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Time Management

10 Hacks for Beating Procrastination

By Paul H. Burton

Instead of worrying about whether we procrastinate, why not develop ways to minimize its effects? Here are 10 helpful procrastination tips to get more done.

procrastination tips

Ninety-five percent of us procrastinate. That’s what professor Piers Steel reported in his book “The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done.” So, the question isn’t whether we procrastinate. The question is how negatively does it affect our lives?

Here are some procrastination tips for reducing the impact of procrastination on your life, assuming you are among the 95%.

1. Exercise at Midday

The Guardian reported some very interesting results of a study conducted by Jim McKenna at Leeds Metropolitan University. McKenna’s team studied 200 people who regularly engaged in 30 to 60 minutes of exercise during their lunch period. The study group demonstrated a 17% increase in their performance over those who did not exercise. That’s the equivalent of doing eight hours of work in seven.

2. Leverage Alternative Measures

Try one or more of these methods:

  • Meditate. Meditation slows down our physical and mental processes and gives us perspective on what needs doing when.
  • Self-compassion. Research has shown that the more we can forgive ourselves for past procrastination, the more likely we are to act now.
  • Music. Playing music that energizes us puts us in a positive frame of mind and increases our level of activity.

3. Pander to Your Limbic System

The limbic system is wired to reward short-term benefits over long-term ones. Using this natural predisposition to fight putting things off requires us to eliminate the unpleasantness associated with doing a task. Need to read a lot of paperwork? Do it in your favorite chair — at the office or at home. The point is to piggyback the pleasant with the less desirable to trick the limbic system into helping us get the work done.

4. Commit to Five Minutes of Effort

Research has demonstrated that committing to just five minutes of effort is enough to get deeply involved in the task. Once we’ve “opened” that task, we’re more likely to finish it.

5. Leverage a “Focus Funnel”

Rory Vaden, author of “Procrastinate on Purpose,” suggests that it’s important to understand the distinction between important, urgent and significant.

  • Important is how much something matters.
  • Urgent is how soon it matters.
  • Significant is how long it matters.

We often fall prey to the sense of urgency tied to everything we receive. Functionally, we respond to the latest and loudest, often leaving the most important and most significant behind. Stop, take a moment to run items through the focus funnel, and then get started on what now seems to be the best use of the available time.

6. Ask Motivational Questions

Here are three questions that deal with motivation in different ways:

  • What one thing can I do to get started? This question reduces the effort to one action, which is less daunting than a whole project.
  • What are my three biggest priorities today? This question joins the human mind’s preference for “3s” with prioritization, which can motivate us to action. Chris Bailey spent a year testing various productivity hacks. In his book “The Productivity Project,” he found that writing down three significant tasks to get done by day’s end increased the likelihood of those things getting done.
  • What will go wrong if I don’t do this now? This question focuses on the negative consequences of not doing the task, which can be equally motivating.

7. Think “Not Right Now” Instead of “No”

One way to trick ourselves into working more now is to make a deal with our procrastinating selves. Instead of saying “no” to doing something nonproductive, say “not right now.” Make an agreement with yourself to get a certain amount of work done, then go for a cup of coffee or make a meal. “No” is a much harder battle to fight than “later.”

8. Bounce Back from a Lost Day

Some days just get away from us. The emergencies pile up, and we spend our whole day reacting to what comes at us. One effective way to deal with a discouraging day is to make a small to-do list for the next day. This does two things:

  • First, it raises our spirits to see what important things we will get done the next day.
  • Second, the very act of doing creates more energy to get more done. It’s a positive feedback loop.

So the next time the day turns disastrous, focus a little energy on the next day to help regain a productive momentum.

9. Get a Handle on What Needs Doing

We live in a complex and fluid world. Finding ways to simplify things makes them more doable. That’s where a prioritization mechanism can help — for example, labeling things as “1st Order Priority,” “2nd Order Priority” and “3rd Order Priority.” Another example is to mark things with a red highlighter for “stopped,” a yellow highlighter for “percolating,” and a green highlighter for “needs doing.”

Work styles vary, but reducing tasks to three or four simple categories splits the entirety into more manageable segments. (See “How to Get Organized Despite the Chaos.”)

Mike Vardy, CEO of Productivityist, has another take on this concept. He assigns “modes” to each task. That way, he can align his work efforts with whatever mode he is in. Modes can be very broad: Resource Mode (Outlook or Word), Family Mode (when he’s with the family), or Energy Mode(s) (high, quiet, early).

10. Develop an Anti-Procrastination Strategy

Here are three to choose from:

  • Commitment devices increase the difficulty of engaging in a bad behavior. For example, remove Facebook from your phone and only allow it on your tablet, which stays at home.
  • Ritualizing behaviors reduces the friction of starting by forming a habit. Finalize timesheets by the end of each day. After a while, it becomes a habit and can demark the end of the working day.
  • Implementation intentions focus our intent on a specific date/time/place for a specific activity. The vagaries are eliminated, increasing the likelihood of action.

Procrastination is a part of life for most of us. Instead of worrying about whether we procrastinate, why not develop ways to minimize its effects? These 10 procrastination hacks can help you get more done, make better use of your time, and enjoy greater personal and professional satisfaction.

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Paul H. Burton

Paul Burton is a former corporate finance attorney and General Counsel who helps lawyers and legal professionals make the best use of their time. The author of eight guides on individual and leadership productivity, he delivers seminars and coaching services to busy professionals across the United States. You can learn more about Paul and his practice at

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