How to beat procrastination at work: 20 proven tips

January 11, 2021

How to beat procrastination at work

I hate this task. I’ll finish it later. Oh no, the deadline is approaching and I haven’t even started. What am I doing? *Anxiously Googling Tips on how to beat procrastination at work*

Is this you? Don’t worry, it’s reported that 88% of the workforce procrastinate. Turns out, you’re not the worst employee for slacking off duties wondering how to beat procrastination at work. And if you need further reassurance procrastination is not laziness.

Now that we’ve reestablished your self-confidence, it’s time to tackle the issue itself and learn how to stop procrastinating at work.

 1. Break a project into smaller tasks

 2. Tune in to sources of positivity

 3. The 2 minutes rule

 4. Create a reward system

 5. Video game music

 6. Have a default task

 7. Playing an instrument

 8. Daddy’s lessons

 9. Set a timer

 10. Start with a tiny action

 11. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

 12. The discomfort of not meeting a deadline

 13. Start with the tasks you hate first

 14. Stop seeking alternatives

 15. Stop pondering

 16. Prioritize, plan and set goals

 17. The 10/10/10 rule

 18. The 12 Week Year

 19. Stop working in the middle of a task

 20. Stay Focusd

20 tips on how to beat procrastination at work once and for all

Depending on your personal nature and character you may find some of the tips for overcoming procrastination at work irrational. For that reason, we made sure you get plenty of tips on how to beat procrastination. What’s more important, these tips have proven effective for other people, so they can work for you too.

Break a project into smaller tasks

One of the best ways to overcome procrastination at work is to break your project / initiative into smaller tasks and trick yourself into getting started. I usually accomplish this by telling myself that I will only do a small portion of the project or task at hand. Once you make some initial progress, you will want to continue.

The main idea is to promise yourself that you will only complete a small portion of the overall task. Overcoming this initial hurdle will enable you to stop procrastinating and be more productive in the long run.

Nat Miletic, Owner of Clio Websites

Tune in to sources of positivity

One of the main reasons behind procrastination at work is the general feeling of hopelessness prevalent today. The negativity we hear about every day from various media outlets, makes us lose interest in many projects. We continuously procrastinate doing what we need to do today in the hope of a better but evasive tomorrow.

We need to consciously make an effort to tone down listening and watching these harmful sources of news and instead tune in to sources of positivity such as Here’s Something Good at iHeartRadio. This podcast will inspire us with stories, useful tips and shared experiences discussed to motivate and uplift the podcast’s listeners every day. By so doing, we can go a long way towards fighting procrastination and become doers again at work and in our personal lives.

Dr J Salim DMD, Owner & Founder of Sutton Place Dental Associates

The 2 minutes rule

My secret in overcoming procrastination at work is the 2 minutes rule. This rule says that whatever it is that you have to do, do it for 2 minutes. You can set a timer if you want and when the 2 minutes pass it is up to you what you will do next: continue or do something else. You can increase the amount of time to spend on a specific task. This helps because you know that you will do the task for a determined amount of time, and whatever it is that you are working on, you still make a small progress. While you are working on the task you may realize that the task isn’t that bad and it is likely you will finish that task.

Valentina Dragomir, Psychotherapist & Founder of PsihoSensus

Create a reward system

To overcome procrastination at the work place, set rewards to motivate yourself. This little mind trick works to give you a sudden extra push to finish tasks at hand. It can be one episode of your favorite series or one vlog from your favorite content creator, a delightful bite of snack, an order of your happy drink or maybe you can finally check out your long-desired item on Amazon when you finally have your manager’s ‘Great job!’ 

Back then in college until now that I’m working, I’m still driven by this practice. Striving means deserving for me. If I strive, then definitely I deserve some treats.

Robert Johnson, Founder of Sawinery

I once had a career counseling client who had a rather unique solution to his procrastination. He loved Snickers bars. Whenever he finished a project early, he bought one. And, no, he was not fat, he was just well-compensated!

Bruce Hurwitz, President & CEO at Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, Ltd. 

