March 10 2015

The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination

By Mark Sisson
66 Comments

Several years ago, I briefly discussed a few methods for overcoming procrastination, but they didn’t take. The sea change I expected never came. People still procrastinated as much as they ever did, despite views for that particular post reaching the upper tens of thousands. Today, that changes. I’ve created a definitive guide to overcoming the procrastination preventing you from accomplishing your goals, completing your duties, fulfilling your responsibilities, and realizing your dreams. After reading today’s post, you’ll never mess around when you should be doing something more important again.

First, a method for overcoming general procrastination:

People often ask how I manage to stay on top of the blog, the business, and the books without going crazy or succumbing to procrastination. I follow a simple process that’s never let me down.

1. Write down the tasks that need to be completed.

2. Complete the tasks.

This is a remarkable method. It’s simple (just two steps) and it’s foolproof (following both steps eliminates the chance of procrastination).

Note: it’s crucial to follow every step to the letter. This method doesn’t work if you don’t.

In my experience, however, this first method doesn’t work for everyone. I strongly suspect they’re just not following the protocol to a tee, but just the same, I’ve come up with some more specific recommendations for unique procrastination situations.

Taking a walk.

You want to walk more, right? You’ve read a thousand MDA articles extolling the virtues of daily walks, and it’s time to make it happen.

Close the laptop, switch the phone to airplane mode, tell your co-workers you’re taking five, and put down whatever you’re doing. Stand up. Turn 90 degrees (give or take a few and depending on your set-up) and put a foot forward. Transfer your weight onto that foot, and then do it again. This is walking! Now go do that for a while. Stop, and come back to where you started. There: you went for a walk.

Going to the gym.

Pick up your keys, leave the house, unlock the car. Get in and turn on the engine. Think for a moment: where is your gym located? Once you have the location in mind, you’re ready for the next and final step: driving! Drive to the gym, park your car, exit your car, and walk to the gym’s front doors. Open them and go inside.

If you’re lucky, you can transition from taking a walk into going to the gym. Simply make the gym the part of the walk where you stop and turn around. Only don’t go back home just yet. Stick around for a while and do some stuff.

Lifting weights.

Hidden within the phrase “lifting weights” lies the solution to procrastinating about lifting weights: lifting weights.

To lift is to move an object upward from a point of support. That point of support could be the ground (as in a deadlift), your clavicles (as in an overhead press), or a weight bench (as in the bench press). Whatever weight you want to lift, you simply have to lift it in order to stop procrastinating and lift weights. Barbell? Just grab and lift it. Dumbbell? Grab (with one hand) and lift it. Kettlebell? Grab (with both or either hand) and lift it by swinging it.

Once you’ve lifted a weight, you’re lifting weights.

Kickstarting your Primal lifestyle.

Even though I’ve designed the Primal Blueprint to be an intuitive way of eating, exercising, and living, some people still have trouble jumping in. The 21-Day Challenge can help. Joining a Primal meetup group can help. But what if those aren’t working?

First, make a list of the pros and cons of your prospective new lifestyle. Carefully consider what you’d be giving up, what you’d gain, and the problems you’d encounter by adopting the Primal Blueprint way of life. Be brutally honest, and if at all possible get your list evaluated by several close (but no-nonsense) friends or colleagues.

Then, tear up the list and stop eating grains, refined sugar, industrial seed oils, and processed junk food. Begin sleeping eight hours a night, exercising regularly, moving frequently, spending ample time with friends and family, and getting out into nature as much as possible. There. Done. You’re Primal.

Getting to sleep at a reasonable time.

Sleep is important. Like, really important. But there’s always something else to do at night. There’s always a new show to watch, Twitter feed to refresh, blogroll (is that still a thing?) to peruse, or inbox to check. Even though we intellectually grasp the importance of getting to sleep at a reasonable time, we put it off when night actually falls. “Bedtime procrastination” is real and widespread. It’s time to put and end to it.

But how? By sleeping. It may not be intuitive, but shutting down the electronics, putting on your pajamas (or removing all clothes, if weather permits and that’s how you roll), climbing into bed, turning off the lights, and closing your eyes is actually a surefire way to beat sleep procrastination.

Not eating grains.

