You know that sinking feeling you get when, after opening your to-do list, you find that one entry that you still haven’t checked off. We’ve all been there. We’ll do it tomorrow, we say, knowing full well that we said that yesterday, and the day before, and the day before. 🤦♀️
Procrastination affects most of us at one point or another, and it can creep up on you in different scenarios. Research by professor of psychology Joseph Ferrari suggests that 20% of people in the US procrastinate chronically, and that almost everyone procrastinates occasionally. Some 75% of people report procrastinating before going to bed at least once a week. (Many of us use delay tactics that toddlers would envy!)
These habits can affect our working schedules too, decreasing our productivity, increasing our levels of stress, and—if left entirely unchecked—even impacting the success of our businesses.
Let’s take a quick look into why we procrastinate, before exploring five practical procrastination tips that you can put into practice to get more done every day.
Why do we procrastinate?
There are quite a few mental and emotional factors that lead to us procrastinating. While some are relatively easy to overcome, others might take a little more effort. Here are some of the most common causes of procrastination.
1. Fear and anxiety
If you feel out of your comfort zone, it can often be tough to start a particular project. Feeling fearful or doubtful of your abilities, battling imposter syndrome, or being anxious that you won’t perform well can be pretty self-limiting.
2. Feeling unmotivated or uninspired
It can be difficult to engage with work you find boring, repetitive, or mundane. No one wants to copy-paste data manually between documents or platforms, or write the same thing over and over again as they prepare sales introduction emails. We’d rather do anything than engage in tedious work. (There’s an easy win here—AI can help! We’ll get to that in a minute.)
3. Personality traits
Some people are a little more prone to procrastination than others. If you find it hard to organize your life, be conscientious, exercise self-control, and if you’re quite impulsive, procrastination can be a regular companion.
4. Mental health conditions
People who battle with depression, anxiety, ADHD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder—or get caught up in analysis paralysis or strive for perfection—can find it hard to move forward with important tasks. In these instances, you might want to consider speaking to a mental health professional, who can help you to work through some of the issues at play.
5 Procrastination tips that work
So how do you overcome procrastination? The following procrastination tips can help you move forward so that you end your day with a checkmark next to every item. ✅
1. Understand the root cause
Try finishing this sentence: “I’m avoiding this important task because…” or “I’m finding it difficult to complete this project because I’m afraid that…”
Finding out the root cause behind your procrastination can help you weed out thoughts that are holding you back. If you’re afraid that you might not complete a task correctly, remind yourself of the tasks you’ve completed well in the past, and that, if you need an extra hand, you can always ask for help along the way. If you feel overwhelmed by the size of the job, try breaking it up into smaller, more manageable goals, and tackle them one at a time.
Part of this process involves practicing self-compassion. Beating yourself about all the tasks you’re not getting to is only going to make you feel worse: guilt, shame, and self-chastisement don’t promote productivity, creativity, and success. Ever. Listen to what your internal voice is saying, and put steps in place to address these issues so that you can begin your project confidently.
Here’s some advice from Lori Deschene, Founder of the self-help platform, Tiny Buddha:
The first and most crucial step is to get to the root of why I'm procrastinating. I may be scared of doing something outside my comfort zone. Or perhaps because something is new to me, I don't know where to start… Once I understand why I'm procrastinating, I can then develop a plan to overcome that specific issue. From there, it's all about breaking the goal into tiny, manageable steps and then putting them on my daily to-do lists.
2. Identify your time sinks
A time sink is a distracting task that saps your time and energy. It doesn’t offer any real reward or benefit. Instead, it disrupts your flow, robs you of your productivity, and can make you feel even more stressed than you did before. Knowing what your time sinks are can help you to identify—and avoid—the traps you fall into when you procrastinate.
What are some examples of time sinks? Social media, online shopping, and gaming—yep, they’re all common issues. But even work-related tasks can distract us from the job at hand. Engaging with your email too often, attending unnecessary or poorly organized meetings (“this could have been an email…”), and navigating cumbersome workflow systems are potential time sinks, too.
Using a good time-tracking app helps identify time sinks like these. Once you know how much time you’re losing to them, you can take steps to avoid them and stay focused.
