Do It Now: Four Tips For Breaking Through Procrastination


Putting something off? Don’t beat yourself up: everyone procrastinates sometimes. The reasons for procrastination vary. Some people are perfectionists who think their work will never be good enough. Sometimes people put off confrontations they need to have with others for fear they’ll become very unpleasant. And sometimes, people just think what they have to do is boring.

The problem with procrastination is that it usually causes more problems than it avoids. When you rush at the last minute to meet a deadline you should have been preparing for well in advance, you increase your stress load, and the quality of your work can suffer. Furthermore, co-workers and classmates can’t finish work that depends on yours being done when you procrastinate.

Fortunately, when you find yourself procrastinating, you can take action to break through. Just getting started is a major key for ending procrastination. Here’s a four-step process you can use to stop putting off today what should have been done yesterday.

Step One: Own It

The first step in breaking through procrastination is to acknowledge that you’re doing it. Get out a piece of paper and write down what it is you don’t want to do. Then list as many reasons you can think of not to do it, and as many reasons as you can think of for getting it done.

Odds are, your reasons for not doing it will seem childish—“It’s boring”, “I don’t like this subject,”—while your reasons for doing it are more compelling: “It’s worth half my grade for the quarter,” or, if you’re employed: “They pay me to do this.”

Step Two: Break It Down

Write down specific steps for each task in the order you have to complete them in. Laying out specific instructions may seem picky, but it gives you smaller goals to focus on. When you have a series of small that you can cross off your list as “done” more quickly, it seems more manageable than having one enormous, looming deadline.

For instance, if you’re writing a paper, you could:

  1. Perform research on the topic
  2. Build citations of sources you plan to quote or reference
  3. Write an outline of the report with citations in place
  4. Write a rough draft
  5. Read aloud and edit for grammar, style, and typographical errors
  6. Re-read and edit for subject accuracy
  7. Double-check citations
  8. Submit the paper

In addition to making a large project seem more like bite-size pieces, breaking out individual tasks also gives you a chance to think through more clearly what it is you have to do.

Step Three: Eliminate Distractions

Now that you have a compelling reason to do what you’ve been putting off, and concrete steps you have to take to achieve it, it’s time to prepare your workspace. Turn off your phones, your e-mail notifications—in fact, if you can get away with it, shut off the Internet.

Finally, tell any people who share your workspace that you won’t be answering the phone or responding to e-mail for a few hours. This includes co-workers, classmates, roommates, spouses, and children.

Step Four: Get Started

It’s now time to get the ball rolling. Use a trick beginning runners use when building up their endurance and work in short, focused bursts. This requires a kitchen timer, an alarm clock, or other timer that will make noise.

Commit to working on the first step of your put-off project for at least ten minutes. Set the timer and get going, knowing that you just have to make it for ten minutes. When time’s up, move away from your desk for a minute or two in order to clear your head. Then repeat the process. After a few of these intervals, you should be off to a strong start.

This article is presented by American InterContinental University, a provider of career-focused degree programs. Students can study on our Virtual Campus at AIU Online. Find out more at