You want to stop procrastinating. In fact, you’ve been meaning to come up with a plan on how to do it, but wouldn’t you know it—you just keep putting it off. Well, we’re here to make it easy for you. No excuses. Below you’ll find the tips and tricks you need to build your personal anti-procrastination plan, so you can stop procrastinating. Permanently.
Your Personal Plan to Stop Procrastinating. For Good.
How do you break the habit of procrastination? You make a plan. How do you build that plan? You’re about to find out.
How to build your personal plan
We all procrastinate. Unless you’re superhuman, you do it too. Because apparently, it’s just human nature to convince ourselves that we urgently need to check our newsfeed instead of replying to our boss’s emails.
But while procrastination is arguably universal in its existence, the reasons we do it are somewhat unique. That’s why it’s important to use the below steps to single out why you put off doing particular tasks and to find the most suitable strategies for you to beat your personal procrastination demons.
Before we get started, it’s important to note: We’re not saying you’re going to become completely immune to procrastination. We are saying that you can stop procrastinating as much as you do now, and these strategies can help you get there. But it does take some practice, and that’s okay. In time, it gets easier.
Here are four steps to stop procrastinating and get things done, backed by science.
Step 1: Acknowledge that you’re procrastinating
Like any good problem, procrastination needs to be acknowledged in order to be solved. Step one is simply to be honest with yourself and acknowledge when you’re procrastinating. Like, do you really need to get another snack before you start drafting that project plan? Is tidying up your desk really more urgent than making that phone call?
If the answer is no, you’re facing procrastination, even if it’s sneaky. Acknowledge and accept it. Make a note of all the tasks that you’re prone to putting off. And then you’re ready for step two.
Step 2: Work out your procrastination causes and triggers
In his 2007 study on procrastination, researcher Piers Steel singled out the main drivers of procrastination. It basically comes down to two elements: the task itself and your personality.
Why some tasks make us procrastinate more
Psychological researchers call it task aversiveness, but another way to put it would be stuff you don’t like doing. Pretty obvious, right? The more unpleasant a task is, the more likely you are to avoid it. Hence all those inventive excuses you make about why you didn’t do the dishes yesterday.
The other task-related factor is the timing of rewards and punishments i.e., how far into the future the consequences of doing (or not doing) something will manifest.
Imagine, say, that you could do a workout today and wake up with abs tomorrow. You’d be all over that gym like syrup on a sundae. Knowing that the results will take months to show up, however…hello procrastination. Same goes for negative consequences.
Personality types that are more likely to procrastinate
What if it’s not the task that’s the problem, it’s you? Well according to Steel’s research, personality does play a role.
Time for a bit of self-analysis. Are you easily distracted? People who are naturally impulsive are more likely to procrastinate because they’re at the mercy of their whims and fleeting desires.
If you have low self-esteem and believe you’re destined to fail, that fear of failure can also lead to procrastination. On the other hand, people who are naturally organized or conscientious are less likely to put off tasks.
So what’s stopping you?
These task characteristics and personality traits don’t work in isolation. When you examine your own procrastination habits, you’ll probably find that there’s a combination of factors at play. For example, if you’re facing a boring task and you’re naturally impulsive or unmotivated, you’re like a sitting duck for procrastination.
Feeling stressed that your personality makes you procrastination-prone? Don’t be. For now, just think about what your main triggers are. Then, it’s time to nail down the right strategies that can tame them.
Step 3: Adopt the right tools and strategies
From unpleasant tasks to your natural-born tendency to be easily distracted or disorganized, you hopefully now have a bit of a handle on what your specific procrastination triggers are. Keeping those in mind, let’s look at a variety of different strategies to stop procrastinating permanently. Remember that you’ll need to adopt the ones that are the best suited to you.
1. Change the nature of tasks
As we explored above, research shows that task characteristics are a big predictor of procrastination. So if you’re facing a task that’s unappealing, why not try and change it? Here are a few ways to try it.
- Up the challenge: If you find a task boring, for example, make it more difficult. Sound contradictory? Put it this way, a challenging task is more likely to keep you engaged than a dull, easy one.
- Think gamification: Try setting yourself a time limit so you have to beat the clock. Or challenge yourself to do a better job on a task than last time. Gamifying a task not only makes it more fun, it can also lead to greater self-satisfaction when you complete it.
- Tie a positive to a negative: In his research, Steel gives the example of a study group. You might find studying alone to be a low-value task. But if you’re a person who enjoys socializing, studying with a group of friends introduces a positive element. Just be careful not to take the socializing too far into distraction territory.
