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How to stop procrastinating

woman laying on floor looking at phone

Procrastination, the action of delaying or postponing, is something all of us struggle with in some areas or at some point in our lives--work; errands; returning phone calls, texts or emails; making appointments; etc.

There are many theories as to why we procrastinate. One of them is that the worst procrastinators are perfectionists who don’t want to start certain activities for fear that they can’t do them perfectly. Along the same vein, others delay because they fear failure.

Personally, I feel like I come face to face with my inner world when I begin to work on a work project. As I stare at the blank page before me, the noise around me dies down and I become fully present. Whatever I am feeling, thinking or going through at the moment, is right there in front of me. On days when I am feeling anxious or uneasy, it can be hard to force myself to sit there. I experience something similar when committing to plans that are out of the ordinary for me, like a weekend away with a group of friends. I become paralyzed by the reality of my life and all the things I have to arrange or orchestrate in order to make these deviations from my usual structure feasible.

And, of course, there is the tendency to procrastinate on banal activities, like folding laundry, just because it’s so boring.

Whatever the reason, life goes on and projects, plans, communications, tasks have to be fulfilled. Here are five tips that help me cross over the threshold into productivity. I hope they help you!

1) Write a to do list. Even when I know what I have to do, there is something about putting it down on paper that helps me light the motivation fire. While it’s not the most eco-friendly and I try to be low-waste, I prefer to write my list neatly on an 8” by 10.5” notepad so I can have it in front of me as I work and scratch off items as I finish them. Seeing a list of what needs to get done helps me get organized, see what is the highest priority, and break things down into pieces I can actually tackle instead of battling with a large and looming specter of work. I include returning emails or making vacation plans on my list.

2) Commit to just doing a little bit. I swear by this tactic. It’s especially useful to me when I have to do things I really don’t want to do, but really have to do, like scheduling appointments and packing for trips. I break my tasks into little pieces. I commit to doing one little piece each day. Sometimes I find it so unbearable that I stop after completing each bit. Usually, I find that once I get started, it’s not so bad and I am able to keep going. Oftentimes, I even decide pretty quickly that the chore wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be.

3) Accept your rituals. For most people, the road to productivity begins with by getting a cup of coffee or tuning in to a favorite music station. My road to productivity begins with a serious detour, but it’s a winding road that takes me where I need to go. So, I will make this confession publicly even though it’s slightly embarrassing: before I plunge into my work, I have to check or I turn to People for the stories, Time for the latest news, studies, and random bits of information I wouldn’t otherwise know (“The Best National Parks in Every State!” and “This Is What You Should Do If You're Trapped in Quicksand”). For some reason, skimming through one or two articles puts me in a receptive mindset that I need to be in to begin working.

When it comes to household chores, I clean up my kitchen. I love seeing my kitchen clean and neat, so I never have trouble picking it up. Once I am done with the kitchen, my energy is flowing enough that I can get myself to do other less appealing tasks.

You most likely have a surefire way of getting yourself in the zone. It’s possible that, like in my case with, it dates back to when you started working. If you can’t immediately identify your ritual, think back to the times when you are most productive and see if there is a common action that got you to that place.

4) Acknowledge the emptiness, acknowledge the unease. While I am not a practicing Buddhist, I find that most roads lead to the Four Noble Truths.

One: The truth of suffering--all things in life are temporary, conditional

Two: The truth of the cause of suffering--we suffer because we want things to be a way they are not, we desire more

Three: The truth of the end of suffering--if we stop desiring for things to be different or things to be more, we can be freed from pain

Four: The truth of the path that frees us from suffering--Buddhist practice

What on earth does this have to do with procrastination? Personally, I find these Buddhist facts to be somewhat of a salve. While I am not engaged in the path that “frees us from suffering,” I am relieved by the idea that the nature of human existence results in feelings that distress us. Acknowledging that these feelings are inescapable frees me from having to address them and solve them. I can just look at them square in the face and get on with whatever needs to get done without analyzing, drawing conclusions or worrying that I should be changing things.

5) “Start anywhere” may be some of the wisest words I have ever heard. I sometimes begin by doing what entices me most, even if it’s not the most urgent thing on my list. Once I am engaged in work, I find the list begins to rapidly get checked off.

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