How to Stop Procrastinating: 7 Timeless Tips

by Henrik Edberg

How to Stop Procrastinating: 7 Timeless Tips
Image by tbondolfi (license).

“Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.”
Spanish Proverb

“How soon ‘not now’ becomes ‘never’.”
Martin Luther

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.”
Karen Lamb

One of the most common problems is procrastination. We know what we want to do and should do. But still we end up spending hours upon hours doing “easier” work or escaping via TV, blogs or music.

Now, nothing wrong with a little escape from time to time. But if you procrastinate too much you will not get the most important things done. And you will also send yourself into negative spirals where your self-esteem plummets and you spend your days or more in a vague negative funk.

So what can you do? Here are 7 timeless tips to help you to stop procrastinating and start living your life more fully. And if you want to then you can learn much more about becoming more productive, focused and minimizing stress in my training kit The Art of Relaxed Productivity.

1. Stop thinking. Start doing.

“To think too long about doing a thing often becomes its undoing.”
Eva Young

A bit of planning can certainly help you to achieve what you want to achieve. A lot of planning and thinking tends to have the opposite effect.

You think and think and try to come up with “the perfect plan”. A plan where you don’t have to make mistakes, where you will never be rejected, where there will be no pain or difficulties. Such a thing does of course not exist. But as long as you work on that plan you can protect yourself.

2. Don’t blow a task out of proportion.

“If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.”
Olin Miller

”Putting off an easy thing makes it hard. Putting off a hard thing makes it impossible.”
George Claude Lorimer

By over thinking and putting things off you are not only trying to protect yourself from pain. You also make mountains out of molehills. The quotes above are so true it isn’t even funny. The more hours and days you put something off the worse it grows in your mind.

Because you are dwelling on it. And so it expands in your mind. And since you are putting it off you are probably thinking about it in a negative way. This makes a little thing a big Godzilla, a horrible beast that is threatening to ruin your life.

So plan a little and then take action.

Often you don’t even have to plan, you have been there before and you know what needs to be done. So stop thinking and just do it no matter how you feel and what you think. How you feel right now changes as quickly as the weather so it’s not the perfect guidance system or anything. And you don’t have to obey what it says (it’s not chains made of iron). You can just do what you know is right anyway.

3. Just take the first step.

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

When you start to look too far into the future any task or project can seem close to impossible. And so you shut down because you become overwhelmed and start surfing the internet aimlessly instead. That is one of the reasons why it is good to plan for the future but then to shift your focus back to today and the present moment.

Then you just focus on taking the first step today. That is all you need to focus on, nothing else. By taking the first step you change you mental state from resistant to “hey, I’m doing this, cool”. You put yourself in state where you become more positive and open, a state where you may not be enthusiastic about taking the next step after this first one but you are at least accepting it. And so you can take the next step. And the next one after that.

The thing is, you can’t see the whole staircase anyway and it will shift and reveal itself along the way. That’s why the best of plans tend to fall apart at least a bit as you start to put it into action. You discover that your map of reality doesn’t look like reality.

4. Start with the hardest task of your day.

“Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.”
Dale Carnegie

Maybe you have an important call to make that you also fear might be uncomfortable. Maybe you know you have gotten behind on answering your emails and have big pile to dig into. Maybe you have the last five pages of your paper to finish.

Whatever it may be, get it out of your way the first thing you do.

If you start your day this way you will feel relieved. You feel relaxed and good about yourself. And the rest of the day – and your to-do list – tends to feel a lot lighter and easier to move through. It’s amazing what difference this one action makes.

5. Just make a decision. Any decision.

“In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Theodore Roosevelt

We feel bad when we sit on our hands and don’t take action because it’s unnatural. The natural thing is to be a decisive human and take action.

When you procrastinate you want to do something but you don’t take the action that is in alignment with that thought. You become conflicted within.

What you do always sends signals back to you about who you are. Sure, doing affirmations where you say to yourself that you are confident can help you. But taking the confident actions you want to take over and over again is what really builds your self confidence and a self-image of you being a confident person. When you procrastinate you lower your self esteem and send signals back to yourself that you are a ,well, a kinda lame and indecisive person.

6. Face your fear.

“Procrastination is the fear of success. People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success that they know will result if they move ahead now. Because success is heavy, carries a responsibility with it, it is much easier to procrastinate and live on the “someday I’ll” philosophy.”
Denis Waitley

I think this is true. It’s easier to live on that “someday…” thought. It’s harder to just take action. To risk looking like a fool. To make mistakes, stumble and not avoid that pain. To take responsibility for your own life.

The easier choice can come with a sense of comfort, with a certain level of success, pangs of regret for all the things you never dared to do and a vague sense of being unfulfilled. You wonder about what would have happened if you had taken more action and more chances.

The harder choice gives you, well, who knows? But it will sure make your feel more alive.

