14 Daily Practices to Stop Being Lazy and Overcome Your Procrastination
Do you know how to stop being lazy?
We all have a basic understanding of what procrastination means. Look it up in a dictionary and you’ll see a definition like: “The act or habit of putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention.”
But how we procrastinate and what we procrastinate on differs from person to person:
- A student will procrastinate in school, waiting until the last minute to study for a test or write a term paper.
- A professional will procrastinate on a work-related task because it’s challenging and requires hard work.
- And an athlete might procrastinate on getting an injury checked out because he or she doesn’t want to miss an important game
We all have personal reasons for procrastinating. And it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking it’s not a big deal. You might even say to yourself: “It’s just a bad habit that I have, but it’s not that big of a deal.”
So, in this blog post, I’ll cover 14 strategies to help you take action on tasks—even when you don’t feel a lack of motivation.
You’ll find that this article has a “choose your own adventure” list of ideas. This means you don’t need to do all of them to overcome procrastination. Instead, I encourage you to pick and choose the ones that work well for your personal situation.
Let’s get to it.
Practice #1: Resolve Any Potential Emergency
If you live an unbalanced life, focusing only on work projects and ignoring everything else, you could be missing a major warning sign of a potential catastrophe.
We all have those moments that require us to immediately drop what we’re doing and take care of an unexpected priority. This can include a death in the family, a sick child, or your furnace breaking in the middle of winter.
These scenarios can’t wait until your next open block of time. Instead, you often need to cancel everything on your calendar and take care of these issues immediately.
On the other hand, there are scenarios that start out as small things, but could transform into catastrophic events for you or your family.
These can be issues like experiencing chest pain, receiving a letter from the government, getting a phone call from your child’s teacher, or hearing from a depressed friend in the middle of the night.
At first, none of these scenarios might seem like an emergency. So, it’s easy to let them slip through cracks—especially if you’re a busy person. They don’t come with a warning sign like the other emergencies in life.
But if you’re someone who already procrastinates, then you run the risk of allowing these issues to snowball into a catastrophic event.
As we’ve discussed, ignoring potential emergencies can lead to death, divorce, suicide, financial ruin, and other horrible situations. No matter how busy you might be, it’s always important to immediately address any situation that could be an emergency.
This can be done by asking yourself a few questions:
- What is the worst-case scenario if I ignore this issue?
- How would this potential emergency negatively affect my friends and family?
- What are the not-so-important tasks or obligations that I can put off to take care of this potential emergency?
- What simple actions can I take today to resolve this issue?
- If it’s not a life-threatening issue and I don’t have time to address it today, when is the soonest I can deal with it?
In the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware shared her experiences as a palliative care nurse who worked with people in the last few weeks of their lives. Her patients frequently spoke of the things they wished they had done differently. The one regret that sticks out to me is the wish that they hadn’t worked so hard during their life.
I feel this is an important lesson, because it’s easy to get wrapped up in the daily grind and ignore the issues that don’t seem important but can turn into true emergencies if left ignored. Sure, you might not “have time” to take care of the unexpected. But it’s also a matter of priorities. No job, task, meeting, or appointment is worth putting something off that could derail your life or the lives of your loved ones.
My suggestion is whenever something comes up, stop what you’re doing and take care of it right away.
Have that candid conversation with your spouse.
Make an appointment with a doctor if something doesn’t feel right. Call back your friend who sounds depressed.
Open that scary letter from the government and immediately address it.
Sure, none of these scenarios might be convenient, but I guarantee that taking care of them immediately will prevent scarier issues down the road.
Practice #2: Do a 5- to 10-Minute Daily Review
A simple way to fight procrastination is with a 5- to 10-minute review session. The idea here is to spend a few minutes going over the day’s priorities and identifying the tasks that will have the strongest influence on your immediate goals. You should ask yourself these key questions during the review session:
- What appointments and meetings require me to be somewhere at a set time?
- Are there any emergency emails that need to be immediately addressed?
- What specific tasks, which relate to the batches or blocks of time that I’ve scheduled for the day, can I complete?
- Is there an appointment or activity that could take longer than expected? How will this change my schedule if it does spill over into another task’s time?
- What are the 80/20 tasks that will have the biggest impact on my long-term success?
- How does each task relate to my quarterly S.M.A.R.T. goals?
