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The Panacea for Putting Things Off

Photo by Cindy Loughridge

Can you recall a time when you wanted to do something important, yet you’ve managed to make enough excuses to leave it for a later date? Putting something off once makes it easier to put it off again, and before you know it, several weeks have past and you still haven’t done it?

I just cleaned my entire apartment and it’s almost time for bed, again. Another day has gone by, and I still haven’t written a blog post for this week. Two thoughts conflictingly popped up in my head:

  • Yes! I’ve successfully put it off for another day.
  • Crap! I feel guilty for putting it off yet another day. I really should get that done soon.

I’ve got a lot going on in my life. But, it’s just became clear to me that I have spent the past five days unconsciously avoiding writing, while spending mental energy coming up with excuses. Each time when I’m about to start writing, I would magically feel hungry, tired, sleepy, thirsty, grumpy, dehydrated, or needing to go ‘potty’. Or I would suddenly have the desire to read, watch TV, browse the Internet, finish random low-priority tasks, clear out my email inbox, go jogging, sleep early and clean the house. As you can see, my box of excuses is infinite.

When I recognized this, I sat down and started writing the article you’re reading now.


A Few Observations


  • The more we make excuses, the more we buy into them, the easier it is to make additional excuses to support our mind-created beliefs. These beliefs become our story, and our excuses become our reality.
  • Delaying is addictive. Even if your intention is to put it off “just this one time”. The act of putting it off sets a chain of reactions that will make it easier to delay this task again. In fact, it becomes more likely that the task will be postponed again.
  • What we repeat in our mind actually exaggerates the scale of the task involved. It snowballs larger and larger, until the task becomes so big that you will never get it done.
  • Constantly thinking about doing something but avoiding the actual act of doing it takes energy. You end up spending more energy pondering about it and making excuses for it than just getting it done. You’ll actually save time and attention energy by just doing it.
  • We can only move on with our lives when we can get past our internal conflict between our story of procrastination and our desire to get it done. You really start to be productive when you can change your attitude.
  • When you break the cycle and start, you’ll be surprised at how quick and easy the task actually takes. You’ll be wondering why you didn’t just get it done in the first place.

The Cure

Stop thinking. Just do it.



The System: Cure Expanded


  • Manage It – List out all the things you are putting off. Or rather, make a habit to write down all the tasks you want to complete. Write down how long you think each task will take. Now, double that number, that’s how much time you should budget for the task. The act of writing things down instead of holding it in your memory, frees up mental energy. Make sure, every task is small and achievable within a few hours. If not, break it down into several smaller tasks. Take small steps before running down the finish line.
  • Prioritize It – Give a number beside each item, starting with 1 being the highest priority, the most important.
  • Plan It – Schedule it. Make an appointment with yourself to complete the top 3 items on your list. Don’t schedule more than 3 in a day, it’ll distract you. Schedule other appointments with yourself only when the top 3 have been completed. This idea of focusing on just the most important items first before doing any other tasks help to improve your personal efficiency, while reducing feelings of guilt from non-productive times.
  • Do It – Stick to your plan, get it done. Before an appointment with yourself, make sure to be well fed, take plenty of fluids, go to the bathroom, close your email windows and other distractions. Prepare to be focused.
  • Dig Deep In It – If you find that you are skipping appointments with yourself. Ask yourself why are you deliberately putting this off? What are you avoiding? What are you afraid of? There’s always a reason. If you come up blank, dig deeper within yourself. Be honest. Actively ask yourself this question until you have the answer. Perhaps there’s pain associated with the doing. Perhaps, this isn’t want you really want to do. Perhaps, you are afraid of failure. Whatever the reason is, dig deep within yourself to discover the why. Once you find the reason, what can you do about it?


