When an assignment feels boring or overwhelming, it’s all too easy to put it on the back burner and hope it goes away.
But avoidance is only a temporary solution to procrastination. At some point, we’ll need to do something about it.
Here are some of the best tips productivity experts shared on what they do when they keep putting off a task. (Some of their answers were lightly edited for clarity and length.)
1. Identify the pain points.
“The very first thing that I do is ask: Why I am procrastinating? [When I discuss productivity, I talk about] identifying pain points. That means identifying the things that you hate/can make you procrastinate. I find that when you do that first, you get to the root and can then either solve your aversion to a task psychologically or simply by delegating.
It’s as simple as: I procrastinate on cleaning my house, so I should sit down and identify what makes my house dirty and how to solve it. An air purifier helps with dust. A robot vacuum precludes me from having to vacuum. Baskets by the door serve as catch-alls for my clutter. I should wear shoe covers when coming back in from walking the dog, etc.
For me, it was banking. There was a time when banking sites were exploring security and had all of these weird captchas. I absolutely hated logging in to check my accounts, reconcile my statements — something super important. I found a tool that integrated with Evernote, my core productivity hub, that automatically pulled in my statements to one of its notebooks. Pain point solved. It wasn’t an aversion to accounting, it was simply the process of logging in. This saved me on anxiety, fees and more.” — Lindsey Holmes, productivity consultant and CEO of Usable Tech Co.
2. Write down simple things you can accomplish in a few minutes.
“I honestly acknowledge whatever feelings I have about the task, whatever they may be. I also consciously recognise the task isn’t going away and that I must deal with it. I then take a small practical step forward right away to gain some momentum. Some of my favourite things to do include:
1. Set a timer for 15 minutes and get started on the task. I block out all distractions and make sure I spend 15 minutes working on the task in some way.
2. Create a super-easy to-do list for myself to get inspired. I write down simple things I can physically do right now, which seems to help break through resistance. These actions are so incredibly simple and it may not seem like you’re making progress, but it works! Some ideas include creating a file folder, naming a word-processing document, picking up the phone, opening up an internet browser, turning on the computer or writing a single sentence.
3. Pull out materials needed to complete the task. Sometimes I gather all the materials I’ll need to complete a task. Since I’ve already gone ahead and prepared materials, it seems wasteful not to work on the task.” — Rashelle Isip, productivity consultant
3. Do the smallest step first.
“If I’m putting off something, I try to figure out a small specific step I can do. Ideally, this is something that inspires no resistance.
For instance, if I’m trying to organise my business expenses, I might just gather my credit card statements in one place. That’s no big deal! But any progress is often motivational, and getting started tends to be the hardest part. Many times I keep going. But if not, at least I’m closer to done than I was.” — Laura Vanderkam, a time management expert and author of the book “Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters”
4. Use the Pomodoro technique.
“My effective antidote to procrastination is the Pomodoro technique. It involves setting a timer for 25 minutes and working on the task for that entire time without any interruptions or distractions. After the timer goes off, I take a five-minute break as a reward before starting the next 25-minute work period. If the task is difficult, I’d even go for five-minute intervals to just get started.
This technique helps me to break the task into manageable chunks and avoid burnout, while also giving me a sense of accomplishment after each work period. It’s a great way to tackle procrastination and increase productivity.” — Samphy Y, productivity coach
5. Figure out why you’re procrastinating so you can do what you need to move forward.
“Whenever I notice that I am continuously kicking the can down the road on a certain task, I stop and try to determine the real reason why I keep putting it off. What I’ve learned about procrastination is that it involves a delicate balance between negative factors ― the reasons why we’re putting something off ― and motivation.
When those negative factors ― things like fear, overwhelm, and confusion ― outweigh our motivation, we’re going to keep moving that task to another day... and another day. Stopping to ask myself why I keep procrastinating and then digging deeper to define the core reason helps me figure out what I need to do to move forward. If something about the task feels confusing, my next step might be to ask for help or do some research.
If [feeling overwhelmed] is holding me back, I might need to break the task down into smaller parts to make the next step more manageable. And if I realise that I’m afraid of failure, I reconnect with my motivation and look back on past successes to push forward and get it done. If you realise you are repeatedly putting off a task, get to the bottom of the why in order to figure out what to do to move forward.” — Anna Dearmon Kornick, time management coach and host of the “It’s About Time” podcast