The time is now: How to stop procrastinating

Don’t be a deadline junkie, learn how to stop putting things off and get more done


I am such an effective covert procrastinator it can take me a while to figure out I’m even doing it. I suddenly notice I’m reading a third article about productive working techniques after googling “procrastination” when I should have spent the past 30 minutes doing the actual work.

Frequently I busy myself with other jobs (cleaning the cupboards, writing long and painstakingly crafted e-mails to friends, walking the dog) to avoid the Big Deadline. The is Productive Procrastination and it’s way better than the Procrastination Doom Loop, when I’m so paralysed by a fear of failure that I have to take to the sofa, sometimes for days, armed only with bowls of Coco Pops and many episodes of Say Yes To The Dress.

How and why do people procrastinate? Is creative procrastination the same process that prevents us from making changes in our health, well-being and fitness? Can strategies to prevent personal procrastination be applied in the workplace?

Does our procrastination have something to tell us about what we really want from our lives?

I was eager to find out. And not just because I was putting off working on another deadline.

Health and well-being procrastination

Anne Marie Downey is a pharmacist, DJ and life coach at Kickstart, see 
“The reasons you procrastinate are as unique as you are; getting to know yourself and your own patterns is what it’s about. Are you setting unrealistic expectations on yourself? If you find the thought of making changes overwhelming, they probably are.

“Externally, we are surrounded by conflict in health and wellbeing. Walk into any newsagent and on one shelf there are the glossies telling you how to get the ultimate beach body.

“Sitting slap bang next to the mags are high-fat, high-sugar foods. Talk about a paradox. Internally, we can have the exact same thing going on; the push and pull, the wanting to and the not wanting to.

“When I notice procrastination in myself I don’t criticise, I prioritise. I recognise I have limited time and resources so I ask myself what right now is most important to me? I take it as an opportunity to turn my awareness towards it, whatever it is, and to see what’s really going on. If I find myself getting really stuck, I reach out. Life is here to be lived, flawed reality and all.”

The psychology of procrastination

Dr Loren Duffy is a chartered psychologist, see
“Procrastination is the art of stealing from our future self. Present Me prefers acting on immediate needs and desires to those of Future Me. Events in the future have very low motivational power.

“Awareness and forethought helps us take greater control in our lives. With very little practice, confidence grows and procrastination wanes.

“Procrastination sets up vicious feedback loops that undermine people’s ability to achieve their goals. This further causes us to procrastinate around future goals. Whereas confidence builds a virtuous cycle where each goal achieved begins to amplify the initial confidence. Over time we either cultivate confidence or further procrastination through action or inaction.

“The worst thing we can do is to browbeat oneself for procrastinating. Shaming and regret will not provide any positive or sustaining benefit.

“Forget the past, and reconsider the future. Now is the best time to make the change: how Present Me performs is the best predictor of Future Me.

“We deceive ourselves by thinking that we will act when we are more motivated. That motivation is the problem. The truth is, motivation comes after the fact. We feel like the walk was a good idea when we arrive home after the walk.

“Sculpted by a history of bad habits, the human brain will facilitate our lazy ways. By learning to trick our brains through clever use of our minds, and taking simple actions, procrastination gives way to confidence.

Creative procrastination

James Vincent McMorrow is a singer and songwriter, see
“The idea of creating art is beautiful, undisturbed and serene. But then you pick up a guitar and the first chord you play isn’t the greatest chord you’ve ever played, and the whole thing comes crashing down in a giant pile of reality. Creation is a struggle and a battle sometimes. It’s a lot to do with being in love with the idea of something, and then learning to love the reality of the thing.

“Procrastination can feel amazing. It’s a mini-rebellion against responsibility. Maybe for some people the idea of the difficult second album is linked to the struggle of living up to expectations; the dream meeting the reality. If I was to give a fellow artist advice about trying to break a procrastination loop, I would say always be fully engaged in the task at hand.

“Never dial it in. You can sit for four hours singing other people’s songs and that will make you a better performer. It will inform your own songwriting.

“I used to think I was procrastinating when I wasn’t writing songs. But writing songs is like that glamour stuff at the end of the rainbow. It all has value. Don’t just think that art is about the finished product, the painting, the book, the film, the song . . . it’s about so much more than that.”

Fitness procrastination

Tina Murphy is a lifestyle coach, author and founder of Run With Tina,
“I think the two main reasons why people procrastinate in general are firstly, fear – you have to do something that scares you – or secondly you’re trying to make yourself do something you really don’t want to do but you feel you ‘should do’ or ‘have to do’.

“When it comes to fitness, it’s very common that people feel they should exercise. They have to exercise because that’s what they’re told is good for their health and they probably feel like they should lose weight too and the whole thing just seems like some sort of a punishment you should suffer for being such a slob.

“Then you feel guilty for not doing something you know you should do and that just makes you procrastinate more.

“To stop procrastinating around fitness, I think people need to realise that it does not have to be painful. The ‘no pain no gain’ mentality is really not suitable for most people. It’s not sustainable and it’s not necessary.

“You need to find something you enjoy. Do it because you love yourself and want to look after yourself, not because you need to punish yourself because you don’t feel good enough – whether it’s not slim enough or fit enough.

“For someone who is currently inactive, going for a nice walk is a good start. Go out for a brisk walk, enjoy the actual walk, the fresh air and the beauty of the world around you, that way you’ll want to do it again and, before you know it, you’re in a good routine and feeling much fitter.”

Workplace procrastination

Ciara Conlon is a productivity coach and author,
“Often the things people procrastinate on in the workplace are the important things, like initiating new projects. They get caught up in the daily grind of answering emails and going to meetings and put off starting important new projects and strategising for the year to come.

“A lot of people use their inbox as a to do list. An email comes in and they react to it. I get people to slow down and make time for decisions. Checking your mail four times a day is ample for most office-based jobs. If the email will take less than two minutes to deal with, do it now. If not, you’re going to do one of three things; file it for later reference, delete it or act on it.

“There is a movement called ‘slow down to speed up’ in the workspace – stepping away from reacting and stepping towards looking at the big picture. Understanding what you are currently spending your time on allows you to break the pattern and shift your focus to the things you need to get done.

“Finally commit your time and attention by scheduling time in your calendar, breaking the work into smaller chunks to avoid feeling overwhelmed. When you stop and look at the big picture, you can prioritise what needs to be done.”

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