- What is the hardest, most challenging task that I’m dreading?
This quick review session is critical because it provides structure for each day. When you constantly remind yourself which tasks are important, it’ll be hard to put them off because you will recognize that your inaction will negatively affect your immediate goals.
Practice #3: Focus On Your MITs
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed (and then procrastinate) if you start the day with a to-do list full of tasks, appointments, and projects. You can simplify your list by identifying the tasks that have the biggest impact on your career or life and do them first thing in the morning. This is a concept commonly known as your most important tasks (MITs).
My suggestion is to pick from one to three MITs that absolutely must be completed by the end of the day. Two should relate to an urgent project with an immediate deadline and one should be part of a long-term goal.
For instance, many years ago, I determined that one of my core 80/20 activities is writing. So, even if I have a bunch of urgent tasks that are due at the end of the day, I always set aside at least 30 minutes for this task—usually right after my morning routine. From there, I spend the rest of my morning on the other two MITs. By focusing on important activities right away, I create an energized state that allows me to work on any project in the afternoon.
Practice #4: Eat the Frog
In his classic book on how to overcome procrastination, Eat That Frog!, Brian Tracy suggests that the best way to begin your day is to, well, “eat that frog.” The idea stems from a Mark Twain quote:
If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.
Tracy’s point is if you can complete the hardest task first, then you’ll begin with a major win that will make all the successive tasks or chores seem less daunting. It also will be motivating knowing that you’ve already tackled the one thing that you are most likely to procrastinate on.
This advice is perfect for anyone who frequently puts off tasks that require focus and hard work. If you can commit yourself to just getting started and working on your hardest task right away, then you’ll discover that’s it probably not as bad as you thought.
Once again, let’s go back to my writing example. This is a task that I’ll frequently dread or not want to do. But I also know that if I put it off for later in the day, then I’ll increase the likelihood that I’ll skip it or get distracted by another activity.
By committing myself to eat the frog first thing in the morning, I know that after 30–60 minutes of effort, I’ve already completed the most challenging task for the day.
Trust me: one of the most motivating experiences is knowing you’ve already completed the hardest task before 9:00 a.m.
Practice #5: Use the Eisenhower Matrix to Make Quick Decisions
While it’s great to imagine a perfect workday where you’re able to work on just your MITs in isolation, this rarely happens in the real world. If you’re like most people, your day is filled with a steady stream of small emergencies, random disruptions, and unexpected changes. These can feel overwhelming if you don’t have a framework that allows you to separate the important from the not-so-important.
That’s why I recommend using a simple decision-making strategy called the Eisenhower Matrix, so named because Dwight Eisenhower, prior to becoming the 34th president of the United States, served as a general in the army and as the Allied forces’ supreme commander during World War II.
During his time in the army, Eisenhower was faced with many tough decisions concerning the tasks he had to focus on every day. This led him to invent a principle that helps us today by prioritizing our tasks by urgency and importance. If this strategy was good enough to help Eisenhower lead hundreds of thousands of people, then it’s probably good enough to help with your procrastination issue. (Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, further popularized Eisenhower’s concept by supporting Eisenhower’s use of four quadrants to determine the urgency of one’s tasks.)
The Eisenhower Matrix prioritizes your tasks by urgency and importance, which results in four quadrants that each require a separate approach and strategy. In addition to sorting tasks by urgency and importance, the matrix also identifies tasks that you should either delegate or completely remove from your life. Following is a brief overview of this system. (If you want a downloadable version of this matrix, then you can grab a copy by signing up for the free companion website.)
Quadrant 1 (Q1): Urgent and Important
Quadrant 1 (Q1) tasks are the “do first” tasks, because they are critical for your life or career in some way and need to be finished right away. They are the tasks that need to be done in order to avoid negative consequences. It’s important to be able to manage the tasks that are in Q1 before anything else, so you want to get these tasks done as soon as possible.
An example of a Q1 task in your career may be answering a time-sensitive email from a client or finishing a report that’s due by the end of the day.
This matrix can also be used in your personal life. Examples of Q1 tasks in your personal life may be a crying baby, a medical emergency, or something burning in the oven.
Quadrant 2 (Q2): Important but not Urgent
Quadrant 2 (Q2) are the “decide when” tasks, because while they can have an amazing impact on your life, they don’t seem immediately critical like the Q1 tasks that need to be done right away.
