7 Strategic Actions for Overcoming Procrastination

actions for overcoming procrastination

How often do you want to do something important, but instead of doing it you make excuses that convince you to postpone taking action? Now let me ask you this, after putting something off once, how easy is it to put that same thing off again?

It gets easier every time, doesn’t it? That’s what we might call the mañana mentality. In other words, why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? The truth is, the more we make excuses, the more we buy into them. Eventually, procrastination becomes integrated into our identity. We actually become a procrastinator.

We all procrastinate to some degree. Why?

There are several factors that support the mañana mentality. By the way, in case you didn’t know, mañana is Spanish for tomorrow, but the way that word is often used, it has come to represent an attitude of purposeful avoidance.

Before we look at some ways to beat procrastination, let’s look at some of the less obvious characteristics of the mañana mentality and their subtle effects on our thinking.

3 Characteristics of procrastination

»  Procrastination is habit forming. Even if your honest intention is to only put something off temporarily, the very act of procrastinating sets up a chain reaction that makes it easier to do it again. Why? Because it’s habit forming!

»  Procrastination enlarges the task. When we procrastinate it actually causes our mind to exaggerate the scale of the task involved. The more often we put off doing something the more intimidating it feels. Eventually, the task gets so out of proportion in our minds that chances are we will probably never be able to get ourselves to take the necessary actions.

» Being over analytical leads to procrastination. Endlessly thinking about doing something can become an avoidance strategy. In the long run you end up spending more time and energy than it would require to just go do it. Along the way, you end up convincing yourself that it is something you can’t do. Now, instead of being productive you have spent your energy creating a limiting belief.

Now that we have looked into the eye of the procrastination monster, let’s consider some effective ways to slay this beast once and for all.

7 Simple actions to help you overcome procrastination

1. Vocabulary – Watch your choice of words and expressions when you talk about a task you need to do. This includes your verbal expressions and your self-talk. The words we use have a strong influence on our perception. To your nervous system there is a huge difference between “I should get this done” and “I want to get this done.”  With should, our subconscious mind is telling our conscious mind that we shouldn’t be wasting our time on this task, because it’s not something we want to do. If that’s not the case, try to rephrase the sentence to better reflect what the task actually means to you. A more positive wording might be “This is important to me because it contributes to my life and I would love to get it done soon.”

2. Make a commitment – Don’t leave things floating in the indecision zone, go ahead and make a decision to commit to doing it. There is power associated with a commitment. Once you commit to doing something, you will have access to the energy required to do it. Tasks are rarely as difficult as procrastination makes them seem. Once we’ve actually committed to producing our desired result we unleash the resources needed to take the required actions and follow through to completion.

3. Know your reasons – Sometimes we get so caught up in our busy routine, running from one task to the next, that we forget to clarify the reasons we are doing something. Ask yourself “Why is this important to me and how does it contribute to my life?” Understanding the reasons behind your actions helps you appreciate the value of each task. Seeing the big picture also helps put the effort required in perspective with benefits you will receive.

4. Use pain and pleasure anchors – It is well established that we are hardwired to move toward pleasure and away from pain. If you associate the accomplishment of a task with pleasure and procrastination with pain, what happens? You will be motivated to take the actions that lead to pleasure and avoid the pain of inaction. What do you stand to lose if you don’t complete this task? How will your life be better when you do complete it? Pain and pleasure paradigms have a powerful influence on what actions we will take and what actions we will avoid taking.

5. Focus on long term benefits – In our modern world the tendency is to choose instant gratification over long term benefits. While there is nothing inherently wrong with instant gratification it is only one form of satisfaction.  While quick results may seem preferable, they are often devoid of any real sense of achievement. Adopting a goal setting mentality will add a dimension of depth and gratification that can only be achieved by getting involved in a more involved process.

6. Visual Reminders – It can be very helpful to use visual reminders to pull our attention back to the task at hand. I think that’s the reason post-it’s were invented. You can write a one or two word message on them and stick them almost anywhere. This can be an effective way to help counteract the many distractions that bombard us on a daily basis. A word of warning, this doesn’t work if you have too many reminders plastered all over everything. So limit this strategy to no more than a couple of different tasks for optimal results.

7. Stop thinking and start doing – Quite often all that is required is to take that first step, even if you are not sure what the next step will be. Action has a way of simplifying things because it gets us out of our heads and into the real world. I am reminded of the Ready, Fire, Aim approach used by many successful people. If you tend to over think things, try this approach to get things moving. It can be a real procrastination breaker.

