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11 proven tips to stop procrastinating once and for all

How to stop procrastinating
Blaz Kos
Author
Date
24/03/2021

We all have to deal with procrastination at some point in life. 

You are probably familiar with the feeling of knowing you should get some work done but somehow not being able to, and so you fool around all the way up to the last minute, when stress and pressure force you to finish the job done; or, in an even worse case scenario, the job never gets done at all.

If we aren’t "smarter" than procrastination, it’s a complete lose-lose situation. The job doesn’t get finished or is performed poorly. 

While you procrastinate, you always have a reminder that you should be working somewhere in the back of your mind, and so you can’t be fully relaxed.

Not to mention that procrastination can make you feel like a loser and slowly turns your self-image into that of someone who just can’t get work done. Consequently, your productivity suffers a lot, and with it your earning and creative potential.

There are many tricks and tactics to help you stop procrastinating, and in this article, we will cover some proven suggestions on how to stop procrastinating once and for all.

Two different types of procrastination

There are two types of procrastination, chronic and acute. Chronic procrastination has a deep, strong, and permanent psychological cause that may not be so easily eliminated. It can be done, but it takes patience and hard work.

On the other hand, acute procrastination can be caused even by small mood or energy swings throughout the day, or other small psychological triggers which aren’t a steady natural part of your psyche (like having a bad day, for example).

Thus, chronic and acute procrastination have to be dealt with in different ways. Let’s start with acute procrastination, since it’s the easier one to sort out.

Acute procrastination – you procrastinate from time to time, which is normal

Acute procrastination happens as an out-of-the-ordinary behavioral pattern. 

It’s actually quite easy to recognize acute procrastination and distinguish it from the chronic version. When acute procrastination attacks you, you behave differently. 

You may even ask yourself something like “Why am I acting so stupid?”. In a normal state, you’d just get the job done, but this time something is holding you back.

Even if you’re a super productive person, acute procrastination will strike you from time to time. There can be many reasons for this:

  • Low levels of energy
  • Being in an irritated emotional state
  • Not taking a break after completing a long, demanding task
  • You think someone else should do the task (if it was delegated to you)
  • People you don’t like are involved in your work
  • It’s a type of task you don’t like (boring, in other words)
  • Other similar reasons

The first thing you have to do is to identify why you’re procrastinating. Just ask yourself the question and observe your inner dialogue. 

This is an important step, because you can’t tackle all the reasons for acute procrastination in the same way. First you need to make the right diagnosis.

If you want to stop procrastinating when acute procrastination hits you, there are several things you can do:

Proven tips to overcome acute procrastination

1. Just start working

One thing you may do is to just force yourself to start and to make the first step. 

The first step is always the hardest. If you ever had to push your broken-down car, you know how it is. Once you get the car moving, it gets much easier.

So, what you can try is to mobilize every single unit of discipline you possess and push yourself hard into making the first step. Sometimes it works surprisingly well. 

After the first step, you just forget about the procrastination and get the job done. The timeboxing technique can definitely help you with that.

2. Manage your energy, not your time

An important concept in time management is that you don’t manage only your time, but also consider your energy levels. 

No matter how disciplined you are, you’ll have super productive days and not so productive ones. In the same way, you have your peak productive hours and less productive hours in the day.

Here are a few things you should consider in this context:

  • Push yourself when you have your daily peak productive hours, not when your energy levels are low
  • Take a nap or a walk and start working right afterwards if you feel tired
  • After a period of hard work, take a break and recharge your batteries
  • If you’re emotionally irritated, talk to other people and calm yourself down first

Accept that sometimes you’re simply not in the state to be productive and that’s okay. We are all only human. 

Resolve your energy issues first, and then when things calm down go after the task you procrastinated on.

You also need to be smart about hard work. You can’t just work hard constantly. Sooner or later, burnout happens. 

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. So, take regular breaks throughout the day (walk, stretch, hug people etc.) and a long break at the end of the week. You will be much more productive on other days.

3. Do other, easier tasks until your energy levels recover

What usually happens when you procrastinate with a task? Remember back in school when you had to study for example, how did you procrastinate? 

