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How To Stop Procrastinating – The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide

I think you’ll agree with me when I say that stopping procrastination is hard. In fact, it is so hard that studies have shown that procrastination affects 70% of the general population, with 20% of them claiming to be “chronic procrastinators”. If you are a student, the numbers get even more gruesome. According to a study done as DeSales university, procrastination affects more than 95% of the student body.

Mind… blown.

Despite these negative statistics, you may have noticed that certain people are able not only to stop procrastinating, but escape the hamster wheel, eliminate procrastination for good, get the job done on a consistent basis and live happy and productive lives. If you ever wondered “how do they do that?”, you are in for a real treat.

Because today I am going to pull back the curtain and show you EXACTLY how I “cured” myself of procrastination and most importantly, how you can do it too.

Let’s do this.

My Procrastination Story

“My name is Kosio Angelov and I am a chronic procrastinator.“

If you would’ve met me just a few years ago, that would’ve been the introduction I would’ve given you. Sad, but true.

With a lot of hard work, and armed with a systematic approach for eradicating procrastination (the same one you’ll learn here), my introduction is a lot different now. I am the founder of High Performance Lifestyle (this very site you are on), tenacious blogger and best-selling author of the “Lean Email Simple System: 5 Keys To Master Your Inbox, Get In Charge Of Your Day And Create More Time For Your Goals” book. And proud of it!

The most curious thing is that as a kid and young adult I was never a procrastinator. I was always prepared, did everything well ahead of schedule (to the point of annoying the people around me who were used to cramming the night before). I was “that” kid. The one who did his homework 3 days in advance. Leaving things for later, or doing them last minute was never my style. This is how I flew through school and college with ease.

Things took a different turn once I started my entrepreneurial journey, right after college. When the comfortable structure of classes and deadlines was no longer there, when I had to rely on my own drive and motivation, I became a habitual procrastinator. I was still highly motivated, but somehow it wasn’t enough. And because I tend to be a perfectionist, I perfected the art of putting things off. In my “best” days I could not only find an endless stream of reasons of why not to do something, but I could also convince myself not to feel bad about putting things off.

A deadly combination.

When I realized that putting things off was becoming a toxic habit for me, I started a quest to find a way to defeat it. I tested and experimented with a lot of methods that I collected from a wide range of sources. Some worked, some failed miserably. In the end, I combined the successful tactics with my own ideas and created an easy-to-follow, step-by-step system. One that not only cures procrastination, but also helps cut the head of the monster as soon as it starts peeking over future projects and endeavors.

But enough about me, let’s get back to you and how to stop procrastinating for good.

What’s The Big Deal With Procrastination

The textbook definition of procrastination is the practice of doing more pleasurable things, in place of less pleasurable ones, thus choosing to postpone negative emotions for “later on”. In other words, it is a very natural process. After all, who would deliberately choose the “bad” over the “good”?

Like anything else in life, in small doses, procrastination is harmless. However, when it becomes chronic or habitual, it becomes a major problem with some serious downfalls.

Here are some of the major negative effects of procrastination:

  • It can stop you from doing your work, and it hurts your overall performance
  • When you do get things done, they feel rushed and last-minute, so you don’t enjoy the process or you don’t feel accomplished
  • It can make you feel like you are always behind schedule
  • Over an extended period of time, it can lower your self-esteem
  • It can make other people see you in a negative light. You can give out the impression of laziness and it sends the wrong message about how you feel about commitment and deadlines
  • It is a waste of time. You can spend more time thinking about an activity, than actually doing it
  • It can create unnecessary amounts of stress. You often perceive things as much worse than they actually are, which rises your stress level
  • It puts the emphasis on what you are NOT doing versus on what you are doing, thus creating negative emotions
  • It can cause you to take longer to do something, which in turn cuts into your time for other enjoyable activities
  • It can prevent you from achieving your long-term goals (as you put off the actions necessary for reaching them)

In short, habitual procrastination is bad. But have no fear, after you’re done reading this step-by-step guide, and you put the system to use, you’ll never experience any of the above, ever again.

Why Do We Procrastinate

Before you get to overcome procrastination, you need to understand the reason(s) for doing it in the first place. If you don’t figure the cause first, it’s like going to the doctor with a headache and getting a painkiller prescription without being examined first – it will suppress your short-term headache, but you’ll be back in a few days with the same complaint.

You need to treat the cause, not just apply a patch to the symptoms.

Here are some of the most common reasons for procrastinating (it has nothing to do with being lazy):

The Snacking Conundrum – the need for instant gratification

We live in a culture of quick and instant results. I call this the “snacking conundrum” (patent pending).

