10 strategies to stop procrastinating

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There are a lot of different reasons why we procrastinate and there are a lot of different strategies on how to stop procrastinating. If you don’t know your reasons, you can try different methods to overcome it and still fail. What works for others doesn’t necessarily work for you.

You have to be aware of what causes you to procrastinate and then you can find the system that you can implement into your life and that works for you. So if you don’t know yet why you procrastinate read our previous blog post: 10 reasons why we procrastinate and then come back to this one.

While it’s probably impossible to totally eliminate procrastinating, there are different ways to at least decrease this destructive habit and make your life easier. Wouldn’t it be good to have less stress, to be more productive and have more time for important things?

I’m giving you 10 different 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.

* 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!

 

Prioritize tasks
One reason for procrastinating can be a long to-do list that overwhelms you. It might feel that there is just so much to do and you have no idea from where to start, so you just don’t. Or you start from the things that are actually not so important while postponing the bit more difficult but urgent ones.

To figure out what tasks you really need to work on and when, try to prioritize them. This way you can make sure that you are not procrastinating by wasting time on insignificant tasks while neglecting important ones. The list seems more manageable and you know where to start from.

There are different methods to use for prioritizing. For example:

The Ivy Lee method: at the end of each day, write down the six (only six!) most important tasks you need to do the next day. Put them in the order of importance. Next day, focus on the first task until it’s done. Then move to the next one on the list. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to the new list of six tasks for the following day. And repeat.

The A-B-C-D-E method: categorize your to do list by adding letters to the tasks.
A – very important task, there are negative consequences if you don’t do it.
B – important task, but not less important than A task, there might be some consequences if you don’t do it.
C – a task that is “nice to do” but not as important as A or B, there are no negative consequences. 

D – a task you should delegate

E – a task you should eliminate from your list if possible

Of course there will be more than one task in each category, so prioritize them as A1, A2, B1, B2 and so on. And always start from the A1 task.

The 80/20 Rule: the famous Pareto principle, that says: 20 percent of the things you do during your day will produce 80 percent of your results. So identify those tasks that are crucial for you and prioritize these since they will give you the biggest return. 

The Eisenhower Matrix: another old and famous method where you figure out which of your tasks are important or unimportant and urgent and not urgent. Important and urgent tasks are like fires that you have to put out. You have to deal with them first. But your focus should be on the important and not (yet) urgent tasks, so that the fires would not start at all.

Choose the method that is working for you. Test all of them if necessary or mix and combine them.

Habit ideas:

After I write down all the things I have to do tomorrow, I will categorize them with the A-B-C-D-E method

After I make a plan for the next week, I will consider which tasks are the “20% tasks”

After I have decided on the most important task for the next day, I will prepare my workplace so I can start with the task immediately without having any distractions

 

Break the tasks into smaller ones
This classical advice you have heard a lot, but it really helps. When your task at hand is too big, confusing and not clear enough, you are very eager to postpone taking action. 

To do this you can use subtasks. Make a list of all the tasks that you can manage to finish in one working session or at least in one day. 

If the project is too big and it is difficult to foresee all the assignments involved, you don’t have to figure out all the steps that are needed to do. It is enough if you have figured out only a few of the next tasks you have to do.

The most important are the first steps. Make sure they are easy and clear enough so that there will be no confusion or resistance starting the work.

If you like to figure out all the subtasks necessary to complete the project you can use some project management techniques for example PERT (Program evaluation and review technique) that was first developed by the US Navy.

Habit ideas:

After I receive a big task, I will figure out and write down the first steps I have to do

After I write a task into my to do list, I will make sure that it is small enough and if not, add the first step I will do

 

Peak times & slump times
Different people are productive during different times of the day. Some work better early in the morning, some instead at night. Some work best when they have just eaten, some when they are hungry. 

If you haven’t yet, figure out when you are the most productive (your peak time) and try to schedule the most important tasks for those time periods.

You can also figure out your slump times, which are the times of the day when you’re least productive. Leave these time periods for resting or for some easy and not so challenging tasks.

Habit ideas:

After I come back from lunch, I will start on some easy task

After I create my to do list, I will decide which tasks I will do in my peak time and which in my slump time

 

Pomodoro
I’m sure you have at least heard about the Pomodoro technique. It was developed by  Francesco Cirillo in the 80s and became very popular in the time-management field. 

It means you are setting a timer when you start working (originally for 25 minutes), when the timer goes off, you will have a 5-10 minutes break and then start again with the new working block. And then you repeat this as many times as you can or want.

For myself I have customized it a bit. My working time is 50 minutes and break time is 10 minutes. I felt that 25 minutes is too short, but 50 minutes is just right to get something done. A 10 minutes break is also fitting well and together it is one hour, so it’s good to keep track of your daily working hours.