You probably went from your room to the kitchen to check if all the food was still in the fridge and took a bite or two. You all of a sudden needed to go to the toilet. You browsed a website or two to relax, counted the number of windows in the building next to yours, and so on.

But there is another thing that you probably did: you tidied up your room and your desk, arranged all the notes, stretched a little bit, talked with your classmates about what could be in the test, and other semi-productive tasks. You see where this is going?

If nothing else works, you can use procrastination as a source of motivation to do other important tasks. 

The only key is that you don’t waste time on stupid things, but instead tick off other work that is currently marked as important on your to-do list. 

When the deadline for the procrastinated task approaches and puts more pressure on you, you’ll just get it done. Don’t fight procrastination, do other important things instead.

Chronic procrastination – a tougher nut to crack (but it can be done)

Acute procrastination is very different from the chronic version as  there is often a deep and a complex psychological issue behind it

You’re in a state of chronic procrastination when you constantly procrastinate with certain types of tasks or, even worse, with all of them.

Here are the most frequent reasons for chronic procrastination:

  1. Lack of assertiveness, fear and self-sabotage
  2. Unreasonably high goals and expectations ( which you know deep down that you can’t meet)
  3. Laziness
  4. Unhealthy lifestyle
  5. A lack of skills or fake passion
  6. Perfectionism and other cognitive distortions

Proven tips to overcome chronic procrastination

1. Engage in assertiveness training

A lack of assertiveness is the number one reason people usually procrastinate. The source of a lack of assertiveness usually lies in upbringing. 

To simplify, instead of trust, autonomy, initiative and competence, unassertive people develop mistrust, shame, guilt, doubt or inferiority.

Luckily, a lack of assertiveness usually happens only in a specific context. For example, someone who is very assertive and competent on a soccer field may not be in intellectual matters. A successful professor may not be as skillful when it comes to money management.

Similarly, there are usually areas of life where you know how to assert yourself and others where you don’t. When it comes to the former, you procrastinate. 

The only way to fix this is to learn how to assert yourself in a healthy way in that area of life.

There are several things you can do:

  • Mimic your assertive behaviour in fields where you feel less assertive
  • Join an assertiveness training course
  • Go to individual or group therapy to explore the underlying reasons for procrastination
  • Get a coach or a mentor to help you become more assertive

2. Overcome the fear of failure or fear of success

Procrastination can also happen because of fear.  The two most common fears connected with procrastination that are potentially holding you back are the fear of failure and the fear of success

There is a big difference between being hurt by failure, going through a recovery period, reflecting on what you learned and then trying again, and being paralysed by the fear.

Nevertheless, failure is an integral part of success. Success is nothing but going from one failure to the next without giving up, until you succeed. 

So, if you want to succeed faster, you have to fail more. You have to learn to love failing and constantly learn from it.

It may be hard to believe, but there is another fear that may be holding you back and causing you to procrastinate – the fear of success. 

Success brings things like fame, financial abundance, being the center of attention, good feelings about yourself, and so on. If you don’t feel like you deserve success and everything that comes with it, you will always self-sabotage.

The techniques to overcome fears are similar to those used in assertiveness training. Expose yourself to smaller challenges, join group or individual therapy to explore the underlying reasons, and try techniques like visualization, affirmations, etc.

3. Make sure you don’t have unreasonably big goals and expectations in life

Yes, we all have to dream big. But life has its limitations, and we must make sure we don’t get caught in narcissistic grandiosity, driven by completely unrealistic expectations as to how fast we can achieve something. 

Unrealistic expectations lead to disappointments, and big life disappointments usually lead to procrastination or giving up.

Here’s how it happens. When you have unrealistic goals and realize after your first try that it will be much harder to achieve them than you thought, you may start to procrastinate. 

It’s called the Valley of Despair and is part of the Dunning-Kruger effect. You may start doubting yourself and asking if you even have what it takes to achieve your goals. For a while, you struggle with procrastination, and soon you give up.

