My Top 10 Tips to Stop Procrastinating (That Actually Work)

written by Dan Silvestre

tips to stop procastinating motivation myth

Just one of my tips to stop procrastinating can help you beat the battle of procrastination once and for all.

Here’s a secret that once you know it, can change your life:

Action leads to motivation, not the other way around.

Once you start, you don’t need any extra motivation to do the job. It’s Newton’s first law at work:

“A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion.”

Once you start — even doing a tiny action — it becomes easier to keep going. It’s all about building momentum.

That’s how you make progress on your goals, big or small. Make it a habit to keep the ball rolling.

So here’s the secret to overcoming procrastination:

Make it easier to get started — ridiculously simple.

Where do you find the most resistance? At the beginning of a task. But once you get started, it becomes easier.

To make it easier to get started, follow one of my top 10 tips to stop procrastinating.

#1 Break down tasks

Do you ever stare at a task so big you don’t know where to start?

Right, me too.

And what do we do? We procrastinate.

Breaking down tasks is a powerful antidote to procrastination. Break down big ambitious goals into small steps. Think of it as a project, a series of small tasks linked together.

Here’s why this works:

When you have a clear list of smaller sub-tasks, you know what you need to do next.

You can focus on what’s in front of you, completing one sub-task at a time. You’re not overwhelmed by the entire project anymore.

And you’ll also feel you’re making progress. Each sub-task completed will bring you closer to achieving your big goal.

Let’s say I need to write an article.

I start by writing down everything I need to do. This is called brain dumping​.

Now, let’s deconstruct “writing an article” into sub-tasks:

  • Coming up with a topic
  • Research
  • Creating an outline
  • Come up with a few headlines
  • Expand the outline
  • Create visuals and add them to the text
  • Edit, format, and proofread
  • Double-check SEO
  • Publish

Now, this is a big list.

But here’s the good news:

For now, I just have to focus on the first one. Nothing more, nothing less.

Does that sound too hard? Not at all!

You see, there’s almost no resistance to getting started. And once I get the ball rolling, I get into ​flow​, and it’s easier to continue working.

#2 Use the 5-minute rule

I love this one. It comes from cognitive behavioral therapy and it’s so simple you can try it right now.

Here’s how it works:

Choose a task, something you’ve been procrastinating on.

Now, set a timer for 5 minutes on your computer or phone.

Start working on the dreaded task. Tell yourself you’ll only work for 5 minutes. After that, you can stop.

Five minutes might not seem like much, but it’s better than nothing. It’s more work than you would have done otherwise.

And if you’re like most people, you’ll keep working.

You’ll already have the momentum to push you through. You likely ended up finishing that one task or got a good amount of it completed.

You see, getting started is the hardest part of all. Once you’re already involved, it’s less tempting to quit.

I use this tip to stop procrastinating on almost anything: from writing books to doing the dishes.

This tip does wonders for tasks you’ve been putting off for a while. Imagine what this one simple technique will do for tasks that you actually look forward to!

That’s all there is to the 5-minute rule.

So use this one the next time you find yourself procrastinating on a task you don’t want to do…

Put the timer on and get started.

#3 The bait and switch

This is another one of my favorite tips to stop procrastinating.

Let’s say you’re balancing multiple projects​ (who isn’t?). Maybe you’ve already broken down these projects into smaller sub-tasks.

You have no problem starting to work on most projects. But somehow, you find it hard to start working on one particular project. And that happens to be the one with the most impact.

So here’s what you do:

Start working on one of the easier projects. Get the ball rolling.

And as soon as you feel you’re going into deep work, you immediately switch to the easiest part of the hard project.

Again, why does this work?

Because your brain is already in the zone. You’ve broken that first barrier of resistance, ​getting into flow.

Now all you need to do is transfer that flow into what you actually need to be doing.

#4 The power of false deadlines

Here’s a paradox:

When you allow yourself less time to complete a task, you get it done quicker.

You’re taking advantage of something called Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time allotted to them.

Give yourself 3 months to study for an exam and you’ll be pulling all-nighters a few days before (college, anyone?).

The good news is you can use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage.

Reduce the time available to complete a task by 50-80% to put pressure on yourself.

If you have to deliver a presentation by tomorrow afternoon, make it a challenge to complete it by the end of the day.

This “false deadline” will trick your brain and thus make you more productive.

One way I use this procrastination tip is for writing articles. I have a deadline on my calendar 24 hours before the due date.

Seeing that deadline on the calendar spurs me into action. And when Friday comes around, I can relax because I have done the work.

Make a habit of writing down deadlines for yourself that are in advance of when a project is really due.

You’ll give yourself less wiggle room and help ensure you aren’t holding up the process for your co-workers.

#5 Hemingway’s procrastination secret

This procrastination tip comes straight from Ernest Hemingway (yes, the writer). He said:

“When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop.”

Often the hardest tasks have the hardest starts. But we can borrow Hemingway’s rule to stop procrastinating.

Instead of wrapping up a task before you break for lunch or the day, stop when you know what to do next.

In other words:

Stop while you’re ahead.

Why does this work?

Because you’re lowering the psychological barrier to returning to work. You know what you need to do next, there’s no question of where you want to start.

And here’s the great news:

You can apply this trick to any job.

Answering support tickets. Or putting together a new strategy document. Or editing your slide deck for a presentation. It doesn’t matter.

The key is to stop not when you’re finished, but when you know exactly what to do next.

