5 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get Things Done

This is a guest post by Allen Schowengerdt. He is a writer for YourLocalSecurity.com and is an avid sports fan and marketing enthusiast.

We all do it. We put off that dreaded task for five more minutes, then for thirty minutes, then for another hour, until it doesn’t get done at all. And the worst part is we still weren’t able to enjoy our day. We spend so much time stressing over that looming task that it deprives us from actually being able to focus on other tasks.

A Man Looking at a Watch on a Table - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Cimmerian, Image #1205738

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Cimmerian

Why do we do it? We know it never ends well. The problem is that the cycle can feel nearly impossible to break. We get so caught up in the cycle of procrastination that we almost forget how to effectively tackle hard tasks.

Here are five tips for nipping procrastination in the bud and taking back control over your daily life.

  1. Tackle the most difficult task first. You’re probably thinking “Duh, I already knew that.” But you may not have realized that there’s scientific backing for this suggestion. We only have a limited supply of willpower. Once it’s been used up for the day, chances of us tackling hard tasks are pretty slim. Dive into your hardest task when your energy level is at its highest. This will ensure the best results.

    When we push the hard tasks to the end of the day, it takes a toll on our energy all day long. In the end, stressing for hours over the task we’re procrastinating negatively affects all the other tasks on our list.

    So next time you’re scheduling the items on your list, make sure to start out with worst one. It may not necessarily be the largest, but it should be the one you’re dreading the most. By accomplishing it so early in the day, you will feel energized and productive. You’ll know the rest of the day is all downhill and cruise through the list with remarkable speed.

  2. Divide the task into smaller tasks. We tend to get overwhelmed when a giant project looms ahead of us. We don’t know where to start or what to do first. Keep in mind that forests are made up of individual trees. Though you may not be able to take down a whole forest at once, you could certainly start with one tree (or even a branch).

    If you need to organize your entire kitchen, start by working on just one cupboard. Organizing one cupboard is much more feasible than trying to get everything done in one swoop. Make a commitment to complete a small step each day, and you’ll find the task becoming less and less daunting with each new task that you accomplish.

  3. Set a mid-day alarm. There’s nothing more guilt-inducing than ending a day and realizing you haven’t accomplished a single task. We can avoid this rut by setting an alarm on our phone to ring everyday around 1 p.m. When the ringer goes off, assess how many things on your list have been attended to.

    Re-plan your schedule for the remainder of the afternoon and shift it around to take care of the most important item first. If necessary, you can indulge in a second cup of coffee to jumpstart your “second morning.” By doing this, you will avoid going to bed at night mulling over all the things you didn’t get done.

  4. Dedicate yourself for a small period of time. To stimulate productivity, there’s an old trick of setting a timer for ten minutes. By frantically racing the clock for that short period, you’ll likely find you become engrossed in yours tasks and continue working.

    The feeling of dread that has been on your mind will quickly be replaced with a sense of pride and satisfaction. Seeing what you can accomplish in ten minutes when you put your mind to it is quite motivating.

  5. Schedule your tasks on the calendar. Creating a game plan will help you move past the initial paralysis you feel. Instead of just writing the tasks down in a to-do list, take it a step further and identify when and how you’ll accomplish it.

    For example, plan to go to the grocery store at 4:00 p.m. and start cooking dinner promptly at 4:30. By clearing up the anticipatory stress, you’ll avoid a large part of the dread that holds you back. Creating the plan is half the battle!

Though it feels impossible, you have it in you to accomplish everything that you need to every single day. With a fresh perspective, a little prodding, and a detailed plan, you’ll be well on your way to ending the procrastination cycle once and for all.

Questions: Do you struggle with procrastination? How do you deal with it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://twitter.com/KimunyaMugo Kimunya Mugo

    Oh my! Raw nerve here. If there were medals for procrastination, I’d have a cabinet filled with them! Fear factor has driven my bad habit. Fear of failure, fear of what others will say about me. This year, I chose to chip away at my bad habit. I started a blog, and now writing a book on leadership from the home front. Thanks Michael for inspiring me, and trailblazing for the rest of us…

  • http://garridon.wordpress.com/ Linda Adams

    I find that procrastination seems to pop up for me when the world around gets so crazy that I’m begging it to slow down so I can catch up.  The culture of my job is “Everything is emergency.”  People wait until the last minute to do everything, then coming barreling to me with sirens screaming saying, “I need this by noon.” (and it’s 10:30). 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      This is a good point. I find that by spending 15 minutes every morning in stillness and solitude, I am more focused during the day.