Video game music

My finance professor in college gave me the advice to listen to video game music whenever I need to study or get work done. It tricks my brain into competition mode while the music is also designed to help you concentrate and entertain. It was genius, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of that before.

Jasmine Coppedge, Marketing Specialist at ShiftNote

Have a default task

I have been, for as long as I can remember, a huge procrastinator. As I recently became an entrepreneur in March 2020 I had to find a way to fight it. The way I do it is actually quite simple: I have a default task.

A default task could be anything really, it depends on what your job is. For example, I’m a content publisher, my default task is keyword research (because, of course, SEO is crucial in writing). It’s something I do in and out, and it’s something I can do effortlessly.

Whenever I feel like my mind is dwelling and I’m itching to slack off, I do my default task.

Find what your default assignment is, keep in mind it has to be something you can do without too much effort, and it has to be a high-value task.

Jonathan Roussel, Owner TheChampLair

Playing an instrument

Taking a break during the day and playing the piano has also helped me get my focus back, helps boost my energy, and helps fight procrastination at work.

Playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to engage practically every area of the brain at once especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices so it gets my mental capacity going again and helps me through my afternoon. It’s like a mental full-body workout and lets me refocus on what I need to do.

We have a little music room in another office so other employees can do the same.

Gene Caballero, Co-Founder of GreenPal

Daddy’s lessons

My dad was in sales and taught me two important lessons on fighting procrastination which have worked for me throughout my career:

 

  • If it takes less than 2 minutes, stop and do it immediately. Whether it’s returning a call or taking the garbage out – do it.
  • Use an old fashioned to-do list and keep it in front of you at all times (I keep mine on my desk). ALWAYS focus on the most difficult task and do it first thing in the morning. Once you get it out of the way it is always a relief and you are more productive.

    David J. Decker, CLU, ChFC, CLTC, National Distribution and Sales Executive at Royal Neighbors of America

Set a timer

The best way I fight procrastination at work is through using a timer. I usually procrastinate because I feel like I have too much to get done. If it’s hard for me to get going, I give myself a small chunk of time and devote myself to working only on the task at hand while the timer is running (I use the Tomato Timer app). During that work time, I tune out all distractions. Once my timer is up, I’m usually motivated to keep going, but I also don’t force myself. I don’t want to enter into the time with the expectation that I should work longer, because that hinders me from even starting in the first place.

Bridget Sielicki, Founder of The Freelancing Mama

Start with a tiny action

I find a single, tiny action, preferably one that will take under 10 minutes, to get me going. I go in solely with the expectation of doing that one tiny thing, but by beginning somewhere I usually get into flow and do a lot more. I don’t wait for motivation to strike, because I know it won’t – so I just focus on action instead. Action ultimately brings results, and results are how you get motivated to continue. Imperfect action beats perfect inaction, hands down, every time.

Liz Wootton, Director at Human Nature Development

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

I tried every approach, diet, exercise regime and work organization tactic commonly recommended and nothing reduced my procrastination at work for more than a short period. What finally helped me produce real, long-term change was starting Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with a focus on procrastination. It turns out that such behavior is very commonly brought around by emotional issues like low self-esteem and anxiety which cause our brains to avoid situations that threaten our state of emotional security even further.

If you’re reading this and think CBT doesn’t sound like your solution, know that I thought it was not for me when I first heard about it. But working through your negative thought processes is truly life-changing.

Kaelum Ross, Founder of What in Tech

The discomfort of not meeting a deadline

I fight procrastination by thinking about how uncomfortable I would feel if I didn’t meet a deadline, while also thinking about the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a task. I have a great sense of accomplishment when I complete a project and can see the results of it being done well. Good results do not come from rushing things at the last minute and it is important to remind myself of that when I catch myself being distracted.

Rachel Knutson Kobold, Marketing Analyst at Beyond Warehousing

Start with the tasks you hate first

Get the things you hate to do completed first. Stop putting things off until tomorrow or the next day since it will not get accomplished anyway. Get the calls, the reports, the meeting with the nasty client all out of the way first and the remainder of the day is easier. So if you have several things planned look at your list to start the day and begin with those things that are most difficult, time consuming or simply a pain in the neck. No one likes doing expense reports, calling difficult clients or calling past due clients but when you conduct these difficult tasks first the day will go much easier.