Grabbing a quick snack is easier than preparing a whole healthy meal, as it provides immediate results. Reading a quick how-to blog post is easier than reading a whole book. Writing a quick comment on social media is easier than picking up the phone and meeting someone in person. Using the latest gizmo that exercises your abs while watching TV is easier than going to the gym for a focused workout.

We are conditioned to seek immediate results from the smallest amount of effort. When something requires more work than what we are used to, and the result is not immediate, it is hard to find the motivation to do it.

Dread of the actual activity

You might dislike doing the actual activity. Maybe you had a traumatic experience in the past, or maybe it is just not something that you consider enjoyable.

For example, many people postpone doing their taxes on time because, let’s face it, the process is rather dull and unpleasant.

Good old fashion fear

Fear of the end result. Fear of failure. Fear of feeling inadequate, or not doing a good job, or a “good enough” job. Fear of rejection. Fear of the unknown.

Fear is one of the major causes of procrastination.

If you want to write a blog post, but you fear you are not a good writer, and that the end result might be mediocre, you are going to postpone it. You might fear that the people who will read your post will judge you, or give you negative feedback.

Often times, all of these fears have no basis, and they are a complete fiction of your imagination. But they will stop your actions dead in their tracks.

Procrastinating is easy

It is technically easier not to do something, than to do it. It is easier not to mow your lawn than to mow it. Often times, we choose inaction over action. It is just the way humans are wired.

Negative habits

Like any other repetitive activity, if you do it long enough, it will become a habit. If you’ve been a procrastinator for months or even years, it has become part of your routine. You might not have a good reason for putting things off, other than the fact that this is just what you usually do.

Lack of motivation

When you don’t have a good enough reason to do something, chances are you won’t do it, at least not immediately. Maybe the action is not bad or unpleasant, but it is just not pleasant enough. Washing the dishes might not be the worst thing on the planet, but it’s not the best either, so then why bother.

These are the most common reasons for procrastinating. Yours might be slightly different. Maybe even completely different.

Action Step:

Take 10 – 15 minutes right now and figure out what your reasons are. You might have to dig a little deeper than usual. It might be uncomfortable, but stay strong and you’ll make it happen. You are doing this for yourself, so let go of any fears of judgment from others. Whatever you discover, you don’t have to share with anyone else. Only through uncovering the root of the problem, can you start systematically working towards eliminating it altogether.

Take those 10-15 minutes and write those reasons down before you move on to the next section.

 

The Procrastination Cure Framework

The moment you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived! It is time to defeat procrastination and extinguish it from your routine and your life.

Before I share with you the “cure”, I want you to take a few minutes and come up with a to-do item, or an activity, that you’ve been procrastinating for a long time. It does not have to be a big, important, life-altering item. Any activity would do.

As you read through the different steps of the system, apply them mentally to your particular item. There are lots of examples provided with the steps. They are all meant to paint a visual picture of the process, to help drive the point home. The process is most effective when you apply it to your own situation. It helps you understand how to apply the system to all other activities from your life that you have been procrastinating.

Ready? Let’s do this.

Here are the fail-proof, easy to implement steps that I personally use and that have been successfully put to practice by many of my customers:

how to eliminate procrastination

1) Find a good (enough) reason to do it

2) Do it first thing in the morning

3) Start small, exceedingly small, and gradually build it up

4) Eliminate friction

5) Make yourself accountable to someone

That’s it. Only 5 things to do.

The process might seem a little bulky, or a little too easy, depending on your point of view and what you’ve tried before. In reality, it is a rather simple and straightforward system. Each step requires just a few minutes. Once you’ve gone through the process a couples of times, it will become part of your routine. Keep at it, and it will become a habit that you don’t even consciously think about, and that you use automatically when faced with early signs of procrastination.

Let’s break down each of steps so you know exactly what to do and how to do it.

It is all very easy, you have my word.

how to beat procrastination

Motivation is key for doing anything. If you don’t have a good enough reason to do something, you won’t do it. It just makes sense. Notice that you need a good enough reason. It does not have to be big and shiny, or complicated. It just needs to be good enough.

How do you come up with a good enough reason?

Procrastinators are very good at brainstorming. Just think of the last time you put something off. Your mind starts with one reason why it is not a good idea to do that activity now, but it does not stop there, does it? Shortly after the first, another reason pops up, and another, and another…. your brainstorming kicks in and you can come up with a whole chain of valid procrastination reasons in just a matter of minutes. Procrastinators tend to be very creative when it comes to coming up with reasons why not to do something.

A fail-proof technique, that works every time, is to put all that brainstorming to good use. Reverse the creative process and use it to come up with a good enough reason to take action.

