Read this post and you’ll end procrastination by the end of your read.
Starting, over and over again, is the only way to stop procrastinating. It’s Newton’s first law of motion: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion.”
Once you overcome that initial resistance, you beat procrastination. Good things start happening.
So how do you develop the habit of getting started?
Here are 7 simple techniques to stop procrastinating and get started:
- The “Just” Technique
- The Do It or Nothing Hack
- Temptation Building
- The Rocket Launch
- The 2-Minute Rule
- If-Then Planning
- The Full-Screen Routine
For each technique, I’ll list the best time to use it. But feel free to mix and match techniques. As long as you’re consistent in getting started, use whatever works best for you.
#1 The “Just” Technique
Best for: breaking big and scary goals into a small and manageable first step
Sometimes the best way to overcome procrastination is to ease yourself into a task. And that’s when the “Just Technique” is most effective: it helps you ease your brain into “work mode”.
Here’s the idea: start with something small and easy to do and use that momentum to get more work done.
How? Break a task into something so easy and simple that you can do it a couple of minutes. The trick is applying the word “just“. It signals your brain that you only need to do what you told yourself.
- Want to exercise? Just change into workout clothes
- Have to send an important and long email? Just write the subject line and some bullet points of the main ideas you need to cover
- Need to clean your kitchen? Just put the dishes in the sink or the trash near the door
- Write an article? Just write the outline of what you want to say
95% of the battle to stop procrastinating is overcoming the inertia of the start. Most times you’ll continue working on the task after getting the ball rolling.
#2 The Do It or Nothing Hack
Best for: forcing yourself to work on complicated tasks over a period of time
You tell yourself you have to do a task. The problem? Every other option in the world is available for procrastination.
Most days this won’t be a problem. You’ll push through and get the job done. But everyone has bad days. And on those days you’re bound to fall into your favorite procrastination vices. This simple hack eliminates that.
How does it work? Choose a task that you have to do and you give yourself two options. You can do the task, or you can stare at the task and do nothing.
Doing nothing creates an alternative, but a very boring one that has no stimulation.
- Want to write an article? Write for an hour or stare at a blank text editor
- Need to call a difficult client? Make your call or stare at your phone
You might not work or do much on your task in the first few hours or days. But eventually, you’ll get bored and end up just doing the work.
#3 Temptation Bundling
Best for: making boring tasks a little more bearable
A simple way to break the procrastination cycle is to pair tasks or behaviors you need to do with things you love to do.
You want to go to the gym more often and love listening to podcasts. Using temptation bundling you make a rule to only listen to podcasts while at the gym.
How can you build your own temptation building strategy? The trick is to find tasks that complement each other.
The formula for this is: “Only (what you want) while doing (what you should)”. Create a two-column list:
- On the left, write everything you love doing. This is your “want list”. Write down as many as you can. Examples: watching shows, listening to podcasts or audiobooks, listening to music
- On the right, write the tasks or behaviors that you should be doing but procrastinate on. This is your “should list”. Examples: processing overdue work email, exercising, reading
- Now try to link the lists. Can you do something you love only when doing something you should?
Here are some more examples:
- Only listen to Daft Punk while processing overdue work emails
- Only watch your favorite show while ironing clothes
#4 The Rocket Launch
Best for: getting yourself moving in the right direction
Before starting a task, tell yourself: “I am going to countdown to zero and, no matter what, I am going to start doing X”.
Then you start the countdown, much like during a rocket launch. 5….4….3…2….1… and when you hit zero, no matter what, you have to get started on your task. No excuses.
And don’t stay still during the countdown. Start moving towards your task or take the first step.
- “I’m going to write an email when I count down from 5”. Start opening email on your browser as you countdown
- “I’m going to clean the dishes when I countdown from 3”. Start walking to the kitchen or putting the plates on the sink as you countdown
Use this rule for stopping things as well. Want to stop browsing the internet? Begin the countdown and start closing tabs.
#5 The 2-Minute Rule
Best for: cleaning your to-do list like a boss
There are two parts to the “2-Minute Rule”.
Part 1: If you can do a task in two minutes, just do it.
Don’t add it to your to-do list, put it aside for later, or delegate to someone else. Just do it.
- Answer an email from your boss
- Making a plan for the next day
- Loading the dishwasher after a meal
Part 2: If it takes more than two minutes, start it.
Once you start acting on small tasks, you can keep the ball rolling. Simply working on a task for 2 minutes helps you stop procrastinating.
- Want to exercise for one hour? Do pushups for two minutes
- Write a thousand words every day? Write 50 words in the next two minutes
- Meditate for 20 minutes a day? Sit down and meditate for two minutes
#6 If-Then Intentions
Best for: introducing productive routines and habits into your day
Want to make productive behaviors automatic? Assign a time and place and with enough repetition, the action becomes second nature.
By using if-then intentions. It follows a simple formula: “If X happens, then I will do Y.” X is your time and place and Y is an event.
- “If it’s Friday and 6 pm, then I will do my weekly review.“
- “If I go to the toilet, then I will read a book.“
Why is if-planning effective? Because it’s written in the language of your brain, the language of contingencies.
If-then signals your brain to scan the environment searching for the “if” condition. And when it finds it, it will remind you of the “then” part. “Going to the toilet? Oh, better take my book then.”
Find the times that you are most prone to procrastination. And then create an if-then intention.
#7 The Full-Screen Routine
Best for: removing distraction cues to help you single-focus on Deep Work task
The world has made it easier for you and me to become distracted. Open your browser and there’s the entire internet at your fingertips. Your phone is a portal to distracting apps and games. Each link and notification is an invitation for procrastination.
But what if we made them invisible?
Whenever you have a hard task, make the habit of working in full-screen mode.
- Need to write an important email? Open the draft in full-screen mode
- Want to write specs for a task? Open Google docs in full-screen mode
This is how I write articles:
There are very few options other than writing. I am not distracted. Why? Because I eliminated all possible distractions while writing this piece.
The same principle applies to analog tasks. Clear your desk of everything that you don’t need for the task at hand. I plan best with pen and paper. So I remove everything from my desk and leave just the notebook and pen. Nothing else.
A simple change that will force you to single-focus on the hard tasks that you need to do.
How to stop procrastinating? Develop the habit of getting started, over and over again.
Use one of these 7 practical ways to stop procrastinating:
- The “Just” Technique: break a task into something so easy and simple that you can do it a couple of minutes
- The Do It or Nothing Hack: you can either do the task or can stare at it and do nothing
- Temptation Building: only do what you want while doing what you should
- The Rocket Launch: start a countdown and start moving towards your task before you hit zero
- The 2-Minute Rule: if you can do a task in two minutes, just do it. If it takes more than two minutes, start it
- If-Then Planning: “If X happens, then I will do Y”
- The Full-Screen Routine: make distraction invisible by working in full-screen mode. If analog work, remove from your environment everything you don’t need for your task