I would generally consider Joseph and I to be productive people. We work full time jobs, we have our kids, and over the past two years, we’ve grown a six-figure business. Clearly we’ve had to get stuff done in order to get where we are. Having said that, we both struggle with procrastination sometimes. We wanted to share our favorite anti-procrastination tips to help you the next time you’re facing a project that feels overwhelming.
There are many reasons we procrastinate, but a lot of it stems from trying to avoid the fear, nervousness, stress, and confusion of taking on projects that we don’t like or don’t immediately know how to conquer. It’s easy to get stuck in this positive feedback loop where you go do something fun for immediate gratification instead of tackling the project. But once that initial high is over, you realize you have even less time now, which makes you feel worse, so you go do something that makes you feel better (again) instead of starting on the project.
So how do you get past all that fear and stress and actually get started on the project you’ve been putting off?
#1 Plan Your Day
Really sit down and plan your entire day, and that includes scheduling yourself breaks. Don’t plan a solid eight hours of work for a project. You won’t want to get started, you’ll get burned out while you’re doing it, and you’ll likely start mindlessly checking your email when you need to be doing something else. It’s easy to get distracted with something else if you don’t give yourself enough time to breathe.
One of the best things about planning out your day is that you can prioritize the things that are the most important to you. Sometimes it’s hard to get to work because we feel like we never have time for the things that we want to do. One of the ways I fit in the things I want to do is by having a morning routine. I write, medidate, and work out first thing most mornings. I’m not perfect with my morning routine, but I am conscious of the fact that it’s important to me to carve out that time for those activities.
#2 Remove Distractions
Removing distractions from your workplace is one less obstacle for your mind when you should be working. This might mean that you completely remove your phone from the room you’re working in or that you take advantage of programs that will block specific websites. You could even shut down your home wifi or go work in a place that doesn’t even have wifi so you have fewer distractions.
One thing I’ve been working on is keeping only one tab open in my browser at a time. If I leave multiple tabs open, it’s easy to use those tabs as an excuse to stop working on something. I’ll tell myself that now is as good a time as any to read that article I’ve kept open. Close your tabs! If the content in those tabs is actually important, you can find it again when you’re not working.
#3 Take Advantage of Your Most Productive Times
It’s important to know yourself, how you work, and what time of the day you are the most productive. When you’re making your daily schedule, save your difficult projects for when you are the most productive. If you’re a morning person, schedule your project for the entire morning. If you’re an afternoon or evening person, schedule the project accordingly so you’re more into it from the start. I’m a morning person, so I like to tackle big projects then. That means I don’t look at email or social media in the morning—I go straight to my project. I even decide the night before what project I’ll be tackling the next day so I don’t need to go through my to-do list to pick what I should start with.
It’s also okay to actively put something off if you’re the kind of person who works very well under pressure or with a deadline. If you need two hours to do a project and intentionally set aside three hours before the deadline to work on it, that kind of conscious procrastination can be beneficial for you. For everyone else, it might be better for you to set artificial deadlines for yourself. If you have a project due in ten days, you can set a personal deadline for eight days to give yourself the feeling of pressure but the ability to go back and review the project with fresh eyes before you wrap it up.
#4 Tell Yourself It’s Okay to Be Confused
When you’re starting a new project or task, go ahead and tell yourself that it’s okay to be confused. Build some time into the project for when you’re frustrated and don’t know which direction to head in so you can brainstorm solutions. We all feel that way, and it’s completely okay to set time aside in that project specifically for it.
We all have a tendency to avoid negative emotions, but learning to sit with that confusion and frustration regarding a project is important. Acknowledge those negative feelings so you can learn how to react in a way that won’t make your procrastination worse. Once you’ve acknowledged those emotions, go ahead and get back to work.
#5 Divide the Project
Write down a long list of everything you need to accomplish in order to complete the project, no matter how small. It can be overwhelming to think about the project as a whole, so having a list allows you to divide the projects into small, achievable tasks. You can then take on one task at a time. You don’t have to write a fifty-page report all at once; you can start with researching just one small fact.
Another tactic to chip away at a big project is to divide the project into small chunks of time. There are several options for this, like the Pomodoro Technique, where you set a timer for twenty minutes and focus everything on your task. If you’re really struggling, you could even set a timer for just one minute to see how far you can get. It’s likely you’ll find yourself starting to focus and can continue working on the project past when the timer ends.
Both of these time-based techniques are helpful because sometimes the hardest part of any project is actually getting started. I use the Pomodoro Technique for writing, but I use the one minute technique for things like exercise. If I reach the time limit and want to stop, that’s fine, because I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish. But I often end up feeling like I might as well keep going once I’ve overcome that starting inertia.
#6 Visualize Your Success
How is it going to feel once you’ve knocked this project off your plate, especially if you’ve been procrastinating and stressing about it a lot? Think about how good you’re going to feel once it’s finally done and you don’t have to worry about it anymore. I always feel great when I get a big project done.
I love when I get a project done early and feel like I really had the time to put in my best work. When I think about how happy my future self will be if I do the small, tiny things right now, it makes it a lot easier for me to just bump myself out of procrastinating and into action.
#7 Just Go Ahead and Do Something Fun First
When I need to get started on a project but I don’t want to or I’m excited about something else, I give myself ten or fifteen minutes to just do the fun thing. Tell yourself that you can do that fun thing first, but once your time limit is up, it’s time to buckle down and get to work. That way you give yourself a little bit of what you need so you can start your project without being resentful about all the things you want to do but can’t.
You can also pick the part of the project that you’re most excited about or enjoy the most and do that first. Once you have tackled the exciting part, it’s easier to just keep going and finish up with the less interesting parts of the project.
We hope these ideas can help you end any procrastination issues you’re having at home or work so you can get things done!