More Tips to Beat Putting-Things-Off


  • Language – Watch your language when you speak or think about the task. Our language can have a powerful influence in the way we view our surrounding situations. “I should get that done” implies that it’s not something I really want to do but am obligated to do. As a result, our subconscious mind is telling our conscious mind that we shouldn’t be spending time on this task, it’s not what we want. Is that really how you feel about the task? If not, see how you can rephrase the sentence to better reflect what the task means to you. A more positive wording could perhaps be “This is important to me, because it contributes towards the wellbeing of others. I would love to get it done and I have scheduled times with myself to get it completed next week.”
  • Commit – Make a decision to commit to getting it done. A true commitment to doing something will bring with it the energy required to getting it done. Nothing is as impossible or difficult is it seems. Once we’ve committed ourselves to some result and it is a result that we truly want, we’ll feel the desire and push towards action arising intrinsically out of us, naturally.
  • Understand the Why – We often get so caught up in our routine of being busy, running from one task to the next that we forget to ask ourselves why we are really doing something. Ask yourself why this is important to you? Understanding the true importance of something and why it matters to you will give perspective to the matter and bring you the encouragement you need to follow through.
  • Pain vs. Pleasure – It is well known that we will go to further extent to avoid pain than we will at gaining pleasure. Understanding the pains and pleasures from doing or not doing something can act as an effective motivator. What will you lose if you don’t complete it? What will you gain if you do complete it? Sometimes, the act of visualizing the pain from not doing something can act as a motivator to help you get it done.
  • Instant Gratification vs. Long Term Gain – Thanks to modern conveniences and media, we as a society, especially in the western world, have become accustomed to instant gratification. With a flick of a remote, we can browse through hundreds of TV channels. With a phone call, we can have world cuisines delivered to our doors. With a few clicks of a mouse, the books we wanted will show up at our doorsteps. Microwave pizzas, bottled egg whites, and pre-packaged anything can be easily accessible with a quick trip to the local store. These serve as short-term distracters away from what we can gain in the long term. Spend some time to focus on your long term goal that this task contributes towards. Is the short-term gratification worth it in risking your long-term gain? Is it worth compromising for your potential?
  • Visual Reminders – I’ve found it helpful to have visual reminders to do something that’s important to me. One way to do this is writing on a piece of paper what you need to do, and in smaller text why you want to do it. Tape this paper somewhere you will see it: bathroom mirror, in front of your bed, on your keyboard. This doesn’t work if you have many reminders for different tasks, but for a couple of tasks, it can work magically.



Parting Words

Life is as hard or as easy as we make it. The more we think about something (anything, not just tasks), the more amplified it becomes from our perception, because we have given it energy by focusing on it. Let’s not torture ourselves by adding more stress in our already hectic lives. It’s okay to be busy and not have time to finish things. Schedule it, forget about it and stick to the schedule. Treat it like an appointment with yourself. We respect others enough to show up at appointments punctually. Why don’t we do the same with ourselves?

What are some secrets you use to overcome Putting Things Off?

What works for you? See you in the comment section. :)

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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89 thoughts on The Panacea for Putting Things Off

  1. I think some tasks are suited to a “just do it” mentality, but others benefit from delay. I find I get more enjoyment (and success) out of waiting until I’ve got some passion before I tackle something that takes creativity and heart.

    For the everyday chores and minutia, I can testify to the fact that it takes more energy *not* to do the task than to simply dive in! Making a list truly does help. Even if every item isn’t completed, at least 50 to 75 percent will likely get taken care of.

  2. Hi Tina,

    I think one of the hardest things for me with writing is just starting. Creating can be an intimidating thing, especially when you have an idea but you’re not sure where to start. Then there’s the pressure of making it amazing. Who doesn’t want it to be amazing, right?

    When it all comes down to it, your resistance is probably telling you something. It probably means you have some work to do in that area. Sometimes just starting is the best solution, working out an outline and going from there. Re-writing for me is always easier than the first draft.