Simply put, Q2 tasks usually relate to your long-term goals. In an ideal world, this is where you want to invest most of your time. But unfortunately, this is the area that’s the easiest to ignore because you’re too focused on the priorities from the other quadrants.
What are some examples of these tasks? Well, exercising is important to your health. So is spending time with your family or working on a certificate that will improve your career path. Usually, nobody is pushing you to complete Q2 activities, so it’s easy to let these tasks fall by the wayside.
Quadrant 3 (Q3): Urgent but not Important
Quadrant 3 (Q3) tasks are the “delegate it” tasks, because while they seem urgent, they can often be automated or passed off to someone who is better qualified to handle them.
This is the quadrant for those tasks that, in hindsight, turned out to be not very important. Taking on Q3 tasks often occurs when someone asks you to do something that does not directly benefit you or get you closer to achieving your goals. For Q3 tasks, it’s important to learn and remember how to delegate certain things.
When you think something is urgent when it isn’t, it’s usually caused by an outside source of distraction—like checking your email or phone or responding to people as soon as they try to contact you. You may think it is urgent at the moment, so you stop what you’re doing to tend to the matter, but in retrospect, the task wasn’t that crucial.
If you’re in the middle of working on a project and the phone rings, it’s not important for you to answer it. So, you can delegate this task to someone else. It may seem urgent while it is ringing, but a task like this can usually be handled by other people. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk about how later in the book.)
Quadrant 4 (Q4): Not Important and not Urgent
Quadrant 4 (Q4) tasks are the “delete it” tasks, because they are the activities you should avoid at all costs. They are simply a complete waste of your time. If you are able to identify and eliminate all of your Q4 tasks, then you can free up much-needed time that can be reinvested in Q2 tasks.
Some examples of Q4 tasks are playing video games, watching television shows, mindlessly browsing the web, or fulfilling obligations that are other people’s priorities.
Does that mean nothing in Q4 should be a part of your life? The short answer is no.
Having a balance between your professional and personal life is important, and downtime helps you regain your energy. The challenge here is to spend most of your time in Q2 and just enough time in Q4 to relax.
How to Use the Eisenhower Matrix to Overcome Procrastination
To get started with the Eisenhower Matrix, I recommend a simple exercise:
- Print out the list that’s included in the companion website or create one on your own that’s divided into the four sections previously described.
- Make seven copies of a blank grid for each week.
- Each day, write down the tasks that you’d like to accomplish, putting them in the appropriate quadrant.
- Whenever something new pops up, take a minute or two to think about the nature of the task and put it in the appropriate quadrant.
- At the end of the week, when all of the grids are full, evaluate how effectively you spent your time and whether your process needs to be reorganized. Keep adjusting your schedule until you’re spending as much time as possible completing Q1 and Q2 activities.
Don’t worry if at first you find that most of your time is spent in “reaction mode,” with you mostly focusing on urgent activities in Q1 and Q3.
It’s normal to get fixated on the stuff that has a definitive deadline. But if you keep tracking your tasks using this matrix, asking yourself why you do each activity, and then redesigning your schedule, you’ll discover it’s not that hard to structure each day on the tasks that have the biggest impact on your long-term success.
Practice #6: Complete Quick Tasks Immediately
Have you ever procrastinated on a task that doesn’t require much effort, like cleaning the dishes after a meal, making a phone call, looking up a phone number, or sending an email? You know it doesn’t take much effort to complete. Yet you keep putting it off because you’re too busy or you think you don’t have time to do it.
This often happens because we fail to complete those small, seemingly unimportant tasks. By ignoring the activities that can be easily resolved, we build them up in our mind as being tougher than they actually are. On the other hand, if you learn to take immediate actions on small tasks, then you’ll prevent them from piling up. There are two strategies that can help you do this.
First, there is the Two-Minute Rule that David Allen recommends in Getting Things Done. If you know a task takes only a few minutes, then do it right away instead of writing it down on your to-do list or swearing that you’ll do it later.
Whenever you think of something that needs done, ask yourself: “How long will this take?”
If it’s only a minute or two, then do it right away instead of putting it off. You’ll find that doing this consistently will remove much of the negativity that happens when you have a lengthy list of tasks to complete.
