Some tasks like studying for an exam or writing a sales page for your business can seem overwhelming and you end up procrastinating and putting them off because it's difficult to motivate yourself to do them at all.
Procrastination is a problem that everyone faces and it isn't an issue of laziness, it's more to do with how we regulate ourselves and our emotions towards work. To beat procrastination we often need to understand why we're putting things off.
So to help you out I've pulled together 30 tips that will help you to first address the root cause of your procrastination and then implement strategies to keep your motivation levels high.
1. Take a quiz to see how much you procrastinate.
One of the first steps to changing any behavior is to become more self-aware of that behaviour in the first place.
How often do you put things off? What sorts of things do you put off? Do you get productivity guilt?
To answer these questions, this online quiz designed by Psychology Today can really help you to understand just how bad your procrastinating is.
2. Find the cause.
Procrastination isn't caused by laziness it's often actually to do with our own emotions towards a task. It's therefore really important to figure out why you’re procrastinating in the first place.
For example I remember putting off revising for a cardiology exam in first year as I had no idea how to actually revise or what was coming up on the exam but was too scared to ask anyone for help. Equally you might put off revising or doing work because if you get a poor grade you then have the excuse of not having worked rather than asking for help to study.
Try to be honest with yourself and get to the root of the cause.
3. Write down what you’re procrastinating on.
When you feel stressed and overwhelmed, you tend to put off doing work.
But you might be surprised to find that if you write down the tasks you're putting off, the situation seems less overwhelming.
It's an easy fix that makes a big difference. Try it, and you'll be less likely to put things off.
4. Put the work in front of you.
Getting started is the hardest part of doing work. I often find that getting the work up and open in front of me really helps to make getting started as easy as possible.
Switching on your laptop, getting your books out, or opening an excel document doesn't take much willpower. But once the work is open and in front of you, you'll be much closer to being able to start working.
5. Break down the task into smaller steps.
One of the biggest problems we face when trying to get work done is just feeling overwhelmed with the size of the task so we put it off.
For example, if you need to upload a YouTube video, you could break it down into the smaller steps of planning what you are going to say, setting up your camera, recording sections of the video, editing and then uploading.
Focus on just one step at a time. This way, you won’t need to motivate yourself to do the whole report at one go which might be off-putting.
This is an important technique to use if you want to study smart and get more done.
6. Create a detailed timeline with specific deadlines.
When I break a piece of work up into smaller steps another great tip to beat procrastination is to then assign deadlines for each step.
For example I map out all of my YouTube videos in Notion and assign dates when they'll be researched, planned, recorded, edited and published.
Assigning specific dates creates a sense of urgency, which makes it more likely that you’ll keep to the deadlines and if you have a team like I do it also helps add social accountability as you don't want to let the team down by missing a deadline.
7. Spend time with people who are focused and hardworking.
Jim Rohn famously said that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
If you hang out with people who always put things off, you'll probably adopt their habits. In the same way if you hang out with motivated, hard-working people, you'll be more like them and you're more likely to get work done.
I've been lucky as I've always been surrounded by medics who are very hard working and I'm in lots of groups with entrepreneurs running large businesses and so you getting work done and developing yourself feels normal.
So be smart about who you hang out with. Find people who will help you stay on the straight and narrow.
That doesn't mean you can't have fun! It just means that you and your friends know when to work and when to relax.
8. Tell people about the tasks you plan to complete.
When you tell other people about the things you want to do, you'll be more likely to do them.
This is called "accountability," and it happens because you want to be seen as someone who keeps their word.
If you work in a team you won't want to let your team mates down by missing work deadlines or not completing tasks. But even if you're a solopreneur or a student you can tell friends about what you're working on or post to a blog or community to hold yourself accountable.
9. Change your environment.
If you want to stay motivated you need to have some driving force that makes you get up and do the work. This often comes from frustration. If you're an entrepreneur maybe you have seen a problem and feel like you need to fix it or if you're studying for an exam maybe you know you need to get top grades.
Sometimes however we can get a bit too comfy and we forget that frustration. For example if your TV is right next to your work area or you work from your comfy bed it can feel easy to feel unmotivated.
If your environment is making it hard for you to get things done, change it.
Sometimes, all you need is to move somewhere else, like to a cafe or library and sometimes you might need to be stoic and ditch some of the home comforts to regain that drive.
10. Learn how to beat procrastination
Just like anything you can teach yourself how to stay motivated and beat procrastination. You can also build up your own habits and processes that you use whenever you start working.
