Procrastination. How to overcome the urge to leave things for later?

Procrastination is a habit of putting things off. Let’s not kid ourselves, we all do this. Such habit can become a quite big obstacle to our productivity and effectiveness in both professional and private life.

I will show you a few effective ways to get rid of it and begin doing effectively the tasks that are most important.

Procrastination can often cause unnecessary stress. Do you remember the time management Eisenhower Decision Matrix I wrote about in my article on time management? The important assignments, which completion we put off, soon become urgent. Urgent meaning that they must be accomplished as soon as possible because the deadline is close. Constant postponement leads to a situation when practically all your tasks are not done until “the last minute”. And every task carried out under the pressure of time is a source of stress. Should you get down to these tasks earlier, you would certainly follow through with them far more effectively as the high level of stress and haste would be avoided.

What happens very often is that when we postpone something, later there is no time for it anymore. And suddenly it turns out that we have to give up on this. And it's not just about things like projects at work, writing assignments or studying. Procrastination is a major obstacle also in our private life. If you keep taking a rain check on meeting with someone who is important to you, you may find that later they won’t have time for you, because they go away somewhere or have a busy week.

This way you can miss on a lot of opportunities in your professional and personal life. Delaying things until the very last minute is a source of stress, haste and fatigue. So how to get rid of the habit of procrastination and start doing things right away, without leaving them for later? I used to procrastinate things, too, but have found some good ways to solve this problem, which are:

  1. Set about the most important tasks first thing in the morning every day. The most important tasks are also usually the hardest ones and take up a lot of time to complete. That’s why we hardly ever feel like doing them right away. However, getting down to them at the very beginning is the best way to get them done quickly. On numerous occasions, I have been catching myself putting aside the most important stuff and dealing with small, more enjoyable tasks first.

After some time, it turned out that, sure, I did great at these little things but there was no time left for what’s most important. Such approach was pointless as it always left the most essential stuff undone. By starting with the tasks of high priority, you can make sure that they are done. If you don’t manage to get around the less important things, that’s not the end of the world - after all, these things are of less priority to you. By the way, have you heard a story about a professor, who filled a pitcher with stones? If not, you can read about it here.

  1. Write down your tasks on a sheet of paper. Making to-do lists is the first and foremost step in getting the scheduled things done. If you’ve got them planned only in your head, it's very easy to say "I'll do it later". But then we forget about it in a heartbeat and it usually comes back to us when it’s already too late. When you write down your tasks, it is much more difficult for you to reschedule them for later. And even if we do - out of habit - postpone something, the list will remind us about it definitely sooner. If you want to know how to make your to-do lists more effective, check out here.
  2. Break down your tasks into little parts. Think what steps you need to take to complete the whole task and focus on making the first step. We find big projects too overwhelming for us, that’s why we procrastinate on them. We feel that this task is so complex that we are not ready to do it yet. When you break it down into small steps, you won’t be thinking about procrastinating any more. It is much easier to set about an easy part of a big task than to try to embrace the whole of it at once. This is a very simple mind trick, which easily eliminates the impression that the challenge we are facing is enormous and difficult.

If, let’s say, you’ve got to write an article, first step will be to focus on finding a topic it will cover. Next, come up with a title and create the outline for the article. Then, get down to writing the first chapter. And so on. As you can see, each of these steps seems very easy and you can go straight to it without any problems. An attempt to complete the whole task called "write an article" at once would certainly make you want to procrastinate.

  1. Drop into the habit of "I’ll do it NOW". Make a conscious decision to get rid of the tendency to procrastinate and replace it with a new one, which will allow you to get down to everything straight away. Every time you face a task to accomplish, tell yourself "I will not leave it for later, I will do it NOW". You will see that when you are aware of postponing, it will be much easier for you to things done without any delay.

Always try to show a sincere intention to develop a new habit of doing things right away. After some time of conscious effort, the habit of procrastination will disappear. 

  1. Stop being a perfectionist. Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Why is that? When you want everything to be done perfectly, you will always be waiting for a perfect time to do this when you have the right mood and the right amount of energy. If you want to have all your resources at their full capacity at once and want to do the job perfectly, you can keep waiting and putting the task off forever! As a result, paradoxically, something that was supposed to be done perfectly hasn’t been done at all.

The belief that something needs to be done perfectly is a direct path to stress and procrastination. For some time, I have been planning to write an article about something and wanted it to be absolutely top-notch. But at the same time I’ve kept having this feeling that I'm not going to write it as well as I would want to. As a result, the article is still not there. Cut yourself a little slack and let yourself be human. Even if you don’t do the job perfectly, so what? The important thing is the fact that the task will be actually done. And if you still want to get it done better, you can always correct or improve your work later. Remember that imperfect result of your work is always better than no work done at all.

  1. The 30-10 method. It’s a very cool method described by Leo Babauta on his blog It’s all about determining first what your reward will be. Let it be something without which you cannot imagine a single day, like checking the news on some website, reading your favorite book, surfing the internet, talking on the phone. Now, set your alarm clock for 30 minutes and start doing the task you originally wanted to leave for later. Promise yourself that you will be doing only this work for the next 30 minutes, after which you will let yourself enjoy one of the pleasures you chose beforehand.

When the alarm rings, give yourself the promised reward and set the alarm for 10 minutes. Enjoy doing only this for the given time, then get back to the task and set the alarm again for 30 minutes. So, 30 minutes for work  - 10 minutes for pleasure - 30 minutes for work - 10 minutes for pleasure - ... Repeat this until you finish what you were to do. The key here is to resist the urge to do anything else than your task within the next 30 minutes. This is a very simple but extremely effective technique.

You can start by choosing one of these six ways and applying it in your life. Why not try out each one independently and see which works best for you? Once you know which ways give you the best results, introduce others and use several at the same time. Once and for all say goodbye to the unwanted habit of leaving things for later.

Let us know in the comments, which way works best for you! Or maybe you have some ideas of your own?

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  • Very well presented. Every quote was awesome and thanks for sharing the content. Keep sharing and keep motivating others.