7 ways to move beyond procrastination

by Henrik Edberg

Almost everyone is held down by what some call “the silent killer”. Procrastination strikes everywhere. We all want to avoid the pain or discomfort of doing something we feel is boring, stupid, pointless, hard, complicated, risky, possibly really emotionally painful and so on.

But even though we know that we will have to do it eventually and that we’re just deluding ourselves we still put it of. Often with reasons we know deep down are weak and we really just made up. We get stuck in a vicious circle of doing too little of both what we want and what we don’t want. We get stuck. Here are 7 ways to squash procrastination and move forward.

1. Recognize that there is more pain in procrastinating than not
If you have procrastinated a lot (like me) you might have discovered that:

You procrastinate to avoid doing something that is boring, hard or something like that. You want to avoid that pain.

But after having some experience with procrastination you’ll probably realise that procrastination itself causes your more pain than actually just doing what you were supposed to. Realising the true amount of pain in the two choices will make it easier to get things done.

2. Force yourself to do it before you really absolutely have do it…
…and your self-esteem will go up. And the next time you feel like procrastinating remember that you forced yourself, but that you felt better when it was done. There was a nice reward when you were done. Whenever you feel like procrastinating remember this to get you to start moving forward.

3. Create a flow
Instead of doing nothing, begin with doing something. Clean your desk, take out the garbage, wash the dishes. Just stack a couple of simple actions to create a flow, a momentum. When you’re in the flow, in that forward motion, getting started with what you have to do will be much easier. Also, cleaning up can get you too feel more motivated. A messy work-environment seems to often reinforce procrastination.

4. Get some leverage
Sometimes we procrastinate on things that aren’t just dull tasks in the office or school. Maybe you are stuck, not able to take the next step fearing some deep personal pain. If you are thinking about changing jobs or career or taking a next step in a relationship you are probably focusing on what could go wrong. Instead, get some leverage to both push and pull yourself forward.

How to: Take a pen and a piece of paper. Write down as many things as you can come up with that you will miss out on, not just now but the next few years if you don’t take this step now. Really dig down into yourself and feel that pain that you will feel not just tomorrow but in a year and the next five or ten years.

Then write down all positive and wonderful things you will experience if you take this decision and move forward to where you want to go. Think about them and write down all those things you will experience and feel, not just in the next few days but in one year, in two, in five years or ten. Get the stick and the carrot to work for you. And put the problem in a longer time perspective to really give it an emotional punch.

5. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…
Don’t look at everything you have to do. One of the common sources of procrastination is feeling overwhelmed. Break it down into smaller tasks. Write them down as a list on a piece of paper. Focus on just getting that one small task or part of the big thing done. Then move on to the next. Take it one step at a time and don’t think about the rest. Before you know it you’ll be half way there.

6. Change your beliefs
The problems that repeatedly put you into a procrastinating state might disappear if you change your view on reality. Examine your beliefs. Ask yourself if you could see things in a more beneficial and effective way for yourself.

Realise you can choose you beliefs about yourself and the world. The past is not the future. You don’t have to hang to limiting beliefs based on past experiences if you don’t want to. You are here right now and you choose and can change your habits.

7. Make a small deal with yourself
Here is an effective one I first heard from Ed Bliss (well, actually now that I think about it I probably first heard it from a teacher back in school about ten years ago. It kinda rings a bell).

Here’s how you go about it: Promise yourself that you’ll work on something for just 5 minutes. After those 5 minutes you can do something else if you want to. But make a note on your schedule when you will come back to the task and work another 5 minutes with it. As Bliss notes, not matter how unpleasant a task may be, you can often talk yourself into working 5 minutes on it.

I’ve found this one to be effective to make a dent in those tasks you have put of for a longer while. After you’re done with those first 5 minutes the next 5 minutes will feel a little easier. And after that the next 5 minutes will feel even easier. Or maybe you raise the bar to 10 minutes of work. Getting some actual work done on that task, if only for 5 minutes, gives you a rush of exhilaration. Making a game out of how much work you can get done in those 5 minutes can also be a small but in its own way fun challenge.





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{ 46 comments }

NighT October 16, 2006 at 8:36 am

Very nice tips, thank you. I suffer a lot from this! Will try some of these out and see if it helps ;)

Henrik Edberg October 19, 2006 at 12:26 pm

Thank you! I hope it helps you out.

Flight Zero November 14, 2006 at 6:51 am

Thanks a lot for this article…gonna play the same game with my mind and see it it helps ;)

~an* November 14, 2006 at 11:15 am

Thank you, I really like the last tip – the 5 minute deal with oneself. Or even less time increments. I have been struggling with the overwhelmingness of larger tasks, or the vagueness of the word “study”.

