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Procrastination was (and still sometimes is!) BY FAR my biggest roadblock to productivity. I’m an overthinking perfectionist by nature, which causes extreme overwhelm and analysis paralysis. I was falling so far into the hole of putting things off that I didn’t have any idea how to climb out and get back on track. I know I’m not alone – it’s such a struggle for so many people!
Oxford Languages defines “procrastination” as the action of delaying or postponing something. I’d like to add a little to this definition and say that procrastination is the habit of delaying or postponing something, especially something requiring immediate attention. Acknowledging the fact that procrastination is, in fact, a habit is a super important part of getting out of that cycle. More on that when we get to the secrets 🙂
No one is particularly proud of the fact that they have a habit of putting of necessary tasks, but it’s human nature. You know the routine: You’re sitting on the couch, thinking about finishing that work project, cleaning the kitchen, or organizing the playroom, when suddenly you realize you’ve been scrolling Facebook for an hour and haven’t done a darn thing.
When the procrastination starts to swoop in and take over the tasks that are actually important, it’s time to break the cycle. It takes creative thinking and some extra effort, but I know you can win the war against procrastination – if I can do it, you can too! I’m certainly still a work in progress, and I may not have all of the answers that pertain to your particular situation, but, as a fellow procrastinator, I have some tips that can help!
So let’s get to those secrets! I’m super excited to share these little nuggets that I’ve discovered (and am still discovering!) on my own path to a (mostly) procrastination-free life!
Recognize Your Procrastination Triggers
Understanding that procrastination is a habit is the key to breaking it. The more we practice avoiding uncomfortable emotions or activities, the better we get at doing it. This is why some people believe that they have a natural tendency to procrastinate. There’s not much “natural” about it, though – they’ve just created this habit of procrastination through constant repetition.
There’s some good news here – this is a habit that can be changed!
Before you can break the procrastination cycle, you need to get really honest with yourself – recognize that you’re procrastinating in the first place, and then determine when, how, and why you’re prone to procrastination.
Recognition is the easy part. Do you procrastinate? I’m assuming yes, otherwise you wouldn’t even be here. So there – it’s been recognized.
The part that’s a little more challenging is figuring out the underlying causes. However, if you want to successfully solve your procrastination problem, it’s important to understand the exact nature of the problem that you’re dealing with.
There are three main factors that you should consider when assessing the nature of your procrastination:
- When: Do you struggle to finish tasks after you’ve started them or do you struggle to get started in the first place? Do you tend to procrastinate more when you’re working from home or when you’re working at Starbucks? The “whens” are the circumstances – in what situations are you likely to procrastinate?
- How: What do you do when you’re procrastinating? Do you scroll the socials, play video games, watch TV? Do you dive into a full email inbox when you have a bigger task to work on because checking off the tiny boxes in your inbox gives you that momentary feeling of accomplishment, even though you’ve still put off a larger task? Do you find small and unimportant tasks to complete?
- Why: This is the big one – you’ll need to dig deep and be honest with yourself. What’s actually causing you to procrastinate? Are you constantly bombarded by distractions? Do you feel so overwhelmed that you don’t know how to get started? Here are some common reasons:
Perfectionism / Fear of Failure – There’s a desire (or even a need) to do things “just right,” and so much time is spent analyzing the plans that nothing ever actually gets started. Or, on the flip, the worry that everything needs to be perfect means that you spend so much time editing and tweaking that your task is never finished.
Lack of Action / Wishy-Washy-ness – (Yes, that’s the scientific term!) This person has so many fantastic ideas, but no goal-setting is done once the idea has been hatched. This aimless approach generally shows up as indecisiveness – “I don’t have any idea what to do next, so I’ll just busy myself over here with these meaningless tasks instead.”
Overwhelm – This and wishy-washy-ness go hand in hand. If the goals are too many and too big and broad and overwhelming, the brain loses motivation and avoids the task altogether.
Health – I suffer from anxiety and depression, both of which contributed to my horrible procrastination habit – the depression makes me lazy, and the anxiety leads to perfectionism. ADHD and OCD are major contributors as well. If you think that you may be dealing with a mental or physical health issue, please contact your doctor! A professional can help you seek treatment or rule out the possibility that your health is affecting your ability to get things done.