#6 Use If-Then intentions

“Next time, I’ll start sooner…”

Ever heard yourself saying this?

It makes no sense, right? If you had the willpower to start sooner, you would. But willpower is limited.

To reduce the demands placed on your willpower, use if-then intentions. They ensure you’ve made the right decision way ahead of the critical moment.

For example:

To create your if-then intention, you need two things:

  1. The specific steps you need to take to complete a project
  2. Where and when you will take them

Here’s the if-then intentions formula:

“If X happens, then I will do Y.”

Why are if-then intentions 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 Temptation bundling

Like me, you have tasks or chores you drag out until the last minute – if you complete them at all.

But what if you could tempt yourself into doing those dreary tasks? What if you could pair them with something you genuinely enjoy?

And that’s what temptation bundling is all about. You link an activity you want to do with a task you need to do.

You bundle a behavior that is good for you in the long term with a behavior that’s good in the short run.

For example:

Only watch your favorite TV show while ironing your clothes. Or only listen to a podcast while exercising.

To discover your temptation bundle, create a two-column list:

  1. In column one, write down the pleasures you enjoy and the temptations that you want to do
  2. In column two, write down the tasks and behaviors you should be doing, but often procrastinate on

Can you link something you “want” to do with something you “should” do?

Here’s the formula:


The trick is to find tasks that complement each other.

I used to hate running. I knew how great running is for your body but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Now I put my favorite playlist to go running: the level of enjoyment I get from the music helps me keep running.

#8 Treat tasks like a game

One of the most common real causes of procrastination is that we feel like we’re not making progress.

When we start a new project we feel excited about doing something new. But as the weeks go by, we are discouraged.

Your brain starts thinking:

“My hard work isn’t being rewarded; this isn’t fun.”

Science says we are intrinsically more motivated by instant gratification than delayed gratification. But big projects are rarely completed overnight. So this tendency is annoyingly inconvenient.

The solution?

Creating systematic behavioral changes that correspond with small wins.”

In other words, create your own way to celebrate small milestones.

Every task should go hand in hand with “a trigger” — and the easier the action better.

For example:

Say you’re procrastinating on writing an article.

You might agree with yourself to write one section after each time you use the bathroom. And you continue to follow this trigger throughout the day.

And after completing the task, you celebrate in a predetermined manner.

It could be as simple as treating yourself to a piece of chewing gum. Or as active as taking a bike ride through a favorite part of town.

Treat the series of actions like a game:

Trigger → Task → Celebration

Why does this work?

Creating small wins provides an incentive to keep working toward the finish line.

Eventually, the actions create a habit that may become enjoyable.

#9 Develop an anti-procrastination ritual

An anti-procrastination ritual is an action (or series of actions) you take every time you’re procrastinating on a critical task.

It helps you break the pattern of procrastination and puts you in the mindset required to enter the flow state.

The ritual is unique to each person and task, so you have to experiment and find yours.

Your ritual could be playing your favorite ‘in the zone’ song. Or pulling down the curtains. Or brewing a fresh cup of coffee. Anything that makes you react and focus your thoughts in one direction.

The point is this:

You perform the same activities every time before working on the task you’ve been putting off.

This repetition will cause the ritual to be a Pavlovian signal of sorts. It will trigger a biological response in your body that prepares it to focus.

For example:

My body associates flow with coffee, headphones, and music.

If I get some, or even better, all these cues in place, I’m usually able to dive into a flow state without effort.

At first, it might be hard to tell which cues make the most difference. Pay attention to which cues “set the scene” for your most productive days.

You’re not looking for magic buttons to press — those don’t exist.

You’re looking for the cues that create the context in which you are your best, most productive self.

The goal is to find cues that help keep procrastination at bay without you having to worry about it.

#10 Practice productive procrastination

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you end up procrastinating for hours.

We think of productivity and procrastination as opposites. And it’s true, procrastination can make you less productive. But it doesn’t have to.

You see, your tasks fall into 3 tiers:

  1. High-impact tasks. Making hard decisions, strategic planning and analysis, challenging writing
  2. Tasks that take effort, but not as much. Admin work, managing email, or making phone calls.
  3. Mindless tasks. Such as cleaning, organizing, filing, or paying bills

Your goal is to spend the most time working on Tier 1. But what happens when you can’t work on one of those tasks? You procrastinate and do nothing at all.

This is where productive procrastination comes in.

Don’t try and fail to completely rewire the way you think. Instead, use procrastinating to your advantage. While you’re procrastinating, just do lots of other stuff instead.

If you’re stuck on creating a tedious report, can you answer outstanding emails instead?

You’re not working on the task you initially set out to do. But you’re still making progress on other important tasks. You’re still making progress on getting your life in order.

Think of it as preparation. Working on Tier 2 and 3 tasks puts you in a better position for cracking your Tier 1 tasks.

Knocking smaller to-do’s off your list can help you build momentum for tackling the big stuff.

Your favorite tip to stop procrastinating

Like I said in the beginning, just one of these tips can help you beat the battle of procrastination.

But there’s more:

We have different procrastination personalities. What might work for me, might not work for you.

So pick the procrastinating tip that resonates with you the most right now. Use it to start working on that task you’ve been dreading.

Then the next time you find yourself procrastinating, try a different tip. And then another. Repeat until you’ve tried them all.

With time, you’ll discover which procrastinating tip works best for you.

And that’s when you’ll know you never have to worry about procrastination.

Ever again.

Tags:: Procrastination Tips, time management

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