Have you ever had a big project to work on or a big goal you wanted to reach and you just couldn’t bring yourself to freaking start?
I’ve been there more times than I care to admit.
If we’re being honest though, I think we can all admit that we procrastinate from time to time.
We put off things that we need to work on, but that we really don’t want to.
We put off things that we really, really want to work on, but we’re afraid of failing or falling short.
In this post, I’m going to walk you through my step-by-step process to stop procrastinating and finally finish everything on your to-do list.
How to Finally Stop Procrastinating on Your To-Do List
What is Procrastination?
Procrastination is defined as the act of delaying or postponing something.
You’re probably not new to the concept of procrastination. We’ve all done it, and we (usually) know it when we see it.
Procrastination usually looks like busying yourself with less important or more enjoyable tasks rather than really focusing your attention on the most important task.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Life would certainly be simpler if there were just one cause of procrastination and one thing we could do to fix it.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
There are a number of different reasons you might be procrastinating. And in order to really stop procrastinating, you need to have the self-awareness to identify your reason.
For example, I know that there are two primary reasons I procrastinate. And when I find myself procrastinating, I know I need to address one of these two things:
- Perfectionism: I’ve always struggled with perfectionism and the fear that nothing I produce will be perfect or even good enough. This often prevents me from ever starting at all.
- Lack of Planning: I really thrive when I have a specific plan to follow. So when I’ve failed to lay out a plan for myself, I often procrastinate rather than moving forward without a plan.
You might find yourself procrastinating for the same reasons. Other reasons might include decision paralysis, a lack of self-discipline, or a lack of future thinking.
Related Article: 31 Time Management Tips to Help You Get More Done
How to Overcome Procrastination
Now that we know what procrastination is and why we do it, let’s talk about how to stop.
As we move forward with these steps, it’s important to remember that there are different reasons we procrastinate, meaning there are different steps to be taken to fix it.
Make sure you are self-aware enough to know why you’re procrastinating. Not every step on this list will apply to every person, and you want to know which steps really apply to your situation!
Step 1: Get Clear on Your Priorities
I really feel like most of us would procrastinate less if we were more clear on our priorities.
For example, there are definitely nights where I want to do nothing but binge-watch Netflix. However, I am also really working toward being able to leave my job and go full-time in my business.
So yeah, sometimes laying on the couch and watching Netflix sounds great. But when I remind myself of my long-term priorities, I’m so much more motivated to stop procrastinating and get to work.
Here’s another example: Let’s say you have a job that you don’t like all that much, so you find yourself procrastinating a lot throughout the day. Your job just isn’t a priority for you.
Your family is your real priority. However, because you procrastinate so much during the day, you end up having to stay at work late to finish your tasks. You end up spending less time with your family.
If you had done the work to get really clear on your priorities, you would understand that the best way to spend more time with your family is to stop procrastinating and use your time as wisely as possible while you’re at work.
Related Article: Managing Your Time and Establishing Priorities in Your Life
Step 2: Get Out of Passive Action
Picture this scenario: You’ve set a new goal for yourself. Maybe that goal is to write a book. So you start researching how to write a book. You take a ton of notes.
Days, weeks, and months later, you’re still reading articles about how to write a book.
But you haven’t written a single word.
This is called passive action. You’re researching, you’re learning, you’re planning. It feels productive. And it is, at first. But most of us never leave this phase.
What you should be doing instead is taking massive action. Massive action is the part where you put pen to paper and write the damn book.
Massive action is where you implement all of the things you learned during the passive action stage.
In order to avoid getting stuck in the passive action stage, set a deadline for yourself for when you’re going to start implementing what you’ve learned.
Related Article: How to Stop Over-Planning and Start Doing
Step 3: Honor Commitments to Yourself
When we make commitments to other people, we usually keep them. After all, you wouldn’t promise to meet your best friend for lunch and just not show up.
But for some reason, we don’t honor commitments to ourselves in the same way.
Think about how many times you’ve told yourself you were going to work out and then didn’t.
Think about how many times you’ve told yourself you were going to put everything you could into growing your business, and then you didn’t.
There’s really no hack to help you do this. You just have to do this.
Start by making small commitments to yourself, and then honoring them. Don’t tell yourself you’re going to go for a five-mile run. Instead, tell yourself that you’re going to go for a walk around the block.
Once you are consistently sticking to these small commitments, then you can start making bigger and bigger promises to yourself.
But just remember, the key is actually following through.
Step 4: Break Things Down into Actionable Tasks
If your to-do list is filled with huge, daunting tasks or tasks that are really vague, it’s no wonder you’re procrastinating!
In order to really push yourself to take action, you need to make sure your to-do list is filled with specific, super-actionable tasks.
First, identify the goal you’re working toward. Hopefully, you nailed this down when you set your priorities. If not, head over to the article on how to set goals and plan your best year ever.