On the other hand, if a task requires more than a few minutes of effort, then put it on your calendar and schedule time when you can take care of it.
The second strategy, closely related to the Two-Minute Rule, is to “single-handle” every task. Think of all the times you’ve opened an email, realized it required an action that you don’t have time to complete, so you put it off until later. Then when “later” comes, you open the same message, read it again, and then remember that the email requires a follow-up action.
Single-handling can remove the stress created by the small tasks you procrastinate on because it forces you to complete any task that you start. The idea here is whenever you begin something, you need to see it to its conclusion.
Here are a few examples:
- Responding to an email when you open it or scheduling the specific action that’s need to “process” the message.
- Rinsing a dish and putting it in the dishwasher after a meal instead of putting it in the sink.
- Discarding junk mail into a recycling bin right when you receive it.
- Putting away your clothes after wearing them instead of tossing them on a chair.
- Returning phone calls immediately whenever you receive a voice mail.
It’s easy to procrastinate when you feel overwhelmed by your daily tasks, but if you take an extra minute or two to complete a simple action, you’ll find that it’s easy to eliminate some of the stress that comes from having a huge list of small tasks.
Practice #7: Create a Mini Habit for Challenging Tasks
As we’ve discussed, one reason people procrastinate is they know a task will require hard work. You’ll need to mentally (or physically) push yourself, so you keep putting it off and doing something else that results in a dopamine rush of instant gratification. It’s perfectly normal to avoid doing something you know might be unpleasant. But if you’re often struggling to get started on a challenging task, then a quick fix for that is to use the mini-habits strategy.
“Mini habits” is a term coined by my friend Stephen Guise, which appears in the book of the same name. The purpose of mini habits is to remove the resistance that you feel when it comes to starting a difficult (or time-consuming) task. It’s easy to schedule an activity into your day (like running for an hour), but it’s hard to complete when you feel a lack of interest.
Mini habits work because they eliminate motivation from the equation. Instead of setting an extremely challenging goal, you set a “lowball” goal that makes it super simple to get started. Let’s go over a scenario in the following paragraphs that illustrate this point.
Imagine you set a goal to exercise for 30 minutes. Everything goes perfectly the first week. You join a gym, attend a few classes, and enjoy the endorphin rush of frequent exercise.
One day, your boss asks you to work late, so you’re forced to skip your scheduled class. You tell yourself, “That’s okay, I’ll do it tomorrow.” But in the back of your mind, you start to doubt your commitment to this new exercise habit.
This pattern repeats itself over the next few weeks. You miss classes for a variety of reasons: Your kid has the flu. You didn’t pack your gym clothes. The roads are covered in snow. You have to wash your cat. Suddenly, this “30 minutes of exercise time” has turned into a task that feels impossible to do consistently. Stinks, doesn’t it?
The mini-habit concept prevents this scenario, because it eliminates that overwhelmed feeling you get when you think a task is too difficult to complete. To quote Stephen:
When people try to change, they usually try to get amped up for the change, but no matter how badly you want the change, you haven’t changed yet! As motivation wanes, so does progress. You don’t need more motivation, you need a strategy that can leverage the abilities of the current you into a better you.
In other words, the simplest, most effective way to create a lasting change is to create a goal that might seem too easy to complete but is also so easy that you can do it on a consistent basis.
So, if you’re finding yourself frequently procrastinating on a specific activity, then create the simplest possible habit you can think of to force yourself to get started. Here are a few examples:
- Want to start writing? Set a goal to write one sentence.
- Want to run more? Set a goal to put on your exercise clothes.
- Want to improve your sales record? Set a goal to pick up the phone and call the first lead.
- Want to improve your grades? Set a goal to spend five minutes reviewing your notes.
- Want to improve your nutrition? Set a goal to eat one mouthful of a salad.
I’ll admit these goals seem ridiculously simple. But that’s the point— each activity is completely doable, no matter what your schedule is like. If you can push yourself to just get started, then often you’ll find yourself doing more of an activity than you initially anticipated.
Practice #8: Build Elephant Habits for Ongoing Projects
We’ve all heard this piece of advice before: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
The idea is that whenever you’re faced with a large, complex goal, all you need to do is chip away at it in small chunks.