You can overcome procrastination!

When you break the procrastination cycle by taking these simple actions, you will be surprised at how quickly and easily most tasks can be accomplished. In all likelihood, you will probably find yourself wondering why you didn’t just get it done in the first place.

There is no point in adding additional stress to our already busy (sometimes hectic) lives by constantly wrestling with procrastination. Apply some of these strategies and let me know how it works out for you. Do it today!

How do you avoid procrastination?
Do you ever find yourself slipping into the mañana mentality?
The lines are open!

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  1. John Rocheleau August 19, 2011 Reply

    Ah, delaying the doing is so easy and comfortable — in the short term!

    But in the long term, action creates much more than the particular immediate actions imply. Consistently taking action creates a mindset that mobilizes the universe in your favor. From that point, all things are then possible.

    A simple and true way of living well, but it is easy to understand how the emotional complexities of our life can block this basic realization from us.


    • Jonathan August 19, 2011 Reply

      Well put John, the human tendency to complicate things is astounding. We love and long for simplicity, but once we locate it we immediately go to work making it more complicated. We are a funny species! Thanks for being here.

  2. Galen Pearl August 19, 2011 Reply

    I read #7 twice–that’s so me! I can think and plan and get needed materials and put it on my calender and talk to people about it and all sorts of delaying activities instead of DOING it!! Okay okay. I want to do this. I want to do this. Thanks.

    • Jonathan August 19, 2011 Reply

      Hi Galen, don’t feel like you are alone on this one. It’s an easy trap to slip into and it feels like we are doing something productive. But like said, to much energy in these activities just adds up to a busy way of delaying the action phase. You are on it now so go for it.

  3. Nancy August 19, 2011 Reply

    Another wonderful post Jonathan – I can totally relate to your post since I have also written about procrastination and how this act keeps us in our comfort zone. To procrastinate means that we don’t have to do anything – we stay in a stalemate!

    I love the analogy of pain and pleasure since my last blog post was the fine line between pain and pleasure when it comes to relationships. So I do believe that we also procrastinate in ending relationships.

    Living in the possibilities,

    • Jonathan August 19, 2011 Reply

      Hi Nancy, while procrastinating doesn’t require us to do anything, that doesn’t mean it not exhausting. As William James once said “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” Now there’s a good painful emotional anchor to move away from.

  4. David Stevens August 19, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    Let’s face it, I procrastinate at times. Without a shadow of a doubt. However when push comes to shove, I do whatever has to be done. Focussing on the long term benefits (No.5) gets the job done for me.
    Another classic excuse I hear often…..’I’ll just wait for the right time”. Newsflash…there rarely is a right time, do a Nike.
    thankyou for the illumination & be good to yourself

    • Jonathan August 19, 2011 Reply

      Hi David, we all procrastinate at times, but for busy people I think is is often just a priority thing. For me, I do the most pressing task next. So it might appear that I am avoiding something else, but it is usually pretty calculated.

  5. Ken Wert August 21, 2011 Reply

    Hey Jonathan,

    I’ve written elsewhere recently of this little rhyme my dad sent me some 25 years ago. It has stuck with me all these years. It goes like this:

    Procrastination’s a funny thing
    It only brings me sorrow.
    But I can change at any time.
    I think I will! … tomorrow.

    I love the tips you offer to help us out of that universal mudhole of procrastination.

    To piggy-back off of #7, I break down tasks I’m having a hard time getting started into the smallest components possible and just start checking the tiny little baby-steps off the list. It usually doesn’t take very long before some momentum is created and I start getting passionate about completing the project.

    Thanks for a great post, Jonathan!

    • Jonathan August 24, 2011 Reply

      Hey Ken, I can see why that little rhyme stayed with you. It’s the paradox that gives it sticking power. Breaking tasks down into smaller components is an excellent way to make them more manageable and less intimidating.

  6. marc August 21, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    Great list of strategies to overcome procrastination!

    For me, making a commitment is the most powerful because I believe that any commitment without action is not a real commitment. The other one which helps me, is knowing the reason. If the Why is high enough, the How comes a lot easier. Many times it provide the fuel for inspired action.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Jonathan August 24, 2011 Reply

      Hi Marc, those are two of my favorites also. Many people look at commitment as something that hems them in and puts unnecessary limits on their life. Actually, making a firm commitment is one of the most liberating things you can do. When you close the back door there is only one direction left to go – forward.