Stop seeking alternatives

Stop seeking alternatives through email and voice mail. Many individuals hide behind electronics. Refrain from wearisome habits and confront the issue. The manner in which to stop poor behavior is confronting it. When I visit offices those employees that sit next to each other and are so busy conducting the CYA principle that they do not talk to each other amaze me. Or others that do not want to call difficult employees, customers, vendors etc and will spend hours on email to avoid the call. As Nike says – Just Do It!

Stop pondering

More time is spent on not conducting the task then physically doing it. When surveyed, 93% of participants stated that blowing off the issue took more time than the physical issue. Pay bills twice per month; make calls and emails first, etc. Stop making excuses about excuse and complete the issue. 

Most importantly, when time is spent pondering or simply not doing something in the office there is the killing of productivity. One of my favorite movies is the Fugitive with Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford. In one scene Tommy Lee is trying to understand where the Fugitive is hiding and asks what this person is doing and they say “Thinking.” Sounds like someone in the office. Feeling like they’re busy but NOT. In a world where every organization seeks the benefits of productivity and profitability – non-productive employees kill organizational success especially on cross-functional teams this can delay projects.

Prioritize, plan and set goals

Most people simply lack good planning and goal setting. The only way to stop sputtering is simply to prioritize. Plan the day and stick with it, do not enable interruptions. Create action steps and time frames for everything. Begin your days with what needs to be accomplished at the completion of the day. Begin the day with the end in mind. Visualize what you need to do before the sun runs out.

Drew Stevens, CEO/Managing Partner Stevens Capital

The 10/10/10 rule

Fight procrastination with the 10/10/10 rule. Ask yourself if what you are currently doing will help you in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years. This constant reminder of evaluating your current activities against long term results will spark you into action. 

David Ciccarelli, CEO of Voices.com

The 12 Week Year

The 12 Week Year is set out in the book by the same name by Brian Moran. It is based on the concept that planning around 12 months leads to putting things off because a year is too big a time span for human beings to effectively hold in their minds on a daily basis. But if you set up a plan of 12 weeks, write down what is happening each week, and log your process, you’ve got a much higher chance of success.

There is a great template that lets you track your 12 week year in Trello, and I rely on it for things both professional and personal.

I find using Trello/Kanban to log this is a life saver. I recommend living your life in 12 week Trello chunks if you want to rein in your procrastination.

Peter Head, Creative Director of Japanoscope

Stop working in the middle of a task

Though it may seem counterintuitive, not fully finishing something is the best way I’ve found to avoid procrastination at work. For me, just starting the work on a project is the hardest part and where I procrastinate the most.

So, I take breaks when I’m right in the middle of something. This way, when I sit back down at my desk I can easily start back up again. It’s almost like having a prompt that jumpstarts my productivity so that I don’t procrastinate.

This is especially helpful at the start of the workday when I’d rather just be mindlessly scrolling through my social media feeds. I think this method works by tricking my brain into thinking, oh, this will be easy to finish up.

Shawna Newman, Owner of Skipblast Digital

Stay Focusd (Chrome extension)

I get easily distracted by social media, YouTube, Reddit… pretty much any site that lets me procrastinate. What has worked the absolute best for me so far is the Chrome extension Stay Focusd.

Stay Focusd is free to use and it lets you block the websites that you waste time on when you should be working. It’s super easy to use and the first time you do use it, you will initially be surprised by how often you try to access the sites you’ve blocked, and then embarrassed.

I’ve tried all sorts of things before finding Stay Focusd that didn’t work for me – Pomodoro, making lists, time tracking, etc. Only by eliminating the things I was doing instead of working was I able to effectively stop procrastinating.

Alex Williams, Marketing Coordinator at Podcast How To

Conclusion

We bet at least one of these tips for overcoming procrastination at work will prove useful to you. So instead of continuing to procrastinate at work, give a chance to one or two tips and see the results. If not, come back and choose another method. Eventually, something must work.

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