Get Out of Your Own Way: Tips and Ideas for Working through Procrastination Cycles

So Why Do We Do It?

There are several common reasons for procrastination that you can probably relate to.  None of them have to do with being lazy or unaware of what’s going on.  In fact, usually you’re so aware of this task that is stressing you out that you avoid it at all costs or start shutting down.

  • We often put off large tasks that feel too overwhelming to tackle.  We don’t even know where to begin, or the amount of time we think it will take seems like forever.  Better to just avoid it altogether.

  • Starting a task or project means making some choices.  Making decisions can be stressful.  Sometimes our fear of making the wrong choice leaves us paralyzed.  Better to do nothing than get blamed later for going in the wrong direction.

  • Sometimes completing a task means something scary or unpleasant comes next.  I can’t get an F on my term paper if I never finish it, right?  Better sit this one out because the idea of an F fills me with dread.

  • I don’t do things ahead of time because I supposedly work better under pressure.  Nobody works better under pressure, they just forgive themselves more than in normal circumstances.  Pretty good for a rush job, right?  If I actually gave myself enough time and space to do this and really tried, what if it is still not perfect?  I cannot face that scary thought.


Identify and Record Your Trouble Spots

Some people are professional procrastinators and already know exactly what they will routinely avoid whenever it crosses their desk.  Others might need concrete steps for figuring out what is slowing them down.  In this case, keeping a detailed log can illuminate your trouble spots.  When you catch yourself procrastinating you should:

  • Think about and write down what specific task you are avoiding doing in the moment.

  • Think about and write down all the possible reasons why you are putting this particular task off (there can be more than one reason!).

  • Record just how much time you have spent procrastinating on this one task.  Quantifying the time in this way forces us to face the waste.


Still Having Trouble?

Here are some common time wasters that are usually tell-tale signs of procrastination occurring.  Look out for these as warning signs that you might be a procrastinator:

  • You never get around to doing the big projects at work (only the little ones)

  • You pay no attention to small details because you only want to work on the big picture

  • You look at the clock and say, “What did I do all day?” and you literally have no idea

  • You know the office gossip a little too well because you chat with colleagues all day

  • It’s always break, snack, lunch, or coffee time

  • Social media consumes most of your time

  • You’d rather fix up an old project than move on to the next

  • When you research something online you tend to go down “rabbit holes” for hours

  • Long work lunches often take up a sizable chunk of your day

  • You pay your personal bills online or run errands when you’re supposed to be at work

  • You over-research simple issues

Take Heart!  You Can Break the Cycle

Procrastination can make a person feel pretty hopeless at times, especially if you know when you’re doing it.  Here are the top ten specific strategies you can use to break out of your own avoidance loop:

  1. Make your days shorter.  If we have limitless time to work on a task, it that can actually make it harder to complete.  Deadlines, even self-imposed ones, can help you see the finish line.

  2. Set time limits.  These should not feel too short or too long, but just right for you and your style of doing things.

  3. Choose the best time of day.  Are you a morning person or a night owl?  Do you need quiet or a more frenetic environment to concentrate?  Pick what makes you most comfortable.

  4. Break it down into smaller tasks.  We all know the old expression “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”  For example, writing a 300-page book might sound daunting until you realize you just have to write one page a day for less than a year.

  5. Ask for help.  Sometimes an outside perspective is just what we need, even if the person isn’t actually doing the work with or for us.

  6. Use selected perfectionism.  Nobody’s perfect.  No, seriously.  And people who excel in certain areas usually just get by in others.  It’s ok to do an ok job on something that is not that important.  Save your “perfect” work for something that matters.

  7. Slip in sideways, a.k.a. don’t start with the first task.  Something as simple as doing things out of sequence can be enough to jumpstart our engagement with a project and keep us interested.

  8. Do a fast and sloppy version.  Do a terrible version that no one will see.  Then tweak it into your masterpiece once something’s on the page to start.  Getting started hangs some people up the most.

  9. Focus on the payoff.  Are you rewards-driven?  Stay motivated by promising yourself certain rewards for finishing a task, or by focusing on the payoff you’ll get from others in the end whether it’s money, satisfaction, pride, or anything else.

  10. Remember past victories.  A lot of times we procrastinate on things we have done before.  Remind yourself that you’ve crossed the finish line before and you’re going to be able to do it again.


No two procrastinators are alike!  Pick and choose from our lists to get to your goals without the wait!