How to Stop Procrastinating: 9 Actionable Tips to Get Focused

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Man sitting at his computer with his phone while he's procrastinating
Tips & Advice on How to Stop Procrastinating

Tethered to our smartphones, social media, and other distracting technology, we often wonder, “How the hell can I stop procrastinating and actually focus?”

Sure, procrastination is a natural human tendency, but it can be your biggest enemy.

Whether you end up sinking time into a new hobby when you should be working, or focusing on video games instead of school, modern life in general is full of procrastination pitfalls.

As a full-time freelance writer, I’m all too familiar with these many stumbling blocks.

But take it from me: you can train yourself to stop putting off your most important tasks until the last minute.

If you’re wondering how to stop procrastinating, we’ve put together a list of actionable tips that will help you get focused and avoid wasting precious time.

Make your goals extremely specific

To accomplish your goals, you’ll first have to set them — the right way.

Rather than making a general goal, like “I’m going to exercise today” or “I need to write this afternoon,” get specific.

Detail your exact plans, including when, what you’ll do, and for how long.

You can apply this technique to all of your different goals: fitness, work, studying, et cetera.

Being specific will help you visualize what you hope to accomplish, and it’ll encourage you to put aside a dedicated chunk of time in which to do so.

As the National Society of Leadership and Success puts it, your goals should ideally be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

The sooner you get this first step out of the way, the sooner you’ll be on the road to actually accomplishing those goals.

Use a physical planner or to-do list

To-do lists are hugely helpful for many (including myself), especially when written in a physical planner.

Phones are rife with distractions, but a planner cuts out everything except the most important info.

Plus, checking off a task on paper is pretty satisfying.

I typically write out my to-do lists a week in advance, planning my workload around deadlines and other big events.

But you might find that you operate best when you create your to-do list a couple of days ahead of time.

Even making a to-do list for the next day works.

As we mentioned, be specific with your goals when possible.

It may also help to give yourself deadlines, or deadlines within deadlines (i.e. finish Step 1 of a task by a certain date to stay on track).

Breaking big to-do’s into smaller items will make them more manageable.

Tackle the high-priority tasks first

This one might sound counterintuitive, but rather than saving your most important tasks for last, get them out of the way ASAP.

You could save yourself a lot of anxiety by doing so, and you might find that you procrastinate less when you don’t have a “hard” job ahead.

Once those big, intimidating tasks are out of your way, your schedule will feel much more free, as will your mental state.

Now, any smaller tasks that you still have yet to do won’t seem so bad in comparison — you can just breeze on through those ones.

Of course, there’s also the counterargument that by working on smaller, easier tasks first, you’ll gain enough momentum to finally start the most important tasks weighing on you.

You may have to try a couple of different strategies and see what works for you here.

Remove yourself from distracting environments

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but any environment — even your home — can quickly become distracting.

You might sit down to answer some important emails, but somewhere along the way, decide it’s time to catch up with a roommate or family member.

Guilty as charged.

On the upside, once you realize that your environment is what’s keeping you from being productive, it’s simply a matter of changing it.

Head to a peaceful park, or (my personal favorite when my home office gets too distracting) to your nearest public library.

Environment plays a key role in whether or not you procrastinate, so as you set out to accomplish your goals, think about when and where you’re the most productive.

If you can’t completely relocate, try to remove all possible distractions from the environment you do have.

Turn your phone off or put it away

In case you didn’t already know, one of your biggest distractions is on you at all times: your cell phone.

Arguably the most distracting item in our lives, phones provide hours of procrastination potential, a curse for those of us who are trying to get things done.

When I have work to do, I sit down at my laptop and plug my phone in to charge — far, far away from me.

Having my phone out of sight makes me check it less frequently, decreasing my chances of getting sucked into my Kindle app or the social media rabbit hole.

If even distance isn’t enough to keep you from your phone, turn it off entirely so you’re not listening for notifications or watching the screen from the corner of your eye.

The extra time needed to reboot it may remind you that you’re supposed to be doing something else.

Reward yourself for finishing tasks

Giving yourself small rewards — like lunch at your favorite restaurant, or an episode of that show you’ve been binge-watching — after completing tasks is a surefire way to get more done.

I should know; this is one of my favorite anti-procrastination tactics.

Even a short (short!) break from work can be a reward in and of itself.

I often start writing or exercising by telling myself that after 45 minutes, I’ll take a timed, 10-minute break.

If you don’t let those breaks spiral out of control, they can be a strong motivator.

Think about what kind of “carrot” you can offer yourself, and try to stick to your rewards system as well as you can.

Just don’t fall into the inverse of this and start punishing yourself for not doing as much as you’d planned — remember, we’re only human.

Find an accountability partner

Think of a friend or family member who can and will call you out for not doing something you said you would.

Having someone hold you accountable may motivate you to actually follow through.

After all, you wouldn’t want to disappoint your Accountabilibuddy, right?

If this sounds too stressful, start by telling a few people close to you about different goals you have, rather than relying solely on one person.

When you’re struggling to stay motivated, it helps to know that you have others’ support and expectations to think of.

Your accountability partner(s) can also remind you why you set your goals in the first place.

It may feel a little scary to put yourself out there and share your dreams with someone else, but this could give you the extra encouragement you need to stop procrastinating.

Declutter your life

Minimalism has long been on the rise, but it’s not just a design trend — decluttering your space often makes it easier to focus.

There’s no need to toss all your belongings (unless you want to), but personally, I always have to tidy my desk before I can get to work.

This also goes for your digital spaces.

Deleting apps you might not need, clearing your desktop of unnecessary files, and closing out any irrelevant tabs can all go a long way toward simplifying your space, making it easier to find and focus on the important stuff.

It’s not just us saying this.

Studies have shown that clutter can lead to more stress, which won’t help solve your procrastination problems.

And clutter itself can be a sign of procrastination, so cleaning up means you’ve already started the anti-procrastination journey.

Start journaling

If all else fails — if you’ve tried the eight tips listed above and you’re still procrastinating like there is a tomorrow — try journaling, and jot down what’s on your mind.

Putting pen to paper may quiet some of those thoughts keeping you from focusing on the task at hand.

Journaling could help you organically develop ideas to solve whatever problem you’re facing or task you’re avoiding.

Along the way, you might also discover the root cause of why you’re putting something off, which will hopefully enable you to avoid the same issue later.

Even if you consider yourself a journaling skeptic, the practice has been proven to offer numerous mental health benefits.

A healthier mental state will still improve your focus and lower your stress, allowing you to approach your must-do tasks with a better mindset.

Ready to stop procrastinating?

Now that you know these 9 techniques to stop procrastinating, you’ll have to determine which work best for you.

We live in a very distracting time, but if you’re having trouble focusing on work, school, or other areas of your life, it’s time to take charge of your schedule.

Though it might seem impossible at the moment, once you learn to control procrastination, your productivity will flourish.

You’re here for a reason, after all, so you’ll feel much better once you actually take care of that nagging task or finally finish your to-do list.

Be honest, though — are you reading this article to procrastinate on doing something else?

Yes?

Well, you know what to do now. Put down that phone or close that extra tab, and get back to work!


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