Quit Stalling: How to Stop Procrastinating

A couple of years ago, a publisher sent me a cash advance and a contract to write a book. But there were strings attached: I had to deliver chapters at certain dates until the book got finished.

As the first deadline approached, I went for a hike. On that hike, it dawned on me that it might be time to trade in my hiking boots for trail runners. I wondered if a softer cushion in the foot bed would be easier on my feet.

When I got home, I started researching shoes. Lots of options! Which brand should I get? I wondered. I did more research. Turns out, every major shoe brand has a trail running shoe, each with its own pros and cons.

And then I started thinking about the phrase pros and cons. What does that even mean? Is it short for professional and confidential? How long had I been saying pros and cons without even really knowing what it meant?

And THAT is how I nearly missed my first deadline. Some call it procrastination. I call it work-avoidance. We all have some form of it. If you are reading this blog right now when you should be working, you’re practicing work-avoidance. But don’t stop reading yet! Read far enough to learn how to quit stalling and start getting better results.

1. Start with a meaningful goal.

We are more likely to be successful in accomplishing things we care about. When internally motivated, we can push beyond discomfort to make things happen.

Strategy: If a goal motivates you, you can turn that goal into a plan.

Let’s say you want to lose weight. You are motivated! But that’s too vague to drive your behavior. Add to the goal of “lose weight” some numbers: how many pounds or inches will you lose? By when? Include some hows like exercising at least 5-days a week for 30 minutes and eliminating sugar. Now your goal has the makings of a behavioral plan, one more likely to accomplish results.

But what if you face a goal you dislike? For example, it’s tax season. Paying taxes isn’t even MY goal; it’s the governments’ goal for me! Like many Americans, I’m not highly motivated to hurry up and send the government my money by April 15th.

Strategy: If a particular goal doesn’t motivate you, find a motivating goal within the goal.

In the case of doing my taxes, the motivating goal within the goal is being DONE with it. And then I get my dining room table back for dining. And I get my weekends back for hiking. And I get better sleep back, because I’m no longer obsessing about having to finish my &^$%@ taxes. 

Focus on the benefits of the goal instead of the hard work required to reach the goal. Then…

2. Don’t overthink it.

Overthinking is a subtle way to talk ourselves out of doing what we know we want and need to do. You don’t have to write a dissertation on exercise to go for a walk.

Strategy: Ask yourself, Do I know what it is that I want/need to accomplish? If you can answer YES to that, you have everything you need to stop thinking and…

3. Get started.

Not tomorrow. Start now. Discipline doesn’t start tomorrow when we’re “more rested” or have “planned better.” It’s starts right now.

Strategy: I get up and run first thing in the morning, because if I wait to do it “later,” I know it won’t happen. Start your day on your most critical tasks.

4. Keep your feelings out of it.

Feelings lie. Don’t operate on feelings; operate on goals.

Strategy: If you tend to use feelings to motivate you, try this on: How will I feel when I get this done? Answer: You will feel GREAT!

Before running in the morning, my wife says, “I don’t want to run, but I do want to have run.” Even though her feelings tell her to stay inside, she knows how great her body and mind feel after running. So she runs.

5. Use positive self-talk.

If you tell yourself something is hard, it will be hard. Now imagine if instead of telling yourself that something will be hard, you said, “I can do this. I’m ready to go”?

Strategy: Get good at leading your own cheers.

Many of us stop hearing positive affirmations on a regular basis at the same period of our lives when our moms stop putting our report cards on the refrigerators. Look in the mirror and give yourself a loving pep-talk. Science supports that this works as a motivation.


Think back to one of your earliest owies, one that earned you a Band-Aid. The pain you felt before you put that Band-Aid on your skin was nothing like the pain of slowly, hair-by-hair, tugging gently at the adhesive until it came off completely. What you learned then is just as true now: the only way to rip off a Band-Aid is quickly. It will hurt, but putting it off only prolongs the pain. It doesn’t eliminate it.

Now, 1-2-3…GO!


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