  3. Tina,

    This subject was on my mind for last several days. Creative procrastination is the trick our mind plays to defer things that we’d love to do now into future with an abstract goal to banish our desire.
    By learning how mind plays this trick to defer, we can find cure to this dreaded disease.

  4. When I consistently avoid doing what I set out to do, I try to understand why I have an aversion to that activity right now. Maybe I am on the wrong path, maybe I really want to do something else, or perhaps I need to set something straight in my life before I can truly begin again with inspiration. There is usually something wrong that I need to put right.

    I feel the need to listen carefully to my inner desires when procrastination strikes. Am I honoring them?

    It is tough sometimes is it not? And you are so right; we can easily become locked into avoidance.

  5. What usually works for me comes down to the questions I ask myself on a daily basis. If my questions are focused in the right direction searching for answers than I will naturally move forward, however if they are focused on self-pitty and instant gratification, than I know that I will be in a little bit of trouble, and won’t get things done.

    Other strategies that I tend to use include setting inspiring small goals, managing my time effectively, systemizing everything so that it becomes easy and effortless, rewarding myself for attaining specific goals or tasks, positive self-talk also works well including affirmations, being optimistic and focused on the present moment.

    Through my experience I have also found that one should focus on the process of the task rather than the end goal. Making things fun is also a good idea, and when it comes down to the crunch and you have tried everything else, than simply follow the 11 minute Rule of productivity. Sit down and undertake the task for only 11 minutes. Once the 11 minutes are up and complete than simply move onto something else. Moreover, I find that a good solid 11 minutes of concentrated activity will in fact provide me with the necessary motivation I need to keep me going until the task has been completed successfully.

  6. For me – I just gotta get up and DO IT…
    When I come home from work, the first thing I do is check my email. This can take a while, so I take at least an hour to check/reply/clean up all my email.
    But – no more then that. If I go over in minutes I will have to pry myself away from the computer, and get my butt onto the treadmill… lol.
    That takes an hour so I am sometimes very reluctant to go and start my exercise/workout routine…
    But I just get up and do it, and that seems to work for me.
    Some days I do hate it though…!

  7. I know I put things off because I know they require a large chunk of time and I don’t have that much time to devote to something. (all in one shot)

    I need to learn to be willing to start, stop, and then restart and be at peace with that.

    I guess the over-reaching problem is that there is more to do than I have time for and so it becomes an exercise in deciding what is most important.

    Alas, making decisions isn’t easy for me either. :)

    But I know that there are far worse problems in this world so I focus on the good in my life, get centered and move on taking action.

  8. Hi Tina

    This is a timely post. I am in the process of re-organizing my life too so that I can be more productive and say bye bye to my excuses.

    What I have done so far…

    Morning Regime – 7th Path & Affirmations

    Made a To-Do List and circle those that are most important.

    Printed out Calendars (So I can keep track of all the important dates)

    Health – Go for a walk at least twice a week

    Night – 7th Path & Creative Visualization

  9. Great post and very useful tips. I find writing down that list of headings or ideas to write about is very useful. I can always generate content if I had a catchy title that I had thought about and liked. That’s what triggers me to get to it, somewhere to start.

  10. Hello Tina,

    Lethargy is a sign of low energy. If you feel drained, and this is not normal, perhaps some energy healing may help. I also find it useful to “intend” for inspiration and creative ideas. If you can tune in, these should generally start popping up as soon as you become open to receiving.

    Connecting to nature may also do the trick. A walk in the park or an afternoon at the beach may just clear your mind, before you sit down at your desk. Yes…these ideas here may seem as if you are procastinating yet again; but the rejuvenation from the fresh air and gentle breeze may just enhance your energy levels much better than before.

    In Loving Abundance,

  11. Great advice and help on handling procrastination! A simple plan and list of points to follow you “just do it” when it comes to achieving a goal.

  12. I’ve been a huge victim of putting things off in my life and understand the annoyance when things can be “too late” to fix or you realise you could have done things earlier and made things a lot easier on yourself.

