Getting to now: How to beat the procrastination habit

I am a procrastinator. I always have been. It's a character flaw, and I admit it. I've tried all sorts of things to beat the habit — Getting Things Done, e-mail reminders, dozens of list systems — but the only thing that seems to work is to:

Do it now.

This is blindingly obvious, I know, but many people lose sight of this fundamental skill. It's not that we don't know that we should do things now; it's that we've forgotten how. Here are some techniques I've been using to try to force myself to get to now:

    • Set aside blocks of time to do things. When I was talking with my wellness coach earlier this year, she asked me why I didn't exercise more often. “I don't have the time,” I said. “Something always comes up.” She wasn't impressed. “J.D.,” she said. “You have to make time. Make an appointment with yourself to run or to go for a bike ride.” The same principle applies to other things you might procrastinate. Kris and I used to schedule a block of time on Saturday morning specifically to clean the house. Each week we'd tackle a different room. If we didn't do this, I'd just put it off for weeks (or months). Pick an hour a day to get things done.
    • If it comes to mind, then do it. Often I'll be sitting on the back porch reading a book, and it will occur to me that some chore needs to be done — pruning the laurel hedge, for example. “I need to write that down so I can remember it,” I tell myself. Wrong! What usually happens is that I forget to write it down, and even if I do, I just look at the list and procrastinate for weeks on end. The best move is to actually do the chore when I think of it. (Assuming, of course, that I have the time at that moment. Which I usually do.)
    • Use a timer to bring you back to reality. Part of the reason I procrastinate is that I have a rich mental life. This is just a flowery way of saying that I'm a daydreamer. I'm always lost in thought. One way to keep on track is to use a timer. I use the Ultrak Jumbo Countdown Timer, but not as often as I should. I set it for 48 minutes. When it goes off, it serves as an instant reality check: Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing?
    • Do not multitask. Oh, how I love multitasking. “I'm great at doing many things at once,” I told Kris once. She gave me one of those looks. “No, you're not,” she said. “You're great at starting many things at once, but you never actually do any of them.” Ouch! But she's right. In order for me to get something done, I need to focus my attention on it. Trying to do several things at once is a sure way to be sure they'll all be unfinished tomorrow.
    • Modify your environment to eliminate distractions. Distractions feed procrastination. How many of these have you told yourself:
      • “I'll just check e-mail one more time before I start.”
      • “I'll go for a walk after I finish reading this magazine.”
      • “I can paint the house next weekend. I want to watch the Seahawks game today.”

      Whenever possible, eliminate distractions. Remove clutter and snack items from your workspace. When working on your computer, only keep the programs you need open. (Ha! I feel like a hypocrite for advising this — I can't even make myself close my e-mail client for five minutes.) Keep your office tidy. Don't turn on the television unless there's something specific you intend to watch.

  • Compare your actions with your personal values. Last week I wrote that it doesn't matter what we say is important to us — the things that are priorities in our lives are the things we actually do. How does what you do mesh with what you believe? If you say that getting out of debt is important to you, are you actually doing the things that will lead you to get out of debt? If one of your goals is to fit into your old Levi's, how is watching another episode of The Office going to help you achieve that? Go for a walk!
  • Take back your brain! I've mentioned this website before in the context of marketing. Its premise is simple: Instead of letting advertisers persuade you, use marketing techniques to advertise to yourself. While this is a great way to fight consumer culture, it's also a smart way to combat procrastination. Create some in-home (or in-office) advertising to remind you to stop putting things off, to encourage you to do it now.

Beating procrastination isn't rocket science, but it is psychology. For many of us, that's just as difficult. It's scary how well this Psychology Today article describes me. If only it gave some tips on how to move beyond this. Instead it offers one small slice of solace:

Procrastinators can change their behavior — but doing so consumes a lot of psychic energy. And it doesn't necessarily mean one feels transformed internally. It can be done with highly structured cognitive behavioral therapy.

