How to stop procrastinating

Have you ever experienced this? You have something you need to do – something important – but you can't figure out how to stop procrastinating. You put it off for a few days, which turn into more than a few. Days, or even weeks go by without that check mark on your to-do list, and that important thing has become a monster. It's this huge, ugly task that hides under your bed and haunts you when you turn off the light at night. Maybe you never end up doing it. Maybe the opportunity that doing the task would have afforded you has slipped through your fingers. You've been bitten by the procrastination bug. I get it. It's not easy to buckle down, but recently, I've been using a simple tool which has helped me defeat my procrastination and lack of focus. It makes it easier for me to show up and do the work. I thought it would be helpful if I shared it with you. Test it out and see if it works in your own life. Don't worry – it takes less than 15 minutes each day, and it’s a simple, proven, easy to use tactic. Here's how to do it…

How to Stop Procrastinating and Get the Important Work Done

Somewhere between conceptualizing and launching this site, I was spinning my wheels. I knew that I needed to sit down and write, and that writing for this site was my most important action. Even though I knew this, I spent hours each day learning about writing effectively, and very little time actually writing. This one small and simple method changed everything for me. The goal is to trick your brain into doing the work that is important instead of wasting your time on junk that you pretend is important. Here’s the thing… You inherently know the most important actions to you need to take to build your business or even start it — and you are more than capable of achieving them — but we are human and we procrastinate and get distracted. This method of increasing productivity triggers mechanisms in our brains that make us far more likely to follow through. There are 3 components to this simple scheduling method…

1. Spend time the night before prepping yourself for the next day

This step is practiced by many successful people, and is discussed at length in this blog post at the Art of Manliness: Bookend Your Day: The Power of Morning and Evening Routines. Most of us have morning routines, but evening routines are less common. An evening routine is an incredibly effective way of setting yourself up for success for the next day. They cut down on decision fatigue, organize your day, and align your evening with success. Setting an evening routine to prepare yourself for the next day will get the simple, necessary tasks like choosing what to wear and what to eat out of the way. This leaves your mental capacity for your important tasks.

2. Set Most Important Missions (MIMs)

Will you be able to do all of your important work right before bed? Probably not. But, you can define your most important tasks (MITs) for the day. I'm not sure of the origin of MITs, but the notion has been picked up by Lifehacker. I heard about them from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, in his post: Purpose Your Day: Most Important Task. Tasks sound unimportant. When I think of a task, I think of taking out the garbage. They sound menial and unexciting, so I prefer to think of MITs as MIMs – most important missions. Be honest with yourself and set 2-3 MIMs for action the following day. These should be the important work, not administrative work like answering email or spending an hour on Twitter. Not the tasks.  In my case, my Most Important Mission for almost every day is writing. To be more specific, it's writing a blog post either for Unsettle, or to be guest posted. This helps me build my audience and business rapidly compared to any other action.

  • If you're an author, your MIM could be sending pitches.
  • If you're a photographer, your MIM could be organizing your photos into a portfolio.
  • If you're just starting out, your MIM could be getting your website up and running.

All of our missions will be different, but a true MIM will work toward reaching a goal.

3. Schedule the time into your day to do the MIMs

After you've set your MIMs as part of your evening routine, schedule the time in (click here to signup and get my scheduling workbook emailed to you – plus a bonus report of my favourite productivity tools).

Scheduling is an incredibly easy but effective tool to get the important work done. Spend two minutes considering where you can fit the time into your day to work on your MIMs, and actually create the schedule. Write it down. Consider the following:

  • When you will do the MIM (what time of day?
  • How you will do it (what tools will you use?
  • Where you will do it (what will your physical location be?
  • What your backup plan is (if you don't get the MIM done in the scheduled slot, when?)

Write these down and place the paper somewhere visible as a reminder. This three step process to rocking your important missions sounds too basic to cut through procrastination and distraction, but they work. Here's why.. 

Why Scheduling Works Better Than Winging It

The British Journal of Health Psychology conducted a study of just under 250 adults to measure motivation to excercise. There were three groups:

  • The Control Group was instructed to keep track of how often they exercised over the course of two weeks, and given a few lines of a neutral book to read.
  • Group A (Motivation) was also instructed to keep track of exercise frequency, but instead of reading the portion of the neutral novel, they were told to read a pamphlet outlining the benefits of exercise on heart disease risk.
  • Group B (Intention) was treated the same as the Motivation group, except for one thing: they were also asked to set a schedule for when they would get exercise over the course of the two weeks, as well as how long the workout would be and where it would take place.