Grains are everywhere, and grain-based foods are often delicious and inexpensive. Plus, grains are omnipresent in most cuisines and cultures. It’s difficult to avoid eating them for these reasons.

However, not eating grains becomes much easier when you stop buying, cooking, and consuming them. It’s sort of a secret trick of the industry: the best way to stop eating so many grains is to stop eating any. So next time you feel compelled to buy, cook, or consume grain or grain products, don’t do any of those things. It’s that simple.

Cooking.

Cooking seems like a no-brainer for anyone interested in healthy living. It allows you to control what goes into your body. It saves you money from eating out. And it can be rewarding in its own right to cook a really good meal with your own two hands. Most people, when asked, say they’d like to cook more often and eat out less often. That goes doubly so for Primal people. But they don’t, by and large. Something holds them back from accomplishing this task they know will improve their lives. What can we do?

Let’s just use an example: a steak. You want to cook a steak, you have a steak sitting in your fridge just asking to be cooked. It’s grass-fed, it’s well-marbled, it’s a real beauty.

Put your cast iron pan over high heat until water droplets dance across the surface. Then, put your liberally salted and peppered and greased up steak on the pan. Flip it midway through. Remove from pan. There, you’ve cooked a steak and overcome your cooking procrastination.

Eating more vegetables.

Eating vegetables is the one piece of diet advice that everyone agrees on. It’s also the hardest to follow. For some reason, folks tend to put off eating more vegetables.

Choose a vegetable — any vegetable, let’s say broccoli. Hold the vegetable in your hand, if cool; on a fork, if hot. Lift the vegetable (remember how to do that?) toward your mouth, which should be opening wider as the piece of broccoli draws near. Place the broccoli into your mouth, close your mouth, and commence chewing. Once the broccoli is sufficiently masticated, swallow. You still have some digestion to do, but that’s the responsibility of your GI tract. You’re all done!

Sprinting more.

Besides walking, sprinting might be the physical activity I promote the most. You know it’s good for you and can get you fit and burn lots of body fat. But part of the reason it’s so good for us is because it’s so hard. Literally, it’s a tough way to train and places a large amount of stress on your body. Some people find it downright unpleasant to sprint. Luckily, sprinting procrastination can be overcome. And it’s not even that involved a process.

Stand upright, facing a flat or inclined stretch of ground at least 30 yards long. Start running as fast as you can, alternating your weight from foot to foot like you when you walk, only sped up. Quick, before you reach the end, take a moment to acknowledge what you’re doing: sprinting!

Getting sun.

For years, we’ve been told that the sun is poisonous, that any amount of unfiltered sunlight in the absence of copious sunblock would give us cancer. So it’s understandable when most people avoid getting sun. But you? You’re different. You’ve learned how beneficial the right amount of full sunlight can be to your vitamin D levels, your health (and that of your children), and your happiness. You know you should be getting some sun. You want to get sun. Yet you don’t. You hem and haw and make up excuses.

Go outside on a sunny day. Take off your shirt, roll up your sleeves, hike up your skirt, bare those shoulders, and stand out in the sun for 5-20 minutes. See that shaded area? Avoid it. Make sure your skin is lit up by the sunlight; that’s a sure sign that sunlight is hitting you.

Part of overcoming procrastination is overcoming the most common roadblocks to our completion of tasks: issues like writer’s block and temptations like TV, the Internet, our phones, and email.

Writer’s block.

On paper or in a word processor, string consonants, vowels, spaces, and punctuation marks together to form words, sentences, paragraphs, and, eventually, complete works. This is known as the act of writing and it’s the best way to overcome writer’s block.

Twitter.

Don’t type “Twitter” into the URL bar. If you have to search for “twain” or “Twitty” (as in Conway, the musician) or any other word that begins with “tw,” beware of Google’s autofill feature. It will likely suggest “Twitter” as the first option, and that is exactly what we’re trying to avoid. Ignore that and keep going! (This is a real issue for Conway Twitty research, as the first five letters of “Twitty” and “Twitter” are identical.)

TV.

Turn off the TV. You’ve already got the remote in your hand, so you don’t even have to get up. Just press the on/off button. Go on, do it. There! All done. The TV’s off and you can go do something else. Like go for a walk.

Insider tip: If you find yourself pressing the on/off button to turn the TV on, make it a double click! This will quickly turn the TV on and then back off, preventing you from procrastinating.

