10 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get Things Done

UPDATED: March 31, 2023
PUBLISHED: March 31, 2023
woman succumbing to procrastination by looking at phone

Perfectionists are often great procrastinators. Having stalled until the last minutes, they tear into a project with dust flying and complaints about insufficient time. Perfectionist-procrastinators are masters of the excuse that short notice kept them from doing the quality job they could have done.

But that’s hardly the only variety of procrastination. Mine comes with a gnawing feeling of being fatigued, always behind. I try to tell myself that I’m taking it easy and gathering my energies for a big new push, but procrastination differs markedly from genuine relaxation—which is truly needed. And it saves me no time or energy. On the contrary, it drains both, leaving me with self-doubt on top of self-delusion.

We’re all busy. Every day we seem to have a giant to-do list of people to see, projects to complete, emails to write. We have calls to answer and calls to make. 

By the Inch Life’s a Cinch, by the Yard It’s Hard

People usually procrastinate because of fear and lack of self-confidence—and, ironically, become even more afraid when under the gun. There are many ways to experiment and test new ground without risking the whole ball game on one play.

Experience has shown that when people go after a big goal at once, they invariably fail. If you had to swallow a 12-ounce steak all at once, you’d choke. You have to cut the steak into small pieces, eating one bite at a time. So it is with prioritizing. Proactive goal achievement means taking every project and cutting it up into bite-sized pieces. Each small task or requirement on the way to the ultimate goal becomes a mini-goal in itself. Using this method, the goal becomes manageable. When mini-mistakes are made, they are easy to correct. And with the achievement of each mini-goal, you receive reinforcement and motivation in the form of positive feedback. 

Moving from Procrastination to Proactivation

1. Set your wake-up time a half hour earlier tomorrow and keep the clock at that setting. 

Use the extra time to think about the best way to spend your day.

2. Memorize and repeat this motto: “Action TNT: Today, Not Tomorrow.” 

Handle each piece of incoming mail only once. Answer your email either early in the morning or after working hours. Block out specific times to initiate phone calls, personally take incoming calls and meet people in person.

3. When people tell you their problems, give solution-oriented feedback. 

Rather than taking on the problem as your own assignment, ask what’s the next step they plan to take or what they would like to see happen.

4. Finish what you start to avoid procrastination. 

Concentrate all your energy and intensity without distraction on successfully completing your current major project.

5. Be constructively helpful instead of unhelpfully critical. 

Single out someone or something to praise instead of participating in group griping, grudge collecting or pity parties.

6. Limit your television viewing or internet surfing to mostly educational or otherwise enlightening programs. 

Watch no more than one hour of television per day or night, unless there is a special program you have been anticipating. The internet has also become a great procrastinator’s hideout for tension-relieving instead of goal-achieving activities.

7. Make a list of five necessary but unpleasant projects you’ve been putting off, with a completion date for each project. 

Immediate action on unpleasant projects reduces stress and tension. It is very difficult to be active and depressed at the same time.

8. Seek out and converse with a successful role model and mentor. 

Learning from others’ successes and setbacks will inevitably improve production of any kind. Truly listen; really find out how your role models do it right.

9. Understand that fear, as an acronym, is False Evidence Appearing Real…

…and that luck could mean Laboring Under Correct Knowledge. The more information you have on any subject—especially case histories—the less likely you’ll be to put off your decisions.

10. Accept problems as inevitable offshoots of change and progress. 

With the ever more rapid pace of change in society and business, you’ll be overwhelmed unless you view change as normal and learn to look for its positive aspects—such as new opportunities and improvements—rather than bemoan the negative.

There is actually no such thing as a “future” decision; there are only present decisions that will affect the future. Procrastinators wait for just the right moment to decide.

If you wait for the perfect moment, you become a security-seeker who is running in place, unwittingly digging yourself deeper into your rut. Get out of your comfort zone and go from procrastinating to proactivating. Make your personal motto: “Stop stewing and start doing!”

This article has been excerpted from The Power of Coaching: Engaging Excellence in Others and edited for length and clarity. This article was published in February 2016 and has been updated. Photo by DimaBerlin/Shutterstock