Cheat Sheet: Procrastination Problems and Fixes

Post written by Leo Babauta.

This is a cheat sheet, not a complete guide. For your convenience, it gives you a quick reference to fixes to some of the most common procrastination problems. For more detail, see the relevant article on each topic.

  1. Perfectionism: Repeat after me: “It doesn’t matter.” You might think something needs to be a certain way, but it doesn’t. That’s a false ideal. Just get good enough done and move on, or you’ll be stuck on the task forever, at the cost of hurting other priorities. It doesn’t matter! Make that your mantra.
  2. Fear & avoidance of task: Pause and take a deep breath, and then look at the fear for a moment. What are you afraid of? Failing? Then focus on a smaller portion of the task that’s easier, and succeed at that, before tackling another small portion of the task.
  3. Online distractions: Use an Internet blocker except for certain hours a day. Unplug your router and give it to someone and tell them not to give it back until a certain time. Or go somewhere where there’s no Internet. Give yourself time to do your distractions, but only as a reward for focusing. It can be 10 minutes of focus, 2-3 minutes of distraction, or 15 minutes of focus, 5 minutes of distraction, or 50/10.
  4. Wanting to tackle the easiest tasks first: It’s very tempting, because the hard ones seem too hard, and the easy ones make you feel productive. They’re the low-hanging fruit. The solution is to make the hard tasks the low-hanging fruit. Consciously block yourself from the easy tasks, so there’s only one task you can possibly do. Then make that task easier by picking off a small part of it, and make it more fun by creating a game or challenge out of the task.
  5. Tired or feeling lazy: Take a break, take a nap, take a walk. If you’re tired, you need some rest. Take a break and walk around. Do something fun. Get a bit active. Drink some water. Talk to someone. Then go back with renewed focus. You might also need more sleep at night.
  6. Being stressed, worried, anxious: Schedule time for fun, being active, relaxing. Meditate. Do yoga. Have a simple tea ritual. Simplify your workday so that you have less on your plate — tell people you can’t do some things right now — and focus on one or two important tasks. Simplifying and giving yourself time for mindfulness, relaxation and fun will help reduce the anxiety, stress and worry.
  7. Not motivated: What excites you? Seek inspiration, from others who have succeeded at this, from photos, quotes, blogs, YouTube videos. Find a way to make what you’re doing more fun, more challenging. Give yourself a public challenge. Do a group challenge. Find an accountability partner. Always seek a way to step up the motivation.
  8. Overwhelmed by too many tasks: You can’t do a thousand tasks at once. Not even 10. So pick one task — an important one but perhaps broken into a smaller, easier step — and focus on that. The others you can put on a list or in a folder until you’re done with the first task. You’ll get to those later, but for now put them out of your mind. Focus on this one small task. You can do that.
  9. Task is too complex: You already know the answer — break it down into a smaller task, and start there. The most important thing is starting. It doesn’t matter if you don’t do the whole task at once. It doesn’t matter where you start. Just simplify into a small task, and start!
  10. Not knowing where to start: The most important thing is to start, not to start at the perfect place. So pick a place that seems as good as any other, and just start. It can be in the middle or end instead of the beginning. Just start.
  11. You think you’ll be more motivated later: It’s not true. You won’t be more motivated in the future than you are now. Do it now, because now is the perfect time to start.
  12. Overestimating your ability to do the task later as time runs out: Learn whether this is actually true by experience and awareness — did you think you were going to be able to do it in time last time? Did that work out? By being aware that this doesn’t really work, you can rationally tell yourself, “No, I need to start now.” Now work on starting.
  13. Disorganized: Create a very simple organization system. Keep two lists — one is your Most Important Tasks (MITs), and the other is a list of the smaller stuff that you’ll tackle after you do one or two of the MITs. Start on the MITs first. Keep this list short — just 1-3 things each day. Get good at putting things on the lists and using the lists often.
  14. Wanting to take care of tasks that come in before the important tasks: Keep a list of all the incoming, less important tasks that you’re going to get to later … and then put the list to the side as you focus on one of your Most Important Tasks (MITs). The MITs come first, and the smaller tasks are the reward for doing the MITs!
  15. You think you work better under pressure: It’s not true. You might do fine under pressure, but the honest truth is that we do better when we have more time and can think things out. We just need to find the motivation to do these things when there’s time. Pressure adds mistakes and drops quality. Start now!
  16. It’s too late, there’s not enough time: Well, it’s possible that you shouldn’t have waited, that you put things off when you shouldn’t have. But that’s no excuse not to start now. If you start now, you might not have the ideal result, but it’ll be better than not starting.