The prevalence of procrastination is horrid—affecting almost single individual worldwide.
A sample survey led by Micro Biz Mag discloses that more than 84% of the population is prone to procrastinating on a regular basis – with 20.5% of the respondents postponing activities on a daily basis and 22.1% doing it “often”.
When it comes to leadership, efficiency and consistency are integral to success.
Fighting procrastination is one of the key goals while undergoing different training courses in relation to motivation, building discipline, productivity, or time management.
Let’s dive deeper into the problem and uncover the possible steps to getting the job done (figuratively and literally).
What Is Procrastination?
Verywell Mind defines procrastination as:
“…the act of delaying or putting off tasks until the last minute, or past their deadline. Some researchers define procrastination as a “form of self-regulation failure characterized by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.”
In layman’s terms, it’s about prolonging an activity or finding an excuse to do it later on, continuously delaying near the final possible moment—or even past it.
Different studies blame the Internet as one of the main “black holes” when it comes to wasting time instead of getting anything useful done. And that’s understandable – the main source of revenue for the majority of the web revolves around ads or different lead generation triggers caused by spending time on site.
- Social media, forums like reddit, online groups are all designed to keep you around longer.
- Generating traffic for websites leads to clickbait articles.
- Devices carefully push notifications through for all sorts of reasons through a myriad of apps.
- 9gag, quiz apps, viral websites are the holy grail to mentally chill and distract yourself online.
- Messengers and even email or work-related pings don’t help coming up all the time in a default online mode.
Why Do People Procrastinate?
Apart from the sweet Heaven that the Internet presents from people of all ages around the world, the essence of why most people procrastinate is a combination of:
- No sense of urgency. Either there is no hard deadline for getting the job done, or it’s arbitrary, or it’s not really “that important”. The so-called “active procrastinators” work well under pressure, and unless the stakes are high, procrastination is inevitable.
- Lack of importance. Importance is subjective, but there’s a good reason why the largest group of procrastinators is college students. There are frequent misalignments between the direct goals of students and the necessities of the educational program, which is why certain subjects are rendered less important than others, and “having to” complete an assignment isn’t a good enough reason.
- Incompatibility with priorities. Simialrly to the previous point, unless the assignment is closely related to the intrinsic motivation, the odds for prolonging the completion are higher.
- The assignment is too complex. Having to complete a bulk of work that takes hours or even days is a recipe for disaster. The longer the activity, the more likely it is to delay it.
- Fear of embarrassment or failing. There is no guarantee that getting a job done will result in success. Having to call 50 sales lead or possible partners is scary for most. Completing a presentation for a public talk taps into one of the notorious human fears.
- Lack of team spirit. Humans are social species, and working towards a goal with a team generally results in higher success rates. This explains all mastermind groups, online courses, bootcamps and so on.
Medical conditions could get in the way, too. US News lists down ADHD, depression, and anxiety as mental conditions interfering the efficiency – let alone different factors like recurring sleep deprivation or physical injuries.
While there are absolutely valid obstacles that could prevent you from being productive, many use non-diagnosed conditions as suitable excuses to postpone the work done. Forcing yourself to push through regardless of the circumstances will tune your mind to complete the assignment “no matter what”.
1. Dig Into Your Intrinsic Motivation
People rely on two forms of motivation to get through their week:
- Intrinsic motivation – completing work or learning something for your own benefits, developing a better self, becoming more resilient, shaping yourself into a better leader
- Extrinsic motivation – getting the job done solely due to external factors, a reward or avoiding negative consequences. Working solely for your payroll or against a conflict with an executive/client fall into this department.
Since extrinsic motivation is temporary (or prevents you from taking any joy in getting the job done), working on your core value system to uncover the deeper motives that keep you up at night are integral to success.
Creating a core value map of what you truly want to accomplish—not punishable by anyone but rather strongly driven by your own desires—and aligning them with the type of activities you need to do will achieve better results on a regular basis.
2. Prepare an Actionable Plan
Once the direction is clear, work on creating an action plan for completing the assignment.
- If you need to call a hundred sales leads, figure out what times of the day work best, how to block some focus time to get it done, and prepare your call setup early on (a quiet environment, decent head set for calls, call notes including your research).
- If you need to work on the project roadmap for the next six months, figure out which stakeholders are required to get it done. Align that according to their vacations or important project launches and schedule accordingly. Prepare meeting notes and a document gathering ideas that you need to prioritize later.
- If you have to hire 5 new senior people, prepare a list of places you will look for the right talent. Aside from job boards, consider external recruitment firms, events you can sponsor and get in touch with talent, booking time for tapping into your own network, sharing job updates on social, or even running paid ads for your jobs.
To ensure success, your objectives must be SMART, meaning they possess the following characteristics:
- Specific: Define what success looks like. Create an unambiguous vision.
- Measurable: Determine how you will measure progress.
