10 Ways to Beat Procrastination


In an interview between Merlin Mann and David Allen, I heard the great phrase “Procrastination isn’t about not doing, it’s about not doing and feeling crappy about it”. None of us want that ambient guilt bearing down on us during our time off, so here’s 10 great ways to figure out why you’re procrastinating and finish what you have to do.

  1. The excuse: It’ll take so long!. Maybe, or does that objection stem from not really knowing how long it will take? Set a timer for 15 minutes and see how far you can get. You can use a kitchen timer, the alarm on our cell phone, or grab a computer based timer, like a widget with an audible alarm. Most of them time, I can finish before the timer goes off just by forcing my self to get started.
  2. The excuse: I’ll mess it up. So what? Do a quick scenario run down in your head. Even if you don’t do it perfectly, will the outcome really be a problem? You’re nervous about calling a potentially big client – but if it doesn’t work out you’re not any worse off than you were. So what if you aren’t good at painting or knitting? Do it, enjoy it, and practice until you’re great. Your color choices or dropped stitches won’t cause anyone any harm.
  3. The excuse: I don’t know enough. Not being an expert doesn’t mean your efforts aren’t worthwhile. Tufte may be the expert on displaying information, but he’s not going to be putting together anyone’s quarterly sales reports. Acknowledge that lots of the work, in every company, everyday, is being done by non-experts – and the results are pretty impressive. And unless you’re contemplating neurosurgery, you can use your current skills, a few questions to colleagues, and some research to be good enough.
  4. The excuse: It’s not worth it (pt. 1). You’ve already committed. But maybe you can renegotiate the task. Will an outline do instead of a draft? Can you offer to take on something else for the person you committed to this task for instead? Can you delegate it to someone else, so your responsibility then lies in making sure it happens? Delegating isn’t necessarily a cop-out. If you ask the right person, this can be a great learning experience for them, a chance to cross train on a related team, or a way they can demonstrate they’re ready to take on more responsibility.
  5. The excuse: It’s not worth it (pt. 2). So maybe you can’t renegotiate. For whatever reason, you have to do it. As long as this project is weighing on you, it’s draining your energy and attention. Try reframing your reason to reflect this. Getting the task or project done is no longer about finishing it for its own sake. Now it’s about taking a weight off your shoulders to free your mind up to relax and enjoy other things without guilt.
  6. The excuse: It’s not worth it (pt. 3). You’ve probably been through parts 1 and 2 before. A great way to avoid procrastinating on similar projects again is to look at why those “not worth it” projects in the past repelled you. If you’re a freelancer, did you charge less than you feel you’re worth? Promise not to make that mistake again. Did you make a commitment before understanding the effort and the time involved? Resolve to get more clarification in the future.
  7. The excuse: I just can’t get into this. Sometimes it’s just hard to get into the right frame of mind to make progress. Are there easier related tasks you can start with? Try cranking through a few of those to get yourself in a productive and successful state of mind. If they’re part of the same project, they can also grab your attention and help you load the right ideas in your mind, so when you go back to neglected task you’re already thinking about it.
  8. The problem: Distractions. When you’re avoiding a task, working in a space that offers shinier, more entertaining alternatives is going to strain your willpower. Schedule a block of time devoted to nothing else. Close your email if you can. Turn your phone to silent or have your assistant hold your calls. If you’ve got the flexibility, consider changing locations. Go to a library or coffee shop and bring just the materials you need with you. It’s amazing how much more interesting your task becomes when you don’t have anything else to do.
  9. The problem: Your to-do list. Make sure your to-do lists are set up to help you work. If you procrastinate often, maybe you need shorter lists of things you’re actually going to do that day to keep you on track. If so, move more to your “someday” list. Maybe you need to view your attention as a resource, and group tasks by how much energy and focus you have. Maybe your tasks are too vague, and little time to process them into steps or add additional supporting detail to the steps will make them seem more manageable. Take the time to examine your set-up periodically and see if how well it really reflects the way you work when you’re at your best.
  10. The problem: Lack of urgency. If you’ll honor it, set yourself a deadline. If you’re not sure that’ll do it, give yourself a source of external accountability. Tell a colleague or a friend you’ll see at a meeting the next day you’re going to finish your task or project before you see them. Ask them to check in with you about how it went.

2 Responses to 10 Ways to Beat Procrastination

  1. Doreen,

    It was great seeing you today the the Small Biz Expo at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I just love your cool glasses :-)

    I just now read this article and I think my list would love your tips! Do I have your permission to send this link to them?

    Kind regards,
    Denise Pederson
    Coach Companion

  2. Good to see you, too! Please feel free to forward the article link, it’s all out here on the web to share.


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