Phone.

Perhaps the primary cause of phone-induced procrastination is looking at the phone. When we look at the phone, we’re not looking at the task at hand, and that’s a real problem. Luckily, you can beat phone-induced procrastination by not looking at your phone. Your first instinct may be to override this rule and look at your phone anyway. That can be countered by not looking at your phone.

Stop looking at your phone.

Email.

Incredibly, email arrives whether we see it happen or not. You could be gone for a day, or heck, even a week, and every email sent to you would be waiting in your inbox when you returned. So right off the bat, checking your email is unnecessary, especially when you have something better to be doing.

That leads me right into the solution for overcoming inbox-induced procrastination: don’t check your email. Instead, do your work.

That’s about it, folks. I’m confident that this post will solve just about every procrastination problem you can throw at it. If not, be sure to write in down below and let me know about it!

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66 thoughts on “The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination”

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    1. I’ve been fighting with procrastination my whole life and the only thing that worked for me is doing small tasks that take less than 5 minutes right away and applying procrastination bulldozer method, which has helped me a lot. That link you posted has some good tips too.

  1. Have you been bugging my house!? – It’s like this post was written specifically for me!

  2. Ahhh, I’ll read this later … Just kidding! Well done, loved the post. Really, as all those Nike ads say, “Just do it!”

  3. Once my cell phone contract is up I am getting a dumb phone- call, text, maybe a camera. No data plan. Internet on a phone is an awesome technology but for me the end result is d*cking around too much and not being fully present with my surroundings.

    1. Good luck with that. We still have dumb phones for a couple of reasons, but if you want one, I’d start looking online now because they’re nearly impossible to find in stores. One downside for which you might want to be prepared is that many texts that come in from iPhones are almost impossible to open and read. They open up as being blank and you have to go through a convoluted process to find out what’s actually in them. So, if most of your family/friends are on iPhones (as is the case for us) and they send important information out in mass texts (like, “grandpa is in the hospital,” or “your uncle just died”) you might not get or be able to read them in a timely manner. If that doesn’t bother you, then go for it.

    2. No need to get a dumb phone, have you tried Republic wireless?

      We love them, you can buy a Moto G or E from them for $150 or $99, no contract. I use the unlimited calling and text plan for only $10 per month so in essence I have a dumb phone except when I am in wifi range it’s a fully functional smartphone. You can change your plan twice a month so if I go on a road trip I change to the unlimited data plan for $25 per month, then when I return home I go back to the $20 plan. That’s right, unlimited 3G for $25 per month, if you have a Moto X you can get unlimited 4g for $40 per month.

      https://republicwireless.com/info/plans/

      1. I meant to say I return home and back to the $10 plan! Unlimited cell and text for $10 per month, plus a few pennies tax, that’s it, sweet.

  4. Laughed all the way through this post, even though by a couple of paragraphs in it was clear where it was headed. Very funny but right on the money. When my kids tell me they can’t sleep I tell them ‘close your eyes, close your mouth and lie still’. Works every time.

  5. This post was great.

    On a more serious note, I have learned that another way to avoid procrastination is to stop giving in to my fears. Often, the motive for my procrastination was that I was actually afraid (if something), so procrastination – and self-sabotage – would ensue.

    1. FEAR! Yes. I was reading this instead of doing my taxes, and making a few phone calls to make appointments. (I seem to have phone-a-phobia when it comes to appointments) And then there is my messy studio which I can’t seem to clean up…..not fear but indecisiveness …………..arrrrgggg.

      I am cooking and doing the wash. That’s good, right?

  6. Great post! Or I’m assuming it is – I’ll read it as soon as I get a chance, promise!

  7. Mark, I’m sensing some frustration…

    However, in all seriousness, I find with lazy procrastination (not doing anything), just getting up and doing something helps lead to doing what I know I need to do. However, with avoidant procrastinating (doing anything but what I should), I just have to stop, even the good tasks, and realize that I’m doing avoidant behaviors and call myself out on them. That usually works. I have, on occasion, used avoidant procrastination to get stuff done I’ve been delaying on, in order to avoid doing the things I REALLY don’t want to do. Bad behaviors used productively. Still bad but somewhat less.