- Attainable: Ensure that your goal is achievable with your current resources.
- Relevant: Make sure your plan aligns with your broader life aspirations.
- Time-bound: Establish a time frame within which you aim to accomplish your goal.
The SMART acronym was created by George T. Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham and first appeared in a 1981 publication.
Working with a well-prepared plan is easier to follow and helps combat procrastination due to vague requirements and specifications.
3. Break Assignments Into Smaller Actions
At DevriX, we try to stick to tasks that take 2 to 4 hours at most. Any assignment that takes a day or more is additionally broken down into smaller iterations – cohesive and independent tasks.
In most cases, activity is dependent on several steps, some of them including coordination, sending updates, sifting through data, compiling research, etc.
Understanding the dynamics will help you break this down into several iterations.
Most people prolong a certain activity due to the fact that it simply takes too long. Ernest Hemingway, one of the most profound authors, was fond of writing daily – waking up as early as possible in the morning and allocating the time to write before the daily interruptions kick in.
Since persistence is key, even a massive task like writing a book could be broken down into smaller iterations, bits of pieces you can tackle on a daily basis, one step at a time.
4. Slay the Morning Dragon
Following Hemingway’s example, one trick that works for many is starting with the most challenging task first thing in the morning.
Back when you were a kid, your parents probably forced you to write your homework before you can sit back and play some video games (or go out and play with kids). This is an actual depiction of the “Morning Dragon” principle – take on the toughest task early in the day and everything else will be easier to follow later on.
5. Warm Up With Lower Hanging Fruits
Since the previous tip isn’t necessarily applicable for everyone (especially night owls, people with families, or those who work out at 6 am), here’s a different approach that could help you get on track.
Prepare some quick wins to kick the day off.
If your goal is to live healthy, start with preparing your breakfast first thing. Get some fruits going for work. Voila – you are two tasks into your day already before you take off.
I have prepared some starter checklists over the years including basic activities such as “brush your teeth”, “prepare your clothing for the day”, or “walk out the dog”. Ticking off tasks as early in the day as possible can give you the initial boost you need to keep the traction throughout the day.
Plus, consistency is key.
6. Design Your Focus Workplace
If you work from the office, make sure your workplace is welcoming.
There are two separate things you can do to streamline your productivity:
- Clean up your desk, add a separate monitor or a tablet for additional resources/data, hide unnecessary distractions, grab a headset, prepare a playlist to keep you focused throughout the day.
- Move out into a meeting room or a quiet space for important work that couldn’t fit into a distracting workplace.
For those working at home, follow a similar paradigm for your home office.
One of the biggest pitfalls I see with fresh remote workers is trying to work from the sofa, the kitchen table, or a generic space used for all sorts of work. Considering the different vibe (and expectations), it’s hard to get focused and avoid procrastination unless you allot a certain place in your home devoted to working.
Some variety is helpful of course, and the same goes for working from a coffee shop every now and then. But sharing the same physical space for both work and fun will impair your productivity process whenever you’re not pressed by a hard deadline.
7. Put Some Pressure On
The Journal of Consumer Research has reported that the lack of deadlines (or simply a deadline too far away in time) leads to higher rates of procrastination.
Regardless of whether you are solving a work-related problem or focus on a personal goal, enforce some self-driven deadlines to keep yourself accountable.
Think of New Year’s resolutions. While they are flawed for many reasons (and there are specific tips to make them work), they set a number of goals over the course of a year.
Instead, make sure that every activity you tackle is tied to a deadline. If sending a report for work is due at the end of the month, get it done two days earlier.
Have a sales quote for the end of the week? Aim for Thursday afternoon.
Pushing yourself harder will yield better productivity and combat procrastination.
Elon Musk has his 10-year plan quote that puts things into perspective:
“Stop being patient and start asking yourself, how do I accomplish my 10 year plan in 6 months?
Even if you’re late or don’t manage to get the insurmountable task done, you’ll be a lot closer to the finish line in 6 months instead of waiting for an entire decade.
8. Gamify the Experience
Struggling with procrastination, as already established, is a matter of intrinsic motivation.
But what if you can sprinkle some external factors that spark joy as you go?
You can gamify your journey in different ways, making it more bearable – and joyful, too. Some examples you can implement in the process:
- Reward yourself with your favorite meal after completing your weekly task
- Grab a pair of the latest buds (or any other gear you want) after passing 30 days consistently working on your goal
- Go out and meet with friends only after you’ve authored the weekly post for your blog
Whatever you do, add some levels or keep track of your accomplishments.
I finally took my health seriously after hitting 232 pounds back in 2019. I had various excuses – one of them being the scale at home which “wasn’t as accurate” in my opinion.
After buying a smart scale with historical data, including body fat and BMI, I realized that things aren’t going any better and the ongoing chart pointing out that something is off won’t change by itself. A few months in, I’m 158 pounds in great shape, probably my best since high school.