Unfortunately, many people don’t apply this mindset to their lives. When they’re forced to tackle large projects, they procrastinate or even avoid them completely because the tasks seem insurmountable.
You, on the other hand, can take any large project and chip away at it using what I call elephant habits, which I discussed at length in my book Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness.
Elephant habits are designed to overcome the natural resistance we all feel whenever we’re forced to do a potentially unpleasant, massive project. We know it must be done, but we avoid starting because dedicating a few days to it sounds as fun as getting a root canal. Thankfully, an elephant habit will help you complete a project one bite at a time.
The goal here is to chip away at a simple but time-consuming project in 5- to 15-minute daily increments. You can do this with many of the larger tasks on your to-do list, such as:
I use elephant habits whenever I’m faced with something unpleasant. Rather than building it up in my mind as a horrific ordeal, I overcome inertia by scheduling a 15-minute daily block where I can chip away at the project. (Usually, it’s tacked on to my morning routine or part of an existing habit stack, which we’ll cover in the next step.)
Elephant habits have a similar framework to the mini-habits concept that we’ve just discussed. When you tell yourself that a task takes “only” five minutes of your time, it’s easier to convince yourself to get started. And usually, once you get started, you’ll find yourself doing more of that activity than you originally planned.
Practice #9: Use Sprints to Work On Challenging Projects
Smart workers overcome their procrastination tendencies by condensing their efforts into short “sprints” and tracking them with a timer. The idea here is to work for a short period of time and then give yourself frequent breaks. The benefit of these sprints is that it’s easy to push yourself to get started when you know there is a clear stopping and starting point. Once you complete a sprint, you can take a quick break and then start a second sprint.
The strategy that I recommend for completing these sprints is a system called the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a popular time-blocking system, created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, that has been embraced by entrepreneurs and work-efficiency experts.
Cirillo recognized that humans can focus for only a limited amount of time before becoming distracted. He found that it’s better to create a system where people focus for a condensed period and then proactively take a break before beginning the next sprint.
He named his technique after a popular kitchen timer that looks like a tomato (hence the name pomodoro, which is Italian for tomato). The timer was used like any old kitchen timer, but Cirillo experimented with time blocking until he discovered the most effective usage of time blocks (for efficiency in work production).
When using the Pomodoro Technique, you:
- choose a task (e.g., writing);
- set a timer for 25 minutes;
- work for 25 minutes without succumbing to any distractions;
- take a 5-minute break by getting up and walking around;
- go back to work for another 25 minutes; and
- after every four time-blocks, take a 15- to 30-minute break.
You might assume that this technique is not as effective as working without breaks. But think back to those times when you tried to do a task for an extended period of time. In all likelihood, you were energized at first, then you reached a point when your concentration dropped off. Finally, you probably felt the urge to do anything besides your current task.
The Pomodoro Technique prevents these distractions because it keeps your mind fresh and focused. With the scheduled breaks, you have an opportunity to take a few minutes off to relax. Even though you’re working for less time, the quality of the content will be better than what’s normally created at the tail end of a marathon session.
If you’re interested in the Pomodoro Technique, you might want to download one of the following programs:
When it comes to time blocking, the amount of time you choose really depends on your personal preference. I like the Pomodoro Technique because it has a nice symmetry. The 25 minutes on and 5 minutes off adds up to 30 minutes. You can schedule these 30-minute blocks throughout the day and use these sprints to complete those challenging tasks that you would normally procrastinate on.
Practice #10: Build the Discomfort Habit
One of the best strategies you can use to permanently overcome procrastination is to become comfortable being uncomfortable. Mastering this skill can allow you to do pretty much anything. You can stop procrastinating, begin that exercise regimen, eat healthier, get that degree, speak in public, and overcome specific challenges in your life.
Truthfully, most people choose to avoid being uncomfortable. Just the thought of working hard or experiencing some level of pain is the main reason they fail to change their habits.
For example, many people choose to live a sedentary life because exercising takes too much effort. It is easier to simply sit at a desk or lie on the couch all day. Now, exercise isn’t torture; it’s just something that takes some effort and a willingness to experience discomfort.
Similarly, when people try to push aside their junk food and start eating a healthy diet, they often discover that the new food on their plate is bland, unexciting, and not filling. Changing what your taste buds are used to is a bit uncomfortable, but to be honest, you can retrain your taste buds if you are willing to push through a little discomfort.