Can you tell I've been struggling with procrastination lately? This is something I'll continue to work on. If you have any tips or stories, I'd love to hear them. Meanwhile, it must be time to read The War of Art again. Maybe I'll do that next week…

More about...Psychology

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Melissa A.
Melissa A.
12 years ago

I’m terrible at procrastinating. I am by nature a low energy person, and I get overwhelmed so easily. Eventually I convince myself that the task just does not matter. I took a procrastination workshop in gradschool actually, but I don’t remember much and it didn’t really work. Right now my main issue is I just moved and I haven’t spent much time getting my apartment into a comfortable spot. I try to do a few things each night, but I am not looking forward to organizing, decorating or shopping (but at least I have some money saved for that).

Retired To Win
Retired To Win
6 years ago
Reply to  Melissa A.

Melissa, I’ve found that a great way to overcome getting overwhelmed by a task is to break it down into small chunks. I do this two different ways. First way: I plan and schedule time to get a small chunk done (for example, processing 2 boxes from your recent move — and then giving yourself permission to stop). Second way: I schedule a set amount of time to work on a task (say, an hour)… and then stop. Both techniques keep me gaining all the time. And task completion seems to sneak up on me without (too much) angst. Good… Read more »

theFIREstarter
theFIREstarter
6 years ago
Reply to  Melissa A.

I still can’t beat the trusty old to do list.

And it HAS to be in a physical form. I’ve tried making digital versions but I’d much rather grab a scrap peice of paper and make one on the back of an old letter or print out.

TIcking off things to do as I make progress is somehow strangely satisfying in my opinion! And it also makes you focus on one thing at a time, like JD advises above.

MillionDollarJourney
MillionDollarJourney
12 years ago

I think the key for procrastinators (like myself), it to create urgency somehow. For me, a list of things to do for the day helps. For example, a top 5 list of things that you must get done.

Bill
Bill
12 years ago

Being a grad student in architecture school while working (almost) full time, my inclination to procrastinate is something that I wrestle with constantly.

I’m slowly working my way through Neil Fiore’s “The Now Habit” – even though I haven’t gotten to any of his proposed strategies yet, the beginning dissects the motivations behind procrastination in a way I hadn’t seen before, and just reading about that has given me a new set of benchmarks to be able to identify what’s really going on if I want to blow something off.

Starving Artist
Starving Artist
12 years ago

Hey JD, I have an odd technique that works well for me. Really short bursts of exercise. These aren’t meant to be workouts, they’re just meant to get you moving. For instance: if I’m at home, and I have to get some writing done, I start by doing five pushups. That’s part of my writing routine. It’s difficult to think of writing the 1,000 words, but the five pushups aren’t intimidating at all. Doing that little bit of physical exercise perks me up, focuses my mind, and because it’s part of my routine, it means I’ve actually started whatever project… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Starving Artist, I think that’s a great idea. I’ve actually done similar things in the past, but in a rather unorganized manner. By that I mean that sometimes I just make myself get up and go for a short walk because I know that when I return I’ll be in a much better mental state, a mental state that lets me get things done.

Melsky
Melsky
12 years ago

I’m procrastinating right now by reading this instead of painting!

Mariano
Mariano
12 years ago

Being a hardcore procrastinator I found this article very helpful and honest. I absolutely agree that the solution is as simple as “Do it Now”, the only problem is actually doing that is as easy as it sounds. You have a very good point on multitasking. I thing it gained so much hipe that nowadays you can not be against multitasking without looking “unproductive”. I think that there’s a lot of confusion around multitasking. Is funny how it is expected that we handle multiple complex task simultaneously at work, but we are violating a law if we attempt to drive… Read more »

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

The best tip I know is to reverse little and BIG projects … it’s the BIG projects that generally make the most positive impact on my life, so I try to organize and execute around those. So simply ask yourself, J.D., what are the couple of things in life that if you did them on a regular basis would make the most awesome, dramatic, profound impact on your life, that would start “blessing” you and your wife and your whole life in the most insanely positive way from the moment you you started doing them forward. Now put those things… Read more »

