16 Ways to Beat Procrastination

 Some work tasks are as tasty as potato chips – others as appealing as raw root vegetables. Here’s 16 ways, ranging from simple to diabolical, to sweeten that work broccoli!

It’s just about getting momentum

It’s easy to set goals that are ambitious, exciting challenging but then what we often do each day is look for things on our to-do list that are simple, easy and fun. If it’s not, we quickly find reasons to defer it. The opposite of procrastination is momentum, and they are not that far apart. If you can just get started, then you’ll be on your way. Here’s a laundry list of techniques roughly sorted from easy and effective to hard and guaranteed. See which ones’ work for you. Techniques with an asterisk are explained in more detail in the following pages. Tip: If you want to do just one then make it The Pomodoro technique.

The basics

1. Block out time for your task 

Put the task in your calendar. (Basic sure, but do you even do that?)

2. Incremental change

Out of 10 how pleasant will this task be? With 0 being horrible and 10 being the best thing ever. Got an answer?Great. Now what would you need to do to make it just one point higher?

3. Add a reward

That’s right, give yourself an old-fashioned carrot. Do this one thing and you can buy an iPhone/Prada handbag/sausage roll at morning tea etc.

Release some energy

4. Reduce the quality
Our first efforts can be miserable. Don’t worry. Book writing got a lot easier when I stopped trying to write a great chapter and instead just wrote for an hour a day. It’s much easier to improve something once it’s out. Do it badly first, then fix it.

5. Eat the frog

Make the first thing you do in the morning something tough. Take a gulp of coffee, grit your teeth, get it done and then spend the rest of the day cruising downhill. For more info read ‘Eat the Frog’.

6. Get a run up
Spend 5min tidying your desk or making a call and then leverage off the momentum of that small win to start the tougher task. 

7. Put it off

Yes, put it off. But only after writing down WHY you aren’t working on it. Then write down the very first thing that needs to be done.

Get perspective

8. Seriously consider doing an even worse thing 

What is the mother of all tasks that you need to do? Do 5 min on that and then the other task will seem much easier. Fancy name for this is the ‘Premack Principle’.

9. *Read an extract from ‘The Voyage of the Discovery’ by Captain Scott. 

What those early explorers suffered through in the Antarctica puts our paper cuts and toner inhalation gripes into perspective!

10. Get curious.
Rate how bad you think doing the task is going to be. Then do the task and then rate how bad it actually was. Keep adding to this list and notice the strange trend of it NEVER BEING AS BAD AS YOU THOUGHT.

Nibble at it

11. Break the task down into little steps. 

Then put aside that list and ONLY put the very first step on your to do list.

12. *The Pomodoro technique
Taking on your feared task in tiny bites of time. (Explained in detail here).

13. *The GROP technique

Anticipate when you are going to be tempted and then come up with a plan before it happens. (Explained in detail here).

Get on the hook

14. Send an email to future you 

Write an email to yourself bragging about what you have done on your goal in two weeks. Then use a service like ‘boomerang’ to send it back to you in a fortnight. Here’s an example.

To: KevinBiggar@gmail.com
Subject: Position Description (2 weeks)
Hi Kevin
By now I’ve drafted that position description and had it checked out, it’s all ready to post on the website. You’re welcome.
P.S. You didn’t think that I was going to do it did ya?
P.P.S. Here are the Lotto numbers.

Now there’s a contract between now and future you. You know this email is coming and you’re going to make sure you do the tasks. If you forget then you are going to get nagged about in two weeks.

15. Unleash the power of plastic

The biggest enemy of your goal for the year is distraction. It’s important to keep the main thing the main thing.
A very simple way to keep you on track is to write down your short list of goals for the year or quarter on a piece of A4. Get it laminated and stick them on your wall – even better if you give a copy to someone you would HATE to disappoint and then have regular progress checkups with them!

16. Mysterious technique X

Too terrifying to be written here. But absolutely 100% guaranteed to work to break your procrastination. Email me if you would like to find out more at Kevin@KevinBiggar.com

Techniques in detail

Pomodoro technique
This technique is named after the ‘Pomodoro’ tomato shaped kitchen timer. It’s fantastic for when you have to take on something agonising and just need to punch through it.

The method is very simple; you organise your work into short sprints which means you’re consistently productive. You are required to take regular breaks that boost your motivation and keep you creative.

Here’s what you do.

  • Choose a short period of time say 2-25min, which even in the worst case you could tolerate doing the task for.
  • Set a timer. 
  • Ask yourself ‘how much can I get done before the timer goes?’ •Work on the task until the timer rings. Don’t let yourself get interrupted or distracted. No, you can’t go to the loo. No, you don’t need another coffee. 
  • When the timer goes take a break (say 10-15min). 
  • Every four periods take a longer break (say 20min).
  • Is there anything that you’re procrastinating about that you could use this technique on?

GROP Technique

This technique is based on the idea that you WILL go off-track and the best way to beat that is planning for it now.

