How To Stop Procrastinating

It’s four hours before the project deadline and the clock is ticking so loudly you can’t hear yourself think. You’re in a frenzy, desperately rushing to get everything done before you’re out of time. Half of your brainpower is directed to berating yourself for not starting sooner.

Why on earth did you put it off so long? How did you let this happen - again?

Sound familiar?

It should.

Procrastination is one of the most common problems people face on a day to day basis. And it can be incredibly damaging - not just in terms of missed deadlines, but also missed opportunities, time wasted and self-esteem wrecked.

In this post, we’re taking a look at why people procrastinate - what drives procrastination and what can you do about it? We’ll explore the procrastination and motivation cycles and then share with you eight practical tricks to help you stop procrastinating and get (and stay!) motivated.
 

Are There Benefits To Procrastinating?

There actually are benefits to procrastinating - at least on the surface. The first is that if you don’t start something, you can’t finish it and therefore you cannot fail. The second is that procrastination allows you to feel like you’re treating yourself.

The problem is that in both cases, procrastination fails to deliver a result we can feel good about.
 

Why Do People Procrastinate?

Perhaps the most common cause of procrastination is a lack of alignment between goals and values.

For example, family is the most important thing to Joe Bloggs, but his daily life doesn’t reflect that. He set a goal to double his income, which has resulted in much longer hours at work, leaving Joe less time to connect with his family. That’s what we call a goals-values conflict - Joe might double his income but he’ll be left feeling empty because he lost the connection with his family along the way, and that’s what he treasures most.

It is not possible to be happy and healthy while pursuing our goals to the exclusion of our highest values - the things that really matter to us. People who go through high stress, life threatening events are a great example - you’ll often hear them say that’s when they decided what was important. What they’re really doing is recalibrating their goals and values so their daily life reflects what they hold dear.

It’s critically important that we look at our goals and values and ensure they are in alignment. If we don’t, we end up pursuing goals that are low on our values list and wondering why we feel empty.

[For more on how to align your goals and values, check out our post on the subject!]

It’s this particular recipe for disaster that is the primary driving force behind most procrastination.

Why?

Because when we don’t truly value something we’re chasing and we come up against an obstacle or difficulty, we begin to wonder if it’s all really worth it or not. The moment that thought occurs…

 

 
The reason we procrastinate is we’ve lost our connection to how important the goal was and we are wondering if it’s worth the effort. Are we getting what we want - or are we just a hamster running on a wheel?

When we’re feeling like the hamster, the easiest thing to do is start procrastinating.

Why?

Well, procrastination is many things, one of which is a version of ‘me time’. It’s actually you devoting time to yourself. Most of us waste it in spectacularly unfulfilling ways, but we’re spending time away from the grind, away from the things that look difficult and challenging.

Facebook is a fantastic example. It’s a little time to yourself - it’s not very satisfactory, certainly not rewarding. You won’t come away from it feeling fulfilled. At best, you might feel updated.

What we tend to do when we’re feeling like the hamster on a wheel is look at the things we have to do (which are mostly tasks we have set for ourselves) and feel uninspired. The reason for that is that the benefit of the goal hasn’t arrived yet (it won’t until we reach it). More often than not we said to ourselves, ‘I’ll be happy when I get the boat…’, so if the boat is not here, we can’t be happy.

We’ve lost focus on the fact that we might be a much better person working toward getting the boat because we have to grow to overcome the challenges along the way. Meanwhile, we feel uninspired because we don’t have a boat, or are still overweight, haven’t got the promotion etc.

For most of us, that lack of inspiration leads to thoughts like this…

“I’m in the wrong mood, I should wait until I feel better. I’ve wasted an hour on Facebook when I only had an hour and a half for the task anyway. I’ll let it go and come back to it tomorrow. I’ll probably feel better then. Since I’ve started to relax now, I might as well call today a write off and get a pie and a beer. Tomorrow is going to be a great day, I know it is. I’ll start then.”

Guess what happens tomorrow?

Exactly the same.