  8. I think you meant well-marbled when describing the steak. Well-warbled means infested with hypodermic fly larvae. The thought of which Helped me from procrastinating from a planned intermittent fast.

  9. Okay, procrastination is a problem. However, I came across the idea some time ago (through Martha Beck) that when making a change, there is the thinking about it stage, but even before that, there is the THINKING about, thinking about and if you try to skip that, it won’t take. I was recently trying to get into primal after an absence but felt my brain resisting so I just kept poking at it until I felt ready. It took a few days but I’ve been fully on track for five days now. I think sometimes what we call procrastination is actually preparation.

    1. I’ve been known to prepare to procrastinate.

      Like faking sick the night before a big test so your Mom will let you stay home the next day.

  10. Next we need a post on how to overcome procrastination that results from simply having a young toddler… The endless requests for nursing or for food that typically ends up on the floor or in the dog, the wanting to go outside until we’re all dressed and then pitching a massive fit, the kitchen “help” that turns tasks like unloading the dishwasher into a 2 hour, life-threatening task… Willpower is finite, Mark, and I’m using every scrap of mine to NOT throw my kid in the dumpster. Sorry, but when I get a minute in which I am neither asleep, attempting to predict what evils my child will attempt in any given situation, or trapped on the couch with the little hellion demanding “other booby” every 3 minutes – I am NOT exercising or eating vegetables, I am buried in Netflix or a book eating something with sugar in it. Day after day after day filled with frustration and anxiety (and, yes, moments of intense sweetness and love)… The brain just needs release. Sugar and distraction sadly just work better than veggies and exercise.

  11. I read this article as I was trying to get up the nerve to work on an overwhelming project at work. I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek humor, and was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t some breakthrough foolproof method to help me out. Ironically, this article helped me procrastinate getting to my project.

  12. My problem is how long my task list is so how about this?

    1. Write down five tasks that need to be completed.
    2. Complete the tasks.
    3. Go for a walk
    4. Repeat 1 and 2
    5. Stop

  13. I think taking your shirt off in the sun is probably WAAAY off toward the end of the Primal journey for most of your aspirants. That one gets a procrastination pass.

      1. If not illegal, then still frowned upon…and yet also smiled upon.

  14. I’m trying to promote responsibility, which goes hand in hand with procrastination. When looking for someone to blame, look in the mirror…
    What an awesome post, we really do try and over complicate things!

  15. When in procrastination mode (which is often masquerading as being overwhelmed I find), I make a list, and pick the smallest job and go and do it, the most important step is to tick it off the list, this feels good and encourages me to tackle another on the list. I call it the SAG principle, small achievable goals!

  16. Hey, Mark!
    I’m from Brazil and I am at the stage where I have to commit myself and study with more dedication. Because of this, procrastination played out for some time. I do not know if you have any text about primal power and studies. If you have not, you can write something about it ?? Thanks!!

    1. lol – I’ve finished my uni studies a while back, but I remember I always used to put off assignments and studying for test until the last possible moment, and even then, I would skirt into the “danger zone” of running out of time – do I have a solution for this ? – not really, accept to do what we already know, that if you get things done straight away, you’ll experience a lot less stress !

  17. “Procrastinate” is an active verb. So even while I’m procrastinating, I’m still doing something…

  18. Well and simply said. I’m actually bookmarking this post so that I never forget how easy it is to accomplish simple tasks.

  19. On cooking a well-warbled steak:
    Do you sing to it before or during the cooking process?

  20. Ack!
    I want to stop looking at my phone!
    But I’m reading this on my phone!
    What to do? What to do?
    Stop, drop and roll? That sounds primal. ;-P

  21. This is a funny and amusing post, containing a lot of truth and wisdom. I really enjoyed it, and think it will be helpful in overcoming some of my procrastination monsters.

  22. Reading this article is a form of procrastination. Seriously. Stop reading now and DO SOMETHING!

  23. Haha. Could you simplify the formula to one point? I switched over to a cat video when I looked down and there was more.

  24. Thanks Mark, this made me laugh and frown at the same time! I know what I have to do, now I’ll get on with it!

  25. This is awesome! And in parts hilarious but so common sense.
    Thank you for putting this down, I always do lists – just not for what I have to do in a day.

