How to Stop Procrastinating and Make Progress on a Project


Well, I'm not going to try to pretend to you that I don't go through periods of procrastination, and I assure you that I have a ton of good excuses for why that happens.

But when it happens, and a long, tedious project is just sitting there collecting dust, week after week, sometimes month after month, it drives me bonkers. And then I start avoiding the project even more, because it's painful to think too much about the fact that it is just sitting there collecting dust. Then I find umpteen jillion other things to work on instead, important things, so see, I just don't have time for those (boring, laborious, tedious) projects I'm procrastinating right now.

My procrastination can only last so long, however, because I have a 7-step method that always works to break out of it. When the need arises, and I finally admit to myself that I am sick of not making any progress and that I just want said project to be DONE...this is what I do. It works for me every time.

1. Pick a time of day when you know you can and will work.

This can be anything that works for you, early morning to late at night. You know yourself...when are you most likely to actually motivate yourself to get to work? I've tried a lot of different times...first thing in the morning, later morning, right after work, after dinner, and the hour or so before falling asleep. Much as I sort of hate it, the best time for me to work on something tedious and boring is early morning, not first thing (because first thing has to be yoga for me,) but second thing, right after yoga. I either have to get up a little earlier to fit in the project, or reduce or eliminate the time I spend on other morning rituals, but that is how it is if I really want to get this thing knocked out.

My current time of day to work on my long, tedious project: 5:30 a.m. I'm getting up at 4:30 to drink water, do yoga, take supplements and vitamins, and make a hot cup of tea because it's cold in my office first thing in the morning right now.

2. Decide upon an unintimidating amount of time to work.

Choose a time between 15 - 45 minutes to work on the project daily. My current sweet spot is 30 minutes, but you can just work for 15 if you REALLY don't want to work and I promise you will still make progress. Think of it this way: 15 minutes is nothing. You can make yourself do anything for 15 minutes. You waste 15 minutes just staring into space a few times a day--admit it. (When I say "you," I mean "me." Don't judge. : - ))

3. Make a Project Steps sheet.

This is my actual sheet, as of this morning, after implementing my procrastination plan a little over a week ago.

Open up a Word Document and choose "Insert - Table." From there, you can make a two or three-column table and give it a few rows to get started. I chose three columns because I need to keep track of which Spanish lesson I'm updating in the first column, since the steps to update each lesson (second column) are repetitive for the most part.

Then, title your project in the Header, and start laying out the small, individual steps. If the steps are repetitive, that's fine, still just keep listing them out over and over (or copying and pasting.) The idea here is to break the project into small steps that you can check off as you make progress. I can't tell you how much better I personally work when I can see my whole project laid out on paper, and check off the steps as I go. It's so much more motivating than just "going in my office to update lesson plans" and swimming in the tedious-ness and boredom without seeing any light at the end of the tunnel.

Note: your Project Steps sheet may need to be altered, lengthened, shortened, simplified, made more complicated, or totally redone later, as you go through the project. This is fine. You have to start somewhere, so make your sheet with what you know or understand about the project at the moment.

4. Set a timer and go to work.

No later than tomorrow, at your allotted time, clear your workspace of distractions, set a timer for the time you chose, and get to work. I recommend an old school kitchen timer (like the one in the photo above,) not your cell phone, so that you can see it ticking down the time without "checking" your phone and seeing all the notifications and temptations.

If you chose to work for 45 minutes and you found it to be torture, reduce it. Reduce it to 15 minutes if that is what it takes. You will still make progress as long as you put in those 15 minutes every day.

5. Stop working when the timer goes off.

You have to train yourself that this will be easy and relatively painless, even enjoyable, and if you keep working for another hour, you’ll risk feeling burned out. Then you won’t want to work on it the next day, or the next. You'll be back in Procrastination Zone.

6. Mark off your progress on the Project Sheet.

This serves a few purposes: the exhilaration of checking off that you accomplished something, as well as remembering where you are in the project the next day. I swear, when I'm writing or updating lesson plans, without a check sheet I can waste so much time just trying to figure out which part of what lesson I've already done, and where I need to pick up working.

7. Repeat tomorrow.

Feel that? Feel how good it is to actually have made some progress? Even if you only marked off one step, or part of a step? Let that feeling permeate your being as you step away from your workspace...and use it as motivation to do all this again tomorrow.

By the way, I also use this method for cleaning house. Make a list of what needs to be done, pick a time (for cleaning house, right after dinner works well for me for some reason) and set a short timer. Clean as much as I can in the 15-20 minutes I give myself, mark stuff off, and then hit it again tomorrow night.