There are at least two things you can do about it:

  • Focus more on the process than the outcome; nothing worthwhile comes easily
  • Have big dreams, but start small; slice and dice your goals into little steps

4. If you believe you are a lazy person, make an identity shift

If you see yourself as a lazy person, the best solution is to change that perception within yourself. 

If you want to deal with procrastination due to laziness once and for all, you’ll first have to see yourself as an ultra-productive person. But before that, you must explore your underlying beliefs.

Ask yourself: “what beliefs are supporting my laziness?” Imagine yourself as an ultra-productive person, never suffering from procrastination. How does your life look? Do you see any benefits? 

Here are a few additional ideas that may help you:

  • Visualize your new identity and try to feel good about yourself.
  • Write down the rewards you’ll get if you try harder (your whys). And make sure you really do reward yourself for small efforts.
  • Try to support your new identity with small productivity actions – where you would normally procrastinate at a small task, do it immediately instead.

If you don’t see yourself as a lazy person and you actually are (we all have blind spots), well, first you have to become aware of it. 

Maybe you can ask 10 people in your professional and personal life if they see you as a lazy person. Or benchmark your working outputs with 5 other people that have the same position as you do. That may be a good start.

5. Improve your lifestyle to have more energy

If you don’t have high levels of energy, it’s very normal to procrastinate

A lack of energy may be caused by overworking, burnout, and temporary exhaustion, but it can be also caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. If you have a really poor diet with no exercise, small changes can have a big benefit on your productivity.

Here are a few recommendations for improving your lifestyle:

  • Get enough sleep (7 – 8 hours) and make sure it’s quality sleep
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of green veggies, healthy fats, and low levels of sugar
  • Have a few smaller meals throughout the day, so you keep your insulin levels steady
  • Avoid unhealthy snacks
  • Help yourself with a few basic supplements
  • Exercise a few times per week
  • Drink enough water
  • Make sure you aren't destroying your body and spirit with addictions

There’s no big philosophy here, just do it. Go sleep early, add veggies to every meal, always have healthy snacks within reach, go for a walk or exercise every day, drink water and so on. 

Introduce one of those things into your life every month, and in half a year you’ll enjoy a completely new you.

When we talk about a healthy lifestyle, you should pay special attention to addictions. There are many addictions that could be destroying your life and your productivity and causing you to procrastinate. 

These addictions are for example:

  • Too much chocolate and sweets
  • Watching TV shows late into the night
  • Sleeping too much
  • Hanging out in bars all the time
  • Not to mention harder addictions like smoking, alcohol, or drugs

6. Develop a new set of skills that will help you deal with more demanding tasks

If your skill level for a certain task is high and this task is not even a little challenging to you, you get bored and you may procrastinate. 

In the same way, if a task is way too demanding and you lack skills, your actions will be hindered by worry, anxiety, and procrastination.

To look at it from another angle - in psychology, we know the comfort zone, the learning zone, and the panic zone. 

If a task is way too challenging for your current skillset, you push yourself directly into the panic zone. In the panic zone, you may face such severe negative emotions that it becomes much harder to go out of your comfort zone for the next attempt, which results in chronic procrastination.

Never overestimate what you can accomplish in a month but, on the other hand, also don’t underestimate what you can accomplish in a few years’ time. 

There are two things you can do. The first one is to bite off only as much as you can chew at a particular moment. 

The other thing you can do is to develop new competences. You can join an online course, get a mentor, engage in formal education etc. 

We all usually want to show the world the new competences we have acquired, and that can be a great motivator to overcome procrastination.

7. Find a new passion that is the result of being good at something

To be highly motivated and not to deal with chronic procrastination at all, you want to make sure that your goals are totally aligned with your own life vision, your talents, and your competences and values. 

It’s where intrinsic motivation comes from. If your goals aren’t true to your real self, you will never be motivated enough to achieve them, since they won’t be your real passion.

But make sure you don’t have unrealistic expectations regarding work that awakens passion in you. There’s rarely a scenario where you have a passion for something (like a hobby) and then that thing also becomes a job with which you can pay your bills. 

