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Guide to Overcoming Procrastination: 16 Actionable Tips You Can Use Now

March 24, 2021    •   minute read

This guide to contains 16 actionable tips to hlep you overcome procrastination now.

I struggled with procrastination for over 10 years. Until one day, I told myself, enough is enough, and started searching for ways to deal with it.

So, if you want to:

Understand why you procrastinate and

Ways to overcome it

Then, you’ll love the actionable techniques in this guide.

Here’s what you will learn.

You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what it is.

So, What Is Procrastination?

What is procrastination?

It is the act of postponing something you say you will do.

According to Wikipedia, the word procrastination has “its origin from the Latin procrastinatus, which itself evolved from the prefix pro-, meaning ‘forward,’ and crastinus, meaning ‘of tomorrow.’”

For example, you have an important report due next week and you know that you should start working it today. But instead of doing it, you get sucked into your Facebook feeds and Telegram chat messages until your colleague comes over to ask you to review a presentation that she will give at a meeting the next day.

Another example is when you keep checking your emails instead of getting engaged in that difficult piece that is due in a few days for your client.

Procrastination Is Not All Bad

The good side of procrastination

When you become exhausted, procrastination then is a way your body tells you to take a rest and recharge.

Similarly, procrastination is not bad when you solve a Rubik’s cube after having researched and stared at your screen, not knowing what to write for your piece for 25 minutes already. Your brain might need some time to process all the information.  

Psychologists call it “active procrastination.” It is “a choice to delay important task in favor of other important work that adds to the overall well-being of a project.”

So, go ahead and give yourself permission for active procrastination. That’s how you can become creative.[1]

But remember this:

Don’t procrastinate only because you don’t want to do your work. Do it only when you need to rest and recharge and let your brain’s default network do the job.

Differences between Laziness and Procrastination

Differences between procrastination and laziness

You are lazy when you either do nothing at all or just do it without trying to be productive at it.

You may be writing your report out of laziness if don’t care about the quality. Procrastination, on the other hand, is the act of putting off what you can do today until the last minute.

Instead of writing your report, you keep scrolling your Facebook newsfeed. Instead of completing a large project with a tight deadline, you get distracted by your routine tasks.

Laziness is the opposite of productivity. Procrastination is not. You could be procrastinating on important tasks but could be productive on easy ones.

Why Do You Procrastinate and What Can You Do?

Why do you procrastinate

Understanding what makes you procrastinate could help you overcome the problem more easily.

So, this section contains nine reasons for procrastination. Each comes with actionable advice for dealing with it.

Check them out.

1. Procrastination is a learned behavior.

Learned behavior

We learn to procrastinate by how we learn negative attitudes towards work as children.

If you tell yourself that you can perform better under pressure, that is also a sign that you’ve learned to procrastinate. “It’s ok to wait” is just another lesson.

Actionable advice:

Replace it.

If procrastination is a habit, you should replace it with a better one.

Here’s how: Identify the triggers that cause you to procrastinate. Then, replace it with a new behavior.

For example, if you find yourself habitually procrastinating on difficult tasks (the cue) and scrolling your Facebook feeds (the behavior), a better behavior could be writing down all the benefits of completing the task. Then, make the task small and more actionable.

2. Fear is another reason.

Fear causes procrastination

You tend procrastinate when you do a task you’ve never done before. Comparison can also cause fear.

For example, your colleague did an outstanding job last week, presenting her work to your company’s executive team, and you’re not confident that you will do as well.

Fear of failure is common too. Avoiding fear is normal (or even biological), and procrastination is a strategy we use to avoid fear of evaluation and negative feedback.

Actionable advice:

Learn to embrace fear.

Meditation is probably a great way to increase self-awareness, accept fear and take actions. Mindfulness practices like mindful walk and yoga could also be useful.

You may also try physical activities such as rock climbing and skydiving if you’re up for those sorts of games.

3. The expected outcome is unclear.

Unclear outcome causes procrastination

You know this:

You tend to procrastinate when you don’t know what to deliver.

That feeling of where to begin sounds scary. Even for a pro, that extra step to identify clearer outcomes could be a great excuse to procrastinate and do something else.

Actionable advice:

Make the outcome clear.

If the task was assigned to you, you should clarify the deliverables that make sense to you.

A broad goal is ok as long as there are clear indicators to measure your performance.