    • http://www.gailsangle.com Gail

      People work to the time lines you allow. Even when I give vendors or colleagues plenty of notice, if they only do the task just before (or after) the deadline next time I give them less notice. If they demand more notice and make others live by that by saying no a few times then people back off and give more notice. It can be hard to change the culture of your organisation but if your persistant then people will learn to respect your time lines.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.martin.10485 Steve Martin

    I was going to read this post.

    But I think I’ll do it tomorrow…

  • ELVIS ONDU

    I thank God because I never contemplate of any.
     

  • http://hortonmarketingsolutions.com/james James Horton

    I really like to break things down and I find it helps.  Some tasks, especially tedious ones, I used to put off but I realized that I did this because I wasn’t seeing how they tied in to accomplishing my bigger goals I am working towards.

    I handled this by using poster board sized post it notes on a wall.  At the top is the major goals we’re working to accomplish – then each of those goals is broke down into smaller goals – which are broke down in to targets under that.

    I don’t do daily goals this way – those are on a check list by my workspace – but I refer to it each day or week when I’m laying out my plans for the week on what will be accomplished.

    I find for me that seeing how each one of those tasks I don’t really want to do, actually  move me a step closer to my goals assists in removing the mental push back against doing them.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    The one thing that works for me, is to simply set a timer for 48 minutes, turn off all distractions, and do one thing. Then I take a 12 minute break. Repeat as necessary.

    • Allen Schowengerdt

       Also a great idea. The one thing I would suggest is to not limit yourself to one thing in that time period. Yes work on one thing at a time, but if you finish that thing, move on to another. If you are going to commit to working for a specific amount of time, make sure you keep working for that time, even if you accomplish the one thing you were set on.

  • http://twitter.com/CXOAlliance Anthony

    These are so simple, it’s very easy to do, but the simplicity also makes it easy not to do :-)!

  • donna oshaughnessy

    My timer is my best friend most days! As a stay at home mother/home educator of 4 I have had to spread myself thing many days and setting a timer to remind me to move on has been such a big help. Now that 2 are off to college and 2 are entering HS (at home) I find I have MORE time on my hands. That is a good thing, but more time to do what? I chose to start a website/blog and see where it leads me.

    My timer in hand, I have a tangible perimeter set for tasks at hand! Great article.

  • Jeff Scurlock

    Procrastination is the enemy. I heard someone say that hard work is the accumulation of things you could have done yesterday. I like your plan. I know it helps me to have a plan and as much as possible, stick to it. Thanks for another great post. http://www.jeffscurlock.com

  • http://www.pauljolicoeur.com/ Paul Jolicoeur

    Good tips, under #3 don’t forget the nap!

    • Allen Schowengerdt

       If only we had the time! haha

      • http://www.pauljolicoeur.com/ Paul Jolicoeur

        Think about it this way….. if you took a break (to have a break!) and rested, you would be in a better state of mind and be more productive for the rest of the day, than it you just fought through.

  • Caleb Lawrence

    I have some every once and a while. But it is really easy to cure by using the Pmodoro technique.

  • Spookendyke

    I tend to procrastinate when I’m not sure how to go about something.  I’ll put it off until the very last minute possible. And then I usually find it really wasn’t that hard after all!

    • http://yourlocalsecurity.com/ Allen Schowengerdt

       I agree. I tend to find that ideas and solutions tend to just start flowing if I just jump in and start doing it.

  • http://www.myrkothum.com/ Myrko Thum

    I personally think using a simple routine to plan your tasks is also very helpful. Not over-complicated and with less than 4 items for maximum focus on the most important task, which tends to be the one we procrastinate on…

  • http://www.toddliles.com/ Todd Liles

    This is a great, practical blog. Thank you. My favorite is “tackle the most difficult thing first.” I call it “kiss the frog.”