What we’re trying to do here is to think through the causes of procrastination in order to try to resolve them. For example, if your issue is that you’re afraid that you won’t be able to handle the task well enough, you can tell yourself that even if you make a mistake, that’s not the end of the world, and you can correct it later on.
Ask yourself these questions – they can be answered regarding specific goals or tasks, or they can be answered in a more general way:
- When am I most likely to procrastinate?
- What do I do when I’m putting things off?
- WHY am I procrastinating?
Grab a notebook and start writing. Be VERY honest with yourself – lying to yourself will not help you here.
Also, in order to stop procrastinating, you need to actually WANT to change. In your notebook, include the reasons why you’d like to make each change in your life. Will you be happier, healthier, or more productive? Will the change benefit others? Every reason you write down will give you more motivation to make some changes!
Asking these questions of yourself can be a powerful tool. Having the questions and answers physically written down also gives you a “progress report” of sorts – you’ll be able to look back and see how far you’ve come. Put your mind to work, and you’ll be amazed by the answers it will come up with!
Consider Your Environment
It’s imperative that you clear your mind and space when you want to be productive, and this involves so much more than just turning off your phone. A bad work environment can cause you to procrastinate more, while a good work environment can help you be more productive, which, therefore, makes it that much harder to procrastinate. Try to improve your work environment as much as possible by making it a place where you find it easy to focus on your work.
(I should add here that “work” doesn’t necessarily have to mean your job, business, or side hustle – if you’re a mom, it can also include cleaning your house or making those phone calls to set up appointments or paying the bills.)
I’ll start with the obvious – distractions. In order to get out of the procrastination cycle, it’s important to get rid of as many distractions and temptations as you possibly can. Most of this is fairly obvious, and you’ve heard it all before – turn off notifications on your phone (or keep it out of the room if you’re able), keep your workspace clear, turn off the TV in the background…
The phone is the biggest distraction for most people. What makes it even harder is that many daily to-dos require its use, so it’s not like you can just leave it out of the room, right? In situations where you need to use your phone to get your stuff done, there are anti-procrastination apps that will completely block you from using certain websites and apps (I’m looking at you, Facebook!). Check out Freedom, BlockSite, and Space! I like Space best – it’s pretty AND it’s free 🙂
You’ll also want to be mindful of multitasking. Though multitasking may feel like a badge of honor (and may be necessary sometimes), it can actually be harmful to your mental health, making you more prone to depression. It decreases productivity and quality of work and just plain stresses your brain! It takes time for your brain to switch its focus, which ultimately causes tasks to take more time as you’re switching between them. It also decreases the quality of your work because you aren’t focused entirely on the (single) task at hand.
There are exceptions, of course – watching TV while doing a mindless task like folding laundry is perfectly okay! On the other hand, cooking dinner while making phone calls to set up those dentist appointments you’ve been putting off leads to burnt chicken or double bookings!
Another aspect of your environment is the time of day that you choose to work. If you tend to get more done in the morning, plan for that and get up early. If you’re a night owl, save those brainpower-requiring tasks for after the kids are in bed. Figure out the time of day that works best for you, and schedule your must-do tasks around that.
You’ll also want to consider your actual, physical environment. If your desk (or your home) is so cluttered that it’s hard for you to focus, you’ll be more susceptible to distractions and, therefore, procrastination. In my house, we call this “shiny object syndrome.” It’s kind of like a busy mom’s version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie:
If a busy mom starts to do the dishes, she’ll notice that the counters need wiping down. As she’s doing that, she’ll go to put the pile of mail on her desk (instead of the kitchen island), and realize that her desk needs a full decluttering. While cleaning the desk, she’ll find a stack of photos from 1992. Two hours later, she’s still looking at those photos and sending them via Facebook Messenger to all of her 7th grade besties… And the dishes still aren’t done!
No? Just me? Come on, I know I’m not the only one who goes down these rabbit holes! Anyway…
Having a physically clean environment calms me and keeps me from procrastinating by eliminating those shiny objects from my path – I’m able to focus on the task at hand.
Removing distractions from your environment makes it more likely that you will focus on your work and avoid procrastinating.
What aspects of your environment are holding you up? Grab that notebook and consider these things:
- WHAT is most likely to distract you from getting things done? Work on eliminating those temptations!