Here’s what it looks like…
 

 
That’s the procrastination cycle. Everyone has been stuck in it at some point. It’s an awful feeling - it’s ugly and we hate ourselves for it.

When we get stuck on that cycle, the first thing that happens is our self-esteem plummets. It’s very difficult to develop self-respect when we know we should be getting on with something and we aren’t.
 

It’s very difficult to develop self-respect when we know we should be getting on with something and we aren’t.

 
The second thing that happens as a result of the procrastination cycle is a negative mood, which we hate. Since we hate the mood so much, we do whatever is necessary to make it go away. And unfortunately, there are a multitude of simple, easy and convenient methods for doing that.

Most of the time, we go for a mood altering substance or activity. A mood altering substance is anything we put in our body to change how we feel - the most common ones are alcohol, nicotine and food. A mood altering activity is anything we do that will change how we feel - watching television, shopping, working and thrill seeking are great examples.

There’s an endless list of options for mood altering. The problem is that they change how we feel, but they don’t remove the reason we feel that way. For example, chocolate as a mood altering substance works great while we’re eating it, but once the taste goes away so does the impact. When that happens all we’re left with is the original negative mood, plus additional negative feelings about eating the chocolate. More often than not, we engage in more mood altering behaviours and spiral downward because they keep wearing off.

That is not a pretty cycle to be stuck in - but many people ignore it because in the immediate moment it feels better and the damage doesn’t seem that bad.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “research has found that we’re strangely averse to properly evaluating the status quo. While we might weigh the pros and cons of doing something new, we far less often consider the pros and cons of not doing that thing. Known as omission bias, this often leads us to ignore some obvious benefits of getting stuff done.”

(You can read Harvard Business Review’s article on procrastination here: https://hbr.org/2016/07/how-to-beat-procrastination)

Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself - if you’re truly honest, what has procrastination cost you?
 

Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself - if you’re truly honest, what has procrastination cost you?

 
Financially, what has it cost you in lost deals, promotions you could have had, trades you didn’t do?

What has it cost you in relationships that didn’t go to the next level, that might have if you’d only picked up the phone more or popped in for a quick visit?

What has it cost you in terms of health and fitness? How energised and confident might you be if you’d been eating and exercising in the best possible way for you?

What has procrastination cost you in terms of happiness because you didn’t go after something you wanted? Because you didn’t loosen up a little bit?

What has procrastination cost you in self-esteem and self-respect?

The answers are likely to horrify you.

I’ll share my own personal example. In 2003, when my doctor said, “Mr Blackburn I’m very sorry to tell you that you have aggressive prostate cancer - how long have these symptoms been present?”, I said, “Three or four years.” I was promptly informed that if I’d addressed those symptoms early on, they could have put me on a simple course of treatment and I’d have been fine. I procrastinated for so long it became a life-threatening illness. I had to have a $30,000 operation and spent a week in hospital. It was a very difficult time for me and a terrifying time for my family - all because I procrastinated. I’m fully recovered now and I’ve long since let the money go, but I have to live with the fact that my procrastination about my health put my wife and daughters through one of the worst periods of their lives.

My point?

Procrastination is enormously expensive and incredibly damaging.
 

Procrastination is enormously expensive and incredibly damaging.

 

It just doesn’t usually seem that way in the moment.

 

The Conquering Procrastination Worksheet
The Conquering Procrastination Worksheet
The Conquering Procrastination Worksheet
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The Conquering Procrastination Worksheet

Discover 8 strategies the greatest minds in the world use to ensure they stay consistently focused and motivated.
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The Motivation Cycle

Let’s take a look at the mood altering cycle we use when procrastinating from a different perspective…

What we need to do is ask ourselves, “How can I stop the procrastination cycle by mood altering in a positive way?”

That is, how can we use the need to alter our mood to break out of the procrastination cycle with positive activities?

It’s actually quite easy - all we need to do is pick activities that benefit us in the long term. Physical exercise, mindfulness, meditation and taking action (even tiny actions) are all great examples.

Here’s what the difference looks like…it’s a small change with an extraordinary impact.
 