To stop procrastinating for good, consider the types of tasks you put off and try changing their characteristics in a way that appeals to your personality.
2. Just get started
Rather than thinking about completing a task, turn your focus to just getting started any way you can. As researcher Timothy Pychyl explains in his book Solving The Procrastination Puzzle:
Once we start a task, it is rarely as bad as we think. […] We perceive the task as much less aversive than we do when we are avoiding it. Second, even if we do not finish the task, we have done something, and the next day our attributions about ourselves are not nearly as negative. We feel more in control and more optimistic. You might even say we have a little momentum.”
The trick to this is to start simple. If you have a paper to write, says Pychyl, start by opening up a document and typing out a title. Or jot down some rough ideas. These kinds of activities are enough to get you started.
It will always come down to that movement from not doing to doing. For tasks that we would rather avoid, this is a difficult but wonderful moment.”
This strategy is great for all types of procrastination, whether related to the task or your personality.
3. Try the two-minute rule
We have author David Allen to thank for this strategy. In his bestselling book Getting Things Done, Allen lays out a straightforward rule to stop procrastinating by making it so easy to get something done that you really can’t say no.
The two-minute rule goes like this: If something can be done in under two minutes, do it now.
Reply to that email. Make that phone call. Wash that dirty coffee cup. Committing to the two-minute rule not only means you’ll smash out those little tasks before they can become a problem, you’ll also feel more productive and accomplished. And those feelings will positively reinforce your efforts to keep overcoming procrastination.
4. Think in smaller units of time
Remember what we said about the timing of rewards and punishments of tasks? The more distant the consequences, the more likely we are to put off a task.
If you’ve singled that out as one of your personal triggers, here’s one strategy to try: Think in smaller units of time.
One 2015 study manipulated units of time in order to make the future seem more imminent. The researchers found that smaller time metrics made participants feel more connected to their future selves, and thus made better decisions in the present.
How to do it? Think in months instead of years, days instead of weeks, hours instead of days, and so on. That project you’re putting off? It’s not due in three days, but in 72 hours. And behold: Doesn’t it seem like the deadline just inched a little bit closer?
5. Make (and enforce) deadlines
Speaking of deadlines: Research shows that self-imposed deadlines can be effective in improving task performance—but that externally-imposed deadlines are even better.
Not only do deadlines set by someone else (your advisor, your personal trainer, your boss) come with more authority, they also give you someone to be accountable to.
So if you find that you’re unmotivated to do a task, try enlisting the aid of an accomplice to hold you accountable. Failing that, self-imposed deadlines are better than none: Just be wary that you’ll need to hold yourself accountable in order to stick to them.
6. Manage energy rather than time
All the time in the world won’t help you accomplish your tasks if you don’t have the energy to work on them. Luckily personal energy, unlike time, is renewable.
In a 2007 report in Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy describe what happened when bank employees partook in an energy renewal program. Compared to a control group, the participants produced significantly higher revenue results. In other words, they learned to manage their energy in order to get more done.
Schwartz and McCarthy define four types of personal energy (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) and recommend renewing all of them for maximum results.
- Manage your physical energy by getting better sleep, exercising, and taking regular breaks.
- For mental energy, get rid of distractions and respond to messages and emails at designated times of the day.
- Renew your spiritual energy by allocating time and energy to what’s important to you and living out your core values
- Amp up your emotional energy by practicing gratitude.
By focusing on energy as a resource, you can set yourself up to be more organized, more confident in your own abilities, and more equipped to tackle those undesirable tasks.
Step 4: Forgive yourself when you mess up
We’ll say it one more time: You’re human, not a robot. There are times when you’ll probably stall on a dreaded task or at very least feel tempted to do so. So for those moments, here’s a final step to include in your procrastination plan.
We’re not just saying this because we believe in kindness (though we do), we have research to back it up. If you forgive yourself for procrastinating, you’ll be less likely to procrastinate in the future.
This is because we naturally want to avoid things that make us feel bad. So if we attach feelings of guilt and shame to a particular task, we’ll only want to avoid it more next time. With self-forgiveness, we can let go of those negative associations.
So don’t stress if you slip up. Cut yourself some slack, and know that you have a plan in place to help you stop procrastinating the next time around.
Your turn: What strategies have you tried to stop procrastinating? Give us your best anti-procrastination tips in the comments below.
Want more ways to stop procrastinating and start getting stuff done? These 72 tools are a good place to start.
Author: Tania Braukamper
Tania Braukamper is an Australian-born writer and photographer. She believes in curiosity, kindness, and adventure as a state of mind.