If you have friends who never put things off, you can learn from their processes and what they do.
YouTube has lots of people talking about their productivity system and study habits and it's important that you find a routine and system that works for you. So study how to stay motivated and then put it into practise.
11. Reward Yourself
The best way to get yourself to do your homework is with timed rewards.
The reward doesn't have to be very big.
For example, I used to reward myself with a coffee or a gym session after doing 200 active recall questions when studying for my surgery exams.
Try and mix this up so it's not the same reward each time and be kind to yourself for showing up and getting the work done.
12. Implementation Intention
If you struggle getting started with work or you're in a bit of a slump try this.
If you lose focus or procrastinate set a minute on a timer and tell yourself you'll start working when the minute is up.
This is called an “implementation intention” and it makes it easier to get started at something as you're signalling the intention to start to yourself.
This will eliminate the resistance you were experiencing and reduces the time your brain has to think about reasons you should avoid starting.
13. Visualize success.
When I start a project that I don't really want to do I'll sometimes take 30 seconds to imagine how I'll feel once the work is completed.
I usually imagine a sense of achievement and freedom and think about how the work will help me from where I am now.
This simple visualisation exercise may be enough to motivate you to begin working on your project.
14. Visualize the process it will take to achieve that success.
While visualizing the outcome of doing the work help with motivation. I sometimes go even deeper and visualize the steps I'll need to take and the process required to get the work done. This makes things seems more manageable and is similar to what elite athletes do before games.
Research shows that focusing on the process is critical to success. If you’re procrastinating on a task, take a few moments to think about what you’ll need to do to complete it.
This kind of visualization is like practice for your mind.
15. Write down why you want to complete the task.
When you know why you want to do something, you'll be more motivated to actually do it.
When I was studying for medical finals I usually forgot that I was studying to be a doctor and instead complained about why I needed to learn neurology.
At the start of your day thing about why your main project for the day will get you where you want to be. This will help you to focus and stay motivated.
16. Consider the consequences.
If positive visualization isn't helping you to beat procrastination research shows that negative visualisation can be powerful too.
If you consider the consequences of not doing something this can hold leverage over yourself to get it done. When I was at med school I knew that failing an exam would mean my family and friends would be disappointed and other people would know I'd failed so it spurred me on to study even if I didn't want to.
If it's not an exam consider what putting work off would mean. Maybe not reading that personal development book will mean you won't grow or not launching that business you've been thinking about means you'll stay in the same financial situation you are now.
17. Do the hardest task first.
Most people choose to do the easiest task first, rather than the hardest. The problem is this leaves the biggest challenge till the end which can put you off and cause procrastination.
If you're bad at something or you don't find it interesting try and get this out the way first by attacking it head on.
As Brian Tracy says, “Eat that frog!” By this, he means that you should always get your most difficult task out of the way at the beginning of the day.
When studying for exams you'll get the most benefit from spending longer on the topics you're worst at but most people just put these off.
Once you've got that hard topic or task out of the way you'll feel a huge amount of accomplishment which will push you on to finish the rest of the work.
18. Work In Blocks
The Pomodoro technique suggests working in timed blocks and then taking a 5-minute break.
I'm not a huge fan of this method as I often get into a flow state and can then happily work for hours. For me I'll block out a few hours to work on a project and then take a break. This does two things. It gives me a deadline to start and it forces me to take breaks and stop so that I stay energised and motivated.
19. Eliminate distractions.
Have you ever gotten into a flow state where you are working effectively and then suddenly your phone goes off and you can't get back into that flow of work?
Distractions and notifications are your worst enemy when trying to work. I'll make sure I have all my apps muted and I'll put my phone in another room so there is zero temptation to check emails or social media. I'll also switch on some music in the background to block out any noise.
If you're working in an environment that causes distractions try heading to the library or anywhere you'll be distraction free.
20. Focus on 1-2 Goals Only
At the start of each day, write down the one to two Most Important Tasks (MITs) you want to accomplish.This will enable you to prioritize your tasks. As Josh Kaufman explains, a Most Important Task (MIT) is a critical task that will help you to get significant results down the road.
Not every task is important in the same way. That's why it's important to know what your MITs are so you can do them as early in the dayas possible.
In my diary I'll usually set my main goal and then have 1 or two sub-tasks that will move that goal forward. I'll aim to get those done and anything else is a bonus.