Here's the crazy outcome: 91% of those who were asked to schedule the exercise in, worked out once per week. Compare that with the 35% of the Group A, and that's an amazing result. James Clear describes this study in far more detail in this post. Those are powerful numbers. The scheduling method works for important work as well as fitness. Scheduling takes your goal or task from a vague thought or idea to reality. It makes you think about how you are going to complete it, which puts that visual in your mind of actually completing it. Want to score more clients? Spend a few minutes tonight determining which actions you will take to work toward this. What platforms will you use? How will you get in front of more eyes? Schedule in time tomorrow to get your work in front of your target audience, specifically outlining how you will go about it. Need to write your “about” page on your website? Consider how you will write it. What are the key points you will include? How will it be formatted? Will you include a photo? Where will you put your opt-in forms? Will you be writing it in Evernote and transferring it to your website, or writing it directly on the website? Note these decisions, and then schedule the writing into your day.

A Bonus Benefit of Scheduling

Scheduling by using this three step tactic holds a bonus benefit, too: You are making important decisions about the missions the night before, reducing decision fatigue while you are working on the MIM and providing more clarity. Scheduling your productive time removes the decision of the where, when, and how. It puts a heavier emphasis of the importance of the MIM, rather than you just thinking about it and planning on doing it.. eventually. In the corporate world, important things are always scheduled, and therefore they are always done. You don't see a stakeholder meeting being set for “whenever”, because it's important. It has to get done. The meeting time is set and the meeting happens at that specific time. Just like you don't see a product launch set as “someday” – it's scheduled.

Start Tonight

I can't promise you with 100% certainty that the scheduling method will work for you,  but I can tell you that you will never know until you try. Instead of reading this article and moving on with your life, implement this tonight. Before you go to bed, prepare for tomorrow. Set your Most Important Missions, and schedule them in. You can spare fifteen minutes this evening to put this into action. If it doesn't work for you, you've only lost fifteen minutes, but you've gained perspective on what is important and when you will have time to do your important work tomorrow. Schedule in the important work like it's.. well, important. Your business depends on it. I use a simple workbook to help me through the process – remove any barriers to actually using this method by clicking here to subscribe and get access to my favourite tools AND the workbook for free.

(Thank you to James Clear for bringing my attention to the power of scheduling, through this post).

22 thoughts on “An Insanely Simple 3 Step Guide for Killing Procrastination

  1. Catherine says:

    For me most of the time I just have to start. Once I get going I’m good. I try and make a point of making the most of uninterrupted time too (kids naptime for ex). Also recognizing your distractions helps, for me it’s TV- if it’s on, even if it’s something I have zero interest in I won’t get anything done and keep putting stuff off….of I wnt to get it done I just need to DO it, distraction free.

    • Sarah says:

      There’s also the two minute rule – do it if it takes less than 2 minutes to start. It builds up momentum – like you say, you just have to start!

  2. Chris says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Ironically, I read this article when I should have been working on my 9-5 job.
    Procrastination is a very damaging force in my life. It builds a huge anxiety around a certain task which makes it even harder to start because of the emotion around it.
    Things got out of control a few months ago and I instituted a “do what scares me most” policy. Whatever was scariest was what I worked on. I had to do enough on the task that it was no longer scary because I understood what needed to happen and had broken through the anxiety barrier.
    Once I was through the anxiety barrier and I could clearly see the steps I needed to take to complete it, it became just another task and I was able to get things done.
    I love your scheduling idea and will give it a go. I use a similar method of finding each day’s MIM, but I don’t actually decide when to do it!

    • Sarah says:

      I think procrastination is a damaging force in everybody’s life – but it is controllable.
      I like that – “do what scares me”. Let me know how scheduling works for you!

  3. Leilani Orr says:

    I enjoyed this post!
    You’re so right that with just a bit of pre-planning and a lot of follow through, much will be accomplished.
    Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Anthony Metivier says:

    I love the MIM name.
    I kind of like to do both late at night and morning mission planning. The important thing I find is making the plan before looking at email. Email makes plans for me all on its own …
    Thanks for the great post!

    • Sarah says:

      As quoted in the 4 Hour Work Week, Anthony, “the inbox is nothing but a convenient organizing system for other people’s agendas.”– Brendon Burchard. You’re right, it makes plans for you by itself! Great tactic to avoid looking at email first.

  5. Irene Aprile says:

    I have been in the procrastination limbo for a long time and I still am from time to time. I struggle a lot to get out of there and I’m not always succesfull. I’ll definitely try your three steps!
    Great content and great post!