But what is important about these working blocks – this should be a time when you are focussing totally on the task at hand. There should be no distractions, no other tasks, nothing that will disturb you. Only then will it have the best effect on your productivity.

So before starting, make sure you have removed all the distractions and hindering factors. Turn off your phone, tell others that you are not available for the next hour, close the door, put away all other things that are not necessary for the task at hand. Go to the toilet, fill up your coffee/tea/water cup and so on.

Make sure that the task is totally clear for you, you know exactly what you have to do. Make preparations, do some research, read something about it, set everything ready.

Use some Pomodoro app on the computer, so you don’t have to set an alarm on the phone. I’m using Focus To Do, but there are a lot of different ones available. Find the one that works for you the best.

When the timer goes off – really have a break! It’s important. Don’t continue working. Of course, finish the sentence you are writing or some other thing that is in the middle of doing, but don’t ignore the break. 

If you feel that you really really want to continue working and you are in the flow, then maybe you should make your working time longer. Test it. Maybe your ideal timeblock is 90 minutes, maybe even longer. 

But still, have breaks! They help you to be more productive in the long run. And during the break time really rest. Get away from the screens, don’t stay in the computer to read news, don’t take your phone to scroll social media. Rest your eyes. Look out of the window. Do some stretching. Go to the toilet. Fill up your water glass. Have a small walk. Take a healthy snack. Take care of yourself!

You don’t have to use this method all the time, it wouldn’t even be possible. But try to add at least one of these distraction free working blocks to your day. If possible add more. Test it, modify it, so it will work for you.

Use it only when you know that you will have an important task and you will have a distraction free period available. Don’t use it lightly, keep it as a secret weapon in your arsenal for the times that you really need to focus and find the strength to fight procrastinating.

When you start using it, but you don’t follow the rules, you get distracted, you do some other tasks and don’t take breaks, it will not work. But also don’t get discouraged when at first you are not managing to get it to work. You have to become aware about your distractions and other obstacles and then try to remove them for this time period.

Habit ideas:

After I start the Pomodoro timer, I will put on my headphones

After I hear the timer goes off, I will stand up and walk away from the desk

After I decide to start working, I will put a “Do not disturb” sign on the door/desk

 

Timeboxing
Timeboxing is a time management technique that helps you to take better control over your schedule. It guides you to organize your calendar, focus on important tasks and also set a limit to your working time not to spend too much time on the tasks.

Timeboxing simply means that you open your calendar and enter a block of time that you’ll spend on a certain task in the future. You will decide how much time you will spend on the task instead of working on it until it’s done.

Treat this block of time like an important meeting. Don’t reschedule it lightly, don’t take other commitments for this time, remove the distractions and focus on the work (you can use the pomodoro technique for the blocks).

This way you can more easily make yourself do the work. You know that this time is scheduled for this exact task and nothing else can be done then. Take it as seriously as a doctor appointment, you just have to do it then.

This also helps you to organize yourself better because you have a time limit to work on the task. It means that you can’t spend too much time over-doing it and you tame your inner perfectionist.

You can use timeboxing also for your personal time. Schedule your lunch time, your time for reading a book or working out. Schedule your weekly date with your spouse and time for spending with your children and family.

If you add these timeblocks into your calendar you avoid the situation when the work tasks are taking time from your resting and relaxing time. When you have time scheduled in the calendar for spending time with your loved ones, you just can’t take work assignments for this period and you will find other solutions.

Habit ideas:

After I decide to have a date with my spouse, I will book time for this in my calendar

After I finish writing my next week’s to-do list, I will “timebox” the tasks into my calendar

 

Gamification
We like to play games and often we find ourselves playing instead of working. Games are an easy and fun replacement activity instead of making an effort to finish a demanding task. 

Of course games are not bad, they can be used to relax and even train your brain, but not when you have to work. When you have the time for this and have scheduled a timeblock (with a time limit) for playing with your family or even alone it is totally fine.

But what if we could use the elements that make games so engaging and incorporate them into our working time to make this more fun and interesting?

Gamification is becoming more and more popular and is used in marketing, education, health and other non-game environments. How could we benefit from adding game design elements like points, badges, leaderboards, performance graphs, meaningful stories and avatars into our day?

There are a lot of possibilities and it comes down to your creativity and preferences. When you work in teams or with a lot of other people maybe you can create a daily, weekly or monthly challenge. You could create yourself avatars (maybe your alter ego), design a “quest” that can be a big project, give points for finishing tasks, and have leaderboards showing the progress.

It might not work for everyone so make sure that the whole team is supporting the idea and that the “game” will not take the focus from the work itself. You can use only one game design element and this could be enough.

If others are not interested in it or you work alone, then you can “play the game” alone as well. Create some rules and challenges for yourself that motivate you and make work more fun.