Probably I can talk myself into doing a small step of a question, or use some colourful, attractive tools (mind maps :D ) in my study time to make it less daunting.)

Thank you for another valuable article.

Radek Pilich February 10, 2007 at 3:18 pm

I have read many articles about procrastination, but these tips are simply great! I am going to read this article every day until I finally knock down that evil procrastination :)

worldsworstprocrastinator April 19, 2007 at 4:44 am

I have read, re-read countless times and I have accomplished something. Not much of significants for anybody else but it is for me. Thank You thats what I want express. I have read so many articles but yours was the best article.

Tammy April 29, 2007 at 12:22 am

Awesome. My procrastinating problems are so bad, that I just end up not doing the task at all. Thanks for the tips these are actually really good tips that I haven’t heard before. :)

worldsworstprocrastinatorX2 April 29, 2007 at 12:59 am

i read the first 3 sentences, and decided to finish it later.

Marian Drumea October 4, 2009 at 3:30 am

Awesome … I was thinking about commenting something similar and found this one. Still made me laugh out loud. BTW, good article, but I think it is so easy to add many other reasons and come up with a similarly long list of reasons to procrastinate :) .

John Wesley May 1, 2007 at 5:22 pm

I think number 1 is the key to it all. Once we realize we’re hurting ourselves it becomes a lot easier to stop.

billy the Blogger May 1, 2007 at 6:31 pm

This looks like an interesting, so I think I will read it later.

jimbo May 1, 2007 at 6:46 pm

I plan on reading this later.

proprocrastinator May 1, 2007 at 7:53 pm

These tips are great! I am notorious for putting things off until the last minute, hopefully these will help. Now if only you could stop procrastinating and install spell-check I wouldn’t have to hear about how to eat an “elefant.”

Yanni May 2, 2007 at 1:24 am

STEP 7. STOP PATROLLING REDDIT!

Mark May 9, 2007 at 8:22 am

Pure Gold!

Anonymous June 6, 2007 at 8:40 am

Thank you!

This piece is so encouraging.

Jon July 11, 2007 at 1:33 am

Another thing to add to my todo list… Will it ever end?

AP September 6, 2007 at 10:30 pm

I’ve bookmarked this to read later ;) Very good advice. Thanks!

Holli Jo September 8, 2007 at 10:42 pm

I love your blog for its positive tips and help! And I especially love this post on procrastination. I suffer from it myself, so these tips are very useful. I linked to it on my blog.

Thanks!

Melanie Painter October 25, 2007 at 12:11 pm

What a great article, I loved all those tips especially the last one, very helpful. There was a good article in last week’s Guardian by Oliver Burkeman on procrastination. His tips were;

1) Motivation follows action – just like your second tip. Don’t wait to feel positive before doing something. Do it first and the feeling will follow.

2) Resistance is a signpost – so what you’re resisting is meaningful and that’s why it’s painful and contains fear. It’s a sign to persevere

3) Schedule leisure, not work – because procrastination is rebellion, plan your leisure activites and only record your work after you’ve done it so you’re not resisting ‘to do’ lists.

Thought these were all helpful too.

Procra....2 lazy 2 type November 1, 2007 at 7:56 pm

I really hope this helps me, been stalling my drivers license 4 ages now…..

4mind4life November 7, 2007 at 7:38 am

Very good tips for helping anyone deal with and overcome procrastination!

jess November 11, 2007 at 11:25 am

very helpful! I’ll plan on following this guide until I stop procrastinating. Setting goals for myself hasn’t been a big problem, but working towards them is what determines a true winner.

Thank you for this!

-jess

hypatia December 10, 2007 at 1:38 pm

Thanks for the tips I will try but I think I have a deeper and more serious case of not only procrastination but panic when I want to start any new task I know I can do it but I lack self confident. I am an engineer and stress is going to make quit the career. Is it worth to help me about it? I hope I get a response.

Divine February 11, 2008 at 10:37 pm

Thank you for posting this article. I also try hard procrastination as much as humanly possible and this article helps tremendously. My appreciation to you is in the highest sense.
To show you my gratitude I would like to share with you a post I found that also helps with procrastination: http://consciousflex.blogspot.com/2008/01/eliminating-procrastination-forever-in.html
Thank you indeed, please keep up the incredible work in helping others!

DanGTD April 16, 2008 at 3:16 pm

For implementing GTD you can use http://www.gtdagenda.com

You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.

Inspiration for Change May 17, 2008 at 10:30 pm

Again excellent tips from a fantatic blogger!