  • http://www.gailsangle.com Gail

    I’m also great at procrastinating. But I have learnt to at least procrastinate from one task by doing something else important instead of stressing out or doing nothing (I know people who spend more time stressing than actually doing the avoided task – mostly they are called students at exam study time, lol). I also like to ask myself WHY I’m avoiding a certain task and then working out if I can solve/change that reason so next time I’m not roadblocked by the same temptation to procrastinate. Sometimes this involves finding a team mate who’s strengths are better suited to the task and allowing them to find treasure in my trash.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

    Yes, I struggle with procrastination. A favorite procrastination activity of mine is to read and leave comments on other people’s blogs and then to keep checking back to see how many of my comments were taken down and how fast (probably because the authors or their moderators thought I was making fun of their content), and trying to detect deletion patterns. That’s one of the ways I entertain myself while I procrastinate. (I shall be checking back here shortly.) 

    If you want to know where your heart is, look to where your mind goes when it wanders.

    So we should all keep close tabs on where our mind goes and what we’re doing while we procrastinate, as it may contain clues as to why we’re procrastinating. Perhaps we shouldn’t be doing what we’re supposed to do in the first place.

    • http://yourlocalsecurity.com/ Allen Schowengerdt

       I think that is some good insight. Maybe those things that your mind is on should be the first priority in the to-do list.

      • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

        At least we should be aware that the things our minds tend to gravitate toward when we’re supposed to be focused on something else might be clues to something.

  • Tim

    I bought a Kindle book about procrastination and I still haven’t got around to reading it. I also went to buy a book about improving your memory only for Amazon to tell me I had already bought it.

    Unfortunately, these events are both true. Sigh.

  • ChadMillerBlog

    Tip #3 is worth a try. Way too often 1:00 sneaks up on me and I realize I’ve not accomplished a thing. I’ll be setting my “second morning” alarm tomorrow and give it a try.
    On the flipside, let’s hope that procrastination until 1:00 doesn’t start to become a habit.

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  • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

    I always eat my vegetables first. This way I get it done and then get to enjoy the rest of my dinner.

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  • http://viewsfromtheouthouse.blogspot.com/ Mark S. R. Peterson

    Procrastination is definitely the beast I constantly go to battle with.  Having recently read Pressfield’s “The War of Art” and Tracy’s “Eat That Frog”, I have tweaked what I do in order to enter this battle.
    Allen, you make excellent points on this.  One addition that I do is plan the top five things I have to accomplish the night before–I think I got this from Earl Nightingale.  That has been a tremendous help as well.

  • Allen Schowengerdt

     That is a great idea Eddie! I wish I had included that.

  • http://bekdavis.com/ Bek Davis

    Great article.  I would put off getting out of bed if I did not use #5 as my daily RULE!  Schedule your tasks on the calendar!!

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  • Anil Mehrotra

    I have realized that most of my procrastination are for the tasks that involves “writing” – email, presentations, reports. I always push it to the last minute. Unless there is emergency, my mind just goes blank when I sit down to write. in contrast in emergency situation, my thoughts are clear and speed is amazing. 
    I am wondering if I love to thrive in crisis and hence create it…Any advise for me?

  • Kayt Gilmore

    I choose a specific day and clear it just for that particular task.  Sometimes I myself have to do all other pressing tasks a day before in order to have the whole day to deal with my little “nightmare”.  I go a step further by bribing myself with a reward; a small shopping spree, dinner at a favorite but normaly unaffordable resturante, or some other thing I’ve been putting off doing for myself.  Sometimes it might be just a nice long bubble bath with all the trimmings!

  • http://twitter.com/bicienzo Vincenzo Vecchio

    Thanks Michael, great post. As usual. 
    Since I love the part about scheduling tasks in your calendar: I was wondering if you found some automatic way to do it. e.g. push your tasks from your task mgnt system to google calendar? 

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  • Maxrevo007

    I have read alot of books on productivity and they had practical advices to give, but none of them mentioned such a brilliant idea such as 
    3. Setting a mid-day alarm.
    to assess how many things have been done, can be done, should be scheduled for the next day….Thank you Michael…Great Post

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  • Life Inspiring Guidance

    If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done ~Rita Mae Brown

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  • http://twitter.com/Mother_Matters Lori West

     My grandfather would say the same thing – though . . . it was a LIVE frog (cooked frog (legs) are actually quite yummy!).
    I agree on the email checking only twice a day! I can get sucked into it all day.  I have tried to only check it about 30 minutes before my daughter comes home – because her arrival home forces me to get off (otherwise it seems/can be never ending).

