3 Ways to Break the Procrastination Cycle

I have a confession: I am a lifelong procrastinator. In high school I was the girl doing her homework right before class. In college I completed term papers due the next day in hours-long all-nighter sessions. Even now I often edit in intense bursts, interspersed with long periods of what I like to call “letting my thoughts develop.”

I never changed my procrastination habit because it seemed to work for me; everything got done on time and well. But I’ve realized that the stress that comes from having a project looming over you is not worth playing hooky. And now that I’m working as a freelance editor, setting my own schedule and juggling deadlines, staying on task is more important than ever.


Luckily, there are a slew of resources available to break the procrastination cycle. Here are just a few of the techniques I’ve found helpful, and I think you will too:

Change “I have to” to “I choose to.”

Making “have to” statements – I have to go to the dentist, I have to buy a gift for my niece, I have to finish this report – add enormous pressure and a sense of victimhood to your subconscious mind, leading it to think:

  • I don’t want to do it.
  • They’re making me do it against my will.
  • I have to do it or else something awful will happen and I’ll hate myself.

Instead, invoke the power of choice. Ask yourself: Are you willing to live with the consequences of not doing these things? How much freer would you feel if you made a clear decision about these tasks? You do have a choice.

(from The Now Habit by Neil Fiore, Ph.D.)

Just get started.

Once we start a task, we often find it’s not nearly as bad as we think. In fact, you’ll often find yourself thinking that you wish you had just done it earlier. And even if you don’t finish the task that day, just starting it and doing something will make you feel more in control and optimistic about completing it later.

Say you’re trying to write a paper, manuscript, or article (like, oh, me writing this article!). Instead of staring at a blank screen, just start typing. Add a working title; jot down ideas of what you would write about if you could, even if they’re not full sentences yet. Guess what? You’ve started working on the task! Another strategy is to break the task down into a series of subtasks and just go ahead and start tackling one, whether or not it’s the most important one. You’ll build the momentum to keep going.

(From Solving the Procrastination Puzzle by Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D.)

Burn your bridges.

Give yourself consequences, and make sure you feel their impact. For instance, if you want to start a website, buy the domain. Now you’ve invested your money in the task and if you don’t follow through you’ll have wasted it. Making brownies for your child’s bake sale and just not feeling like moving forward? Break an egg – you’re going to have to clean that up so you might as well keep going now!

You can take it even further. The Power to Get Things Done co-author Steve Levinson made a deal with himself that whenever he avoided working on a project he dreaded, he’d stand up in his office with his hands in his pockets and do absolutely nothing until he was ready to sit down and get to work. He still didn’t feel like working on the project, but he felt even less like standing around like a fool doing nothing. Personally, when I don’t want to do work I make myself clean my apartment. This gets me back to the computer pretty quickly.

(From The Power to Get Things Done by Steve Levinson, Ph.D., and Chris Cooper.)

~Post by Jeanette Shaw–a former TarcherPerigee editor now living the glamorous freelance life, which means yoga pants every day. She can be found at jseditorial.com.

Keep up with the latest from TarcherPerigee on Facebook and Twitter.