Wisdom//

11 Genius Strategies to Finally Stop Procrastinating

Here’s how to stress less and do more.

Courtesy of Shutterstock
Courtesy of Shutterstock

Everybody wants to be more productive, but there’s one major roadblock that seems to get in the way: procrastination. It’s stressful, discouraging, frustrating, and all too common. But this threat to our daily productivity is entirely fixable. A recent New York Times article explored how procrastination isn’t about managing your time more effectively — it actually boils down to regulating your emotions about a task.

“Our brains are always looking for relative rewards,” Judson Brewer, Ph.D., M.D., a psychiatrist, neuroscientist and director of research and innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center, told the publication. “If we have a habit loop around procrastination but we haven’t found a better reward, our brain is just going to keep doing it over and over until we give it something better to do.” He then explained that you have to supply your brain with a “bigger, better offer” in order to change a habit.

We asked Thrive Global community members about their most effective strategies to beat procrastination. Here are some that you may want to use as one of your own:

Own your mornings

“When I’m working on a writing project or new presentation, I know I need a couple of extra hours that are quiet so I can be really focused. Since I know I can get more done before the day officially starts (and the distractions are significantly less so early in the morning), I wake up two hours early. Since I’m more of a night owl than an early bird, this can be tricky for me, but when something’s important enough, I make it happen. What I’ve found to be most helpful is reminding myself of why it’s important right before I go to sleep and again right when I wake up. Doing this gets my feet on the ground and once I’ve taken that first step, going on from there feels much easier!”

—Emily Capuria, author, Cleveland, OH

Find your golden hours

“My best solution was finding out my golden hours. We all appear to have a golden hour for productivity and a golden hour for creativity. The secret is to focus on those 60 minutes (or more, in some cases) for your important tasks or projects based on the attention you need to give. Since I am very productive mid-morning and very creative in the evening, I structure my daily schedule accordingly. This strategy will free up some time in your day that you can dedicate to yourself — and to reward yourself for the great results!”

—Sabrina Cadini, brain fitness coach and life-work balance strategist, San Diego, CA

Do the worst first

“As soon as I get to work, I make my to-do list for the day. Then I review it for the task that I want to do the least. Unfortunately as managers sometimes we have to address sticky situations. For example, calling back upset customers and addressing employee performance issues. I tackle those issues first thing in the morning. I’ve learned that taking those issues off my plate first allows me to have a more productive day, not one filled with angst and stress.”

—Camille Sacco, bank manager and meditation instructor, Winter Park, FL

List it out

“List-making is essential for me to accomplish daily tasks. As a writer, procrastination can be easy for me, especially when writing from home. I can find a million and one reasons to not sit down and write. Laundry, phone calls, and housekeeping are just a few of the ‘excuses’ that can interrupt my productivity. However, when I write a list of tasks the night before, of things that need to be completed the next day, I always follow through and get them done. When I don’t have a visual list to look at in the morning, I’m not as productive and sometimes even forget some of the things I wanted to get done.”

—Amy Debrucque, writer, Syracuse, NY

Take up time blocking

“My absolute favorite way to overcome procrastination is by having a plan the night before and time blocking. If it’s written on my calendar with time blocked off, I know by not taking that task on at its scheduled time, the rest of my day will be a hot mess.”

—Shelby Kulzer, registered dietitian and spiritual coach, Denver, CO

Reframe your fear

“Procrastination is often due to fear of failure. I try to reframe failure as simply a point along the journey toward success. I remind myself that if I do fail, I’ll learn from the experience, adjust, and iterate.”

—Laura MacPherson, on-demand copywriter, Greenville, SC

Befriend airplane mode

“When I set a task I’m trying to complete, I put my phone on airplane mode, and I move all of my books, papers, planners, and everything else off my desk. It’s just me and the computer. I have two set times in the day — 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. — that I check my email. Otherwise, it’s closed on my computer. I take out all of the pings and dings that might distract me from my project and pull me from my mission.”

—Lisa Pezik, business strategist and content and digital marketing expert, Ancaster Ontario, Canada

Distinguish between “daily” and “ongoing” tasks

“I keep two lists. One is for the ongoing action items that are important to get done — this is different than a ‘to-do’ list. It is only for things relevant to my goals and priorities. The second is my list of what I want to accomplish that day. The dreaded activity of going through my mail can make an appearance here. On my daily list, I try to limit the number of action items to the six things that I can realistically finish by the time I put my head on the pillow. This list-making habit has cut my procrastination way down.”

—Maria Baltazzi, Ph.D., television producer, transformational travel guide, and happiness mentor, Los Angeles, CA

Try a timer

“In my day-to-day at work, urgent to-dos often pop up in the middle of my projects and break my focus. What I’ve been doing lately is using the timer app on my phone to hold myself accountable. Depending on what project I want to concentrate on, I allocate a certain amount of time to complete or at least contribute to that project. When the timer is going, I won’t pick up my phone, answer internal messages, or have side chitchat. This allows me to be realistic with how much time I should be dedicating to each project and grants me time to answer the urgent tasks. I now use this method at home to get things done to make sure I have time to be present with my loved ones!”

—Melissa Muncy, content marketing, San Francisco, CA

Stop thinking, start doing

“When it comes to tasks that I would rather not tackle, I don’t allow my mind to think about. The more I ruminate about this task or work I would rather not start, the more my mind comes up with other things to distract me, which in turn prevents me from doing the thing I need to accomplish. So I don’t think about it. I just do it. No energy is spent thinking about it but action is put into the ‘doing of it.’  Otherwise I will be on an unending Ferris wheel of thoughts that will get me nowhere.”

—Tanya Brown, intuitive business coach, Hoboken, NJ

Celebrate what you’ve already done

“One of the reasons we procrastinate is because we perceive the task to be too difficult. This sometimes happens because we’ve developed a sense of inadequacy and our self-esteem needs to be rebooted. Take yourself back to the last complex task you completed to remind yourself that you are capable. If possible, cut the task down into smaller components and tackle each one in turn. Upon completion of each component, celebrate your achievement, congratulate yourself, and feel a sense of pride. The more you celebrate the small wins, the higher your self-esteem will grow.”

—Janet Mohapi-Banks, coach for female entrepreneurs, Cornwall, UK

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