9 practical tips to stop procrastinating

Ways to increase productivity, avoid distractions, and be the kind of person who gets things done.

Photos: INGIMAGE
Photos: INGIMAGE
24 Jun 2015

Photos: INGIMAGE

If you’ve ever procrastinated, you’re familiar with the stress and dread that build up from putting something off. It’s almost never worth it – especially when you pay for it with an all-nighter, too much junk food (hello stress eating), and extreme panic. There’s also the possibility of delaying something indefinitely. Ever heard of unfulfilled dreams? 

Sometimes we’re not even aware that we’re procrastinating. We come up with all sorts of reasons why now isn’t the right time. Too tired, too busy, too old, too poor, etc. Look, we all do this. It’s just hard to get motivated sometimes. 

But there are ways to defeat procrastination. Read on for practical tips to avoid distractions, increase productivity, and be the kind of person who gets things done.

1. Don’t just write down your goal. Break it down into smaller steps with specific timelines.
1. Don’t just write down your goal. Break it down into smaller steps with specific timelines.
24 Jun 2015

1. Don’t just write down your goal. Break it down into smaller steps with specific timelines.

Every expert recommends writing down your goal and giving yourself a clear deadline. That’s a great start, but having only one deadline—especially one that’s weeks or months away—can tempt you to procrastinate. You’re under the illusion that you can keep putting things off. After all, there’s still plenty of time left… until there isn’t.

To stay on track, break your goal down into several mini goals with specific deadlines. By breaking a large ambiguous goal into a series of manageable steps, the whole project feels less intimidating. 

2.  Save incoming tasks for later.
2. Save incoming tasks for later.
24 Jun 2015

2. Save incoming tasks for later.

Ever have those days when you’re insanely busy, and only realize at the end that you made zero progress on your “real” work?” You were sidetracked by miscellaneous requests and tasks all along. Is it possible to spend an entire day just answering pesky emails? Uh, yes.

To avoid these distractions, keep track of all incoming tasks but don’t start on them yet. Make a running list of the random stuff and go back to it after you’ve cleared your actual goals for the day.  

3. Try the five-minute method.
3. Try the five-minute method.
24 Jun 2015

3. Try the five-minute method.

This is a great trick for the extremely unmotivated. If you can’t get started on that one thing you’ve been dreading for months, make a promise that you’ll do it for five measly minutes. It’s barely anything. As Benjamin Stall writes in 99U, you can endure almost anything for five minutes no matter how much you think you hate it. The best part is, you will likely get engrossed in the project and end up continuing past five minutes. Way to beat that initial paralysis! 

4. Quiet the perfectionist.
4. Quiet the perfectionist.
24 Jun 2015

4. Quiet the perfectionist.

Some day you’ll write a novel. Remodel the kitchen. Join a competition. And finish updating your resume – as soon as you pick the perfect font and layout first.

Stop making excuses and overcomplicating things. Good luck getting anything done if you’re waiting around for the perfect time. No matter how inexperienced or unready you feel, it’s better to jump into action than to keep stalling in fear and discomfort. 

5. Get an accountability partner.
5. Get an accountability partner.
24 Jun 2015

5. Get an accountability partner.

Whether you announce your goals to one person or a whole group, you will benefit from the positive pressure of keeping to your word. There’s a reason why having a workout buddy helps: You’re less likely to skip the gym if someone’s expecting you to show up. When you’re only accountable to yourself, it’s easier to make excuses and slack off. The stakes are higher when you run the risk of disappointing someone else and embarrassing yourself.

There are many ways to build accountability. Enlist a study buddy. Write a blog entry about your new goals and promise to keep your readers posted. Or simply ask a friend whom you hold in high esteem to check in on your progress regularly. 

6. Pick the right work environment.
6. Pick the right work environment.
24 Jun 2015

6. Pick the right work environment.

When your desk is only an arm’s length from your bed, don’t be surprised if you surrender to an impromptu nap. Time to move your workstation out of the bedroom. Some people find that working in public places like Starbucks or the library fuels their productivity. Others need more privacy.

Those with office jobs have less choice in their surroundings, but keeping their workspace organized and inviting makes it more conducive to productivity. Put photos of friends, family, and even a pet to remind yourself that after you’re done with your work, you can fully enjoy hanging out with them without feeling guilty. 

7. Box each task within a specific time slot.
7. Box each task within a specific time slot.
24 Jun 2015

7. Box each task within a specific time slot.

Allot a set number of hours for each task (9:30-11am for Task 1, 12:30-3pm for Task 2, and so on). This is called time boxing, and if you adhere to it, you’re guaranteed to be more productive.

Why? Because 1) it’s motivating to feel like you have some control of the daunting task at hand, and 2) it helps you work more efficiently since you’re racing to finish something within x number of hours.

Tip: If you think something will take five hours, set the timer for four hours instead. There’s a chance you’ll make it. You’ll experience just the right amount of urgency, similar to how the hours during a huge exam always fly by. Most importantly, a tighter time slot maximizes output and prevents the task from dragging on. 

8. Forgive yourself.
8. Forgive yourself.
24 Jun 2015

8. Forgive yourself.

So you wasted the whole morning looking at GIFs and pictures of pancakes. You didn’t cross off a single thing on your to-do list by the time you ate lunch. Should you just succumb to food coma and call it a day?

That’s putting your goals off for an entire day instead of just half. Don’t let guilt get in the way of starting over. You’ve still got the whole afternoon. First, forgive yourself. Then assess where you are, what you’ve got left to do, and what’s most important. Tackle it with renewed gusto. 

9. Reward yourself.
9. Reward yourself.
24 Jun 2015

9. Reward yourself.

After conquering a mini goal (see #1) or time boxed task (see #7), give yourself a small reward. It can be anything from a much-deserved nap, a coffee and dessert run, or a night out with friends to completely de-stress. It’s important to celebrate these small successes. Of course, nothing beats the victory, pride, and relief from finally accomplishing your major goal – the one you thought you’d never reach.

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