4. There’s no deadline or it is too far into the future.

Unclear deadline procrastination

Turns out:

Those are usually your own tasks or projects that are important for you. No one wants to impose deadlines on themselves.

The reward of completing a small task now feels much better than the one that takes three years to complete. Worse, you don’t know if you be successful or not. Psychologists call this the present bias.

Actionable advice:

Make a plan with a reasonable deadline and actions.

You should do the same for tasks or projects that others assign to you with a deadline far into the future. Think of the extra time as a bonus. Things that get scheduled get done.

5. The task is unpleasant or boring.

Boring tasks procrastination

For example, I tend to procrastinate on making sales calls or doing anything else that requires commuting.

Actionable advice:

Here are four ways to stop procrastinating on boring or unpleasant tasks.

Use visual cues.

James Clear introduces this technique.

They can help motivate you to perform a habit with more consistency.

Gamify it.

Procrastinating on doing exercise? You could create a challenge and invite your friends to join in.

Check out Habitica, a good app that helps you gamify your life.

Use the Pomodoro Technique.

The technique suggests you work in 30-minute intervals: 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes break. Then, you take a long break after four intervals. It could last for 15-60 minutes.

What you need to apply this technique are pen and paper and a timer.

6. Perfectionism causes you to procrastinate.

Perfectionism procrastination

As Brené Brown put it:

"Perfectionism is like a 20 ton shield we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight."

I hope I’m not alone here. Because of my perfectionist thinking and fear of criticism, I put off writing for years.

Actionable advice:

Adopt the “Just start” mentality.

If you don’t, you miss 100% of the chance. Simple as that… but not so easy to implement.

There are a few important steps involved: catching yourself falling for perfectionist thinking, list down the consequences of putting off the task, and making a plan of actions that work.

Do your best but most importantly, start.

7. You procrastinate to hide your incapability.

Incapability procrastination

Simply put, it’s because you don’t know how to perform the task. Or you think you can’t do it.

Psychologists call this the lack of self-efficacy.

Different people are efficient and inefficient in different areas. For example, introverts might find it difficult to express themselves with conviction. Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to dread tasks that requires long, focused concentration such as writing.

But here’s the truth:

No one knows everything.

Actionable advice:

Discuss the assignment.

If it does not align with your values or goals, it may be best to not do it at all.

If it is within the scope of your work, you might want to discuss a reasonable deadline and training for you to get started on the task.

Again, no one is good at everything and it is better to be true to what you can offer (and learn) than to experience a burnout.

8. Difficult tasks cause procrastination.

Difficult tasks procrastination

This is a bit different from the reason above.

Sometimes, you know you can handle it, but the task requires a lot of efforts. This could also cause you to procrastinate.

Worse if you already have a lot of work to handle every day.

As a result, you could be distracted by routine tasks and put off projects that could have a big impact on your career.

Immediate pleasure is often more rewarding than long-term enjoyment.

Actionable advice:

Make tasks easier.

A common way to do it is by chunking it into small subtasks.

Take report writing that takes 30 days to complete. Subtasks might include researching, outlining, drafting main ideas for each section, etc. You might also want to allocate 30 minutes per session to your subtasks.

9. Or you are just too distracted.

Don't get distracted

Connecting with others is so easy in todays’ age of digital transformation.

Information is easily accessible these days. Worse, game and social media platforms know exactly how to influence our behaviors like never before.

You live in the most distracted era in human history. Your favorite distractions give you immediate pleasures, and as you want more of them, you might end up procrastinating and hurting your career.

Actionable advice:

Configure your phone and devices for optimal productivity.

My number one recommendation is this:

Turn off notifications from email and social media apps.

You should also enable “Do Not Disturb” on your phone when you need to do important tasks.

Check out my article iPhone Configurations and Apps for Fearless Productivity

for actionable tips on.

These are just a few main reasons to guide you when procrastination creeps in. Your job is to identify your own reasons each time you start procrastinating.

Six-Step Strategy for Overcoming Procrastination

Six step strategy to overcome procrastination

I covered the reasons why we procrastinate and suggested actionable advice to deal with each of them.

And now, it’s time for a simple six-step strategy for overcoming procrastination.

P.S. Do read the details for the why and how of each of the step.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Bring self-awareness to the issue.

meditate

You can do this by observing what thought and body reactions you’re having when you’re procrastinating.

