How To Get Moving and Stop Procrastinating

By Ali Luke

October 16, 2008   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

So which of your tasks or projects are you putting off at the moment? If your answer is “Nothing, I am caught up” you can keep it to yourself; I’m 100% sure that’s not true.

We all procrastinate over the things we should get done. The thought of starting something new is simply too much to handle because life is hard. Why add yet another ‘hard’ element to it?

Maybe you’re putting off that mountain of dirty dishes, even though you’re wasting time trying to find clean plates and cutlery. Perhaps you’re putting off an assignment for school, or you’ve got an important report to write at work that keeps getting sidelined in favor of answering emails. Maybe you’ve been meaning to write a thank you letter to your Great-Aunt Maud, but you never get around to it.

Listen, we all have lists like this, either on paper or in our brains. If you can’t get yourself to just get this stuff done, change your routine a little. Here are some different ways to get over that “I don’t want to” feeling:

Change the Words
Whether your to-do list is on paper or in your head, chances are that the thing you’re putting off appears on it as something like:

  • Write report on the Widget Trials for the boss
  • Spring-clean the house
  • Launch a new blog

All of those are things that take considerably more than a day, and inevitably, they keep getting postponed for longer and longer as you get on with easier, quicker tasks. I picked up this tip from time coach Mark Forster’s blog about wording to-do list items differently:

I looked at ‘Write Report xyz’ and … [saw myself] writing the report,
checking the report, formatting the report until eventually it ended with the
completed report. I saw it as a whole and immediately I built up resistance to
the act of writing the report – because it looked like a lot of work and I
didn’t feel like doing it. … ‘Start to write report xyz’ wasn’t a threat at all,
I was only going to start. … No threat – no sense of of volume of work. As it
turns out I actually wrote the entire report from the basis of that action.

Dissect Huge Tasks
Instead of writing “spring-clean the house”, make a list of the different little jobs that need to be completed. It might start with:

  • Check supply of cleaning materials and buy any that I need
  • Tidy up my closet and get rid of clothes I don’t wear
  • Wash the curtains in the lounge

…and so on. Try to break a big job into small steps that take an hour or two each. This process is what life coach Tim Brownson calls “chunking”, in his popular article Chunky Monkey Builds a Plane (a very funny and helpful read, especially if you struggle to get going on big projects).

Reward Yourself
All of us are motivated by getting something nice for a job well done. Sometimes, the reward that comes from completing the task itself is enough – whether that’s enjoying a sparkling clean house, getting paid for a piece of freelancing work, or getting great feedback from your blog’s readers. But sometimes, when we’re putting something off, it helps to have a more immediate reward ready. Tell yourself that once you’ve written that thank you letter to Great Aunt Maud, you’ll buy one of your favorite candy bars, or you’ll watch an episode of a TV show that you love.

(If that doesn’t work for you – if you find yourself putting off the job and enjoying the treat anyway – then hold yourself ransom. You’re not allowed dessert until you’ve finished replying to those emails…)

Note: If you break your tasks apart into small mini-tasks and then reward yourself with a candy bar after each, you’ll having larger problems to worry about (literally). Eat candy responsibly.

Set a Time Limit
If you’re feeling busy, stressed-out or just not in the mood to be doing “productive” things, it’s very hard to get up the motivation to start on even an hour-long task.

Tell yourself you’ll “just do ten minutes”. However hard or unpleasant the job is, you can cope with ten minutes (make it five if you want an even easier challenge). Set a timer, and crack on. After ten minutes, you can stop.

Often, you’ll find that the momentum has built up enough after ten minutes that you can carry on for an hour or two and finish the job.

Remove all Distractions
What ever the task is, focus. For writing-related tasks, including letters, articles, blog posts and fiction, I find that I’m much better at getting them done when I’ve eliminated distractions and don’t have anything else to do. This might mean taking yourself somewhere with your laptop – a library, or coffee shop, perhaps – or shutting yourself in your room away from the rest of your household. Switching off the internet can also help!

Force yourself to either work on the task or stare at a blank wall. It’s surprising how easy you’ll find it to get on with your writing when you really do have nothing else that you can do.

Give yourself a lecture
If all else fails and you’re suffering from serious procrastination, maybe it’s time to get firm with yourself. I loved Dave Navarro’s post Why It’s So Damned Hard to Stop Procrastinating, where he talks about changing your internal dialogue when you’re tempted to put something off because it’s hard – just tell yourself “Shut up, I’m doing it!”

So, whatever you’re putting off, why not spend ten minutes tackling a little “chunk” of it today? Let us know how you get on in the comments … and if you’ve got any great procrastination-beating tips, add those too!

Written on 10/16/2008 by Ali Hale. Ali runs Alpha Student, a blog packed with academic, financial and practical tips to help students get the most out of their time at university. Photo Credit: Holly Preston
Ali Luke

Getting Started with Forex

Other Dating Guide

Individual Reviews