7. Finish it.

“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task”
William James

“Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they started.”
David Allen

Not taking the first step to start accomplishing something can make you feel bad. But not finishing what you have started can also leave you in a sort of negative funk. You feel fatigued or stressed and sometimes you don’t even know why. It’s like someone zapped your inner power.

If that is the case, go over tasks and projects what you are currently involved in. Is there something there you know you want to finish but haven’t yet? Try to get that finished as soon as you can you will start to feel a whole lot better.

Just be careful. Don’t think you have to finish everything you started. If a book sucks, read something else. Using this as an excuse to quit something that feels hard or unfamiliar is not a good idea. But there is no law that says that everything has to be completed.

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{ 38 comments }

Glen Allsopp April 23, 2009 at 1:46 pm

There are some great tips here Henrik. One of my favourites is just to focus on the current step and not the long road ahead, which you have pretty much covered here.

Stumbled!

Cheers,
Glen

Henrik Edberg April 23, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Thanks, Glen! Yeah, keeping your focus in the most useful place makes things a lot easier.

Positively Present April 23, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Great tips. I’m not a huge procrastinator but a lot of people I know are and I will pass the word along to them. I really think they are timeless and can be very useful to a lot of people!

http://positivelypresent.typepad.com

Henrik Edberg April 23, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Thanks, I hope the tips will help your friends out!

DiamondPalace April 23, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Thank you for the wonderful article. There are lots on my plate that I must get back to. After reading this gave me some new energy and inspiration to tackle the pending projects.

- DiamondPalace

Henrik Edberg April 23, 2009 at 11:22 pm

That’s awesome, good luck with your work!

Roger - A Content Life April 24, 2009 at 3:22 pm

I think facing your fear is the hardest part about avoiding procrastination. Some task just seem really scary until you actually start doing them.

Amezstudio April 24, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Thats a Very Good Article i have to say.People have to finish what they started most of the people today are so busy in there busy world and dont want to achieve what they really want to.Setting your goal and achieved your Goal is the main thing every one should keep in there mind.So much in this article talks about Benefits in Life,everyone thinks ohh this is old we know that already but the real thing is we dont know anything.Excellent article.Five stars from my side.Thanks
Sam

Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills April 24, 2009 at 6:30 pm

Thanks for this great list Henrik. I really like #2, blowing a task out of proportion is really a stall tactic. It’s a way of putting progress on hold as we convince ourselves that “it’s to big.” To avoid procrastination it is vital that we don’t allow ourselves to become hypnotized by the complexity of a task. You did a really good job of putting this one, and all the rest, in perspective.

Mark Lewis April 24, 2009 at 9:06 pm

You give a great example of not finishing a book if you don’t like it. I have caught myself more than once feeling like I had to finish something just to finish it, even though there wasn’t any interest.

Marc and Angel Hack Life April 24, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Great procrastination tips. Thanks Henrik. ;-)

Stumbled.

Erik April 25, 2009 at 9:50 am

This looks like a great article! I’ll read it some other time ;-)

Ehab April 25, 2009 at 10:17 am

Stop thinking. Start doing.

I think this is the most important advice. Usually we take too long trying to cover all aspects of our idea or project. That makes it even grow larger in our mind. Eventually, we will come to a point where we think that it is impossible to implement it.
And as you have mentioned, we need to start by taking the first step. Just one step at a time.
Some people take actions. Others just like to watch and stare.
It is up to us to choose.

Thanks Henrik for this article. Published on the right time :)

Now, i need to Sit down and finish writing that novel!

LL April 25, 2009 at 1:35 pm

It’s an appropriate image, because I, like many others, procrastinate by doing shirtless ribbon gymnastics on the beach.

Stephen - Rat Race Trap April 25, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Henrik, great article. I want to do so much that I used to start a lot of things at once and often did not get a lot them finished. The only thing I might disagree with is to started with the hardest thing first. Sometimes it is best to just get in motion. Once you are in motion you can tackle the difficult stuff. Often times the idea of starting with the most difficult is the very thing that makes people procrastinate. I know this is always recommended and I have made the same recommendation myself. However I am starting to rethink that based upon my own personal experience and thoughts.

Anonymous April 26, 2009 at 10:54 pm

One word: AWESOME!! . This article was of great insight to me. I have dealt with the habit of procrastination all my life and this article nails it down so well. Thank you!

Cody Dream-Life-Coaching April 27, 2009 at 11:50 am

You just have to do it, it’s the only way. stop thinking and start doing.

Shirley April 27, 2009 at 5:51 pm

your article totally nailed it – i am currently feeling like crap and very much on edge because i’ve got a proposal and an essay which i’ve been not finishing for weeks, giving in instead to youtubing, blog-stalking and mindless surfing which led me to your article.

so in the spirit of applying my new-found knowledge, i am gonna force myself to finish both items. wish me luck.

karthi April 28, 2009 at 7:21 am

Buddy, I will generaly take lot of time to decide on anything.. Even to take “shower” or “NOT” :) .. So these tips should help me :)

Thanks,
Karthi
India

Alfonso April 28, 2009 at 2:05 pm

This article change my life, it’s really helpful.