Discomfort is not a bad thing—it’s just doing something that’s not part of your normal routine. As people avoid discomfort, they pay the price of not being able to change things in their lives, not living a healthy life, and not being open to new adventures.
The important thing to remember here is that a little discomfort is healthy. It can actually turn something you perceive as dreadful into an enjoyable habit—if you’re willing to push yourself at first. So, let’s talk about how to do that.
How to Master Discomfort
If you choose to master discomfort, you can do it comfortably. While this may sound counterintuitive, it means that you do things at your own pace and a little bit at a time. If you’re nervous about being uncomfortable and try to beat your nerves with an overly grueling activity, there is a good chance that you will give up and return to what you are familiar with.
Here are five steps to success (as outlined by Leo Babauta in an article titled “Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe”):
1. Choose an easy task. Start with something small. If your goal is to increase your activity level, start with walking outside for 30 minutes a day. You already know how to walk, so this won’t add any complications to something that you already do every day. Do not worry about your pace or how far you are able to go—just walk.
2. Just do a little. If you don’t want to start with 30 minutes of something that you are not used to doing, start with 5 minutes. It doesn’t matter where you choose to start, just make sure that you do.
3. Gradually push yourself out of your comfort zone. When you want to stop, push yourself just a bit further. Begin to sit through the moments of discomfort so you can get used to the feeling and see how it comes and goes. Each time you go back and try to do something, push through one more phase of discomfort to help you gradually learn how to comfortably leave your comfort zone.
4. Pay attention to your discomfort. Pay attention to your thoughts as you become uncomfortable. Do you start to have negative thoughts or complain silently in your head? Do you start looking for a way out? How do your thoughts change if you stick with the discomfort and push your way through?
5. Smile. Learning how to smile while being uncomfortable can help you be happy with discomfort. Smiling sends a message to your brain that you are happy and everything is fine. It also sends the message to other people that you are confident in what you are doing, which will likely make you feel more comfortable as well.
Once you become comfortable with being uncomfortable, you’ll build the mental willpower to get started on a task—even when you initially feel like procrastinating.
Practicing discomfort is like building a muscle. If you work at accepting discomfort regularly, you’ll realize that getting started with any task isn’t as bad as you think. Even if you’re dreading beginning a task, challenge yourself to do it for just five minutes. You’ll probably discover that it’s not as bad as you anticipated it would be.
Practice #11: Remove Hidden Blocks with the Awareness Habit
A golden nugget that I learned from Leo Babauta’s article “Building Awareness of the Procrastination Urge” is that one of the simplest ways to beat procrastination is to build what he calls the awareness habit.
The major challenge that folks have with procrastination is they’re often unaware that they’re even doing it. That’s why a simple way to prevent it is to create a habit where you track your impulses to procrastinate.
Here are a few techniques that Babauta recommends:
Create reminders. Write notes to yourself on pieces of paper, and put them around the areas you usually procrastinate. You could even create a wallpaper message on your computer or phone, using a phrase like “Be aware!” to act as a reminder to not procrastinate on what’s important.
Use tally marks. Carry around a small notepad and a pen. Throughout the day, when you notice yourself getting the urge to procrastinate, simply put a little tally mark on the paper. These tally marks are not necessarily a good or bad thing. Instead, they act as a way for you to build awareness of your desire to procrastinate.
Log it daily. Finally, at the end of the day, you should track the awareness habit as something that you successfully completed. Like any other habit, you should track the fact that you did it throughout the day. You can even sign up on Coach.me to track the awareness habit.
Once you’ve developed the habit of asking questions about your procrastination, you can use this information to immediately address any limiting belief that you might have.
To get started, ask yourself questions like:
- What reason do I have for putting off this task?
- Why do I feel it’s so tough to do?
- How many times have I successfully done it in the past?
- What did I do then to get started?
- What is the easiest step that I can do right now to get started?
Recognizing that you procrastinate on specific tasks is the best way to break this habit. When you develop the awareness habit, you’ll start to recognize the specific patterns and triggers that cause you to skip an activity. Then all you need to do is to create a plan for how you’ll respond whenever you feel the temptation to procrastinate.
