If you're a chronic procrastinator, you’re familiar with the pain and stress that goes hand in hand with leaving things to the last minute. Even if you want to accomplish or finish a task, you’re likely having trouble getting started in the first place! There are several strategies that can help you stop procrastinating right now (so read fast!), as well as lifestyle changes you can make to avoid future procrastination.
Changing your outlook
Stop punishing yourself for procrastinating
The more stressed out you are, the harder it’ll be to get your work done. Don’t be angry with yourself. Move on and focus on what you’ve got to do instead.
Guilt and regret are draining emotions. Wasting time yelling at yourself for not starting that 2,000-word essay two weeks ago will only make you extra tired and frustrated. It will also stress you out, likely making it impossible for you to finish your assignment at that time.
Tackle your most important task for 15 minutes
Instead of thinking about the total number of hours you’re about to work for, just start. Tell yourself you’ve only got to do it for 15 minutes. This will deal with the intimidation factor, and you’ll likely spend much longer than 15 minutes on your task before you stop working again.
And If 15 minutes still sounds too intimidating, do something for just 3 minutes.
Once you come up for air, take a two-minute break. Then start up on another set of 15 minutes of work.
Break tasks down into small chunks.
It can be overwhelming to think about finishing a whole essay or getting through an entire week’s worth of tasks. Instead of thinking about everything you have to do like one big obstacle, break it all down into tiny pieces. You’ll be able to get started on the smallest crumb and go forward from there.
For example, instead of thinking, “I need to finish this essay by 10 PM tonight,” tell yourself, “I’m going to make a short outline, fill that in, and then look for quotes.”
Consider trying a specific technique like pomodoro, where breaks happen at planned intervals.
Avoid making a long, disorganized to-do list. This is just setting yourself up for failure. Instead, create subcategories like "Home," "Work," "Family," and "Fun" and just try to cross off a few entries from each list every day.
Start your day with the hardest tasks.
Make yourself a plan in the morning and pick the hardest task first. You’ll be most energized in the morning once you’ve eaten breakfast and woken up fully. Tackle the hardest thing on your docket right then. You’ll feel better once it’s done, and then you can move on to a few easier tasks for the rest of the day.
Figure out when you are most motivated and alert and plan out your day so you use this time best. For example, if you're a morning person, do your toughest work right after you wake up. On the other hand, if you tend to be groggy in the morning, you risk making careless errors or frustration by going headfirst into a difficult task.
Give yourself a pep talk for motivation.
“Self-talking” is a great way to calm yourself down, get focused, and meet your goals. Talk to yourself, using your name. Tell yourself that you can (and will) do this.
Self-talk by saying something like, “Jenny, I know this week has been hard and you’re tired. You’ve written a million essays before, and you’re going to rock this.”
You can also ask yourself questions: “Jenny, why are you nervous about this? You know you can handle it.”
Self-talk out loud if you can. It’ll also work in your head if you’re in a public place.
Aim for done over perfect.
Imagining the perfect essay, assignment, or project could be what’s holding you back. It’s nothing at all if it’s not finished, so abandon your vision (or fears) of the perfect product. You also can’t fix what doesn’t exist yet.
Promise yourself you’ll get a reward when it’s done.
You’re probably dreading the next however many hours you need to finish this task. Just tell yourself that when it’s over, you get to celebrate with one of your favorite things. Use that anticipation to push yourself through the pain.
Removing distractions from your environment
Pick a workspace that works for you.
Figure out where you’ll be doing most of your work, and make it the best environment for limited distraction. It’s especially important to have a dedicated space for work that’s different from the one where you relax.
This may be the library, a coffee shop, your local bookstore, or a home office.
Download an app to avoid phone distraction.
Smartphones are usually the black holes that suck up all of our time and attention. Of course, there’s an app for that! Quickly download whichever app sounds like it will best address your particular procrastination problem.
AppDetox is the best choice for quick fixes.
Yelling Mom allows you to set a time for the app to start nagging you to start something.
Procraster prompts you to identify the source of your procrastination and then gives you advice about the problem.
A simple timer app can also be used to designate how long you intend to work and then how long your break will be. When the timer goes off, switch tasks quickly and stick to your plan.
Use a program or browser add-on to avoid internet distraction.
If constant browsing is your biggest issue, download an application to address your internet addiction. There are a variety of programs available for both Windows and Mac operating systems. If you have more self-control, set a timer before you go on time-wasting websites and get back to work when it rings.
For all devices and operating systems, try Freedom.
For Mac, Self-Control allows you to block a list of websites during times you’re supposed to be working. And it’s free!
For Windows, go with Cold Turkey. It's free, but to get the best features, it costs a one time fee of about $20.
For free options, choose StayFocused for Chrome browsers or LeechBlock for Firefox.
Remove your phone from the space if you need to.
If you can’t handle being in the same space as something that’s going to tempt you, address that problem by keeping it in another room or turning it off. This also goes for other devices, including iPads, Kindles, or even computers.
If you need to keep your phone on for family or work-related reasons, turn off all your notifications except for texts and/or calls.
Listen to music without lyrics.
Many people struggle to work and stay focused in a completely silent room. But if you are listening to music with lyrics, you’ll almost certainly get distracted by the words. Switch to a white-noise machine or instrumental music.
Avoiding procrastination in the long term
Write a to-do list to set goals.
Make a record 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. Seeing it written down will help you plan out the various actions needed to meet all your goals.
Put this list on paper. Even if you use your phone for all of your other lists, from groceries to birthday wishes, don’t put this list on there. The act of writing out your tasks is key to thinking through how to finish them.
Prioritize different goals with set deadlines.
Use a planner to schedule your time. Write short-term tasks in daily or weekly lists that include deadlines for each item. Set deadlines for long-term goals by listing them in monthly entries.
Include everything you need to get done in your planner. Say that on Friday your final biology project is due. Set aside at least three nights to finish it. You’ve also got to go to the pharmacy and pick up a new toothbrush and vitamins before you leave for vacation. Do this on Thursday night. You’re also taking the SAT in a month, so spend at least three hours this week practicing vocab.
Try using a strategy like the Eisenhower Box for prioritizing your tasks in an efficient way. Basically, you categorize all you have to do into four categories: tasks that must be done immediately, tasks that can be done later (or rescheduled), tasks that can be delegated to someone else and tasks that aren't important and can be eliminated. The strength of this strategy is that it works well with the tasks you must complete in a given day, but also on longer timescales, like weeks or months.
Avoid multitasking to focus on one goal at a time.
Multitasking makes you feel like you’re accomplishing a lot, but it actually prevents you from finishing tasks quickly and effectively. Keep your attention on one goal at a time, and give it your all. This will also help you avoid getting overwhelmed by your busy schedule.
Get a buddy to keep you honest.
It’s hard to stay away from distractions and do your work on time when you’re doing it alone. Luckily (or unluckily), everyone struggles with procrastination. Ask a friend or family member if they’d be willing to partner up with you to check in on each other’s work habits and accomplishments.
You can plan fun outings with your buddy to reward both of you when you meet your goals. If you keep procrastinating, cancel these events as a little bit of punishment.