    • Sarah says:

      We all do, Irene, it’s completely normal – but there are definitely ways you can work your way out of that limbo. Try scheduling and let me know how it goes!

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  8. Aleksei says:

    Wow I love this system! Actually I realise that I’ve been using this very system without conceptualising it in this way. Meaning that I find it extremely useful to plan each day of the week for some specific area of tasks and then to follow up on this, because then you are not faced with an incredibly long list of to-do items that seems impossible to ever get done. Thanks for describing your system in such a useful manner!

    • Sarah says:

      Hey Aleksei,
      I’m glad you found it useful, and that it’s been working for you for some time. Produce on!

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  10. Bhaskar Jha says:

    All these techniques do really help when we consistently follow them and make them the part of the daily routine. Here I also like to add some more, which I recently learned in an online course” Learning how to learn”(https://class.coursera.org/learning-003). Procrastination is a escape route for us when we imagine that the task at hand is painful or impossible for us to do.
    Because it hinders our growth and keeps us from realizing our full potential; it needs to be stopped:
    1. Eat the frogs first : Do the hard or most important MIM, first.
    2. Set a signing off time: Set a time when the MIM should finish.
    3. Pomodoro: Give your 100% attention and time exclusively to a single mission for a fixed interval.
    This method tells that when you start, set a short but fixed span of time (usually 25 minutes) for each MIM, which is called a Pomodoro session. Set the timer. In this period you should have distraction free attention on a single MIM. After timer stops, take a 5 minutes break. Reward yourself by having a cup of coffee or whatever you please. Repeat the same process for next MIM. After 3 or 4 pomodoro session you can consider a long break, usually of 20 minutes.
    The real magic of this technique is that it keeps us focused on completing the task at hand rather than switching between different incomplete tasks.

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks for adding to the conversation, Bhaskar – I’ve never heard of the Pomodoro session before. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Dan says:

    Thanks for such a great post, I need help in this area… big time! I procrastinate, it’s actually the only thing I do on a consistent basis, LOL.
    I really want to get my blog up and running, but I find myself creating excuses instead of sitting down and writing.
    Hopefully, people like yourself continue to offer great content and get me typing.
    I am new to Unsettle.org, but I recommend it to everyone I know – including my mastermind group.
    I really appreciate you taking the time to offer such great content Sarah, thanks again.

  12. Andy H says:

    I found that scheduling in my ONE thing every morning from 8:00-12:00 makes me focus in on the project I want to see completed first. I don’t take on any new projects, just focus on this one. I may not work the entire 4 hours uninterrupted (as I’m reading this post right now before noon haha), but it has vastly helped me get more done simply by scheduling it and focusing.
    I work in small steps. I saw these gigantic tasks to do but by taking little steps every day I am seeing great progress and will soon have a huge info product available to sell. It actually is going faster than I thought too.
    So I believe it comes down to scheduling/focus on one thing and taking small steps. Don’t think about the big project. Focus on the small things to get you to your end destination.

    • Sarah says:

      That’s great that you’ve seen this work for you, Andy. I completely agree with you that it’s better to focus on the smaller steps instead of stressing about a huge project.

  13. kristiina says:

    Thanks, Sarah! I literally just started doing a to-do list at night (like 3 nights ago) instead of in the morning when I’m groggy and when it takes way more effort.
    I know this method works since I utilize it for my kids during the school year–they have a morning checklist and a nighttime checklist (which includes setting out clothes, getting library books together, etc.).
    The problem is the follow through for me. I know what works, but I just need to DO IT! Thanks for this motivational post 🙂

  14. David Throop says:

    Great post! The power of scheduling your MiM’s is an incredibly powerful tip. Too often we stare at the “monster” that is the task in front of us and flop and flounder around, so scheduling how to conquer it is a great point.
    One suggestion I would add in regard to scheduling is the rule of three.
    Make your list short, in this case limit it to three items. If it’s a big project, cut one part of it into thirds and focus your energy on those three tasks. When you finish all three, mark them off. If you still have energy for more, you can attack new tasks.
    I saw in the comments Bhaskar Jha mentioned the Pomodoro Technique, which is a great technique to use once you’re sure of the path you’re going to take.
    Basically you schedule a short interval, such as 20 minutes on a timer, and work in a highly focused way for those minutes. Once the timer is done, you walk away from the work for a short duration like 5 minutes. Do not allow yourself to do anything task related. Once the break is over, you reset the timer and begin again.
    Scheduling is key; making the tasks manageable or “bite-sized” is just as important, and short intense durations until you’ve built up your endurance is a great way to get your tasks done.
    Thanks for sharing!

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