- WHEN do you do your best, most inspired work? Identify your peak times (the times in your day when you feel most motivated to get things done), and schedule those tasks that you’re most likely to put off. In addition, identify your slump times (the times in your day when you’re least productive), and plan breaks or super easy tasks for those times.
- WHERE do you do your work? Make your environment as conducive to taking action as possible. Figure out where you do most of your work, and declutter those spaces ASAP. For me, these spaces are my kitchen and my desk – the kids’ closets and the laundry room can wait for another time!
Increase Your Energy
Your body is your temple – taking care of it properly increases your energy, which increases your motivation and productivity, which decreases procrastination. This secret is one of my favorites – the changes are relatively easy to implement, and they do a TON for me. When I’m sleepy, I don’t want to work – end of story. Upping those energy levels is one of the best ways to get out of slumps and get yourself to stop procrastinating. Here are some ways to do this:
Get enough sleep. As a busy mom, I know how hard this one is – post-bedtime is my time to decompress and hang out with the hubs, and it’s a challenge to get to bed at a reasonable time. BUT – simply making sure that you sleep enough will help you be more productive. It will also improve your life in many ways as far as your physical health, mental health, and general well-being. Beyond just getting enough sleep, try to go to bed and wake up near the same time every day. Regular sleeping hours enable you to function at your optimal level.
Drink enough water. This is also harder than it should be. You can’t concentrate on your work if you’re dehydrated. Water balances your body’s pH and electrolyte levels and improves circulation, which helps boost your energy. This is another super easy way to improve your health AND it helps keep you focused.
Eat (preferably something healthy). No skipping meals! If you’re hungry, eat something that will give you some energy. Stay away from sugary snacks that will spike your energy for only a short time.
Go outside. Nature is a natural energy booster! If you’re stuck inside all day and feel that the walls are closing in on you, take a short break and go outside to breathe some fresh air and clear your head. If it’s warm enough, go barefoot. When you walk barefoot on the earth (called “grounding”), your body picks up free ions from earth’s surface that act as antioxidants in your system, which can give you more energy, less stress, and better sleep. Also, the vitamin D in sunlight strengthens your bones, plays a crucial role in muscle function, and protects your immune system.
Exercise. Regular exercise builds up strength and stamina. It decreases stress and helps you sleep better. And it doesn’t take a lot of time! A 20-minute walk around the neighborhood or quick yoga video is enough to do the trick!
Take a break. Our brains and bodies aren’t made to be productive 100% of the time, so when you’re really not feeling it, don’t force yourself into completing a task. It’s okay to take a break!
Answer the following questions:
- How can I improve in each one of these areas?
- Which one or two things will I start TODAY to keep me from procrastinating?
Remember to choose only one or two new habits at first – you don’t want to overwhelm yourself to the point where you quit entirely. If you don’t know where to start, try sleep and water – those are the two things that will make the biggest difference, and they’re pretty easy to implement!
Set Big Goals, Then Make Them Smaller
When you have clear, attainable goals in your life, it’s a lot easier to keep procrastination at bay. It’s time to get really clear about what is important to you, what your dream life looks like, and what actions you need to take in order to achieve your goals. These can be big, audacious goals – no need to limit yourself.
When you’re looking at these big goals, it’s crucial to make sure that your goals are as clear as possible, since you’re more likely to procrastinate when it comes to vague goals (as opposed to clearly defined goals).
For example, “eat healthy” is a very vague goal, so it’s not as achievable as more concrete goals such as, “avoid fast food and soda for the next month.”
Now that you’ve got some of those big goals and projects figured out, here’s where the secret comes in: When we put too much pressure on ourselves to produce, we give ourselves a sort of performance anxiety. If we can break down our goals and focus on small, achievable tasks, we’re more likely to avoid procrastination. So the next step is to break your goal down into the teeniest, tiniest actionable tasks that you possibly can.
It’s so much easier to just get started when I see tasks on my to-do list like “clean out girls’ dressers,” “clean out girls’ toy organizer,” and “organize girls’ closet” than it is if I simply put “clean and organize girls’ room” on my list. Cleaning and organizing the kids’ bedrooms is a task that is completely overwhelming to me. Where do I start? What do I do if I can’t finish all in one day? But I can easily handle their dressers, then move on to the next small task if there’s time, or leave it for the next day if there’s not.
