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7 Tips to Overcome Procrastination

Photo by Hannes Caspar
Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment. ~Jim Rohn

When I recently told an acquaintance I worked at home full-time, she commented how difficult that would be for her.

“I’d never have the kind of discipline to do that,” she said. “I’d get distracted and wouldn’t get a thing done.”

Over the past several years, many people have commented on how disciplined I am, from my workouts to my diet to my career. It’s not to say I haven’t had a few donuts or skipped the gym a number of times, but generally I can motivate myself to do something regardless of how I’m feeling.

Many people think of discipline as a tough-love thing. Conventional wisdom often says the harder you are on yourself, the better off you’ll be. I disagree. I think it’s important to approach this topic with care and compassion. Know your limits — it’s the easiest way to expand them.

While I share these tips to improve your discipline, it helps to think of it as a cumulative process. The more you use it, the more you have. Look at it like you would a language. You’re not going to master it in one week or even a year. But consistent practice will make it second-nature after a while.

1. Find the little tricks that motivate you

You could call these baby steps. What is one tiny thing you could do to push yourself toward the action you don’t feel like doing?

When I don’t feel like working out, I know the easiest way to get me to do it is to put my gym clothes on. When I don’t feel like cooking, making a grocery list gets me more in the mood.

By employing these baby steps, you can often convince yourself you actually do want to finish that project, clean the bathroom or organize a fundraiser. It’s just a matter of taking one step. Sooner or later, you’ll want to put another foot in front of that one.

2. Ask yourself why

Look deeply into the reason you want to quit. Implore yourself: Why don’t I want to start? Chances are the answer isn’t that you’re being lazy (although those rainy days make it hard for me to get moving), it’s that you’re afraid.
Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of criticism. These are huge stumbling blocks for many of us. I had a hard time writing this article; I kept putting it off. It finally dawned on me that I was worried about being criticized.

Once I recognized that I was acting out of fear instead of being frustrated with my procrastination, I could take real action. I gave myself a pep talk, reminding myself of previous times I’d written well with minimal, and mostly constructive, criticism.

Recognizing when you’re acting out of fear gives you compassion for yourself, giving you the opportunity to move forward instead beating yourself down and holding yourself back.

3. Recognize triggers that diminish your discipline

We all have them, and they don’t necessarily have to be labeled “bad” things either. Often it’s just an issue of timing.

For me, I won’t cook dinner if I know I’ve still got some work to finish. In my mind, cooking signals the end of my day. Work-related things sort of melt into the background for me. Most of the time, it’s a good thing. It’s a way to unwind from my day. But if I’m running up against deadline, I’ll ask my husband to cook or we’ll grab take-away.

It’s not as though you have to stop hanging out with that friend who always keeps you out late. It’s just better to skip it if you have to get up early the next morning. Know thyself, right? It goes a long way to cultivating discipline.

4. Focus

This might seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you the number of times I just forget to focus. I’ll be in the middle of writing and suddenly I’ll be reading a blog post. Or mucking around on Twitter. How did I get here, I wonder.

When I notice myself doing this, I say the word outloud. “Focus.” Often that’s all it takes for me to return to the task at hand with renewed vigor. Giving yourself a command out loud tends to wake you up a little.

5. Envision yourself being finished with the task

This one works great for me if I’m really struggling. Generally I’m one of those people that will finish something once I start, so if I’m entertaining the idea of quitting half-way through, I know I need to play some mind games.

During a particularly grueling workout, I really considered calling it quits. I had worked hard enough, I told myself. I took a minute and saw myself drinking a glass of chocolate almond milk afterward. It did the trick.

See yourself celebrating after you finish a project at work. Peer into your mind’s eye and you’ll find you’re enjoying a good book in your newly painted living room. Often this is just the thing to get you moving in the right direction.

6. Get to know your willpower

Willpower is a critical part of discipline, although they aren’t exactly the same thing. Discipline is what gets you out of bed every morning to train for that marathon. Willpower is what you need when you had a bad night’s sleep, it’s cold and your bed couldn’t be cozier.

We all have a power source within us that can push us beyond what we thought we were capable of. It’s how we push through a hard day at work when we know we can’t take time off. Or how we skip the beautiful dessert tray at a decadent restaurant.

Pay attention to when you draw on this source. When does it work best for you? When do you feel it wane? I find that my will power is strongest in the morning, so that’s when I schedule things I know I’ll need a little push to get through.

Your willpower is a valuable resource, so get familiar with it. Maybe it struggles if you’re hungry. You could keep some healthy snacks on hand to get you through difficult times. View it as one of your closest friends. Treasure it, nurture it and you’ll be able to count on it down the line.