Here is how the reverse process works:

Let’s say you want to write a blog post to promote your business. For whatever reason, you are putting it off. Take a minute and come up with one benefit of actually following through and making it happen.

Be specific.

It will bring some exposure for my business” is not specific.

I’ll mention an example from [insert top authority figure in your field here] in my blog post and I’ll leverage the post to get an interview with that expert” is specific.

The interview will be a great way to build a relationship with that expert. You’ll get access to their network. Who is in their network that you can benefit from? Maybe you can collaborate on a new project. Maybe you can start a mastermind with the expert and some of his associates. Maybe that blog post and the following interview will be featured in the mass media and create great exposure and recognition for your business.

Once you get the ball rolling with just a few of the reasons why to do it, your brainstorming will kick in to take care of the rest. Eventually, you’ll tip the scales in your favor, and you’ll get excited about doing that blog post. One of these reasons will be the “good enough” one for you. And that will tip you over to the good side of tacking action. You’ll immediately notice the change in your motivation and excitement when the switch happens (it is quite a feeling).

It is a simple, yet very powerful process that works every time.

Action Step:

Think of your procrastinating example right now.

Come up with one specific benefit of doing it. Now come up with a second benefit that can possibly stem from the first one. Now do a third one that connects to the second one.

You get the idea. Come up with a few reasons and let your natural creativity lead the rest of the way, till you start feeling the excitement of taking action.

 

how to stop procrastinating

To do anything that you do not enjoy at a 100% (everything that you put off falls into this category by default), you need to use a little bit (or a lot) of willpower.

You need to make a conscious decision to take action.

Willpower is a renewable source and we each get a limited amount of it. This is officially known as “ego depletion“. When you are physically or mentally exhausted, you have a lot less willpower than when you are energetic and full of positive thoughts. You’ve probably experienced this many times already, even if you are not aware of it. For example, it is much easier to resists junk food after you’ve come back from a jog (when you are full of energy and you have a sense of accomplishment), than after you’ve come back from an exhausting day at the office.

Naturally, your willpower is the strongest in the morning, after a good night sleep, when your mental and physical batteries are fully recharged. It is vital that you do what you’ve been putting off the most as early in the day as possible, when your willpower is at its peak.

Before you start your day, before you get sucked into other people’s agendas, take care of your most dreaded task. Brian Tracy calls this “eating the frog“.

As an added benefit, taking care of your procrastinating task in the morning will give you a sense of accomplishment that will spill over to the rest of your day. This way you are curing procrastination and making your entire day more productive as a result. Two birds with one stone, isn’t that nice!

Action Step:

Think of your procrastination example. Schedule it as early in the morning as you can.

If it is a personal item, you can do it immediately after you wake up. If it is a business item, make it the first item on your list for when you step foot in the office.

 

overcoming-procrastination-6

Start small, exceedingly small, and build your way up.

Find the minimum reasonable amount of action you can take. Now cut it in half and take that as your starting point.

We are creatures of habit and we are naturally resistant to change. Every action that you take is by default a change to some extent. When it is something you’ve been putting off, it is an even bigger change. Therefore, it is essential to start small, unreasonably small, and work your way up. This gradual increase will make it much easier to bust through your natural resistance and follow through.

Here’s an example/scenario:

Taking a 30 minute morning jog. You want to start doing it because you know it will make you healthier and more energized. But you’ve been procrastinating and you haven’t been able to get yourself to do it in the past. Instead of forcing yourself to go from 0 to 30 minutes overnight, which requires a tremendous amount of willpower, start with a goal of just 2 minutes. To jog for 2 minutes might seem like a ridiculously low goal, but that is the beauty of it. It is so low that there is absolutely no reason and no excuse for not doing it. Seriously, go jog for 2 minutes and do it for a couple of days. Get used to it.

Build it up.

Once you are accustomed to the 2-minute jogs, then increase the time to 5, or even 7 minutes. Get used to that change. Now make it 10, 15, 20, and all the way up to 30 minutes which was the initial goal.

Smaller actions are easier to do, thus less likely to be put off. They also create a habit of doing, instead of not doing, which gets you in the right mindset necessary to stop procrastinating.

Having a low goal does not mean you need to stick to only covering the minimum requirement. If you get a rush of motivation and excitement, which often happens, you can always surpass your goal and get an even bigger sense of accomplishment. The idea is to keep your minimums low, but there is no maximum.

One extra veggie, 1 paragraph of text for your new book, 5 minutes at the gym, one organized shelf in the garage, 1 flight of stairs. Just get started.