Rhonda
http://www.inspirationforchange.com

Anonymous May 22, 2008 at 4:45 pm

I wonder how much of my procrastination is SELF PUNISHMENT? or LEARNED? OR NOT SEEING A ROLE MODEL?I wonder if it even matters? I just watched an ivy league graduation and gawked at these parents that must have modeled to most of these graduates a hard work ethIC norm.. NON PROCRASTINATION. A NORMAL POINT OF REFERENCE? . I need to break thru what I saw as normal..and face this demon thought clump…

Ailsa August 2, 2008 at 11:48 pm

This article was really helpful. Particularly point 2. I hadn’t thought the positive benefits on my self esteem before. I hope this helps me.

I struggle with procrastination in many areas of my life. I discovered iProcrasitate podcasts too. They are produced by a procrastination research group. Really gives some good insights into the psychology.

http://http-server.carleton.ca/~tpychyl/

evelyn August 10, 2008 at 10:34 pm

I believe this article will really help me. Because of my stuggles with procastination I knew all of the 7 steps but have never been able to put them on paper. Now seeing and having this information on hand I hope it will really help me. Procastination has gotten so bad with me that I was begining to think that I needed help. I wonder if there are any procrastination management classes out there, if so I’m sure there are a lot of serious members. Now the only problem is not to procrastinate following the 7 steps.

imran August 16, 2008 at 7:24 pm

I wonder how many of us are procrastinating as we read this? We tend to feel that this sort of procrastination is more justified because we are learning, which I think is true, but it’s important to know when to stop reading about procrastination and start working. I sometimes have problems with that. Anybody else?

opus_orangerie August 30, 2008 at 8:20 am

damn neat an article…………..

i have A.D.H.D. i often end up procrasting after not being able to focus on one activity properly.i’d be glad if you could let me know more info to avoid procrastinating.
the worry being i’m great with the iq factor but my mind refuses to settle in one place.

Procrastinator October 21, 2008 at 5:26 am

I should have been doing homework but I read your article. Good or bad? :P

Is this Me? November 8, 2008 at 5:15 am

I suffered a frontal lobe brain injury years ago and my short
term memory gets hooped from time to time leading me to
procrastinate as I just don’t know where to start. The 5 minute
increment idea is one I can certainly get on board with right
away. They are all super. Thank you so much.

Joe November 23, 2008 at 10:41 am

I’ll read this article later.

Kiefer December 5, 2008 at 2:54 am

Great post, I personally use number 5 a lot. Im currently writing a new post for my web site that I just cant seem to get done.

Sometimes when a task seems daunting you just don’t want to do it, but if you make a commitment to do a little each day you will accomplish it.

Rain February 2, 2009 at 1:32 pm

most of your article are good.. but i am thinking, is it true that those person who learn and expert about the where they sound expert when he himself are victim of it in many ways also until they find out the answer.. and whenever they write an article about it, it was like he is writing it for himself.. well just a thought…

Everything Counts June 25, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Procrastination is the largest contributor to lost productivity and missed deadlines. Create a daily schedule for yourself which outlines routine tasks that must be done on each day. By setting up a specific time of day or week to complete these tasks, you will no longer have them hanging over your head, nor will you have to worry that you could inadvertently forget about them, and their deadlines would come and go.

Tyler July 19, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Dude, you write some great articles. I take inspiration from them. Thanks

Chikai September 10, 2009 at 8:59 am

thanks for sharing this! i badly need it. :)

Sheldon September 10, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Thanks for the tips. I’ll try these and see if they work

Richy September 25, 2009 at 11:43 am

This is an awesome article, especially tip 7! In my life I’ve always had a different way to end procastination that looks a lot like tip 7, but is kinda different. I think it will complement this article, read it at: http://thenewscienceofhappiness.blogspot.com/2009/09/warmup-principle-how-to-end.html

(in that article I gave you credit by the way as inspiration because this article inspired me to clear out my thoughts on this subject)

muthusamy October 18, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Thanks for the tips. I’ll try these and see if they work

Jasmine fernandes December 30, 2009 at 2:25 pm

thanks for the info… i really like them.. very useful

Travis Stein January 27, 2010 at 6:02 pm

You’ll never believe this, but I came across this while procrastinating ;) . Very good list Henrick, I am going to try to put this to use with some of my more boring classes for my major until I get to (hopefully) the more exciting/interesting ones!

Ryan Critchett July 19, 2010 at 5:54 am

Great article! I am in support of everything you said, especially changing your beliefs. What I’ve found is that the actual “truths” within human beings, are probably the single most influential parts of our lives. I am a firm believer in changing beliefs, thus changing action. Great stuff!

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