Your heart could be beating faster than normal. Are you fidgeting uncontrollably? What are you thinking about as you have caught yourself procrastinating like this?

Meditation and other mindfulness practices also come in handy.

Self-awareness is an important tool for self-control,[2] which helps you overcome procrastination.

Step 2: Write down the consequences of not completing the task.

Write down consequences to beat procrastination

Now that you’ve achieved a clear state of mind, it’s time to do some objective thinking.

Writing down the consequences can prevent you from succumbing to the temporal discontinuity[3], a psychological phenomenon where people prioritize short-term pleasures and fail to consider their future well-beings.

You should think of the benefits for both for yourself and others.

For example, as a real estate agent, when you make calls and keep in close contact with your prospects, they will buy from you when they need a property. You can also understand their needs better. You might also get to know them personally.

For them, one of the benefits could that they know who to talk to about their real estate investment.

Step 3: Identify the root cause.

Root cause ayalysis procrastination

It could be one of the main reasons in the previous section of this guide to overcoming procrastination. Or there may be other reasons.

A simple tool to find the root cause of a problem is asking “What” questions instead of “Why”. For example, instead of asking, “why am I procrastinating?”, ask “what causes me to procrastinate?”

Alternatively, you can use a root cause analysis tool if it helps.

Understanding the root cause makes problem solving easier and more effective. In other words, you want to cure the conditions and not just the symptoms.

Step 4: Clear distractions.

good work habit be organized

The first place to start is your phone configuration and setup. Your computer is another.

You should also complete other routine tasks you need to complete if they take less than 2 minutes to complete. (More on the 2-minute rule later.)

Step 5: Act small.

Act small to beat procrastination

One of the main reasons why we procrastinate is that the task seems too difficult.

Small tasks are more manageable and better pleasure to work on. A 30-page report consists of several small actions such as data analysis, concluding findings, developing the outline and conclusion, and actually drafting the content.

A technique to make tasks less intimidating is the Pomodoro Technique that I covered in the previous section and also my guide for better time management. The 5-minute break between the 30-minute work intervals could make a great reward to keep you at the task.

Two Bonus Tips to Overcome Procrastination

bonus tips

Still looking for more tips?

It’s time for my two bonus tips that you can add to your toolbox.

Without further ado, check them out:

Two minute rule

David Allen, the author of the bestselling book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, advises that you do it immediately if a task takes less than two minutes.

James Clear, the New York Time bestselling author of Atomic Habits, states that, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”

My tip:

Use the Two-Minute Rule as your ritual at the beginning of the task you procrastinate on.

Bonus Tip Number Two: Get an accountability partner.

Get help

Research shows that having a specific accountability partner can increase your chance of succeeding in your goal by 95%.[4]

Your accountability partners could be your boss or colleagues. It can be your family members and friends too. And if you can afford it, hiring a coach is another good option.

Conclusion

This guide to overcoming procrastination suggests that beating procrastination requires three things: 1) self-control, 2) understanding of its cause and 3) just showing up. You can use the two-minute rule as a ritual to begin a task and optimize performance. If you find it hard to stop procrastinating after applying the tips, consider getting an accountability partner.

That’s it.

Over to You

Over to you

I hope you gets lots of value from this guide to overcoming procrastination and will put the tips to use to perform at your best both at work and in life.

Now I’d like to turn it over to you:

What do you find most helpful? How will you apply it?

Or maybe you have other excellent tips or techniques to share that I think I should add.

Leave a comment below.


Footnotes:

[1] Wenling Liu, Yangu Pan, Xiaoman Luo, Lixia Wang, Weiguo Pang. Active procrastination and creative ideation: The mediating role of creative self-efficacy, Personality and Individual Differences. Volume 119. 2017. Pages 227-229. ISSN 0191-8869. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2017.07.033.

[2] O’Donoghue, T., & Rabin, M. (2001, December 30). Self Awareness and Self Control. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/rabin/files/self.pdf

[3] E.M.C. (Eve-Marie C.) Blouin-Hudon, F.M. (Fuschia M.) Sirois and T.A. (Timothy A) Pychyl. (2016). Temporal Views of Procrastination, Health, and Well-Being. Retrieved March 23, 2021 from https://core.ac.uk/display/217620177

[4] The Power of Accountability. (2018, November 27). AFCPE. https://www.afcpe.org/news-and-publications/the-standard/2018-3/the-power-of-accountability/

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