Once you have your big project or goal broken down into small chunks, THAT’S when you put them on your calendar to actually do them. Plan your week ahead, list out your tasks, and give yourself due dates. I have a weekly planning meeting with myself every Sunday afternoon. I go over my to-do list and add my tasks to a particular day.
Note: Some people plan their tasks down to specific hours, but, let’s be honest, there are SO many interruptions in a mom’s daily life that this isn’t really sustainable. Try not to go overboard with the planning – we’re looking for healthy planning, not crazy, over-scheduled days that overwhelm and lead to more procrastination.
When I schedule my week, I start with the obvious things that happen daily (make the bed, scoop the cat litter, etc.) and weekly (meal planning, grocery shopping, change sheets, etc.). Do I NEED to put these on my to-do list? No, but it feels so good to cross them off every day that I do it anyway! Next, because I know that hourly planning doesn’t work for me (maybe it works for you – go ahead and try it if that’s the case), I write down what 3-5 things I want to accomplish on each day.
The main goal of this secret is to help you deal with the reasons why you procrastinate in the first place. Although breaking large tasks into small, actionable pieces is generally seen as more of a time-management technique, the main goal here is to help you transform overwhelming projects into something that feels manageable, which will prompt you to stop putting them off and start taking action.
Make sure that your goals are clearly defined, possible to accomplish, and significant enough to allow you to achieve meaningful progress. Here’s how:
- Pull out your notebook. Make a list of all the tasks you need to accomplish. The list should include both short-term tasks you need to finish daily and weekly, as well as long-term goals that may take months or even years to accomplish. Put this list ON PAPER. The act of writing out your tasks is key to thinking through how to complete them.
- Break your big projects and goals down into smaller actionable tasks.
- Put these smaller to-dos on your calendar. Create a solid plan of action by choosing 3-5 tasks to add to each day of the week.
- Implement your plan and monitor your progress. Refine your approach by figuring out if a daily to-do list is enough to help you with your procrastination or if you need to schedule your day in a more time-sensitive way (i.e., morning and afternoon tasks or hourly).
- Adjust and keep going!
Sometimes the biggest barrier to breaking the procrastination habit is the one you create in your head. It’s easy to build up any project or goal into this big, overwhelming task in your mind.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is simply dive in and start.
Stop overthinking it, stop making excuses, stop waiting for the “perfect time,” and stop putting it off. Instead, simply do something TODAY. Every little bit is a start!
For me, getting started is almost always the hardest part. Once I climb the first step and take action, it becomes easier to keep going.
Instead of telling yourself how much you DON’T want to do something, make the initial effort to do one small part of your work.
When you’re feeling particularly unmotivated, count down from ten, then force yourself to do whatever it is you’re planning to do. A quick countdown can help shift you into the right mental space to get motivated. Sometimes all we need is a little push to take that next step – that’s how self-discipline begins.
If you’re looking for more than just a simple countdown, there are various time-management techniques that you can use to make it easier to get started on your work. These methods may also help you remain focused once you’ve started. There is no single method that works perfectly for everyone, so you should try out different techniques until you find the one that works for you. You can modify these techniques and similar ones to fit your personal preferences.
- Set a Timer: This self-explanatory technique forces you to commit to a task at hand. Even if it’s a task you don’t enjoy, you’re more likely to stick with it because you’ve set a limit. I like to use 15 minutes on my timer – I can do ANYTHING for 15 minutes. Once that 15 minutes is up, I have the option of continuing or being done for now, even if the task isn’t complete. (If it’s not complete, definitely go back and do another timer block later!)
For me, this method works particularly well for cleaning-related tasks – I hate doing them, so knowing that I have the option of quitting after my allotted time makes it that much easier to get started. However, once I actually start, 90% of the time I’ll continue in whatever I’m doing – once action has been started on a project, it’s pretty easy to keep the ball rolling!
- Pomodoro Technique: This is a variation of using a timer. You’ll organize workflow by working in intervals, taking breaks so that your mind can do its best work. You’ll work on your tasks for a set amount of time (usually 25 minutes), then take a short break (usually 5 minutes) before starting to work again. In addition, once you complete four work cycles, you’ll take a longer 30-minute break before getting back to work.