In addition to treating yourself, count on data, metrics, and different motivating triggers. I count on my Garmin watch showcasing my body battery, steps, daily calories burned, and my Oura ring nudging me to get proper sleep and recovery on a daily basis.
9. Fire Up a Motivational Channel
I am a night owl and perform best at night – but I often have to wake up earlier than I wish.
Mornings are rough, and getting ready for a morning workout isn’t the most exciting thing even for an avid athlete.
To combat this, my morning ritual while preparing my morning coffee is playing a Spotify motivation playlist on my phone or some daily YouTube motivation on the TV in my living room.
There are TONS of motivational channels that serve as a great reminder of why wasting your time isn’t productive, how skipping a workout (or your daily task) does not benefit you in the long run, and valuable lessons by established entrepreneurs, athletes, actors.
Some playlists could get the job done as well.
Pro tip: if you use Instagram or Facebook, follow a number of motivational accounts. Waking up to a long series of posts and stories for hustlers will program this mentality in a matter of weeks.
10. Prepare Your Power Playlist
Music is known to have a notable effect on productivity and efficiency as proven by numerous studies out there.
- Students have been tested prior to taking tests, showcasing how different genres can impact intellectual capacity and recollecting memories.
- Music affects water molecules and impacts the development of plans as well.
The bottom line, using music as a powerful tool to keep you focused is another great strategy to combat procrastination.
You can spend some time testing your behavioral habits to different musical genres, test Spotify playlists, or pick a collection from your favorite artists. It’s possible that different genres help you accomplish different tasks – so keep several playlists handy for focus mode and keep them updated on a regular basis to avoid getting used to a small subset of tracks.
11. Become Publicly Accountable
Failing to hit a milestone you self-imposed on isn’t a big deal.
But sharing your intentions with a group of people – and then not following through – is a different story.
One of the 101 goals of support groups and mastermind communities is committing to a goal every week or month and reviewing the results – both together with your group. This level of accountability has an astounding effect in achieving progress, being one of the key reasons similar groups exist (and keep growing over time).
An alternative approach is sharing your plan on social media, along with the deadline. Imagine it’s a form of a Kickstarter project that you commit to and people buy into – there’s no way back once it’s out there.
One curious technique I learned 15 years ago in terms of goal-setting was the following:
- Commit to a 10-step process of achieving your goal (or, say, you need to do 10 sales calls this day).
- Give your best friend or a colleague ten $20 bills.
- Ask them to hand you back one banknote every time you make a call
When the stakes are higher, the motivation goes up accordingly.
12. Make It a Team Effort
Tackling a personal challenge is a heavy burden to carry by yourself.
Teaming up whenever possible may be easier to combat – tapping into the gamified approach above, plus some support whenever you are not in the right state of mind.
The software engineering industry has pivoted with challenges such as “30 projects for 30 days” or “100 consecutive commits on GitHub”.
The blogging community has preached daily blogging (or at least weekly content production) – and I’ve participated in similar initiatives myself.
Team efforts allow for leaderboards, and this is what drives engagement to applications like Strava – connecting runners, cyclists, swimmers together and benchmarking results as a part of the broader community.
13. Practice Makes Perfect
Combating procrastination takes time – and persistence is key.
I have covered my most favorite productivity techniques that help me persevere and keep grinding for over a decade now. One of the simple hacks that work really well is Seinfeld’s “Don’t break the chain”, a simple process around taking a small step every single day and marking it on the calendar.
The longer you keep going, the harder it is to “break the chain”.
It takes 28 days to develop a new habit and 90 days to make it a permanent part of your life. Make an effort to start and grind through the first weeks.
14. Develop Atomic Habits
Combating procrastination is about investing your efforts into the type of activities you need to engage with to achieve the desired outcome.
This taps into intrinsic motivation, behavioral change, separating zones for work/fun/relax, making new habits more appealing and easier to get used to. Developing the right strategy is hard, and Atomic Habits is an easy-to-follow set of hacks and processes for rebuilding your habit matrix to achieve what you really desire.
The most important step is changing your identity first, processes later, and outcome goals last. Rebuilding your identity would carry over other necessary habits detrimental to success.
Here’s a great overview of how Atomic Habits work with techniques and tons of examples:
15. Just Do It
If nothing else works out – well, just do it.
Sometimes you don’t have any options and simply need to push through the piles of work – just because.
Doing your taxes, reading a contract, documenting your process during the offboarding process in the last days of work – there are necessary chores you can’t skip or delegate.
The key is to reduce them to just a few nuisances that happen sporadically. The fewer, the better.
Just don’t let the procrastination bug creep in because of these one-offs. The more frequently you allow yourself to procrastinate, the easier it is to find excuses for any other endeavor you undertake.
This is why building discipline is also an integral part of the journey to success.