Stop Procrastinating

Stop. Procrastinating. Now.

Some days, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get started. Here’s how to stop procrastinating — yes, right this second — and get your brain back in gear.

Woman with ADHD procrastinating at work, looking as phone with ASAP alert
Woman with ADHD procrastinating at work, looking as phone with ASAP alert

How many times a day do you try to work yourself up to tackle some undesirable task? If you’re like me — several. Nothing is more exhausting than the task that is never started, so I’ve come up with some tricks to stop procrastinating and prod myself to get moving:

1. Put yourself in jail. If I feel pressure to jump in and finish something in a rush, and therefore can’t bear to start, sometimes I pretend to put myself in jail. If you’re in jail, you have all the time in the world. There is no reason to hurry, no reason to cut corners or to try to do too many things at once. You can slow down and concentrate.

2. Ask for help. This is one of my most useful Secrets of Adulthood. Why is this so hard? I have no idea. But whenever I have trouble getting started because I don’t know exactly what to do, I ask for help. I’m amazed at how much help I get.

3. Remember that most decisions don’t require extensive research. I often get paralyzed by my inability to make a decision, but by reminding myself that, often, one choice just isn’t much different from another choice, I can get started. Also, I try to identify a knowledgeable person, and follow whatever that person does.

4. Take a small first step. If you feel yourself dismayed at the prospect of a chain of awful tasks that you have to accomplish, just take one step today. Tomorrow, take the next step. The forward motion is encouraging, and before long, you’ll find yourself speeding toward completion.

[Free Handout: Stop Procrastinating!]

5. Suffer for 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes, and 15 minutes, day after day, adds up surprisingly fast. That’s how I finally dug myself out of a crushing (if virtual) load of digital photos. Fifteen minutes at a time.

6. Do it first thing in the morning. The night before, vow to do the dreaded task. Get everything ready — any phone numbers or information you need, files assembled, everything ready to go. And the next day, at the first possible moment, just do it. Don’t allow yourself to reflect or procrastinate. This is particularly true of exercise. If you’re tempted to skip, try to work out in the morning.

7. Protect yourself from interruption. How often have you finally steeled yourself to start some difficult project, only to be interrupted the minute you get going? This makes a hard task harder. Carve out time to work.

8. Remember, work is one of the most pernicious forms of procrastination. Pay attention to the amount of time you spend working on tasks you dislike. If you feel your life consists of going from one dreaded chore to the next, you might be better off figuring out a way to avoid some tasks. The fact is, you’re unlikely to be happy or successful when every aspect of your life or job is a big drag. Don’t accuse yourself of being lazy or a procrastinator, but ask, “What’s making this so difficult?”

On the other hand, novelty and challenge, as uncomfortable as they may be, do bring happiness. The chore that feels onerous today may give you a huge boost of satisfaction tomorrow, when it’s behind you. It’s good to keep that in mind.

[Your Never-to-Do List: How You’re Wasting Time Every Single Day]