Habit ideas:

After I finish an assignment, I will give myself 10 points

After I start to work on a challenging task, I will imagine that I am my favorite superhero

 

Increase your energy levels
Your physical and mental state plays a big role in productivity and procrastination. When you are physically or mentally exhausted you are not able to resist the temptation to do something easy (or nothing at all) instead of the challenging task.

So make sure that you take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, drink water, take regular breaks, go outside, exercise, listen to music, meditate, drink some green tea and so on.

Incorporate some healthy and helpful activities into your routines. You can even use timeboxing to schedule a time for self-care

When you start working after a good night’s sleep, healthy breakfast and energizing exercises you are more likely to resist the temptations and focus on what’s important.

Habit ideas:

After I brush my teeth in the morning, I will drink a glass of water

After I finish working, I will put on my exercise clothes

After I finish lunch, I will take a short walk

 

Improve your work environment
Everything that we see, hear, smell, taste and touch can trigger us to do something. Environment has a big influence on you, so make sure that it is helpful, not hindering.

Remove the distractions. If there is something you see that takes your attention away from the task, put it away. Keep in sight only the things necessary to work on your task. It means also removing everything irrelevant in the computer. 

Keep your working place clean from anything that can be a distraction. Make sure that you are comfortable while working. Do you have a good chair and desk or do you sprawl on the couch? Is there enough light? Is the screen at a good height? Is your workplace and equipment ergonomic and doesn’t tire you?

You can add something that motivates you on your desk or on the wall where you see it. It can be something that reminds you why your job is important, why you are pursuing this goal or when the deadline will arrive. Maybe it is a photo of your family, an inspirational quote, timeline of the project or a vision board.

Habit ideas:

After I finish working, I will put everything in its place.

After I feel the urge to procrastinate, I will look at the photo of my family

After I finish working, I will set my standing desk back to up position

 

Eliminate distractions & plan ahead for future interruptions
It’s very easy for us to get distracted and getting back to work is very difficult. It takes a lot of time to get back the focus and concentrate again. According to a University of California Irvine study, “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”

The more distractions you have the less productive you are. Interruptions waste a lot of your time and make you procrastinate on what is important.

So what is usually distracting you? Phone calls? Emails? Social media? Colleagues? Friends? Family? Your own thoughts? Noise? Smell? Something that you see or feel? Fear? Observe your working day and notice the distractions. You can even write them down.

When you have figured out the distractions, brainstorm for ways to remove them. What are the prompts that make you do something else? Sounds from your phone? Put it on silent mode and away from sight. Notifications on your computer? Turn them off. Some other tabs or windows that get your attention? Use a different account for working. Feeling of thirst, hunger, boredom? Have a glass of water on the desk, eat a snack during the break.

When you know what kind of distractions usually appear during your workday, you can plan ahead to avoid them. Use implementation intentions. It means that you decide ahead of time how to behave when a distraction emerges. If this happens, I will do this. This way you don’t have to think about what to do, you already know and don’t have to waste brain power.

Implementation intention ideas:

If someone comes to ask a question during my 50 minutes timeblock, I will tell them to come again in X minutes.

If I catch myself scrolling social media during working time, I will close it immediately

If my colleagues start to talk too loudly, I will put on my noise cancelling headphones

 

Start with tiny steps
A lot of people have trouble starting. Once they get moving it gets easier and they don’t mind doing even the difficult things. How about you? Is it easy to get started or do you tend to wait until the last moment when the time pressure becomes intolerable?

There can be a lot of things to make starting easier, depending on the situation, the task and yourself. You can commit to only doing the first step. Don’t overwhelm yourself with the whole big task. Figure out what is the first step you have to take and then tell yourself that you will do only this. It might happen that when you already start you will continue to take the next steps as well (if you know what they are). It might also happen that you don’t want to do more, it’s still okay, because you already did at least something. 

You can also use time limits. Make a deal with yourself that you will work on the task only for 5 or 10 minutes. Sometimes this is all you need to figure out some solution or to get over the first obstacle and after this working on the task gets easier. And even when you finish after only 10 minutes, it’s still okay, you did something. And you can start later again with 5, 10 or this time maybe even 15 minutes. Whatever helps you to get started is good. It’s better than nothing.

Habit ideas:

After I feel the urge to procrastinate, I will set a timer for 10 minutes and start working

After I find myself postponing a task, I will agree with myself to only do one small thing

After I receive an important task, I will immediately do the first tiny step

 

Conclusion
These are only some of the many strategies out there, but they are enough to get you started. You don’t need to know everything and postpone taking action before you have read about every anti-procrastination approach. Start with these 10 and put the ones that connect with your situation into action. 

In our Be a Bit Better newsletter we are focusing the whole month on the topic of procrastination. We are sharing our experience and more practical tips and tricks to become a bit better.

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