For this part of the procrastination-busting framework I need to give credit to Leo Babauta from zenhabits and his blog post on the formation of habits and also to James Clear and his spin on the 2-minute rule.

Action Step:

Think of your procrastination example. Come up with the smallest reasonable amount of action you can take towards making it happen. Schedule it first thing tomorrow morning and go do it.

 

procrastination help

As previously established, we naturally don’t like change and we are resistant to it. When you start doing things in a new way, your entire system will put up a fight, and try to make you go back to your old habits. This is true for any type of new action, but especially true for the ones you’ve been procrastinating.

To help win the battle against procrastination, you need to reduce and, ideally, completely eliminate friction.

Technically speaking, friction is the resistance that one object encounters when it moves over another. Too much friction, and the object stops from moving at all. Imagine trying to drive your car with your handbrake on. It is pointless, as the car is not going to move (unless you are talking about my first car, which used to defy many of the laws of physics :)). In the same manner, taking action without eliminating friction and distractions, is not going to get you the desired result.

So how do you eliminate friction?

Friction is caused by any distraction or additional action you need to take. Let me explain.

It’s 7 AM on a typical Wednesday. You want to make yourself an omelet for breakfast. Technically, all you need to do is beat the eggs and cook them. Pretty straightforward. However, you realize that you don’t have eggs, so you need to go buy them. When you come back from the supermarket across the street, you realize you need to wash the pan from the night before in order to be able to cook your omelet. You also realize you are a out of salt, so you need to go ask the neighbor for some (going to the supermarket again is too much hassle). On your way out, you decide to take out the trash as well. In the hallway you meet another neighbor who strikes a friendly conversation….

What was supposed to be a 10-minute omelet is now a 40-minute omelet because of all the extra things you needed to do and all the distractions you encountered along the way. As a result, you are now late for work. And making that omelet was something you wanted to do. Imagine if it was something you’ve been procrastinating. The chance of you having given up after the first few problems is very high.

To eliminate friction, you need to plan and prepare everything in advance. Take a few minutes, the day before, and mentally walk yourself through the entire process, start to finish. What do you need to do, in what order do you need to do it, what do you need to prepare, when, how, etc. No detail is too small. Visualizing the process will enable you to uncover and eliminate possible roadblocks that can cause friction and sway you from your path.

Let’s get back to the jogging for 30 minutes in the morning example. Find your jogging shoes and leave them next to the bed. Lay out all your clothes. What music are you going to listen to? Find it and load it up on your iPod. Charge it. Buy a bottle of water and leave it next to your keys, on the small table next to the door, so you can grab them on the way out. Do you need to take anything else with you? Leave it with the water and the keys. Are you taking the stairs or the elevator down? Are you going to turn left or right once you are out of the house?

No detail is too small to be overlooked. Plan and prepare as much as possible. The next day all you need to do is wake up, put your outfit on, grab your stuff on the way out and start your jog. When it is early in the morning and your internal voice is screaming “this is too hard, why bother, let’s go back to bed”, the smallest obstacle, such as not being able to find your keys can make you give up, leave it for tomorrow and get you back to your old ways.

Action Step:

Think of your example. Visualize the entire process, step by step, from start to finish. Think of all the little things you need to do and prepare for them. Make it so there is nothing that can stop you in your tracks.

Plan and prepare the smallest detail for the first few times from the day before. Once it becomes a routine, you’ll no longer have to over-think it, it will just be what you normally do.

 

how to not procrastinate

The last step in the journey for answering the “how to stop procrastinating” question is accountability.

Armed with all the techniques discussed up to this point, you have everything you need to overcome procrastination once and for all. However, to absolutely guarantee your success, you need to add a little bit of 3rd party accountability to the process. This is the secret sauce.

Find an accountability partner. It can be a friend, a family member, a colleague, it is entirely up to you. Let them know what you are up to and that you are trying to make positive changes to your life, and ask them to help keep you in check.

Tip: people like to feel like they are “helping”. If you phrase your request as a request for help, you have a much higher chance of the person saying “yes”.

Let them know what your plan is, and decide on what you are going to do if you miss more than 2 days of action. You’ll give them $25, wash their car, mow their lawn, walk their dog, it’s your call. Just make sure it is not something too enjoyable for you.

It is important to set the agreement as “if you miss more than 2 in a row”. Life happens, so sometimes you won’t be able to do your task due to external circumstances. And that it OK. Missing it once is fine. Missing it twice is still acceptable. When you hit the 3rd miss in a row, all the great progress you’ve made to this point will start fading away. If you are a sports fan, think of it as 3 strikes and you are out.