Taylor @ ImprovLifestyle
Taylor @ ImprovLifestyle
12 years ago

There’s a great concept in improv called “Today Is The Day”, and it’s the reason for doing a scene. There is a reason why the scene you are watching is important, because “Today is the day that…” something happens. I try telling people to realize that Today Is The Day to make something happen. If NOTHING happens today, then you are punished by being boring! I have a post coming up in the future about “Today Is The Day” over at my site.

Russ
Russ
12 years ago

great post. i also have a “rich mental life”. 🙂 another way of saying all this is the old nike adage i’ve come to love: ‘just do it!’, which i have as a background on my computer.

Lynn
Lynn
12 years ago

Hey, J.D. Thanks for the mention again and welcome to your readers. I just met a HUGE financial goal this week, largely due to a relentless advertising campaign I’ve been waging on myself for the last couple of years. While a lot of other stuff got procrastinated during that time, the ads seemed to motivate me to keep taking one more step forward on that particular project and Friday afternoon I drove home a new RV! Over the course of the ad campaign that started out seeming impossible and ended up feeling inevitable. I’ll be writing all about it over… Read more »

Ryan
Ryan
12 years ago

I was going to comment, but I think I’ll do it later.

(Seriously, just wanted to say GREAT POST!)

Dustin Coates
Dustin Coates
12 years ago

One of the things I do is put blocks in the way of procrastinating. For example, at work I’ve installed MeeTimer. Not only does it time how long I’ve procrastinated, it also creates an extra click between me and the procrastination site. Sometimes just that extra click is enough to make me turn around and get back to work.

CptofMySoul
CptofMySoul
12 years ago

How did you get my picture! I knew I should have gotten up to pull the shades, but I kept putting it off.

Aimee
Aimee
12 years ago

Do It Now is the best way to keep clutter from growing too. Something misplaced that belongs in another room you are on the way to, take it with you… etc.

And, I love the timer. I like to time my computer time because otherwise there are too many fun things to help me avoid my housework.

Aleks
Aleks
12 years ago

“I’m slowly working my way through Neil Fiore’s “The Now Habit” – even though I haven’t gotten to any of his proposed strategies yet, the beginning dissects the motivations behind procrastination in a way I hadn’t seen before, and just reading about that has given me a new set of benchmarks to be able to identify what’s really going on if I want to blow something off.” I did the same thing with the book Procrastination. I read through the part about the underlying causes and it was interesting, but once I got to the part about what to do… Read more »

Kyle
Kyle
12 years ago

The fact that you are a procrastinator and you still blog daily with some solid advice gives a fellow procrastinator like me some hope!

Catholic Bibliophagist
Catholic Bibliophagist
12 years ago

I’ve applied “Do It Now” to my billpaying with excellent results. Before I used to wait until I had a bunch of bills before I’d sit down with the checkbook, or I’d decide to wait until the bill was closer to the due date. And then I’d lose track of time and end up paying things late even though I had the money in my account. Now I sit down and pay the bill as soon as I get it in the mail. This is especially easy now that I have an online checking account with free billpay. The thing… Read more »

Mariette
Mariette
12 years ago

One thing I have started doing which has been helping me not to procrastinate as much (or for not as long) is to change the way I view the tasks I have to do. It’s always the onerous things that I procrastinate, or the things I think I can’t be bothered with in the moment. When I catch myself starting to think negatively (about bill paying or answering an email I don’t want to) I just pause for a minute and breathe, usually that helps to break my negativity cycle enough so I get it done rather than putting it… Read more »

BillinDetroit
BillinDetroit
12 years ago

Procrastination is basically just doing a deliberately bad job of prioritizing because we fear success.