Liam Martin, Co-founder of Time Doctor, a SaaS employee time tracking and productivity tool, describes his approach:
Not to be self-promotional, but I use Time Doctor. Specifically, the feature that will automatically give me a pop-up when I go to a website that doesn't connect with the task I was supposed to do. If I set a task like writing a blog post, Time Doctor will give you a pop-up if you go to Facebook. It's a simple reminder to kick me back into flow state focus if I get distracted and try to procrastinate. Eliminating distractions is the key to staying productive, if you can get rid of them, you win.
3. Just start
Is this obvious advice? Yes, of course, it is. But before you roll your eyes, give it a shot. This tactic really works, especially if you put a timer on the task.
Sometimes, imagining what an important task might involve feels so much more overwhelming and intimidating than it is in practice. Once you open your CRM and start sorting through your prospect data, or you start working on your new recruitment sourcing strategy, suddenly things start to move forward. It’s like your brain clicks into gear and thinks, “Oh, OK, we’re doing this now. Let’s crack on.”
Just starting can help to dissolve some of the hype you’ve created in your head. You’re likely to feel better almost instantly and, with the project underway, could find it easier to re-engage with it at a later date. This is because of a psychological finding called the Zeigarnik Effect, which says that an unfinished task is likely to linger in your mind until it’s complete. It’s an important procrastination tactic.
Here’s what Thanh Pham, Managing Director at leading productivity training company, Asian Efficiency, has to say about starting a project you’ve been putting off:
Tell yourself the magic phrase: ‘I will just do X for two minutes.’ When you give yourself permission to only do something for two minutes and then stop, you trick yourself to do it. What usually happens is that you'll get started and then when the two minutes are over, you want to keep going. As you do this more often, you can increase it to five minutes, to 10 minutes and eventually an hour. It works every time whenever I feel like procrastinating.
4. Using AI and productivity tools
Yep, this is the second time we’re recommending that you use software to help you manage your procrastination. Why? Because the right tools can make a massive difference to your mindset and levels of productivity.
Some of the biggest culprits behind procrastination are tasks that are boring and unengaging. Automating these tasks to work in the background allows you to sink your teeth into interesting and creative projects that inspire you—the kind that keep you engaged and motivated.
You don’t need to do all your writing yourself, either. For example, this list of the best AI writing tools will help you assign your more mundane writing jobs to AI, and this list of the best AI apps for productivity is here to transform your marketing, transcription, content production, and image generation tasks. And with a tool like Magical, you can make automated data entry, personalized text expansion, and AI writing assistance part of your day-to-day.
Goodbye, procrastination! From now on, you’re doing the work you want to do!
Here’s what Rosie Chopra, co-founder of Magical, has to say about using AI and productivity tools to combat procrastination:
Procrastination can be self-perpetuating: the more you do it, the more you do it. This can make you feel listless and frustrated, even depressed. I’ve found that getting boring, repetitive tasks off my list by automating them gives me the boost I need to tackle larger, more complex projects. Tools like Magical, which I can add to Chrome for free, have taught me that I don’t need to do everything myself. The right tech can help me, and transform my mindset in the process.
5. Give yourself time off
Really? Don’t we have to be 100% productive every minute of every day? No, not at all.
We all need to have a break from time to time, and if you find that you’re procrastinating because you’re tired and burnt out, then no tips or tricks are likely to work. You’re not a machine; you need rest.
This doesn’t mean giving yourself a Get Out of Jail Free card to lounge about reading novels all day (if only!), but it means listening to your physical, mental, and emotional cues when they tell you to step away from your work. Part of this involves understanding what time of day you’re productive, and scheduling less demanding tasks for the periods (like after lunch) when you don’t feel as on form mentally.
Integrating meditation, exercise, time outdoors, and good-quality sleep into your schedule are also important.
These words of advice from Scott Sind, Chief Thought Provoker at Activate Thought, might be useful:
I don't believe that all procrastination is bad. I listen to my body. When I catch myself fidgeting and not working, it's usually because I need a break. So I employ positive procrastination—go for a walk, read a little, take a power nap. When I come back to work, it's easier to focus.
Overcoming procrastination: the bottom line
It’s possible to beat procrastination, get your projects done, and start enjoying guilt-free evenings and weekends.
Start by equipping yourself with the software that can help you, including AI, productivity, and time management tools, keep our other tips in mind, and you can boot out procrastination and say hello to productivity instead.