The fact that you are accountable to someone else, besides you, will create a good amount of social pressure. This will give you extra motivation to take action and beat procrastination. The added “fear” of losing the bet will add an extra layer of motivation.

Want to take the accountability step to the extreme?

Find more than one accountability partner, or even announce it to your entire social network on Facebook, for even more social pressure, the good kind. When your entire social circle is “watching over your shoulder” you are a lot less likely to get back to your old procrastinating habits.

Action Step:

Think of your procrastination example.

Now think of someone whom you’ll be comfortable sharing your plan with. Ask them to help you out. Decide on what you’ll do if you sway from the chosen path, shake hands and stick to the plan. Be in regular communication with your accountability partner, ideally daily. You don’t have to spend too much time, a text message, or a quick email to check in is more than enough.

 

Putting It All Together

These were the individual steps of the Procrastination Cure. Let’s illustrate with an example how it all ties together so you can see the whole process in action.

Goal: jog for 30 minutes every day.

Reason for procrastination: “Not enough time“

Plan of action:

DAY 1

Take 2-3 minutes to brainstorm enough benefits of jogging to tip the scale in your favor. You’ll lose 5 pounds. You’ll become more energetic. Losing the weight will raise your confidence level and you’ll rock that marketing video for your new product launch. The product launch will be such a big success because of the video, that you’ll become the market leader and people will want to promote your product line. As a result, you’ll make a lot of new connections, which will propel your business and success to an even greater level…

Motivation, check.

Schedule your days from now on in such a way that you have the time to do your jog first thing in the morning. Put that time in your calendar/to-do list.

Schedule, check.

Take 2-3 minutes and visualize the process from waking up to being out and jogging. Prepare your clothing, put them close to the bed. Charge your mp3 player and load it up with the songs you want. Decide on what you want to take and prepare it. Leave everything right in front of the door, so you cannot skip taking it. Plan your route. Prepare everything, even the smallest thing.

Decide on the smallest reasonable amount of jogging you’ll do: 2 minutes.

Preparation, check.

Decide on an accountability partner. Call them up and ask them to help you out. Decide what you’ll do if you miss more than 2 mornings in a row. For example, you’ll pay your partner $25 for each additional skipped morning after the 2nd miss.

Accountability, check.

DAY 2

Wake up, get dressed, grab the iPod, keys, water and out you go. Nothing more, nothing less. Take your pre-scheduled route and jog for 2 minutes.

Can you do more? Yes? Keep going, but no more than 10 minutes. You don’t want to be sore.

No? Come back home.

In either case, give yourself a high-five for a job well done.

Check-in with your accountability partner.

Proceed with your day with a sense of accomplishment and pride. You’ve deserved it!

Prepare your clothes for the next day.

If needed, brainstorm some more to keep the motivation up.

DAYS 3 – 5

Same as day 2.

DAYS 5 – 8

Same as day 2, but up your jogging time to 6 minutes.

DAYS 8 – 11

Same as day 2, but up your jogging time to 12 minutes.

DAYS 11 – 15

Same as day 2, but up your jogging time to 15 minutes.

DAYS 15 – 20

Same as day 2, but up your jogging time to 20 minutes.

DAYS 20 – 25

Same as day 2, but up your jogging time to 25 minutes.

DAYS 25 – 30

Same as day 2, but up your jogging time to 30 minutes.

DAY 30

You’ve completely busted through your procrastination and you are now jogging every day for 30 minutes with absolutely no issues. You don’t even remember why you could not do it before!

Over To You Now

Now you have the entire system. You know everything that you need to do in order to get rid of your procrastination and defeat it once and for all. Go through the entire process, step by step, and take action. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, the Procrastination Cure system will also become habitual, and you won’t have to refer back to this guide. As soon as you sense you are putting something off, your habit will be to put this system to work and cut the head of the monster before it grows.

You have all it takes.

Take action.

Be bold.

Now, I want to know what you think. Did I miss something? Any questions? Share your thoughts, questions and your experience with stopping procrastination by leaving a comment below.

 

  • http://www.golightly.fi Eveliina Lindell

    I would like to add to the negative effects, that if you eventually end up doing things in a hurry, the quality will most likely be not as good as if you took the proper time. Thanks for writing this!

    • http://www.highperformancelifestyle.net/ Kosio @ HighPerformance

      Thanks for the comment, Eveliina! You are absolutely right, doing things in a hurry because often (if not always) decreases the quality of the outcome. We are on the same page on this one!

  • Azim Anderson

    Step 4 is timeless! Also like how you improved your jogging a little every week and didn’t start out with a massive goal to keep motivation afloat. Lot’s of takeaways in this post thanks Kosio!