Once you’ve got your goal figured out, make a list of every single thing you think you’ll have to do in order to reach this. Be as specific as possible!
Once you’ve included all of the tasks for your big goal, don’t forget to include other tasks you have to complete as well.
For example, let’s say you’re writing your book. You’ll need to accomplish all of those tasks, but your to-do list will still include things like doing your laundry, grocery shopping, working on your business or full-time job, etc.
I typically do my planning once per week, meaning my big action list includes all of the tasks I need to complete within the next week.
Step 5: Plan for Confusion
When you’re doing something for the very first time, you don’t know how to do it. There’s going to be confusion. You have to learn how.
When you’re writing down your actionable tasks, make sure to plan for the confusion!
Let’s stick with our book writing example.
If you’ve never written a book before, there is a lot you don’t know how to do. You’re going to have to schedule a time to research those things.
For example, you might have tasks like this on your action list:
- Learn how to hire an editor
- Learn how to design the book cover
- Learn how to self-publish a book
Just remember, those steps are the passive action we talked about earlier. That means that while it’s okay to spend a little time on them, you’ll want to give yourself a finite amount of time before moving onto the next task.
Step 6: Put it On Your Calendar
Once you’ve made a list of every single thing you need to get done, both for your big goal and for everything else, it’s time to put them on the calendar.
I’ve found that the key to overcoming procrastination is to have a very specific plan for every day. This means that when I sit down to work each day, my calendar already says exactly what I’m supposed to be working on at any given time.
It can be tempting to just write a daily to-do list for yourself without scheduling anything for a specific time.
But often things that could be done anytime are done at no time. Creating ambiguity for yourself just makes it easier to procrastinate. Be specific with your plan.
Step 7: Plan Your Results
As you’re adding your tasks to your calendar, make sure you’re planning the specific results you plan to achieve.
For example, don’t put “work on my book” on your calendar. Instead, put “write chapter 1 of my book” on your calendar. This eliminates any confusion and any mental barriers to getting started.
The worst thing you can do for yourself is put a one-hour time slot on your calendar to work on your book, and then spend the entire hour trying to figure out what exactly you should work on first.
Step 8: Eliminate Distractions
It’s overwhelming how many potential distractions there are in our lives. To be honest, it’s kind of amazing we get done as much as we do!
You will find it so, so much easier to start really taking action if you can identify your biggest distractions and learn to eliminate when while you’re working.
For most of us, this probably means our phones. I can’t tell you how many times I have stopped mid-task to open Instagram, just to mindlessly scroll!
Email is another one. If I keep my email open in my browser or my email notifications on my phone, I will check every new email as it comes in.
So instead, I’ve just learned to eliminate those distractions when I’m working. I put my phone out of reach. I close my email. And most importantly, I’ve turned off all notifications on my phone.
Other distractions might include chatty coworkers, listening to podcasts, having the TV on in the background, housework that needs to be done, and family who wants your attention.
Figure out where, when, and how you can work where none of those distractions are present.
Related Article: How to Avoid Distractions and Get More Done
Step 9: Embrace Imperfection
As I mentioned earlier in this article, perfectionism is one of the main reasons I find myself procrastinating.
This means that rather than produce imperfect work, I self-sabotage. Then later I can tell myself that I didn’t really fail, I just didn’t try.
Often this looks like not doing something I really want to do because I don’t feel ready, or I think there are other things I need to accomplish first.
For example, I have a few specific ideas for digital products I want to create. I’ve had these ideas for months (and some of them even longer). But I haven’t created them yet.
I keep making excuses for why I’m not ready. I tell myself I need to grow my email list more first. Or get more Instagram followers. Or redesign my blog.
Rather than letting perfectionism take over, we need to learn to be okay with imperfect work. This has been the single biggest key to helping me to stop procrastinating.
I’ve come a long way with this, but as you can see, it’s still something I struggle with!
Step 10: Just Take the First Step
Sometimes no matter how well you plan and how committed you are, the idea of completing a task just seems overwhelming.
When that happens, just force yourself to stop procrastinating and take the first step.
If the idea of going for that run seems overwhelming to you, just put on your workout clothes and running shoes, and then you can go back to whatever you were doing before.
If the idea of writing an entire blog post seems overwhelming, just open your word document and write a title for your blog post.
If you never make it past the first step, that’s okay.
But when I do this, more often than not I end up completing the entire task after all.
There’s no one size fits all cure to stop procrastinating.
And the steps outlined above aren’t fool-proof. For all of the work I have done in this area, I still find myself procrastinating sometimes.
But if you implement these steps and then continue to work on them, you’ll be surprised by how often you find yourself crossing everything off your to-do list.
And you’ll be amazing at how much easier it is to reach your goals.
Hi, I’m Erin! I’m an online educator and content creator who helps women reach their goals by teaching them to manage their time and their money. I want to help you design a life you love, so I’m sharing everything I know about goal setting, productivity, planning, and personal finance. You can read my full story here!