How to Stop Procrastinating in 8 Easy Steps

TIMEAugust 11, 2014

It’s 10:00 at night, and you have a paper due tomorrow morning. You’ve been trying to come up with a good idea all afternoon, but you became distracted by your friends’ Tumblr posts. So you haphazardly finish your essay in the hopes that your professor won’t be too disappointed.

A lot of us have probably encountered a similar situation. Procrastination, to many of us, is a chronic disease we cannot seem to cure ourselves of. No matter how determined we are to start on projects early, we never seem to be able to do it. Something always comes up, and we find ourselves hurriedly cramming at the last minute. So what should we do? Here are 8 easy steps that will help you get things done on time!

1. Make Lists.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtney Dirks/flickr)

Make a list of everything you need to accomplish and set time limits for every activity; this will create a sense of urgency when you fall behind schedule. Also, prioritize the tasks on your list, noting which ones are more important or urgent. As you complete each task, cross it out on your list. You will feel motivated as you watch your list become smaller and smaller throughout the day.

2. Set Alarms.

Epoch Times Photo
(via Shutterstock)

Allot time for each activity by setting an alarm. Once the alarm rings, finish up any last minute pieces and immediately move onto the next task.  If you still have a large portion to go, don’t let yourself continue to work. Instead, start on the next task and come back to this one later. Otherwise, you’ll be telling your brain that it’s okay to spend more than the allotted amount of time for that activity. Before you know it, you’ll be spending all day on one simple task!

3. Do the Most Difficult Task First.

Epoch Times Photo
(Sasquatch I/flickr)

We all have certain projects or tasks that are extremely difficult and frustrating. So we try to avoid them for as long as possible with the excuse that we will be more productive by doing easier tasks first. Only when the deadline is right in front of us do we decide it’s finally time to begin the huge assignment at hand.

For big projects, break it into parts, and tackle one piece at a time. Otherwise, the task will simply feel too immense and insurmountable. Set deadlines for each part of the project, or else you might just push it off indefinitely until the final deadline, by which time it will too late to do an adequate job.

4. Keep yourself away from anything that will distract you.

If you enjoy surfing the internet, and often spend hours doing it, then download an add-on, extension, or app  for your browser (such as BlockSite for Mozilla Firefox or Strict Workflow and Block site for Chrome) that will block or minimalize the amount of time you can spend on every single website you usually go on to waste time, whether it is Facebook or Reddit or any other distracting site. 

Also, clean up your work area. This will clear up your mind and motivate you to get work done.

Finally, remove anything that will keep you from concentrating on you task, whether it is your phone (turn it off, unless you are expecting an urgent call), your manga books, your iPad, or your electric guitar. Whatever it may be, get rid of it! Put it in a place that is difficult to access, so you won’t be tempted.

5. Take Breaks.   

Epoch Times Photo

Most of us find it extremely difficult to concentrate for several hours on end. Therefore, a good idea is to take short breaks between every task you complete. Once again, use an alarm to time your breaks. Don’t give yourself too much time off; anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes is good. Also, during breaks, don’t do anything you find addicting, whether it is watching television, playing video games, messaging friends, or reading a thriller novel. If you start on something addicting, you won’t be able to stop yourself! So during your breaks, simply do something light and relaxing like taking a short nap, strolling around the neighborhood, or eating a small snack.

6. Reward/Punish Yourself Accordingly.

Epoch Times Photo
Peach Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (Cat Rooney/Epoch Times)

Reward yourself when you meet the deadline and punish yourself when you fail to do so. This will entice you to work more efficiently. If you feel that you can’t be strict with yourself, ask a friend to set deadlines for you and then reward or punish you accordingly. For example, if you meet the deadline, you could go enjoy some delicious peach vanilla bean ice cream; otherwise, you may have to buy your friend an expensive present.

7. Reflect.

 At the end of the day, consider how much work you’ve done. If you accomplished all or most of what you wanted to do, give yourself a pat on the back. Consider what methods you used that helped you, and what parts of the strategy didn’t have an effect. Keep up the good work and stay motivated. Don’t let procrastination catch you again.

On the other hand, if you only did half of the work you needed to do, consider what went wrong and devise different ways to fix the problem. Where did you waste your time? Did something like the Internet or a video game distract you? If yes, block the sites you like to go on or do your work in a library. Or were you simply unable to concentrate? Then, try moving to a less cluttery place; think about what you want to accomplish and work single-mindedly towards that goal. Or could you not find the inspiration you needed for a big project? In that case, take out a pencil and paper, or a huge whiteboard if you have one, and just stop and brainstorm. Write down everything you can think of. Let your mind wander in all sorts of crazy directions even if your ideas seem completely ridiculous and implausible, and then you might suddenly hit upon something you actually like.

Before we get to #8, here’s a fun video (I think you can afford 5 minutes more of productive procrastination) on how to stop procrastinating.

8. Change Your Mindset.

Imagine that “tomorrow” doesn’t exist, and you are unable to push off the work to “tomorrow.” Do it today. Do it now. As a matter of fact, quit wasting time reading this article and go do your work immediately! The clock is ticking!

*Image of “Time” via Shutterstock

Irene Luo
Irene is the assistant producer for American Thought Leaders. She previously interned for the China News team at the Epoch Times. She is a graduate of Columbia University with a degree in Political Science and East Asian Languages and Cultures.