21. Focus on progress not perfection.
When I was in medical school I'd spend ages writing essay assignments. I wanted each essay to be perfect. The problem was they never could be and there was no reward for a perfect essay anyway, just a pass. I soon realised that what I considered to be my quicker, more average work was more than good enough. More importantly my quick essays took half the time to write as I wasn't over analysing and trying to perfect them. This meant my grades were as good but I got back all of my time.
Perfectionism is the biggest obstacle to getting things done as you can put off finishing or even starting problems until everything seems perfect. Just remember your good enough is probably way better than you think and it is the reps and quantity or work you do when you start something that help you to improve and make progress.
22. Get organized.
People who are disorganised will often procrastinate because they don't have all the required information to get started.
Before you begin at anything spend time researching what is required, get an idea of what the work you are doing needs to look like and create a plan that allows you to be successful. If you're revising for an exam this might be getting hold of the exam syllabus and some past papers and speaking with previous successful students and asking them what books and websites they used to revise from. Once you know this you can create a revision timetable and get going. Basic organization like knowing when and where the exam will be also helps to reduce anxiety and helps you to study more effectively.
23. Change “I have to” to “I get to.”
In psychology language and how we talk about things can have a huge impact on our behaviour. For example if you say things like "I have to go into work" it kind of infers it's against your will and it's a really negative thing which you will then obviously not want to do and try and put off.
If on the other hand you switch up your language to something like "I get to do this work today" it implies it's your choice and you are grateful for the opportunity to do the work at all. Changing that negative attitude to a positive one will help you feel more motivated and stop you putting things off.
24. Clear your desk once a week.
Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that our brains are able to process information more effectively in an uncluttered environment. Clutter can be demotivating. It also causes stress, which is often at the root of procrastination.
I'll usually try and tidy my workspace at least once a week and I'll try and make my desk as fun to work from as possible with everything I need like my podcasting mic, my video camera if I want to record a video and my computer and lights all easily accessible so there is no excuse to not switch them on and get going.
25. Get Things Done
If a task takes two minutes or less to complete, then do it now. This is a tip from David Allen’s bestselling book, Getting Things Done.
When you have a lot to do, you may notice that you tend to put things off. You can avoid this by taking care of the small but important tasks as soon as you have time.
Anything that takes less than a few minutes I'll try and get done as soon as possible. This might include some quick emails, replying to team messages in slack or discord or writing a quick tweet.
26. Finish one task before starting on the next.
When you jump from one project to another, you aren't getting much done.
Research has shown that doing more than one thing at once is less effective than doing one thing well.
To reduce procrastination, it's best to finish one task first before moving on to the next.
When you finish the first task, you'll feel like you've accomplished something, which will give you a boost of motivation for the next one.
27. Build your focus.
You won't be able to beat procrastination overnight; it takes time. This means that you need to build your ability to focus over time.
Just like an athlete you need to build up your willpower and ability to work for longer periods without distraction over time.
Start with small blocks of time like 20-minutes and then challenge yourself to stay focused for 30-minutes the next time.
As the weeks go by, you'll become a lot more focused than when you first started.
28. Use gratitude.
Gratitude improves your psychological health and increases your mental strength.
These factors are linked to motivation. The more you practice gratitude, the easier it will be to find motivation to get work done.
At the start of each day I'll usually write down three things I'm grateful for and at the and of the day I'll reflect on what I've accomplished.
This helps to get me into the right mindset and build a positive, grateful attitude towards work. It can be easy to let work get on top of you and so having a gratitude journal is a great habit to help give perspective and keep you motivated.
29. Switch Things Up
Some days I just won't feel quite as motivated as others. Maybe I've been up working late on a project or I'm not as energised as normal. Instead of just forcing myself to work knowing I'll lose focus and may procrastinate I'll often switch up my routine and head to the gym, take a walk or grab some down time.
It's better to grab a break and recharge than to just sit at your desk knowing you're not being productive.
30. Schedule appointments with yourself.
When I was running a 7-figure business, working as a surgeon and revising for exams my calendar was insanely busy and trying to find time to get work done was a real challenge.
One thing that completely changed how I approached time management was to put my own time first and schedule appointments with myself.
Rather than letting other people take up my time with meetings or work commitments I would actively schedule time for myself to complete projects or even just to read some books on strategy and self-development. This hugely helped my to prioritise my time in a more practical way and it stopped work getting bumped or being put off.