Pro tip: You can even use this technique for play! It’s hard to get productive things done when you have kids – they need focused mom time. Use one of your Pomodoro work cycles for focused play with your kids – put your phone in the other room and build LEGO, take a walk, or play a board game. If you fill their buckets first, they’re more likely to allow you some time to work.
Here are some Pomodoro apps that can help you get started with this technique. A regular kitchen timer or the timer on your phone works as well!
- One-Minute Rule: Gretchen Rubin’s “One-Minute Rule” is one of my favorite time hacks – if the task will take a minute or less, DO IT NOW. Rather than throwing the mail on the counter, sort and distribute it now. Rather than walking by that dining room table that’s full of kids’ books and projects, saying to yourself, “I’ll just handle that mess later,” pick up the easy-to-grab trash and walk it to the trash can now.
By its very nature, changing your mindset with this simple rule helps kick procrastination to the curb. It makes more difference than you might initially think – your house will be tidier, and your productivity will increase. Because you’re doing so many of the little things as they present themselves, you’ll find yourself having more time for the bigger tasks.
Plus, the act of doing a tiny, one-minute thing can create the momentum you need to keep going. Many people struggle to start doing something, but as soon as we’re in motion, it’s much easier to keep going.
The only way to make progress towards reaching your de-procrastination goals is to start something (anything) NOW! Do you have dishes in your sink? Do them now. Need to make a dentist appointment? Make the call now. Every step you take counts. Even the baby steps!
Which one of the above time management techniques appeals to you the most? Try one (or all) of them to get started NOW!
Get out of your comfort zone every day and take action – no matter what! This is the key to avoiding procrastination and acing productivity. Without taking action, you won’t move forward.
JUST GET STARTED!
Be Kind to Yourself
In order to eliminate procrastination from your life, de-link your personal failings from moral failings. We all screw it up every once in a while. And we all feel like vegging out on the couch from time to time, even when our to-do list is a mile long.
While you’re fixing your procrastination issues, there WILL be times when you slip, relapsing back into those old habits. Remember that the occasional screw-up doesn’t completely ruin your attempts to change.
Being kind to yourself involves having compassion for yourself and extending sympathy to yourself in situations where you feel bad about the mistakes that you’ve made.
Give yourself grace, and be kind to yourself instead of critical! Go over your past successes in your mind, and remind yourself that, even if you have made mistakes in the past, you’ve managed to learn from them and are now better equipped to deal with obstacles that you might encounter.
Be mindful. Pay attention to yourself and your environment as they are in the present moment. Accept your thoughts and emotions in a non-reactive and non-judgmental manner as you’re experiencing them. Stay in the moment!
Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Something that helps me is to think about how I would react if my best friend made the same mistake that I just did. In that situation, I typically wouldn’t think anything of it – I’d extend plenty of grace to that friend!
Beyond forgiving yourself for procrastinating in the past, change your internal dialogue. Instead of saying, “I am a procrastinator by nature; it’s just who I am, trying saying “I get things done as they come in.” If you’re putting things off, but feeling pressure to get some work done, instead of saying, “I need to,” reframe it and say, “I get to” or “I choose to.”
The second example is incredibly powerful to me. When I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed by both the sheer amount of work that comes with having four kids, as well as the monotony and drudgery of everyday mom life, I remember that not everyone gets to have a life as blessed as mine – I have a wonderful husband, four happy and healthy kids, a beautiful home in a safe area… I get to meal plan and go grocery shopping every week for these clowns. I choose to cook dinner at home every night and prep healthy snacks, because that’s how I show my family that I love them.
Note: There is a flip side to self-kindness – don’t allow your self-compassion to turn into a way to enable yourself to continue procrastinating. When practicing self-compassion, you should always ask yourself whether you’re simply coping with your procrastination or whether you’re encouraging yourself to procrastinate more in the long run.
It’s so very important to untangle performance and self-worth. You are NOT the tasks that you accomplish on any given day – you’re so much more than that. If you have a day when you’re just not feeling it, remember that it’s okay to take a break.
Be kind to yourself.