It is conscious self-sabotage and, as one of the many ways of committing suicide on the installment plan, takes continuous effort.

So long as we remain inert, we can be sure of acceptance by the other lumps. But we move ahead alone. Eventually we enter another group … but there is a gap between the two while we are ‘tested as to fitness’. (Adapted from 1 Timothy 3:10)

Distractable
Distractable
12 years ago

This is an interesting discussion, but there is another very powerful factor that may be involved: ADD/ADHD. I have always been a daydreamer and a procrastinator, easily distracted. For my entire life, I was told I was lazy, willfully disobedient, stupid, and many other things because I could not concentrate very well. In my mid-40’s I was diagnosed with ADD. With the proper treatment and medication, I am able to concentrate and not procrastinate _for the first time in my life_. I can’t over-emphasize what a powerful transformation that was for me, and for many other people with ADD. The… Read more »

Cello
Cello
12 years ago

I was procrastinating when I find this article. Good to know that there are ways of dealing with it. I´m not so anxious with my on-going procrastination now…

seth
seth
12 years ago

hahaha this article is great, because that is exactly what I am doing now! I need to get some pictures done tonight, and am dredding doing them now!

but thanks to your article, it is helping me! I am getting ready to get some work done.

thanks!

Tobi
Tobi
12 years ago

I bought a book, ‘The Procrastinator’s Handbook: Mastering the Art of Doing it Now’, about 2 years ago… I haven’t got round to reading it yet though… I keep trying to beat this habit but just can’t seem to get started!

Shaze
Shaze
12 years ago

Procrastination is a flaw? You sir, are an idiot.

Jeremy L. Gaddis
Jeremy L. Gaddis
12 years ago

Thanks for the article. I am a *HUGE* procrastinator myself.

I was actually going to write a similar article myself, but I never got around to it.

brian
brian
12 years ago

all those who wrote comments here, and the maker of the blog, the time we spent reading and writting is the time we have just procrastinated.

lol

kill your pc will cost you 500$, but it will reduce your procrastination by 500%. Ne 1 wanna try this before me?

David
David
12 years ago

“Procrastination is a flaw? You sir, are an idiot.”

If you were a procrastinator you’d realise that it is a huge personality flaw.

Michael
Michael
12 years ago

When I’m not procrastinating this is how I deal with it, http://blog.tribalpizza.com/2007/09/minimizing-proc.html.

Amy
Amy
12 years ago

I too am a terrible procrastinator. It has haunted me my whole life. I’m also really good at starting things and never really finishing. Like right now…

mark
mark
12 years ago

Well said.

“Do it now” sometimes is hard work 🙁

Kaushal Karkhanis
Kaushal Karkhanis
12 years ago

Hurray! I finally read your article – I’ve been procrastinating on reading it since a week after I saw it on popurls.com 🙂 It was lying in my open tabs all this while.

Tommy
Tommy
12 years ago

Waw, thanks a lot GD. I was looking for this kind of article for a long time.
Distractable, you pointed out a good matter (ADD). In fact I suspected it years ago, but forgot about it for a while. Can you write us an article about your experience?
Personnaly, I suffered a lot from procrastinating especially and I, iconsiously use the do-it-now trick sometimes, but when people do not follow my rythm, I become more procrastinating (or am I just making pretexts, I don’t know).
Thanks to everybody hehe!

Mia
Mia
12 years ago

I have a serious issue with procrastination. It has gotten really out of hand over the past year. Today, I have two exams to take and I plan on postponing taking them because this whole weekend I didn’t study.

marty
marty
12 years ago

I was going to leave a comment….but I’ll do it later… 😉

Great article, and plenty of good suggestions for people to look at implementing in their own lifestyle.

Stephanie
Stephanie
11 years ago

Great article! I recently began conquering my procrastination habits and have found so much happiness in investing (and not just spending) my time. I’ve learned a lot from a personal mentor of mine, Hillary Rettig — a productivity/career/and life coach. She has a great free e-book for all of the procrastinators out there: “The Little Guide To Beating Procrastination, Perfectionism and Blocks” on her website lifelongactivist.com along with other great resources.