    Ill definitely give that one a go

    Thanks again

  26. Tendinopathy is what I was diagnosed with today caused by sprinting. Just two short sprints for the 21 day challenge. The reason is that I am old, 66 years old and my tendons are old too. My tendons have deteriorated. I am, and have always been physically active but it didn’t prevent damage. Mark promotes sprinting but beware all you senior people; take care.

    1. Yes, sprinting is a very high impact exercise, and it can take months to build the tendon strength, you have to start slow and build up, and that’s assuming a solid “many years” base of active lifestyle and exercise.

      Flexibility is also crucial before you try sprints, and I am talking all over body flexibility – not just the legs. However – you can get started easily by doing “sprints” in the pool using standard freestyle swimming sprints, or try an exercise bike, anything that will get your heart rate max for 20 seconds sustained time.

      Also, I wouldn’t just jump into High heart rate activity until you’ve had a check out with the doctor, and then , build up slowly, nothing slows your progress more than an injury !

      One more tip which has kept me sprinting for years so far with minimal injury, is BACK OFF if you feel something’s not right, and REST as long as it takes before trying again (hence the once every 7 days rule)

      Foam roller might help as well – your muscles could be screaming with trigger points from not being used to this sort of demand – good luck

    2. sorry – one more thing, I know you said you have an active lifestyle – have you been doing an weight/bodyweight training – a few months of this before you try sprinting should help the tendons get strength,

      If you have a background of aerobic/jogging, then you may have great cardio, but this type of training simply won’t give you the muscles and tendons needed for sprinting, so switch to the weights, or even better bodyweight training (find out how to do pistol squats, and the progression to be able to do these – you will have tendons of steel once you can pull of a perfect form pistol squat).

    3. actually, I make it easy, just get the book “Convict Conditioning” by Paul Wade – this is the best $10 you’ll spend in your life and covers just about everything you need to know on Bodyweight progression. Al Kavadlo also has some awesome books on this stuff as well.

      1. Storm thanks for all this information. I do have good cardio due to lots of swimming and tennis but I have only being doing weights, sporadically, for the last six months and I will by the book ‘Convict Conditioning’. In the meantime I am under the care of a good physiotherapist.
        I believe that the information you have provided is very valuable and needs to be understood by people, like me, starting out on new activities. I had no idea that the short sprints I did would cause trouble.

  27. Haha, love it – strong message delivered light-heartedly. Off for a walk right now while the sun shines 🙂

  28. Amusing post today, however I think you may have overdone it, Mark. Science appears to root the cause of procrastination in fear and/or intimidation of doing the perceived unpleasant thing we are supposed to do over the thing we end up doing instead. These are real emotions that some people involuntarily deal with by avoidance or replacement, manifested as procrastination. Why don’t they procrastinate in checking Twitter, or watching TV? Their brain tells them it’s a pleasurable thing, and it wants them to do it instead. You acknowledge that not everyone deals with tasks the way you do, so talking down to and making light of procrastinators over and over and making the same cheeky joke dozens of times in this post is the equivalent of you sticking your nose up at your procrastination-prone followers. You always incorporate humor in your posts, and it is usually well received, but today I think you inserted a degree of separation between you and a significant portion of your fans. Like Mom says, “If you don’t have anything nice to say…”

  29. Sorry, I don’t see the insight other people seem to see in this. It’s simply, “stop procrastinating by stopping procrastinating.” Nothing of value there. Here’s an insight I got from a different blogger that might be more valuable. People sometimes procrastinate because they’re waiting to feel good about what they need to do. Sometimes they even wait to feel good about a task that will make them feel good! Wow! The trick is to recognize that you don’t need to feel good to do something. Let go of the need to feel good about what needs to be done.

  30. Ironic that I’m reading this article while procrastinating something else.

  31. Reading this post is me procrastinating work…… I really don’t want to get started…
    That sun piece was a good one… I can do that…

    Good post, nice and funny

  32. As an owner of a personal training business, I agree with these tips to overcoming procrastination. This is a great article. It is a good idea to make goal lists and time frames. Schedule tasks and being consistent are so important when getting things done. To maintain a good focus, I find exercise and nutrition is essential, it is easy to get distracted nowadays.

  33. Great post! When you put it like that I feel like such a fool (in a friendly way).

  34. Procrastination is something that is endemic for me. I would love to beat it, but always end up procrastinating on it. 🙂