It can happen, but usually it’s the exception rather than the rule.

A much better strategy is to follow your effort (advice by Mark Cuban). Find something you’re good at and the market needs. Develop mastery at that thing and passion will come. 

The bottom line is that you have to provide value to the market, and value is what other people are willing to pay for; unfortunately, those are usually not your hobbies.

Don’t follow your passion, follow your effort. Become a master at something the market needs and passion will follow.

8. Make sure perfectionism is not holding you back

Perfectionism might be the reason you’re constantly procrastinating. 

Perfectionism is a result of cognitive distortions and below are just a few examples of how cognitive distortions may contribute to procrastination and how negative thinking and toxic beliefs are preventing you from acting:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: I have to do it perfectly or I won’t do it at all.
  • Overgeneralisation: I never do this type of task right, so why would it be different this time? It’s better if I don’t do it at all.
  • Mental filter: I have to work with that a**hole on this task. I can’t get anything good out of it except frustration and humiliation.
  • Disqualifying the positive: I shouldn’t be the one doing this task.
  • Jumping to conclusions: Anyway, I won’t be rewarded for completing this task.
  • Minimization: It’s another unimportant task I have to do even though anyone else could easily do it.
  • Emotional reasoning: I don’t feel like doing this task, so it must not be worth doing.
  • Should statements: I should perform better in life and I should have already completed this task a long time ago. Does it even make sense to finish it now?
  • Labelling: I’m a lazy person, if I always procrastinate, why wouldn’t I procrastinate with this task as well?

In particular, all-or-nothing thinking leads to perfectionism, and perfectionism leads to procrastination. Since I can’t do it perfectly, I don’t want to do it at all. 

You’re never satisfied with your results, so why add another thing that you just won’t be proud of? But in reality, this is the sort of toxic thinking that may prevent you from achieving anything in life.

The best solution for any cognitive distortion is emotional accounting. A technique to talk back to your inner critic. Try it, it may change your life forever.

The summary – How to stop procrastinating once and for all

Now you should have a really good understanding of procrastination and what you can do about it. The next time you procrastinate, first determine what kind of procrastination you’re dealing with and find the real source.

After you have identified the type and source of procrastination, you now have many tools available that can help you deal with it once and for all. Below is the summary of all the techniques we have mentioned.

Acute procrastination

General advice

  • Gently force yourself to make the first step
  • Use timeboxing
  • Don’t fight it, do other important things instead

Temporary low levels of energy

  • Take a walk
  • Take a nap
  • Wait for your daily peak-productivity time
  • Come back to work when recharged

Overworked or burnt-out

  • Take a few days off
  • Limit work in progress
  • Sharpen the saw

Being in an irritated emotional state

  • Take a walk or nap
  • Accept it
  • Talk to people
  • Listen to music
  • Come back to work when you calm down

You think the task is not your work

  • Be happy to learn something new
  • Focus on the positive things you can get out of it
  • Just do it, don’t think too much about it

People you don’t like are involved

  • You can learn something from everyone
  • Practice respect and professionalism
  • Focus on the positive things
  • Just do it

It’s the type of a task you just don’t like

  • Delegate
  • Outsource
  • Automate
  • Just do it and get it over with
  • Train yourself to do boring tasks 

Chronic procrastination

Lack of assertiveness

  • Learn to become a healthily-assertive person
  • Disconnect failure from self-worth
  • See yourself as a successful person
  • Visualize

Big goals and high expectations

  • Have big dreams, but start small
  • Slice and dice
  • Trust the process, the outcome will follow
  • Focus on the small things you can do every day

Laziness

  • Make an identity shift
  • Support the shift with small actions
  • Taste the rewards you get with the effort

Unhealthy lifestyle

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat green veggies
  • Move
  • Drink enough water
  • Avoid addictions

A lack of skills or fake passion

  • Be in the learning, rather than the panic or comfort, zone
  • Slice and dice
  • Have a big vision and a powerful Why
  • Follow your effort, the passion will come after

Perfectionism and other cognitive distortions

  • Try emotional accounting

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