Practice #12: Bundle Rewards with Actions
In a blog article titled “How to Stop Procrastinating and Boost Your Willpower by Using ‘Temptation Bundling,’” James Clear talks about a concept called temptation bundling, which comes from the work of Katy Milkman. The idea here is simple: you create a rule where you’re allowed to engage in a specific enjoyable experience only while you’re engaging in an activity that has a positive long-term impact on your life.
In his article, Clear describes examples of temptation bundling:
- “Only listen to audiobooks or podcasts you love while exercising.”
- “Only get a pedicure while processing overdue work emails.”
- “Only watch your favorite show while ironing or doing household chores.”
- “Only eat at your favorite restaurant when conducting your monthly meeting with a difficult colleague.”
It’s simple to implement the temptation bundling strategy. Just create a list with two columns:
1. In the first column, write down all the activities that you enjoy and find pleasure in.
2. In the second column, put down the tasks that you frequently procrastinate on.
You’ll find the temptation bundling is perfect for those important but not urgent Q2 tasks. These are the activities that you know you’re supposed to do but that you keep putting off because they don’t seem as urgent your day-to-day activities.
By attaching small rewards to the habits related to your long-term goals, you’ll be adding a little bit of enjoyment to the activities that often feel grueling.
Practice #13: Attach All Tasks to a Goal
It’s amazing how a shift in perspective can be enough to motivate you. Whenever you have a task that you’ve been dreading, ask yourself: “How does this relate to one of my important goals?”
Odds are you’ll realize that even the most mundane activity is related to a value you hold dear.
As an example, while I’m responsible for doing the dishes in my house, it’s not an activity that I find pleasurable. At no point in the day do I say to myself: “Ooohhh, I can’t wait to get to those dishes.”
That said, I do them happily, because this task is part of the large, really important value of building a great relationship with my wife. She likes to live in a clean, organized household. And I like to make her happy. This means that doing the dishes has become one part of the important goal of maintaining a quality marriage.
You can apply this mindset to any task that you’ve been avoiding. Simply make a list of your personal and professional responsibilities. Then connect each one to an important value or goal. And whenever you’re not in the mood to get started, remind yourself of how it relates to one of your long-term goals.
Practice #14: Create Accountability for Your Tasks
You’ve probably heard about the law of inertia (also known as Newton’s first law of motion). If you haven’t, the law states that “an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”
In other words, if your natural tendency is to lounge around before starting the day, then you’ll need an extra “push” to force you into action. People often procrastinate because it’s easier to do nothing than it is to push themselves to do a potentially unpleasant task.
That’s why one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about habit development is to add accountability for every major goal.
It’s not enough to make a personal commitment. The big things in life require a solid action plan and a support network to tap into whenever you encounter an obstacle. This is true for your career trajectory and your personal development. When you have someone to cheer on your successes (or kick you in the butt when you’re slacking), you’re less likely to give up.
There are a variety of ways to be accountable, like posting your progress on social media accounts or telling the people in your life about your new routine, but I have found that there are three strategies that get the best results.
The first is to use Beeminder, which is a habit-building app on steroids. Instead of relying on self-reporting to track your habits, Beeminder syncs with a variety of apps (like Gmail, Fitbit, and RescueTime) to make sure you follow through with your commit- ments. If you fail to achieve a target goal, then Beeminder will charge you money. Sounds hard-core, right?
In my opinion, the best use of Beeminder is to use the location app on your cell phone when you’re at the gym and then create a “commitment contract” with Beeminder where you promise to go to this location for a specific amount of time each week. If you don’t follow through, you’ll have to pay money to Beeminder.
The second option is to use Coach.me, which is another great app for maintaining and sticking to new habits. It’s like having a coach in your pocket, for better and for worse. You’ll be held accountable for your task by adding it as a habit and checking in every single day when it’s been completed. Trust me—the simple act of knowing that you have to update people on your progress is motivation enough to stick to a habit-stacking routine.
Finally, you can work with an accountability partner with whom you share your breakthroughs, challenges, and future plans. This is a great way to get a kick in the butt whenever you feel a wane in motivation. It’s also valuable to have someone you can confide in whenever you have a challenge that requires a second opinion.
If you’re interested in finding prospective accountability partners, be sure to check out my Facebook group, HabitsGroup.com, which has over 2,000 members. Every month, we create a thread where members can connect with one another and become accountability partners.