Professional Development

Quit procrastinating! How to break the habit for good

Written by Kate Lopaze

Did you hear about the Procrastination Pride parade? It’s been moved to next week.

Old jokes aside, procrastination is a painfully familiar concept to most of us. It can be a huge productivity and momentum killer, even when we’re putting things off for good reasons. The end result is the same: a rush of activity at the deadline (or even missed deadlines), and the anxiety that accompanies all that. If you’re looking for ways to bust a long-standing procrastination habit, there are steps you can take. They’re doable, and you can start them right now. (See? You’re already making progress.)

Understand what’s behind your procrastination

We procrastinate for a variety of reasons, so it’s time for a self-audit. What is it that makes you, specifically, procrastinate on projects or tasks? Is it that the task at hand feels too big or overwhelming? Is it simply something you find unpleasant and don’t enjoy thinking about or doing? Are you anxious because there’s so much other stuff to do, and this is just one task of many? Or maybe you’ve just convinced yourself that putting things off until the last minute helps you to be more productive, even if you have to drop other things to get it done.

Once you think about what’s driving you to procrastinate, you can start figuring out how to fix it. It’s a unique solution for each of us because we all have different motivations, priorities, and things to do. It’s about thinking directly about what makes you tick.

If it’s about your anxiety, naming it takes away some of its power, and you can start coming up with an attack plan. If it’s about not enjoying the task, you can start thinking about what would make it better or more appealing for you. If it’s about having too many things to do, quantifying what needs to be done lets you think about what the actual steps are, and how you can do them differently.

Whatever the reason, don’t see it as a failing. See it as something you’re actively trying to improve.

Make the decision to change

Like so many things in life, this needs to be a proactive, mindful choice in order for it to stick and become a change in habit. How do you start a new fitness routine? By making the choice to go to the gym several times a week. Procrastination is similar, in that you have to choose to do things differently.

Set time to go ahead and do it

It’s not that we don’t know how to set a plan and do things early. That a schedule is the most efficient way to get things done is probably not news to you. But life and work and other attention-grabbers often get in the way, and “I need to get this thing done” stays an abstract thought in the head while your attention gets diverted elsewhere.

So, it’s time to lean into that scheduling thing. When you first become aware of a task you need to do, write it down right away somewhere you won’t miss it, like your calendar or your phone—but also build in calendar touchpoints in the meantime. These reminders can help you get on task earlier. Even if it’s a 15-minute block of time twice a week to work on something, that can help you get things done in steps, instead of all at the end. The key here, of course, is committing to those reminders. If you see the reminder pop up and you tune it out, it might as well not even exist.

Use the five-minute rule to break down an overwhelming task

The best thing about creating a mindful schedule is that it can help you do the most useful procrastination-busting thing of all: breaking tasks down into manageable chunks. Knowing you have to spend several hours on something can be overwhelming, which makes it easy to shut out the whole thing. But if you break it down into smaller pieces, those become easier to fit into your busy day.

The five-minute rule is a great way to ease into your new, procrastination-free existence. With this, you commit to spending five minutes on something, telling yourself that once the five minutes are up, you can go do something else. And really, who doesn’t have five minutes to spare? Once you’re used to spending committed chunks of five minutes, you’ll likely find that it’s easier to stretch that and spend longer—while getting in the habit of setting aside time to do the task that would have gone ignored before.

Becoming an ex-procrastinator isn’t easy—and creating new habits usually involves some backsliding at first. But being more mindful about what you need to do, and what you can do at steps along the way, can help you get into a different, more productive mindset. Ideally, it’ll help relieve some of the pressures of your busy life, and make you feel like you’re getting more done than ever. Good luck!

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.