Updated: Oct 12, 2021
"I'll start tomorrow." That's the mantra most of us always say when we're about to start an important task. The problem is, when the day called tomorrow comes, the statement stays the same. "How to stop procrastinating now?" has become the million-dollar question.
Dealing with procrastination is easier said than done. It is one of the biggest problems in modern society. Even though we know the tasks that we should do are crucial to our lives (or business, or school, etc.), it can be tough to break the vicious cycle. So if you’re one of those souls who constantly putting off doing something, it's time to make some changes.
To know how to stop procrastinating now, you need to know why people procrastinate, set goals and deadlines, list the things you want to accomplish and do them one at a time and make sure you have all the necessary tools to accomplish your tasks.
Demotivating and Hindering Factors: Causes of Procrastination
The only difference between doing and not doing is your self-control. The decision is always in your hand and the key to moving you forward is motivation. The higher the motivation, the sooner you'll do it. That's why normal people tend to prioritize doing the things they like and avoid unpleasant tasks.
While there are some exceptions, procrastination is caused by several demotivating and hindering factors that prevent you from doing what you should do in a timely manner. These factors cause you to unnecessarily postpone more important decisions or actions and do other more menial tasks instead. As long as one or more of these demotivating and hindering factors outweigh your motivation and self-control, you'll procrastinate. And unless you find some ways to shift the balance, you'll keep postponing.
Let's dig deeper. Here are some examples of these demotivating and hindering factors.
01. Unclear steps to reach the goals
Knowing your goals but don't know the exact steps to reach them can lead you to procrastinate. For example, you want to get healthier. That's a good goal. But how do you get healthier? This kind of vague goal doesn't tell you what you should do. And if you don't know what to do next, there's only a slim chance that you will do it. The story will be different if you say "I want to get healthier by doing a 10-minute exercise from the XX app every morning at 6."
02. Unattainable goals
The same thing will happen if you set unattainable goals. For example, finishing a too big project on a very tight schedule. If you feel that it's impossible to achieve your set goal, you won't bother trying to do it. You will procrastinate and instead do something else that you know you can do.
You can also feel overwhelmed by too many small tasks that add up to larger tasks that are too big to handle. You might try to handle them but give up before completing them.
03. Lack of clear and immediate rewards
Let's be realistic. The only reason you do anything is to get some reward. We are not only talking about the financial reward but the term "reward" in a very broad sense. You hope to gain something as a result. But if the reward is unclear, or maybe too far in the future, you will set aside that task in favor of something else with a more solid or more immediate reward.
This phenomenon is called temporal discounting and explains why students prefer playing games now instead of studying for the final exam that will happen two weeks from now. The reward from playing games is clear and immediate - happiness, while the reward from studying for the exam is still far in the future and unclear.
The lack of motivation comes from unclear or not immediate rewards. People prefer to prioritize the short-term mood instead of the long-term gain.
On the other side of the coin, people might wait until the last minute to do things because it's more challenging. They love the reward: the rush they feel from the pressure and excitement.
04. Viewing your future self as a different entity
Another phenomenon that also causes procrastination is called temporal self-discontinuity - viewing our future self as different, or disconnected from our present self. This can cause us to procrastinate because we tend to view problems that might arise in the future from the procrastination we do today as someone else's problem to deal with. So we care less about it.
We will also have some reservations about doing things today as we see that the one who would benefit is not us (today) but someone else (ourselves in the future).
05. Over-optimism about the better future
Have you ever postponed your action today because you want to pursue something better in the near future? For example, instead of start meditating today, you plan to wait until you start subscribing to the flashy meditation app with bells and whistles thinking that it will give you better results. The reality is, most of us never follow through with the plan.
Sometimes, we also procrastinate because we're confident that we can complete the task in the future; either because there is still plenty of time to do it, or because we're sure we have the ability to complete the task later.
Not being able to decide on the method to use to carry out the task can lead to procrastination. For example, you want to get fit. But what is the best exercise that you can do? There are CrossFit, Orange Theory, HIIT Workout, DuzFit, F45, Circuit Training, and tons more including the traditional ones like walking and swimming. Or you might try to pick a topic for your research paper out of the unlimited possible topics.
The premise is, the more options you have and the more similar they are, the harder it will be for you to choose. Picking one flavor of candy out of five options is so much easier than one out of fifty.
The decision will be even more difficult if the stakes are higher. Deciding on which one of the 50 flavors of candy you should buy can't be compared to choosing one of the two CEO candidates to hire.