 
For me, taking action has been the thing that works really consistently. I’ll use another personal example…

We live on the waterfront and every morning I get up at 5am to spend an hour on my stand up paddle board. I get physical exercise as well as mindfulness from that, so it makes me feel fantastic. My personal success routine revolves around getting up at 5am and getting on that board - but what I’ve found is that’s two goals and the jump is too big. I’ve discovered that the trick is to find the simplest, smallest action I can take.

When I wake up, what is the smallest action I can take that will create a sequence?

For me the answer is to roll over, because then I’m on the side that isn’t so comfortable, which means I don’t go back to sleep. As I do that I’m thinking of the next small action, which is to get my feet on the carpet. That means I’m sitting up, so then the next tiny action is to stand up.

It would look to an observer as though I simply woke up and got out of bed, but I’m using three separate actions that are so small I don’t have to focus on anything other than the next step. Once I’m up I put on my board shorts, which are right in front of me where I placed them the night before. I put them somewhere I’m going to stumble over them, because then it’s hard to move past them without realising that if I’m walking past the board shorts I’m letting myself down.

I’m up, dressed and ready to go without thinking it through - I simply focus on the next small step. This continues all the way through getting downstairs, putting the GPS on my wrist, placing the board in the water and stepping onto it.

I have a particular circuit I go around, which is about six kilometres. I have a set of small goals about how quickly I can get around that circuit, which have shifted as I’ve improved. The original goal was to get around my circuit in an hour, so I’d compete with myself. Every time I could get inside 12.5 minutes per kilometre, I’d be closer to the one hour circuit.

The successive goals were small, but as soon as I achieved a time that was better than a month ago, motivation would kick in. Even when I missed the hour, motivation arrived because I knew I was a little fitter than before I left, so my chances were better tomorrow.

That’s the way it is. Motivation creates more action.
 

Motivation creates more action.

 
What most people don’t realise is that there’s a cycle that’s great to be trapped in - the motivation cycle. All you’ve got to do to be swept up by it is take some action, no matter how small!
 

 

What Do You Gain From Procrastination?

When you’ve got a feeling that’s pushing you towards procrastinating, it’s important to ask yourself…

“What will I get from sitting down and having a beer as opposed to walking the dog?”
 

 
The initial impulse will be to have the beer, but it’s crucial you look deeper. That’s where the understanding that walking the dog is a better choice resides. What would you get if you didn’t respond to the initial impulse and instead chose to walk the dog? A sense of self-respect, a job well done, positive feelings about giving your time and energy to the dog, a little fitter yourself. You can always have the beer when you get back, if that’s the right choice for you.

Whenever you’re struggling with procrastination ask yourself, “What is the long term benefit of the decision that seems harder right now?”
 

Whenever you’re struggling with procrastination ask yourself, “What is the long term benefit of the decision that seems harder right now?”

 
Asking that question will force you to focus on the one thing that will push you to make the right choice - the bigger picture formed by your values.

When it comes to motivation, values are critically important because we will always move towards what matters to us and away from our fears.

If your values (and your connection to them) are bigger than your fears, motivation will be permanent, powerful and easy to maintain.
 

If your values (and your connection to them) are bigger than your fears, motivation will be permanent, powerful and easy to maintain.

 
But if your fears outweigh your values, motivation will be temporary and difficult to maintain. When that happens, expect to find yourself getting stuck and procrastinating. To fix that, you’ll need to process the fears out of your system so they no longer paralyse you. Even the vaguest of fears will mobilise all of your resistance to any kind of forward motion because fear creates paralysis.

In essence, sustained motivation is about being connected to what you value deeply - not so much to your goals and targets themselves. A set of clear, well-articulated, specific values will create motivation because they give you a much more meaningful target to work towards.

So, now that you’ve got the big picture in mind, here’s my eight top tricks for turning procrastination into motivation…

The Conquering Procrastination Worksheet
The Conquering Procrastination Worksheet
The Conquering Procrastination Worksheet
Free Download

The Conquering Procrastination Worksheet

Discover 8 strategies the greatest minds in the world use to ensure they stay consistently focused and motivated.
Download

8 Powerful Practical Strategies For Turning Procrastination Into Motivation

 

Strategy 1: Goal Value Alignment

It is absolutely crucial that your goals and values are in alignment. If they’re not - get used to procrastinating.