7. Remember: If it was easy, everyone would be good at it

Make this your mantra. What you’re doing is extremely difficult, so try to be as understanding as you can with yourself.

When I’m pushing my limits, I notice I get really crabby and angry at myself. I should be able to handle this, I think. That’s when I know it’s time to have a heart-to-heart with my brain. I’m allowed to make mistakes. I’m allowed to take time off. This isn’t easy.

Be kind to yourself, especially when first starting on your journey toward improving your discipline. It’s a long road, and if you start out by putting yourself down, you’re not going to make it very far. Hard work is hard work. Don’t make it more difficult with negative self-talk.

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Discipline is one of those fundamental skills that make life easier and can help your dreams come true. The more you sharpen it, the better that tool will become. Over time, you’ll be able to do anything you set your mind to.

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About the author

Rebecca is a fierce optimist who believes in the power of making life happen. Magic and creativity are her latest pursuits, along with exploring her new home, Germany. Read her blog, follow her on Facebook and Twitter for her latest enthusiastic (and sometimes witty) remarks. Check out her new book, Change is Easy & Other Novel Concepts: Short Essays on Changing Your Life, One Step at a Time.

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13 thoughts on 7 Tips to Overcome Procrastination

  1. Just to add one thing would be. To plan right. Then focus on the work you are doing like doing gym a wrong way would lead to even more worse condition.
    Regards.

  2. very impressive post…your tips are awesome to overcome procrastination and I will prefer this post to my some friends. Thanks for sharing

  3. Thanks Deepak! And yes, muddaser, planning is definitely helpful…that’s not my strong suit ;) And I totally agree with your point on focus. Not being in the moment can lead to things like injury or mistakes. Thanks for the comments!

  4. well.. good post.. my point is that I personally believe , procrastination is the root cause of failure.. lots of people are procrastinating because they dont want to make mistakes.. but making mistakes is key to success,, it is procrastination which is leading towards failure.. mistakes are leading you towards success – See more at: http://mysuperchargedlife.com/blog/5-ways-to-beat-proscrastination/#sthash.yjEc26uA.dpuf

  5. Here are some reasons to do things now to help you answer #2. But yes, the more discipline you have, the easier it is to overcome procrastination.

  6. Wonderful post!

    I too am very disciplined when it come to fitness, career, raising my children etc.

    It drives me nuts when people tell me that I am “lucky” that I am disciplined

    Thanks for the tips. I’m a fan!!

    Steve.

  7. Great post Rebecca!

    Love the tips and will be checking out your blog.

  8. Hi Rebecca – nice article. While I believe that tips and tricks like this can definitely help (and they helped me too), I think for certain people, procrastination has a partly genetic component that can’t be overcome by stuff like this. With people wired the way I am, portions of our brains literally go offline when we try to perform mundane tasks: the best way to describe it is a feeling of tunnel vision and that everything goes more slowly in our impaired state. (This isn’t a cop-out because I’ve accomplished a lot of things in my life despite this.)

    For people like me, tips like yours work somewhat, but the main focus becomes on finding ways to prevent our brains going offline while performing our tasks. I get a lot more mileage by attacking that issue.

  9. stephanie

    Great post! Each of your points is so simple yet so true. Fear is definitely a huge driver of procrastination, and identifying and dealing with one’s particular source of fear is so key. Thanks for this!

  10. “Hard work is hard work. Don’t make it more difficult with negative self-talk.”

    This line stuck out to me because my great fear is that if I get used to complimenting myself, I will become conceited, and when that gets into my head I think of all the times people thought I was full of myself when I was actually full of doubt and self-hatred, and of the many times I thought I was getting somewhere only to realize how far I was from being anywhere near decent.

    In other words, I’ve long seen confidence and self-criticism as a tightrope, and I fear leaning too much on one or the other, so that confidence becomes conceit, self-criticism becomes self-loathing. Of course, the latter is much easier to lean on in the early stages of my efforts, whether its writing my first poems, my first short story, my first novella, etc.

  11. Ash

    Hi Rebecca,

    I have read your article with great interest, point 2 resonated with me especially. There is usually a good reason why I put things off, even if I have been planning to do a task for a while. One can be as you say ‘fear’ of something and perfectionist thinking maybe? I know this because I tend to want to search out ‘all’ the possible answers before I attempt a big project. It can create even more procrastination unfortunately, the more I find out it seems there’s a lot more to explore!… Often it is discipline that brings me back and allows to move forward however small that step may be. Look forward to reading more of your articles.

  12. I love this! You are the captain of the ship of your life. You make the decision to take the helm and go where you want to go, or just let the circumstances around you dictate what happens. Thank you for your empowering words!
    Anna Marie, Life Coach at awakeningifeholistichealing.com

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