Obviously, you ‘ll want to avoid the relapse as much as possible. Beyond that, though, it’s important to cope with these slip-ups in a positive way so that you can move past them quickly. You don’t want to say to yourself that you’ve already put a task off for an hour, so you might as well spend the rest of the day procrastinating. Here are the steps to deal with a relapse in a positive way:
- Accept what happened. Avoid trying to justify your procrastination. Take responsibility and own it, even if you wish that you’d acted differently.
- Forgive yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. Obsessing over procrastination keeps it in the forefront of your mind, which makes it harder to pick up and get restarted.
- Figure out what went wrong and how to avoid it next time. Assess the situation, determine why you procrastinated, and think about how you can avoid the same pitfall in the future.
- Get back to work! Once you’ve accepted the slip-up and forgiven yourself, just get started (again)!
Remember that your thoughts are directly related to your actions and, therefore, your results. Remember this, watch that mindset of yours, and be kind to yourself!
You’re trying to break a bad habit here – procrastination isn’t serving you any longer, and you want to make a change. Make the commitment to yourself and follow through with what you have planned.
It’s easy to flake out when you make plans with yourself, but honor yourself with the same commitment you would with a friend.
It will be hard. It can take quite a bit of time to form new habits – the Googles tell me that it can take anywhere between 18 and 254 days. It is NOT easy, but it’s so worth it.
When you’re learning how to stop yourself from procrastinating, you’re learning a new habit. Start small! Don’t try to change a hundred things at once. Choose one area that you’d like to change, work on it daily until you’ve mastered it, then keep going.
Your mind is the biggest obstacle you’ll face while trying to quit putting things off. You have to learn how to overcome how you feel at any given moment, something that can only be accomplished through the mental shift that comes with true commitment. By making this commitment to yourself, you’ll be able to filter out the negative emotions that cause you to want to give up on your goal.
When our new habits begin to form and take shape, it increases our likelihood of being successful in establishing our habits. It makes us feel good when we succeed. The more successful we are in carrying out our habit, the more often we will do it. Productivity and anti-procrastination leads to more productivity and anti-procrastination. Creating healthy habits, whether it’s writing on a daily basis, starting a new exercise routine, or just making your bed every day, makes us better people. It makes us positive contributors to ourselves and to our families.
The key is to make a commitment to yourself and keep moving forward. Don’t let failures and setbacks take you completely off course. Acknowledge the failure, figure out what caused it and how you can prevent it in the future, and move on. It’s not the end of the world if you spend an hour scrolling through the socials when you’re supposed to be doing other things – just don’t let it mess up your entire day. Remember that YOU are not a failure (Re-read Secret #6)!
This “secret” of committing may not seem like much of an actionable step at all, but it’s a necessary step to letting go of procrastination by improving your self-discipline and turning everything you’ve learned so far into a sustainable habit.
Commit to yourself by taking one day at a time.
Creating daily plans and motivating yourself to get started are great initial steps, but, unless you fully commit to stopping the procrastination habit permanently, it won’t stick.
Take the time and effort to really focus on this goal of stopping procrastination for a whole month. Then, at the beginning of the next month, evaluate the previous month.
What small change are you planning to make TODAY? Take out that handy dandy notebook again and start writing. Although you’ll only want to implement one thing at a time, write down the next 3 or 5 things you’d like to work on. That way, when the first item has become habit, you can easily move on to the next without thinking about it too hard – indecisiveness can lead to procrastination!
Be honest with yourself (are you sensing a theme here?) – are you putting true effort and focus into this new habit? What have you done very, very well? What can you improve? How will you improve it?
Remember to repeat this evaluation monthly until your personal growth goals are completely established. Each month will bring more knowledge and motivation!
Think of the things we could see and do if procrastination no longer came to visit! Once you start taking action, you’ll evolve, learn, and grow into a person who is productive, gives grace to him- or herself and others, and gets. things. done.
But guess what? If you never start, you will never succeed. When you put things off, you waste precious time that you’ll never get back. Procrastination is not serving you or your mission! Let’s beat it together!
Procrastination is a tough issue to handle, but if you take the necessary time to read this guide and formulate a valid plan of action, and if you then follow through on this plan, you will have an excellent chance at overcoming or reducing your procrastination.
Always remember: “Done is better than perfect.”