Julian
Julian
11 years ago

I once bought “Getting Things Done”, but never got to read it… How Ironic is that??

Everything Counts
Everything Counts
10 years ago

Excellent post. I quite appreciate your view point. Thanks for sharing.

Concojones
Concojones
10 years ago

Hey JD, Thanks for the opportunity to exchange ideas. What I picked up here: – pick a set hour every week to get chores done (this works indeed, I almost forgot. I remember that actually looked forward to my chores hour because I’d have some of my favorite music playing in the background) – pushups or brief exercise to get you in a high-energy mental state Some advice from my own: – study your past to find what has worked FOR YOU in the past. For me, the following worked: – think of the fastest possible way to get rid… Read more »

Kaitlin M
Kaitlin M
10 years ago

Procrastinators of the world unite … tommorrow.
I love the tips here, personally I use the timer, except I use the washing machine instead.
Half an hour is all I half and by the time that dings it jolts me back from whatever procrastinating I was doing.

Freddy
Freddy
10 years ago

Thanks of the advice, JD!

Re: timers, you can also download free ones off the internet. I read a suggestion (maybe on realsimple.com?) of setting a timer and doing 5 minutes of cleaning at one location, and when the timer goes off, going to the next location. It helps me at least make a dent in a few locations. I found “Cool Timer” online and it’s great!

Oleg Mokhov
Oleg Mokhov
10 years ago

“The gap between ignorance and knowledge is much less than the gap between knowledge and action.” -A wise person Hey J.D., Get stuff done by just doing it. Now. Don’t be daunted by the big picture and all that needs to be done. Simply figure out the most important task that gets you closest to your goal, and just do it (I hope this link to an article I wrote isn’t spammy… just thought it’s relevant to the topic). How to find the most important task? 80-20 it: focus on the 20% that’ll give you 80% results, then only work… Read more »

S
S
10 years ago

I sometimes have a huge problem with procrastination. I spent days, weeks, months trying to decide what color to paint a room. When in reality, any color would be better than the color that is there now. I once read that procrastination is a form of perfectionism. How can a perfectionist have such a cluttered jumbled mess? It’s a mess because I know it won’t be perfect so why even start. If I can’t get a clear plan of how to accomplish a task I just don’t do it. I do use a timer, 15 minute intervals, to get through… Read more »

S
S
10 years ago

Just thought I’d let you all know I did buy the paint and I did paint the room. It’s a lovely pale apple green named Panacea. I found this to be amusing. Perhaps the Just Do It principle is my panacea for procrastination.

Micki in Denver
Micki in Denver
10 years ago

Caffeine.
Lots of it.

monica
monica
10 years ago

one thing i’ve learned about procrastinating is…it’s totally ok! being a senior in college, I’ve learned that there’s no point in beating myself up for doing things I enjoy. the things that need to be done will get taken care of eventually (cuz i have no other choice) and the things that don’t need to be done…just do not need to be done. After realizing all this, i’m a lot less stressed out and happier with life. allowing myself to relax by procrastinating has also improved my grades 🙂

Dollars Not Debt
Dollars Not Debt
10 years ago

I have an absolutely fool-proof idea that will forever eliminate any desire to procrastinate. I will share it with this group tomorrow.

Dollars not Debt

Tommy
Tommy
10 years ago

Hi people,

I recently knew about the Da Vinci method (www.davincimethod.com) and it brought me good explanation of the situation. ADD and ADHD is also well mentioned there.

I would be happy to discuss it with you.

Regards

Craig
Craig
9 years ago

I bought a book on procrastination a few years back. I’m definitely going to read it soon…

(True story!)

Susan
Susan
6 years ago

Oh, we are SO separated at birth! Great article.

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