07. Avoidance of Negative Emotions
You need to pay your bills, but you're afraid to even peek at the amount you need to settle. Or you need to make a phone call to someone that you don't like, but you really don't want to have a difficult conversation with him/her. Either fear or dislike about something can give you negative emotions and cause you to hold off doing things that you need to do.
You know that avoiding these challenging tasks will result in negative consequences, but you're waiting for the perfect time to do them. You feel anxious, so you procrastinate, which makes you even more anxious, and you procrastinate more. You're trapped in the procrastination cycle.
08. Perfectionism and Fear of Failure
Sometimes chronic procrastination is the result of perfectionism. You're afraid to make a mistake that you end up doing nothing. Or the other way around: you keep reworking on your project indefinitely to make it perfect and the project will never be completed.
Perfectionism might come from the fear of negative feedback or even failure. When you are not confident that your result is not good enough, the fear of evaluation will keep you from finishing your tasks. The more important the task, the more likely you extend the extra time to finish.
The same thing happens when you think you can't control the outcomes of your work. That no matter how hard you try, the result is up to others to judge.
Some people believe that rather than failing because of one's incompetence, it's better to fail because of procrastination. Knowing that your ability is not up to par is scary. If you have low self-efficacy and believe you are not good enough to complete the task at hand, it's better to put things off and blame your failure on procrastination.
It's also possible that you procrastinate and sabotage your own progress because you don't think you deserve success. There are many causes of these mental health issues that go beyond this simple article. If you have this problem, please look for help from mental health professionals.
10. Other Mental Health Problems
Another mental health problem that can cause procrastination is ADHD. People with ADHD have difficulties concentrating on tasks for too long, especially if they are boring tasks. They will constantly jump from one task to another without finishing any.
The lack of concentration can also be caused by depression. Going through depression will drain your energy and give you fatigue. When your energy levels are low, you'll lose interest in doing any other activity.
Unwillingness to put in the effort needed to do the task, or better known as laziness, is another contributing factor to procrastination.
Other mental health problems that contribute to procrastination are laziness, lack of self-control, lack of perseverance, impulsiveness, rebelliousness, and high levels of distractibility.
How to Stop Procrastinating Now
After knowing the reasons why people procrastinate, it's time to figure out how to stop it. You can use the reference above to find the solution. For example, if your reason to procrastinate is the lack of immediate reward, you can give yourself a simple reward each time you finish a small task to keep you motivated.
But there are some basic steps and tips to stop procrastination. Let's go over them.
Know That You're Procrastinating
The basic psychology of procrastination says that if you don't realize that you're procrastinating, you won't be able to break free.
So, how do you know it? Here are some signs that you are procrastinating:
- Filling your days with low-priority tasks.
- Leaving important items on your to-do list for a long time.
- Reading the same emails several times without taking the necessary action.
- Starting a high-priority task and distract yourself by doing something else less important.
- Waiting for the "right mood" or the "right time" to start working on a task.
Know Why You're Procrastinating
The previous chapter above gives you a non-exhaustive list of the types of procrastination. You'll likely find one or more reasons that fit your scenario. Try to see the general picture of your situation to be able to create the best solution to the problem.
Please note that some cases can't be solved by yourself without help from professionals. Get all the help that you need if that's the case.
Do The Basic Steps to Overcome Procrastination Habit
First, establish your goals. Define them as clearly as you can and make each step significant enough for you to make meaningful progress. But make sure that the goals are attainable so you can accomplish them. In other words, create SMART Goals.
Second, break your goals into small and actionable tasks. Or if the tasks are still too large and overwhelming, break them again into smaller, easier to-do, pieces that can be done in a shorter time. Prioritize the task based on their importance.
Third, set your perfect working environment. Remove distractions. Identify when and where you're the most and the least productive.
Fourth, create your action plan. Set your schedule, create daily goals, and decide on your best work environment based on the previous steps. Set intermediate deadlines that will build up the final goals.
And finally, implement your plan consistently. Do your tasks. Monitor your progress, mark the streaks of achievement, and refine the plan as you go along. Don't forget to reward yourself for your accomplishments.
Implement More Anti-Procrastination Techniques
In addition to the basic steps, you can add these tips to help you overcome procrastination.
Count to ten and do nothing every time your impulse to procrastinate starts to take over. Then going back to whatever you're supposed to do.
Put a monetary value on your time. Decide on how much your time is worth in real money. For example, your hourly working rate is $50, which means you'll gain $50 for every hour you do your job. On the other hand, you'll lose $50 for every hour you procrastinate.