1. When you think about what is going to be required to take on your challenge – how are you going to let yourself down? What is the situation? And what is the thought, behaviour or habit that is likely to sabotage you? It might be an emotion, an impulse or an assumption. Imagine it vividly affecting you. 

Example: The alarm rings at 6am. It’s raining outside. I’m feeling rough. Decide to lie in bed and train ‘tomorrow’. 

2. Name one thought or action you can take to overcome or circumvent your obstacle. 

Example: Will have my running gear laid out the night before. Won’t allow myself to think until I’m out the door. Will run with a friend. 

3. Then think about when or where the obstacle will next occur and what exactly is going to trigger your plan. 

Run this scenario in your head – the obstacle, the trigger and then your plan. 

•”When I walk into the kitchen after dinner then I will focus on the dishes (and not food!).” 

•”When I feel overwhelmed about what I’m going to take on then I’m just going to focus on the next step” 

Come up with your own “When-Then” Plan!

An extract from the story of Captain Scott’s first Antarctic expedition in 1902 

“A night in such a sleeping-bag as we are picturing, with the temperature below -40°, cannot be said to be less than horribly uncomfortable. We are rarely conscious of sleeping; certainly not oftener than one night in three can we realise that several hours have passed in oblivion, and these seem only to be bought at the price of extreme exhaustion. Ordinarily we sleep in the fitful, broken, comfortless fashion of which the mere recollection is a nightmare, and even this poor apology for slumber does not come until we have lain broad awake and shivering for an hour or two. 

With the temperature at -48° we can make a shrewd guess as to the sort of night that is before us. The first half-hour is spent in constant shifting and turning as each inmate of the bag tries to make the best of his hard mattress or to draw the equally hard covering closer about him. There is a desultory muffled conversation broken by the chattering of teeth. Suddenly the bag begins to vibrate, and we know that someone has got the shivers. It is very contagious, this shivering, and paroxysm after paroxysm passes through the whole party. We do not try to check it: the violent shaking has a decidedly warming effect; besides, it is a necessary part of the programme, and must be got through before we can hope for sleep. 

Presently we hear our neighbour marking time, and we rather unnecessarily ask him if his feet are cold; he explains their exact state in the most forcible language at his command. All this time we are mentally surveying our own recumbent figure and wondering whether the parts that feel so cold are really properly covered or whether our garments have got rucked up in the struggle for ease. Our hands are tucked away in some complicated fashion that experience has commended; they are useless for exploring. Besides, we know of old how far imagination can lead one. Our thoughts, taking flying journeys round the world, flit past the tropics to log-wood firesides, but they stop nowhere until they have raced back to present discomfort. 

The last squirm brought the wind-guard of our helmet across our face. It is crusted with the ice of the day’s march; this is now gently thawing, and presently a drop trickles down our nose. Our thoughts become fixed on that drop. It is very irritating; we long to wipe it away, but that means taking out one hand and disarranging the whole scheme of defence against the cold. We are debating the question when a second drop descends. Flesh and blood cannot stand this: out comes our hand, and for the next quarter of an hour we are pitching and tossing about to try to regain the old position. We start to count those imaginary sheep jumping over their imaginary hurdles for the hundredth time as the shivering lessens. 

The last half-hour has brought a change; we are no longer encased with ice. There are signs of a thaw; above and below the bag is less rocky; it is becoming damp and coldly clammy, but it covers us better. There is just a suspicion of somnolence, when suddenly the whole bag is shaken violently and we hear the most harrowing groans. It is only another attack of the cramp, an enemy that is never far away. We try to sympathise with the victim as we start the sheep jumping afresh. And so this wearisome night passes on, with its round of trivial detail and its complete absence of peace and comfort. It was the same last night, and it will be the same tomorrow.“ 

From ‘The Voyage of the Discovery’, Captain Scott 


More Articles

How to tidy a garage

How to tidy a garage? This is the worked example of how to take on a tough challenge. Decluttering a garage is tough. The golden rule is every time you go in you don’t make it worse, and put ONE thing away. Lots of other tips inside!

Read More »

Four questions to change the way you feel

I was in a casino in Las Vegas and lost a bag of cash, I was incandescent with rage and self loathing – here’s how I changed my mood and even got back to smiling again. It’s what you can do any time you’re dealing with a setback.

Read More »

16 Ways to Beat Procrastination

So here we are in week 2 of self-isolation. We’re past the adrenaline surges of the first few days and are now well into the drudge. Now the whole thing is odd, and a bit strange and a bit stressful.

I found myself thinking who has been through something like this before? Monks? Astronauts? I know. Me! Together with Jamie Fitzgerald I’ve spent six weeks in a boat that had an area of less than 14 m². And that was palatial compared to spending eight weeks trekking to the South Pole sleeping in a tent of about 4 m². So here’s nine lessons that I learned. I hope they’ll be as helpful for you as they have been for me.

Read More »
Kevin Biggar

Get content like this sent directly to your inbox!

Scroll to Top