    Great post

  13. I am very creative when it comes to find excuses as to why I’m not doing something.

    Sometimes it IS a matter of low energy and when it comes to writing for my site, I rather put what I can down on a blank page. Sometimes the thoughts flow in and sometimes they don’t – in which I’ll go to sleep or do something enjoyable and when I come back, I can piece together what I’ve got or scrap it and start anew. This works really well for me.

    Sometimes I DO have to just do it and it takes me a while but I’ll realize and get to it. Sometimes I go out of my way to put myself in an environment that encourages me to do what I’d like to – that always works well for me as well. I remember when studying for certain pre-med classes, I would go to the library at the medical school just to be around like-minded people and that would kick me into gear.

    I love your tips on how to get past this procrastination issue and its duly noted. And yes – what you say to yourslef makes a HUGE impact. I am a much happier person as of late because I’ve taken up the practice of rephrasing things into positive desirable thoughts.

  14. Great article, Tina. I agree with Sara – sometimes a delay is appropriate, and sometimes the “just do it” approach is exactly what we need.

    I do have to say that with a creative endeavor like writing, my favorite way of waking up my muse is to engage in a creative endeavor that requires less … well … thinking. Home improvement projects tend to do the trick for me! I also like digital scrapbooking.

    When I find myself procrastinating, I try to tune in to the energy or intent behind what I’m avoiding. Is a project or task about freedom, security, creativity, connecting with people? Then I activate that same energy in other life areas, often by doing something that takes very little effort.

    It works!


  15. Hi Tina,

    I love the visual reminder that you mentioned–writing down not just what you need to do but why you want to do it–I’m going to try that. :)

    Also, I couldn’t agree more that thinking about what we need to do can often be more energy-draining than just doing it. I guess this is because thinking about what we need to do usually equates to worrying about it at some level. And of course, worrying gobbles up tons of energy and only creates more problems.

    Similar to what JEMi and Andrea said, when I find myself really putting off a particular task (especially if it requires some amount of creative thought), sometimes it helps if I schedule a chunk of time where I absolutely won’t think about whatever it is I’m procrastinating doing. Instead, for anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour my attention is on something that I find really enjoyable and gives me energy and feeds my creativity (reading, yoga, being in nature, etc.). When this allotted time is over, I’m usually renewed enough to accomplish what I was procrastinating before.

  16. Asia Hadley

    I really liked your suggestion of writing down how long you think a task will take and doubling it. I’ll try this and see how it works. Thanks!


  17. I just wanted to highlight this point that really caught my eye:

    What we repeat in our mind actually exaggerates the scale of the task involved.

    This is something I fall prey to all the time. Tasks take on epic proportions as I put them off. When (if) I finally sit down to do them, I’m surprised by how simple they are.

    I’d been putting off for days a task at work that involved a multiple hierarchical regression (I work as a data analyst). It was a task for which I would have to go back and refresh my memory on how to perform. I finally made myself go back through my old notes yesterday and performed the test this morning – and was surprised when it took me less than half an hour to complete.

    Thanks for this article. I imagine you turning your own procrastination into this article, and that’s inspiring to me.

  18. Jeremy

    This post actually made me go through my to-do list and get things done. Well done, thank you.

  19. Hey Tina,

    I have the same too.

    I can put my things off for half a year and that’s not something I want to proud about.

    I’ll use your tips to deal with the problem and see what happens. :)

    Thanks for sharing.

  20. Nick

    I enjoyed this article. It has given me the motivation to start on a small work project I keep pushing back. You’re right — once you begin delaying a task it gets easier and easier to do it again.

  21. Ryan

    I’ll read this article later..

  22. The Nike slogan says it all… “Just Do It!”

    Thanks for the tips. Similar content to Tony Robbins (the language we use and self-talk, pain vs. pleasure), but solid content and writing nonetheless!

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