  7. Scott August 22, 2011 Reply

    Procrastination isn’t always a bad thing.

    For example, there’s “productive procrastination”, in which you do things to keep yourself busy to avoid the task at hand. So you end up at midnight with your room clean, the kitchen clean, a box of donations for Goodwill and your article that’s due tomorrow still not written. There’s probably no more effective way to get something done that you don’t want to do than to put something on your to-do list that you want to avoid even more. :-)

    Also, procrastinating sometimes means you have fewer choices available to you, but sometimes you actually have more, and better, by waiting. For example, waiting too long to book your vacation hotel may mean not getting a hotel you want (or one at all), but it also may mean getting a great last-minute deal because they need to fill rooms.

    I procrastinated for months and months about getting an iPhone. Everyone around me had one, I knew I wanted one, and I even knew I could make good use of one. But it just never made it to the top of my priority list. Good thing I waited — then the Android phones started coming out (I still procrastinated), and then finally 4G phones came out, on Sprint (my provider of many years), at a fraction of the price of the iPhone, and for a small monthly upgrade to my existing plan.

    Of course, procrastination can be terrible, too. I’m just saying that you really need to consider the particular situation. Is waiting going to give you more choices or fewer? Will better options appear if you wait? What’s the risk? Are you willing to live with the consequences of inaction? Don’t over-analyze, either, but don’t automatically assume that procrastination is bad in every situation.

    • Jonathan August 24, 2011 Reply

      Hey Scott, it might also be said that all waiting is not procrastination. Sometimes it is just waiting to see what other opportunities might present themselves. There are times when the smartest thing we can do it not to do anything until we have weighed things out and made a firm decision. But once that is done procrastination is just avoidance.

  8. Scott August 24, 2011 Reply


    The Procrastinator’s Prayer?

    Lord, grant me the serenity to wait for the things that can be put off,
    The strength to do the things that can’t be put off,
    And the wisdom to know the difference.

    • Jonathan August 26, 2011 Reply

      Hi Scott, it seems like procrastination has become almost become an art. For a dedicated procrastinator praying about it would likely be just one more tactic designed to avoid doing something about it.

  9. Anish Mohan August 25, 2011 Reply

    I often make very big plans for myself and feel sure that I have the talent and mental ability to put them into action. I start taking action, but sadly fail to keep the momentum up. Slowly the idea gets stacked up to gather dust. Please help me overcome this habit.

    • Jonathan August 27, 2011 Reply

      Hi Anish, you will probably find it helpful to visit the articles under the Related Articles just below this article. If you take the steps (one at a time) outlined in those articles it will help you to deal with this habit. If you need personalized help please visit me at my coaching site. I would be happy to with this issue.

  10. Jimmy September 16, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jon,

    Great list of strategies to help with overcoming procrastination. I especially like the pain ve pleasure concept and looking long term. These are very powerful forces that can help us along the way. At the start of this year I quit drinking because I associated great pains to it. Now my family get to experience the real Jimmy, fully charged.

    One other tool I use to beat procrastination is converting my planned actions into small and associated rules. There is a certain thing about rules that will change human behaviours. Making my action a rule becomes a powerful force to be contented with. So far, I am finding this really effective in getting great things done.

    BTW, would you be so kind as to view my latest post on Hopes and Dreams Fulfilled? I have a little challenge going on in that post that needs you to help spread the word to more people.


  11. Jardelyne September 19, 2011 Reply

    You handed me at ‘Fortune Cookie’.

    Thank you for making this available. I fear procrastination has become my identity, causing strain in all, and sadly the most important, relationships in my life. Including how I relate to myself. It is such a self-destructive behavior, akin to gambling or substance abuse, I’m surprised there aren’t ‘Anonymous’ groups for support.

    I wrote each characteristics you mentioned on a note card, posting them where I can see them daily in hopes that recognizing each while I’m right in the middle of exhibiting the characteristic will stop me in my tracks just long enough to say “I Want to finish this now. Procrastination is painful. How will completing this task contribute to my life and bring me Pleasure? Go do it.” (I’ll write that on a few note cards also so in the moment I know what to say to myself.)

    Thank you again; I hope your strategies will help me find my own power.

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