  • http://twitter.com/Mother_Matters Lori West

    I think my life motto has been “Why do today what you can put off till tomorrow!”  :)
    That needs to change.
    I’m learning. 
    I’m trying. 
    It gets challenging when I get interrupted by 5 kids who need their mama . . . as I usually can’t procrastinate on taking care of their needs.  :)

    I have been doing some soul searching lately as to why I procrastinate, as well as why I don’t finish projects that I start.  I’m realizing – it has to do with the “recording” in my head that I heard over and over again growing up – spoken by one of my parents “You know what you SHOULD have done to make that better . . . ”  or “Oh – I have an idea of what you COULD do next time.”  or “That’s nice – but you know what WOULD have been better . . .” (Granted – this parents is an “ideas” kind of person – a visionary . . . but that doesn’t sit well in the mind of a little child (and now adult) who just wants to hear “Great job!  I’m proud of you!”)

    All the should’ve, could’ve and would’ve-s subconsciously derail me. I realize now that the anxiety I sometimes feel over nearing the completion of something (or even the thought of starting something) – comes from the fact thought that . . . I might not finish/do it right!
     
    Perfectionism can not only cause you to work on something too much – but it can stop you from even starting many times (because – if you don’t do it – then you can’t fail. :)  And also – if you don’t finish it, then there won’t be the statements of “you should have done it this way instead – it would have been better . . . “)

    Now – these are not conscious thoughts that I had been thinking – but what I’ve come to realize that is driving me in my procrastination and the delay in finishing projects.  And now that I know . . . I’m working on getting healing for these “beliefs” – letting God’s truth replace the lies, as as well as working on being intentional in jumping over the obstacles now that I see them.  :)

    My dad recently shared with me his 80% rule (though – ironically – it was his voice that spoke all the “should have’s” to me throughout the years) . . . . That he doesn’t have to have things perfect – but at least 80% . . . and to not worry about the rest.

    That’s a hard concept to swallow for this perfectionist (or should I say – a former-perfectionist-wanna-be).  :)

    Thanks for sharing what you know and encouraging us!

    Now . . . I’m off to stop procrastinating on something today . . . the question is . . . which of the LOOOONG list of undone things do I start with?  :) 

    Sometimes (when I’m feeling brave . . . or maybe a bit crazy) I wipe my whiteboard or to-do list clean . . . and whatever I can remember – I then write it back down.  The other things . . . I just let them go!  If they are important – they will resurface.  :)

    One of my favorite quotes (that’s posted in my bathroom . . . that I try to ignore every day – obviously!) is this one by Lin Yutang:
    “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of
    leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of
    nonessentials.”

    AMEN!

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  • http://www.jonkidwell.com/ Jon Kidwell

    I am struggling with a case of “productive procrastination”.

    Let me explain. I need to be working on A. Instead, I am working on G. I am procrastinating B through F as well.

    I rationalize it by saying, “At least I am still getting work done.”

    Anyone else struggle with this? Any ideas?

  • srcritical

    I beg to differ with this article. The reason why we procrastinate isn’t out of “lack of techniques” but out of distain for the task at hand.

    Procrastination is a signal that something is wrong.

    Procrastination should be a clear indicator that something needs to be changed, that there is actually no interest in the task to be done. If you procrastinate at school on a paper, mark my words “do no move towards a career that will involve writing papers & reports” you will hate it and burn out a few years later. If you procrastinate at work on most tasks, consider a job or career change.

    I’m saying like it is. It’s often not convenient to change job. However, procrastination won’t change, it is *not* a habit. If you think it’s a habit it’s because you’re spending time on things you hate. Do yourself a favour and change what you spend your time on. Screw money, money — past survival — is there to help you get “happier”. If in the process of making money you are making yourself miserable to the point of having major procrastination issue, take a paycut and do something fun with your life.

    Also accept that you’ve changed and what you like now may be different than what you liked last year, people change and so do you.

    Hope this helps someone somewhere.

  • paddy

    Paddy Ryan brilliant ideas cant wait to get em into action its like the start of lent again or an new year resolution

  • NYOIONYOI

    PISS