“I’ll do it, tomorrow.”
Sound familiar? For many, putting off tasks until the very last minute is a way of life. Whether due to self-doubt or over-confidence, for these people there is no motivator stronger than a looming deadline to get things done. They are the procrastinators.
There’s no question that chronic delaying can lead to negative consequences. But how do you stop procrastinating and actually get things done?
For entrepreneurs, procrastination can be especially detrimental to making that big idea a reality. Ahead, discover ways to overcome procrastination, stay focused, and make progress well before your deadlines.
What causes procrastination?
Contrary to popular belief, procrastination isn’t a product of laziness. So why do we do it? One theory is that although procrastination is irrational (we know it’s bad for us yet we do it anyway), it’s a result of being unable to manage negative feelings about a task.
One study found that it is related to the human propensity toward instant gratification. Avoiding the unpleasant emotions around doing something becomes more urgent than completing the task itself.
There have been other theories to help explain this common phenomenon. The framework of procrastinator archetypes outlines the range of motivations for engaging in procrastination behaviors.
The 5 types of procrastinators
While there isn’t one widely accepted set of procrastinator archetypes, academics and psychologists have used this framework to explain motives for procrastination. There are a few archetypes that emerge over and over, however, though with varying labels:
💕 The Pleasure Seeker (also known as The Thrill Seeker or The Novelty Seeker) is most aligned with the theory above. This type deliberately chooses to do something that produces pleasure over a task that needs to be done. Sometimes this type procrastinates to experience the last-minute rush of meeting a fast-approaching deadline.
☁️ The Dreamer (also known as The Optimist) is an overconfident sort. They are oblivious to the consequences of procrastination, often believing things will magically happen without intervention.
📅 The Overbooker (also known as The Overdoer or The Busy Bee) uses busyness as an excuse for procrastination. This type intentionally overbooks to seem productive while not accomplishing tasks that require immediate or urgent attention.
🥇 The Perfectionist (also known as The Indecisive or The Performer) is one who prioritizes perfection over completion. They often fail to start a project or task for fear that there isn’t enough time to get it done—and meet their high standards.
🙉 The Avoider (also known as The Worrier or The Self-Deprecator) procrastinates because they’re worried about failure or judgment. This type seeks pain avoidance and doesn’t do tasks out of anxiety and fear.
How does procrastination affect us?
Procrastination can frustrate those around us. When expectations aren’t being met or tasks that affect others’ work are constantly pushed back, this can damage trust with colleagues, friends, and others in your life.
The critical early days of entrepreneurship rely on building your network and positive relationships with customers, suppliers, and other partners. A pattern of procrastination can have negative effects on your business.
Also consider another person affected by procrastination: your future self. One study that examined a group of college students over the course of a school year found that procrastinators had lower levels of stress in the early part of the year. However, this group’s stress levels surpassed those of the non-procrastinators by the end of the year.
How to stop procrastinating: 11 practical strategies
- Acknowledge the procrastination
- Check in with your goals
- Move future consequences into the present
- Create false deadlines
- Try tools and apps
- Break big tasks into manageable chunks
- Choose productive ways to procrastinate
- Get in the zone
- Adopt a ship-it mentality
- Manufacture momentum
- Build in accountability
1. Acknowledge the procrastination
“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with a feeling of overwhelm,” writes Damon Zahariades in The Procrastination Cure. “The most effective method for controlling this feeling is to identify its root cause and address it at its source.”
Acknowledging that procrastination is an issue for you is the first step to kicking the habit. Take note of your feelings and inner dialogue whenever you’re tempted to reschedule a certain task. Learning how to stop procrastinating starts with understanding what drives it.
2. Check in with your goals
The decision to procrastinate may stem from a disconnection with the reward or benefit of completing a task. Engaging in meaningful goal setting—either establishing new goals or reconnecting with long-term ones—can help you begin to reduce procrastination. This practice should also enable you to set mini-milestones to chop a major goal into bite size tasks.
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3. Move future consequences into the present
Far-away consequences and rewards are ineffective at motivating a procrastinator in the present, according to author and habits expert James Clear. In his chart demonstrating The Procrastination-Action Line below, he demonstrates how the moment of action is the point where the pain associated with the task starts to diminish.
Once you grasp the concept that simply starting a task will diminish fear, pain, or anxiety, it becomes easier to compel yourself to actually do it. Motivation then comes from the momentum of starting, says James.
4. Create false deadlines
This strategy is particularly helpful for The Thrill Seeker. This type thrives with “near deadline experiences” that force them to work efficiently because they have no other choice.
While this is not a sustainable solution to stop procrastination or “cure” you of the habit, setting due dates prior to the actual deadline may help reduce stress in the final days of a project or task. It helps The Thrill Seeker experience the pressure of a deadline without the possible consequences of last-minute rushed work.
5. Try tools and apps
For many procrastinators, calendars are often poorly maintained and to-do lists allow for hasty prioritization. Chronic procrastinators may find that apps and tools designed for focus and scheduling can help keep them on track.
The Pomodoro Technique to increase focus is based on scheduling focused work in short intervals—and it may be a solution to help you stop procrastinating. Search online for a Pomodoro timer to try this method yourself. There are several high-rated apps for iOS, Android, and desktop.
