the calendar that it would take to do it immediately.
It’s usually referred to as the 2-minute rule, but it’s not so important how long it actually takes. It’s important that you benefit from taking care of it as soon as you figure out that you need to do it. So make sure that you will not only do small insignificant tasks that don’t help you to achieve your goals.
After I receive a task that can be done in 2 minutes, I will do it immediately
First you have to know yourself, to be self-aware why you procrastinate. Having this knowledge, you can find the best strategies to kick your procrastination habit.
It’s like visiting the doctor when you are sick. The doctor will not give you some random medicines just by looking at you or because she gave them to someone else. Your situation will be examined and researched, maybe even some tests will be made. And then you will get the medicine that is helpful for your situation.
So take time to think, to reflect on what is not working, why you procrastinate, what are your reasons and then, take the solution that is for you. Not necessarily the most popular one or the one that your colleagues use. Take this one that is medicine for your reasons.