7 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Start Something

“Secret of Adulthood: Don’t worry about finishing, worry about starting. Over and over and over.” Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

I would say it is common knowledge that the hardest part of accomplishing something often is just starting that item. But can that really be common knowledge? Think about it – if we all knew that we accomplish more if we just started something, wouldn’t we be more likely to just start? However, the truth is that many dreams, goals, or even daily tasks never get realized or completed because we didn’t start them.

If I looked at a list of things I want or need to accomplish in the near future, that list would include very important items like prepare a certain fee bill for my day job, begin a meditation habit, complete the Couch to 5k program, call my insurance company about a claim I need to file, think of more blog topics, etc. The first four of those I keep putting off, not starting on any of them. The last one, well, I work on that one every day. Then there are just the simple day-to-day things that you couldn’t almost start and finish in one fell swoop, like putting away an item of clutter or throwing something away, where if you just started you would almost certainly be finished.

Why is it so hard to start something in the first place? According to Dr. Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, it is human nature – we are wired to procrastinate. He explains that theory quite well in the book. You or I could easily look at most of the people around us or even perhaps within ourselves and come to the conclusion that people must be wired to procrastinate, as it seems like nearly everyone does. In fact, Dr. Steel suggests that approximately 95% of people procrastinate. Wow!

But is there a difference between procrastinating and just not starting something? I would argue that there is. I think that procrastinating occurs in the face of something that we have to do. If you think back to the list of things that I want or need to do, the fee bill is something I have to do if I want paid for my time. Why I am putting it off? Because it is tedious and almost mind-numbing to prepare and it isn’t urgent. However, I would rather be done with it. What about starting a mediation habit? That is something I want to do (I could argue that I need to do it to realize all of the benefits, but for now I will call it a want). It is easier to make up excuses, such as lack of time or choosing to do other things, because I can put it off indefinitely, not just until a later time. I think that the difference there is important in dealing with how to tackle these each problem.


Some Ways to Start Something.

1. Start small. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits suggests starting a new habit small, as little as two minutes per day. This is a good strategy because anyone can find such a small amount of time and build on it. This works for physical items like building endurance and will work for productivity and non-physical items for the same reason. This is the strategy that I will be using to start that mediation routine – this weekend!

2. Just do it. This is easier said than done, otherwise we wouldn’t be discussing how to start something. However, the most effective way to move forward is by taking the first step, even if you are not prepared or don’t know where you are going.

This blog was born that way. I know that I wanted to start a blog to share my thoughts and experiences and connect with like-minded people. I had been buying up domain names for awhile to have the correct one for the “right idea”. Well, the “right idea” never seemed to come (or, probably more accurately, the elusive “right time” never came). Recently I read Be a Free Range Human: Escape the 9-5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills by Marianne Cantwell, which was very good. In that book, the author suggests starting a “Play Project” and just jumping in to that project. This blog was my Play Project, and I am so glad that I started it, but it took that first step to get going (even before writing this post I was dragging my feet, but I took the first step and it is my longest and most thorough post yet).

3. Set a deadline and schedule it. Put it on your calendar and make it happen. Even if you put off starting until closer to your deadline, if you are committed to starting by that deadline, you likely will do so. That is how this particular post came about. I had been brainstorming ideas for my next post, but had a deadline of Friday to write and publish that post. Here it is Friday, I started to write and soon you will be reading this. Knowing myself, I may have waited until the weekend and then been caught up with other obligations, but I scheduled that I needed to do this post and followed through.

A Couple Steps to Deal With Procrastination.

“Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination: never put off til tomorrow what you can do today.” – Lord Chesterfield

1. Commit to doing it today. To-do lists work for some people, and for others they become an insurmountable list of things that will never get done. If a standard to-do list works for you, well you probably aren’t reading this. If it doesn’t, cut the list down. This is not an original strategy, but it works. Put 3-5 things on your list each morning that you need to get done that day. These should be items that you know you would be the most likely to put off, which coincidentally would also be the items you would more like to get behind you. That fee bill is on my list today. By keeping the list manageable, you are more likely to accomplish those tasks because you are making them a priority.

2. Find someone to hold you accountable. If you are finding yourself procrastinating too often, ask a friend or partner to hold you accountable. Tell them what you want to accomplish on a given day and report back later with what you actually accomplished. Better yet, share to-do lists and make a competition around who can finish more items off of his or her list.

This works with starting something too, but I didn’t want to discuss it in both places. One of the main purposes of this blog is to discover how to live better and have others learn and share with me. Some items that I post about are items that a new step for me (i.e., unplugging). It helps me to know that I put my commitment out there. It helped me follow through on the National Day of Unplugging and it will help me tomorrow when I start small and meditate for two minutes.

3. Partner with technology. You probably have a smartphone. Use it to for motivation and to be more accountable. I personally use, and enjoy, Carrot, but there are others available. Remember, just don’t get caught up in too much screen time.

4. If it takes less than X minutes, do it now. Do you walk past that clutter you keep meaning to put away, or sometimes ignore something you knocked over? I’ve been known to do both as well as ignore other seemingly trivial things that could be addressed very quickly. Well if takes less than a minute or two, just address it immediately. There are multiple variations of this rule (1, 2, 5, etc. minutes), but I left it blank above because you should do what works for you. I like the one-minute rule a lot and find that when I remind myself to follow it I get a lot more little things done.

What about you? Do you have trouble with starting things? procrastinating? Why? What do you do to get around those issues?

[Creative Commons Image via tableatny via Flickr]

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mrs. Debt March 9, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Thanks for the encouragement! I find myself doing a lot of procrastinating myself. Sometimes it is fear itself that stops us from doing what we could do. It is the fear of the unknown and that is probably the biggest factor of my procrastination. Thanks for the post, you have some great resources I WILL be checking out today!

  • Patrick March 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    I agree, fear is a big roadblock, and maybe that is why the jump-right-in approach may work so well. After all, think back to when we were kids – it got us into the deep end!

    Let me know if you find that something is helpful to you in the resources. I would love to know what works for you.

  • Janelle March 26, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    Patrick! You are a great writer, man. I can tell you took a lot of time to write and organize this.

    All of these are excellent tips, especially just doing it if it only takes a minute. It’s also okay to forgive yourself for your transgressions if you don’t stick to your schedule–as long as you get back to it. For example, I am supposed to meditate every day. But if I don’t, I don’t beat myself up about it, I just get back on it the next day. Every step, no matter how small, is progress.

    Keep writing!

  • Patrick March 27, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks Janelle. I agree that small steps matter most, so we keep to them. I appreciate you checking out my blog, and will keep writing!