Apply David Allen's two-minute rule. The rule says, if a task takes less than two minutes to complete, do it now.
There's also the five-minute rule. Every time you want to avoid doing something, set a goal of doing it for five minutes. If after five minutes you feel so horrible that you can't continue, you are free to stop. If not, you can continue until it's finished.
For time management, it's recommended that you implement Pomodoro Techniques. Basically, with some slight variations, this method divides your work time into 25 minutes chunks with 5-minute breaks in between and one longer break after every 4 chunks.
Make avoiding procrastination a habit. Studies say that it takes from 18-254 days to form a habit (with an average of 66 days). So avoid procrastinating consistently every day, and the action will become a habit.
The INI UNU - Ivy Lee 5-Minute Productivity Method
Sometimes you do your tasks diligently, you keep yourself busy with tons of things to do; but at the end of the day, you accomplish little to nothing. It can be because you put off difficult tasks in favor of the easiest ones. You (sub)consciously filter out the hardest task and avoid the complex task.
To make sure that you get the most of your productivity and combat procrastination, you can use the combination of INI UNU and Ivy Lee Method to prioritize the tasks that really need to get done instead of dwindling on the menial ones that are easier but will get you nowhere.
The Ivy Lee 5-Minute Productivity Method
It is said that Ivy Lee came up with the method in 1918 to help Charles M Schwab increase productivity in his companies. The method, which is the upgraded version of a normal to-do list, is fairly simple:
Spend 5 minutes every morning before your working hours to list down the 6 most important things to do that day. Notes: You can also do this routine the night before, and it doesn't have to be 6.
Put the most important thing at number 1 and the least important at the last.
Go through them one single task at a time. Start at number 1 and move to the next number ONLY when you've finished the task - and so on and so forth. Studies have proven again and again that you'll be more effective when you focus on doing one thing at one period of time.
Move the unfinished tasks to the next day. If a task is on your list for several days, it means that the task is always at the end of your list and prioritized below the others. Then it's probably not important enough to be on the list.
Rinse and repeat. Do the 5-minute routine consistently every day.
The INI UNU Method to Prioritize Your Tasks
And how do you prioritize which tasks deserve the place on the daily list and which ones don't? Which one is the most important and which one is the least?
Here's where the INI UNU method comes in. Go through your to-do list and categorize them into Important - Not Important and Urgent - Not Urgent. Then prioritize the tasks in this order:
Always put the Important and Urgent tasks at the top of your list. They should be the first things you do every day. You don't want to work on your most important and urgent tasks at the end of the day when your energy levels are low.
If you still have slots on your list, continue with Not Important but Urgent tasks. It's also possible to delegate these kinds of tasks if you have the resources.
Next are the Important but Not Urgent tasks. You'd want them on your list unless there's no more empty slot left. But don't worry about missing them because these tasks will become Urgent as they move closer to the deadlines.
The last ones are Not Important and Not Urgent. Keep them out of the main list. Put them on the side list as the things to do when you have nothing else to do, or as fun breaks once in a while to avoid burnout.
By prioritizing your tasks using the INI UNU method instead of easy vs difficult tasks, you'll always accomplish something every single time.
Other than the simplicity and focus, the method works well to eliminate procrastination and make you more productive because it eliminates decision fatigue. You don't have to waste your time and energy - and procrastinate - thinking about what to do next as it's there on your list.
The Key Takeaways
Procrastination happens when the demotivating and hindering factors outweigh our self-control and motivation. Until the balance shift, we'll keep procrastinating. The answer to the question "how to stop procrastinating now?" is that we need to find ways to shift the balance.
But it's not a one-off action. Procrastination is a bad habit. To break a habit, you need self-control and consistent effort. It's not easy, but it's not impossible either. If you realize that you're procrastinating and you know why you're doing it, you can find the solution to the problem.
What you have to do is to follow the basic steps to overcome procrastination, implement some anti-procrastination techniques, and use the INI UNU - Ivy Lee 5-minute productivity method to help you form your new habit.
To prevent you from falling back to procrastination, remember to avoid multitasking. Focus only on one thing at a time, and always prioritize the most important and most urgent task first.
Mental health problems can also be the cause of procrastination. Seeking professional help is always the better option in this situation.
We all understand how bad the effects of procrastination are, so it's about time to put a stop to it. It's won't be easy and it will take some time. But Lao Tzu once said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Take the first step today.