A to-do app is also a great solution if pen and paper aren’t effective. An app can help you superpower your to-do lists with features like prioritization, task categories, tagging, and notifications. Try Todoist, Google Tasks, or TickTick.
6. Break big tasks into manageable chunks
One reason procrastination may take hold, especially for The Perfectionist or The Avoider, is that the task feels like a massive endeavor. Overcoming procrastination in this case may be as simple as rethinking your to-do list. Eschew big end goals and break out each one into sub-tasks that give you a sense of accomplishment and momentum.
This concept is often employed in a business setting when teams work in “sprints” (a set of tasks worked on within a defined timeframe).
Example: Rather than adding “Write business plan” on your to-do list, maybe it’s broken out into tasks like “do market research” (which may then be further broken into “conduct a focus group” and “run a competitive analysis”) and “brainstorm brand values.”
7. Choose productive ways to procrastinate in your own life
There is a way to engage in procrastination while retaining productivity. Coined by Stanford professor John Perry, “structured procrastination” means embracing the habit of putting things off in favor of choosing something else that needs your attention.
“The beauty of the structured procrastination method is that it recognizes the extreme challenge in changing that pro-tomorrow vein, and runs with it instead of against it,” writes iDoneThis co-founder Walter Chen. In other words, choose a distraction that still helps you get to your end goal.
“Checking is not a useful thing. It might be a verb, but it’s not a real action. When I started blogging, I always checked my stats for no reason,” writes Darius Foroux in Do It Today.
For example, if you’re putting off building your ecommerce store, rather than mindlessly scrolling social media, exercise some self-control and focus that scroll on something related to the task. Browse Pinterest, Behance, or competitor websites to get visual inspiration for your store’s theme or design.
8. Get in the zone
Have you ever heard a runner describing the feeling of finding the perfect stride, where the run no longer feels like labor, but moves along like a rhythm? The same can be achieved to avoid procrastination while completing large tasks.
Starting is often the hardest part for procrastinators, but if strategies in this list can help you overcome the biggest hurdle, the rest is easy. Many find that a change in environment or a certain type of music or white noise can contribute to getting “in the zone.” The key to how to stop procrastinating might be as simple as the right playlist.
9. Adopt a ship-it mentality
This one’s for The Perfectionist. The expression “Done is better than perfect” is a tough one for this group to adopt, but perfection can be the enemy of progress. Get into the habit of going live with a V1 or MVP (minimum viable product) of your project, like a soft launch of your new website design.
What’s the most basic state something needs to be in? What’s something you can “ship” in just a few minutes? Kinks can always be ironed out later. In the case of an online store, for example, a live version is a valuable way to identify what needs to be improved as users engage with it.
10. Manufacture momentum
“The biggest challenge in working on a task you consider to be boring, difficult, or unappealing, is starting on it,” writes Damon Zahariades. “But a strange thing happens once you start: the anxiety and dread associated with it rapidly declines.”
Organize your to-do list by priority, but place quick wins at the top. If you can get in the habit of getting started but checking off less daunting tasks first, this creates a forward motion, decreases self-doubt, and provides a contagious feeling of accomplishment. Ride this wave onto the scarier tasks.
11. Build in accountability
New entrepreneurs often start businesses solo, wearing many hats and answering to no one except a few early customers. This may be a shift for some, accustomed to a 9-to-5 where deadlines were assigned by a lead or where you were accountable to a large team.
If this isn’t already built in, find ways to be accountable outside the employer-employee model. Network to find a productivity buddy, share your goals and deadlines with them, and update them on your progress. This can also be achieved by thinking of yourself as your own client. Keep a journal on your progress. The act of writing tasks down or saying them out loud can motivate you to have something to share each day.
Overcome procrastination (now rather than later)
Procrastinators are often deft at working under pressure and completing a big task in record time. But the downside is that work and relationships can suffer. The adrenaline surge as you make tight deadlines could compound over time into unnecessary stress, and the anxiety of facing unfinished tasks could have impacts on your mental health.
Constant movement of intentions into the near future may feel harmless, but consider your future self. Before you kick another task to tomorrow, take time in the present moment to consider the reward of doing it today.
Photography by Pexels
Additional research by Braveen Kumar
How to stop procrastinating FAQ
Why am I procrastinating so much?
You might be procrastinating because you feel overwhelmed and lack time-management techniques, or maybe you have poor mental health and even a small task brings on stress and anxiety. To stop procrastinating, you first need to identify the specific issue that causes it.
Why can’t I stop procrastinating?
Learning how to stop procrastinating takes time, discipline, and action. It will be difficult to stop procrastinating if you continue to use the same ineffective approach to work. The first step is to examine why you procrastinate in the first place. Is it negative emotions? Poor time-management or self-control? Once you identify the source of your procrastination problem, you can choose the best method to face those important tasks.
How do I stop procrastinating at work?
Use strategies to prioritize the most important tasks, set reasonable goals for yourself, eliminate a possible distraction, and find ways to stay motivated (like the promise of a sweet treat at the end of the day). If your chronic procrastination stems from negative emotions associated with your employer or work environment, the solution may lie in making a career change.