Henrik Edberg April 28, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Thanks for all the comments, guys! I’m happy to hear that you liked the article and found it helpful. :)

Michael Andrews April 28, 2009 at 8:15 pm

Superb tips, stumbled upon this when I should have been writing.
All the best Henrik.

Meaghan April 29, 2009 at 1:31 am

Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed it and found it inspiring. I have posted one of the saying on my desk for motivation! (I ironic thing is I “tagged” this post a few days ago but didn’t get around to reading it until now!…talk about procrastination!)

Project Junto April 29, 2009 at 4:19 pm

I think #3 – Just take the first step – is the most important. There is no better time then now to get started if you want to become successful.

“I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.” – Petronius Arbiter

Great post!

Office Humorist May 2, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Great post Henrik. The quotes really solidify the points that you make–I especially find Eva Young’s quote very true for me.

It reminds me of a quote about improv from Mick Napier: “That you do something is far more important than what you do.”

Alex - Unleash Reality May 29, 2009 at 6:30 pm

Awesome stuff Henrik!

the first one has always been the biggest for me. would make massive to do lists that took ages instead of actually doing the stuff on it. always just got the to do list done, nothing else :)

number 2 is solid too. Parkinson’s law – the more time you allocate to do a task, the more it grows in percieved importance and complexity.

spanish proverb made me chuckle too.

there’s a cool sign at a pub in the UK that says, “free beer tomorrow” :) – never given away a pint.

just wrote an article of my own on procrastination – check it out. http://www.unleashreality.com/stop-procrastinating

super inspiring stuff
gave it a stumble!
alex – unleash reality

Rich97 June 24, 2009 at 10:49 am

Oh! I got one more! Stop reading blogs when you should be working. ;)

Celes | The Personal Excellence Blog September 25, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Hey Henrik, these are very useful tips to get working against procrastination. I like the tip on # 3 on taking the first step. Many times procrastination is addressed once you take the first step – it builds up the momentum and everything just flows naturally from there. Kind of like a snow rolling down a slope, and becoming a huge snowball. The resistant force against it is minimal.

On the same note of overcoming procrastination, I’ll like to present my own take on it. I feel that a lot of GTD and self-help advice on procrastination help to a certain degree but never really stop procrastination because they only deal with procrastination as an effect. In my opinion, there are underlying root causes to why people procrastinate which can be grouped into 2 main issues (1) lack of desire to do the thing (2) fear of something. Both reasons take digging and understanding of self to unravel, which is why people just prefer to work with dealing with procrastination at surface level instead. I’ve written about the root causes of procrastination and how to overcome them in depth in my 5-part series on how to overcome procrastination if anyone is interested: http://celestinechua.com/blog/2009/08/how-to-overcome-procrastination-part-1/

Dan kibugi September 29, 2009 at 8:51 am

Great tips pal, but I think fear issue should be handled more in details.Goodwork though.

iKirby October 15, 2009 at 3:51 am

To tell you the truth no matter how much I try I am still procrastinating because it’s FUN!!!! To me but not to other people i think….

Patrick Chuan January 3, 2010 at 8:48 pm

I think you are missing on the subconscious aspect of procrastination. Procrastination is not something that can be cure just by using the Just-Do-It method. The more sinister root-cause of procrastination is our unrealistic belief on what hard work is.

see my article below on how our unrealistic belief conditioned our body to be idle
http://limitlessmotivation.blogspot.com/2010/01/conditioning-our-body-and-mind-to.html

NIki January 18, 2010 at 1:22 pm

what a great article!
this might seem like a beautiful coincidence, but it’s what i really need right now, to fix my life!
I love how all the points (#1 – #7) are all so right on spot, and they all really ‘slapped’ me in my face, hard!

once again, thank you,
and let’s hope i won’t procrastinate again by finding & browsing for another “how to stop procrastinating” article endlessly!!

keep on writing & sharing!

Mike aka Find Inspiration January 24, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Henrik,

Great post and I agree – it’s so important to focus on and not procrastinate. #2 is a great one – really applies to me!

Thanks…

William B February 12, 2010 at 10:27 am

This was a great article. I think it’s going to help me. I am a college student and ahhhh I am so tired of feeling like shit from procrastinating. Although, I will admit that i was procrastinating reading this article ; ) .
Thanks

chuchu March 1, 2010 at 8:43 am

i cannot be helped.. i am reading an article on how to stop procrastinating.. when i have so much work to do.

wendy June 8, 2010 at 9:07 am

very helpful!

Anonymous June 29, 2010 at 4:31 pm

comments are not good for procrastination

Kate August 4, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Thank you for this great tips!!

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