How To Stop Procrastinating Without Relying On Willpower
You know the drill.
That project is due in 2 weeks. So you think “I’ve got plenty of time”.
Now it’s next week, and you haven’t gotten started.
Sure, you’ve thought about this project a lot. You’ve worried about it. You’ve calculated how much time it will take.
But you haven’t actually gotten started.
Heck, maybe you’ve even spent more time fretting about it than it would take just to do it!
It’s not logical. You know it’s not logical. But you’re doing it anyway.
So, why are you doing it if you know it makes no sense?
There are, in fact, plenty of reasons. To name a few:
- It feels too big, too overwhelming
- You don’t know how/where to start
- It sounds boring/uninteresting
- It seems hard
These are emotional reasons, not logical ones. But they are reasons nonetheless.
So, you sit there telling yourself that you should just get started already. You “know” that’s the “right” thing to do. But you just can’t talk yourself into doing it. You’re in an argument you can’t win…with yourself.
You wish you had the willpower to just make yourself do it.
But instead, you’re still sitting on the couch scrolling Reddit. Or researching hardware for a kitchen remodel of a house you don’t yet own. Or organizing your linen closet.
Your brain is simply not responding to your very logical reasons that you should just get started.
So what can you do if you can’t logic your way out of procrastination?
Try these practical techniques that don’t revolve around trying to win an argument with yourself, or require vast reserves of willpower:
Break it down to get it done
The smaller and more specific you make the first step, the easier it’ll be to start. Make the first step so easy you can’t convince yourself not to do it.
Need to file your taxes? What if the first step was emailing your accountant to ask for a checklist of documents you need to find?
Create a forcing function
Got a report to write? Schedule a review meeting for it right now to kick yourself into gear.
Prioritize your future self
Ask yourself how “tomorrow you” will feel if you don’t start now, vs. how “tomorrow you” will feel if you do. Make the choice that feels better. Give yourself a gift. And don’t forget to thank your past self!
Tell someone who you’d feel bad disappointing when you plan to complete something, and then ask them to check in, or tell them you’ll confirm when it’s done. And, crucially, make this “deadline” before the actual deadline to give yourself a little buffer.
Talk to yourself…out loud
Sounds silly, but external verbal processing works. Talk yourself through the first step, then the next, and you’ll soon be done.
Use a timer
Set a timer for 20 minutes and tell yourself you can stop when it dings. Most likely, you’ll keep going. But even if you stop, you in a better position than you were 20 minutes ago.
Say “3–2–1 Blastoff!”
If you need to just get started, pick a task and then say out loud “3–2–1 blastoff”. What’s sillier than saying that? Saying it and not actually getting started.
Plan for tomorrow, today
At the end of today, make a plan for tomorrow. Be as specific as possible. There are many things you’ll never want to do if you ask yourself “do I want to do this right now?”. But if you plan in advance, you don’t give yourself that out.
Stop beating yourself up
Be compassionate to your past self and start fresh right now
Procrastination tends to come with a lot of negative baggage. But you can’t change the past; you can only move forward.
So start now. And let whatever happened (or didn’t) before go.