Okay, let’s be honest here. There’s probably something else you should be doing right now.
You should fix that leaky tap, or kick off your Spanish learning project, or start on that university assignment. You know, the one that’s due tomorrow. At 9:00 am.
Heck, I’ve even been procrastinating on writing this blog post. Pretty ironic, I know.
You’ve probably already tried things like “starting simple,” “breaking it down,” and “keeping yourself accountable” to take down procrastination.
But what you probably don’t know is that many counterintuitive tricks are out there that are even more effective at fighting the problem. So stay with me and procrastinate just a little while longer.
Let’s review seven surprising ways you can break out of procrastination prison.
1. Keep your goals top secret
So you’ve decided to start an exciting new project, something that will truly make your life better, and maybe make other people’s lives better too. Maybe you’re taking on Arabic, learning how to code in Java, or setting up a charity.
What’s the very next thing you want to do after making that decision? You want to tell someone about it.
It seems to make perfect sense. You get to share your excitement with somebody else, and having others in on your plan is sure to keep you accountable, right?
Actually, research has shown that you are less likely to reach your goals if you first broadcast your intentions to other people.
Talking about your goals tricks your brain into thinking that you’ve already accomplished them and reduces the motivation required to actually execute. You get left in a state of procrastination limbo where you feel great about your goals but aren’t actually doing anything about them. The same thing happens when you try visualizing success in your head too.
So keep your goals to yourself, put your head down, and get to it!
2. Don’t make a plan
You’ve probably heard the phrase “fail to plan, plan to fail.”
It sounds very logical. Draw up a nice big roadmap, and it’ll help you navigate your way to success more easily, right? Not quite. Because planning isn’t progress. It’s all too easy to get stuck in the planning stage of a project and never actually get anywhere.
What you want to do instead is simply break into your project. Start somewhere, anywhere.
Pick an entry point and decide on the first task for your project. Break that task down until you have an action you can do right now in under two minutes. Then do it.
When I started learning Mandarin Chinese at the end of last year, I spent ages reading various blog posts, trying to discover the perfect way to learn a language. I’ve actually done this two or three times over the last few years as I’ve started and stopped different language projects.
Even though it might seem like I was making progress and moving toward my goal, I was really just procrastinating by avoiding the important work — actually learning Chinese.
Once I realized this, I stopped and picked whatever method I happened to have on my screen at the time and ran with it.
There is no such thing as a perfect plan. Luckily, you don’t need one. Just find a way in, commit to it, and the rest will follow.
3. Begin your day with something unimportant
A common piece of productivity advice is to start your day with your most important, most urgent, or most difficult task. The rationale is that the rest of your day will feel like a breeze once you get the tough stuff out of the way first. But if you’re anything like me, seeing that big hairy task first up on your to-do list is a little, well, frightening.
So I like to take a different approach.
First, pick off some of the low-hanging fruit from your to-do list. Maybe start by doing some light fiction reading, vacuuming the house, dashing to the bank, and then taking a break by jumping onto Twitter for ten minutes.
At this stage, you’ll feel much more energized and accomplished, and you’ll be able to attack that big scary task with more confidence.
Get some easy wins under your belt first thing. It’ll make the difficult stuff much easier to handle.
4. Focus on having fun first
It’s important to strike a balance in your life where you’re getting stuff done but still having fun. After all:
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.”
Here’s an unconventional way to accomplish this.
First, stick all your leisure and social activities into your to-do list and spread those out throughout your day. Then take a break from the fun stuff by doing some work in the middle. For example, I check in with my favorite YouTube channels as a daily leisure checkpoint that I work around during my day.
This is an exciting way of rethinking productivity. You’re less likely to procrastinate because you know your day contains things you enjoy. In addition, you don’t have to feel guilty about having fun because you’ve carefully structured your day to include both work and play.
You can even take this a little further and try something you might not have done before: start your day off with a quick leisure activity to get you going (maybe a 15-minute walk at sunrise or 15 minutes of video gaming) prior to jumping into something unimportant.
5. Make a weekly escape
One of the most common productivity tips you hear is that you should work a little bit on your goals every day. Now, this is certainly not bad advice. Small, consistent action toward your goals is the best path to success.
But you also want to avoid burnout, something not particularly ideal to have if you’re trying to beat procrastination. Luckily, there’s an easy way to do this that I’m sure you’ll love. Take a day off each week.
Choose one day where you’re allowed to do absolutely nothing (mine is Sunday).
Keep those days as clear as possible, and cut yourself away from your projects. It’ll give you time to recharge your batteries and mentally refresh yourself.
This is the perfect day to sleep in, catch up on that novel you’ve been meaning to read, go on a date with your partner, and watch romantic comedies together after dinner.
You’ll start looking forward to your escape day every week, pushing you to perform better, be more efficient, and procrastinate less during the other six days.
6. Be ruthless with your time and energy
A common cause of procrastination is sheer overwhelm.
Many of us are simply trying to juggle too many balls at once. And the inevitable result is that we’ll drop them all. If you have a lot to do, and you simply can’t motivate yourself to do any of it, that’s a sure-fire sign you’re doing too much.
Set boundaries for your time and energy. Re-evaluate all your commitments, and find out which ones you can eliminate. Then pull the trigger and cancel them. It’s scary, and it’s difficult, but it’s oh so liberating.
Nowadays, it’s almost socially unacceptable to say no. I find this really bizarre.
The result is that we say yes to everything to make everyone else happy, and make ourselves miserable in the process. Stop trying to please everyone. It’s an impossible task. You must make yourself happy too.
Be ruthless and start saying no to time-sucking, energy-sapping commitments, and free yourself for more important things.
7. Forgive yourself
Everyone procrastinates. It’s unavoidable. You’ll have times when you just don’t feel like doing anything. And that’s okay. The worst thing you can do is beat yourself up about it.
Research has shown that people who are kind to themselves after a bout of procrastination are less likely to procrastinate again the next time. I used to be extremely hard on myself when it came to procrastinating.
I’d start the day knowing I needed to do my workout, but I’d keep pushing it off as the day progressed by doing crossword puzzles or watching cat videos instead. I’d get to the end of the day and only start working out at 11:00 pm, or not do it at all. And I’d hate myself for it.
The next day, I’d still feel guilty about it and wouldn’t feel good at all about anything else I was doing. It was a vicious cycle. Take a breath. Let it go. The past is in the past.
Forgive yourself and trust that you’ll do better next time.
It’s time to break free
Procrastination is a difficult problem that everyone faces in their lives. And busting out of procrastination prison isn’t easy.
But think about what happens if you don’t. Think about what happens if you stayed stuck in there forever without making that daring prison escape.
Think about how you’d be feeling a month, a year, five years from now. You’d wish that you’d done the hard yards today so you could be that much closer to your goals tomorrow.
Get out there, get things done, and achieve the things you want to achieve. The world is waiting for you to do amazing things.
Don’t let everyone down. And most importantly, don’t let yourself down.