Keeping your goals and values aligned is an excellent way to ensure that you’re always taking action on the goals and targets that matter most, that will have the biggest impact, first. That’s a recipe for happiness and productivity.

Once you’ve got your values clearly defined, it’s important to regularly check back in on them. At least annually, if not bi-annually, spend a day contemplating your values and any shifts you’ve noted in them. Check again if the goals you’re working towards derive from those values and if they don’t, remedy that quickly!

We’ve got a whole blog post on how to align your goals and values - it’s a highly worthwhile read. You can find it here.

There’s a slight variation on this version of task prioritising (most important first) popularised by personal development expert Brian Tracey, called Eat That Frog!

Here’s a great summary of the idea…
 

 

Strategy 2: Eradicate Your Fears

Consciously or not, you move towards your values and away from your fears. If your fears outweigh your values (and therefore motivation), expect yourself to be blocked by them. To fix that, you’ll need to process the fears out of your system so they no longer paralyse you. Even the vaguest of fears will mobilise all of your resistance to any kind of forward motion because fear creates paralysis.

So, look at what you don’t want to do…

What are you avoiding?
What base fear is driving that avoidance?

For more information on dealing with fear, check out our Transforming Fear Masterclass.
 

STRATEGY 3: Tiny Sequenced Actions

Being able to just take one small step forward is critically important for banishing procrastination and staying motivated.

Whatever goals you set for yourself, break them down into the smallest pieces you can and put them in sequence. Ensure you have this sequence written down so you can easily access it when you need to.

Most people don’t have a plan in place to keep them on track, or to get themselves back on track when they lose focus.

Having small, sequenced actions already defined allows you to simply take one step when things get difficult or overwhelming. When you do, motivation will return, followed by more action…and so on.

Want to look at it another way? Here’s what James Clear, author and personal development enthusiast, had to say about preventing procrastination by using small actions…

“How to Stop Procrastinating With the “2–Minute Rule”

I call this little strategy the “2–Minute Rule” and the goal is to make it easier for you to get started on the things you should be doing.

Here’s the deal…

Most of the tasks that you procrastinate on aren’t actually difficult to do — you have the talent and skills to accomplish them — you just avoid starting them for one reason or another.

The 2–Minute Rule overcomes procrastination and laziness by making it so easy to start taking action that you can’t say no.

There are two parts to the 2–Minute Rule…

Part 1 — If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.

Part 1 comes from David Allen's bestselling book, Getting Things Done. It’s surprising how many things we put off that we could get done in two minutes or less. For example, washing your dishes immediately after your meal, tossing the laundry in the washing machine, taking out the garbage, cleaning up clutter, sending that email, and so on.

If a task takes less than two minutes to complete, then follow the rule and do it right now.

Part 2 — When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.

Can all of your goals be accomplished in less than two minutes? Obviously not.

But, every goal can be started in 2 minutes or less.

And that’s the purpose behind this little rule.

It might sound like this strategy is too basic for your grand life goals, but I beg to differ. It works for any goal because of one simple reason: the physics of real life.

As Sir Isaac Newton taught us a long time ago, objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. This is just as true for humans as it is for falling apples.

The 2–Minute Rule works for big goals as well as small goals because of the inertia of life. Once you start doing something, it’s easier to continue doing it. I love the 2–Minute Rule because it embraces the idea that all sorts of good things happen once you get started.

Want to become a better writer? Just write one sentence (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll often find yourself writing for an hour.

Want to eat healthier? Just eat one piece of fruit (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll often find yourself inspired to make a healthy salad as well.

Want to make reading a habit? Just read the first page of a new book (2–Minute Rule), and before you know it, the first three chapters have flown by.

Want to run three times a week? Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, just get your running shoes on and get out the door (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll end up putting mileage on your legs instead of popcorn in your stomach.

The most important part of any new habit is getting started — not just the first time, but each time. It’s not about performance, it’s about consistently taking action. In many ways, getting started is more important than succeeding. This is especially true in the beginning because there will be plenty of time to improve your performance later on.

The 2–Minute Rule isn’t about the results you achieve, but rather about the process of actually doing the work. It works really well for people who believe that the system is more important than the goal. The focus is on taking action and letting things flow from there.”

What a fantastic tool! If you’d like to read the original article, you can find it here: https://jamesclear.com/how-to-stop-procrastinating

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Strategy 4: Public Declaration

Identify several people in your life who you know will support you, no matter what. Choose people who know you well, understand your journey and are willing to hold you accountable when you’re struggling to do that for yourself.

Share your goals with the three or four people you’ve selected. It’s really important that you bring your goals out of your head and into the public arena with this type of declaration. There’s no need to tell the whole world, but this select group of people who will support you are key to your success.

It’s vital you choose people who are willing to deliver tough love when you need it. They need to be prepared to say, “Listen up buddy, it’s about time you got serious with this - buck up and hold true to your word.”

A reward and penalty system can also be helpful for staying on track and your supporters can assist with this too. For example, my goal is to be on my stand up paddle board five days out of every seven. If I don’t make five days, then I have to go for longer than my usual time/distance. That helps me stay accountable because the faster I hit five days, the easier it will be to keep on track and hit my targets.
 

STRATEGY 5: Disconnect

A great way to overcome procrastination is to disconnect for small periods of time so that you can focus on making something happen.

It’s really important that you get good at this ‘disconnect’.

For a specified period of time - perhaps an hour - put aside your phone, email, Facebook and thoughts of what’s for dinner. Block out everything other than the one thing you’d like to make some progress with and get stuck into it.

You’ll notice that the focused action creates motivation, which spurs more action and before you know it you’ll be in the motivation cycle.

You just have to ditch the distractions long enough to take the first few steps.
 

[RELATED: Why You Need A Personal Success Routine]

 

STRATEGY 6: Go Big

Looking at the big picture is incredibly helpful when dealing with procrastination because it forces you to reconnect with the values and emotion driving the goals you’re striving for.

Whenever you’re struggling with procrastination ask yourself, “What is the long term benefit of the decision that seems hard right now?”
 

STRATEGY 7: Group Inspiration

Find a group of people who are on a similar journey to you and spend time with them. It’s fundamental to your momentum to be surrounded by people who are going in the same direction as you - they’re the ones who will inspire and motivate you.

If you can’t find a group, start one yourself. We did that about ten years ago - we couldn’t find the mentoring we wanted or the right group to be in, so we got together with two other couples we knew and talked through the idea of working together. We formed our own group and it serves all of us very well.

The alternative to a group is a highly successful mentor who has already achieved what you’d like to, but they’re often harder to find and more expensive than joining a group. Certainly a worthwhile thing to do if you can, but a group will serve you just as well if you find the right one.

[RELATED: All The Inspiration You’ll Ever Need To Get Motivated]
 

STRATEGY 8: Just Do It!

It may sound overly simple, but when it comes to forming new habits or even just the little things you avoid that bother you, just getting on with it can often be the key.

Here’s a great tool from Improvement Pill called the 3…2…1 Trick that you can use to, as Nike says, just do it!
 

 

That’s it! Eight powerful tools for stopping procrastination and getting motivated. It’s absolutely achievable, but you’ll have to put in the work.

After all…

The best way to predict the future is to create it.
 

The best way to predict the future is to create it.

 

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Paul Blackburn

An internationally acclaimed author and leader in the human potential movement, Paul has taught more than 400,000 people on 4 continents how to reach their personal and professional potential during 38 years as a success coach, author, instructor and keynote speaker. Paul has trained 350+ life/business coaches, held one of the world’s largest fire-walks, was appointed by the Australian Government to its business advisory panel and is a partner in a multi-million dollar business operating in 86 countries (not related to personal development).