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5 Ways to Stop Procrastinating

5 essential tips to help you stay the course and achieve your goals.

Key points

  • Success results from consistent action taken over long periods of time.
  • Practicing good daily habits will help you make steady progress towards your goals.
  • Keeping a log of your progress will help you maintain a healthy perspective during difficult times.
Source: GaudiLab/Shutterstock

In our fiercely competitive society, achievement is often seen as the top priority. As a psychiatrist, I witness people from all walks of life aspiring to achieve a goal. It may be a student trying to earn a degree, an entrepreneur launching a business, a devoted employee climbing the corporate ladder, or a fitness enthusiast trying to shed a few pounds.

In all of the above scenarios, one needs to dedicate effort over a long period of time to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to stay the course. It can be tempting to procrastinate as you are distracted by a myriad of competing responsibilities vying for your attention.

In this article, I will share 5 tips to help you stay on track to achieve your goals.

1. Remember your why.

If you are going to embark on a long and arduous journey, then you need a big why propelling you in the right direction. There will be times when you feel discouraged because you are not reaching a goal at your expected time frame. You will likely experience unexpected setbacks that delay your progress. Remembering why you have embarked on a journey will serve as your guiding light through the murky waters and thick fog.

To remember your why, write it down and keep it somewhere visible. I have written down my why and keep it readily accessible in my office drawer. Such visual reminders are powerful motivators to help you stay the course.

When choosing your why, do not settle for fame or fortune as your guiding light. Their flickering light is not strong enough to guide you during the dark times. You are more likely to stay the course if you are motivated by the pursuit of personal growth and the desire to make a positive contribution to the lives of others.

2. Keep a log.

It is easy to procrastinate if you feel like you are not making progress towards your goals. There may be times when you feel like you are running in quicksand and not making any headway. Having a log to remind you of your progress to date will help you keep a healthy perspective.

Keeping a log will also protect you from falling into the trap of social comparisons. It is easy to become discouraged when you compare yourself to people who appear to be more successful or reaching their goals at a faster pace than you. Remember that you are not competing against anyone else but yourself when it comes to your own goals.

At the end of the day, every single one of us is climbing a different mountain. How fast someone reaches the top of their mountain has no bearing on whether you make it to your apex.

3. Practice good daily habits.

Our society promotes a false narrative that success happens overnight. The truth is that success results from consistent action taken over a long period of time. It is the equivalent of a stonecutter hammering away at a rock hundreds of times with small cracks to show for it. Yet, at the hundred and first blow, the rock finally splits into two.

I did not become a physician overnight. Neither does one build wealth, sculpt their body, earn a degree, or grow a business with the snap of a finger. Success is the result of repetitive behaviors that move you in the right direction, one step at a time.

The key is to develop habits that propel you in the right direction. Habits are behaviors that are repeated regularly to the point of becoming automatic. Choose habits that are easy to implement consistently and yield a good rate of return. Also, be specific on where, when, and how you will perform these behaviors. Such implementation intentions can protect you from procrastination.

As a personal example, I exercise at home. It is easier to walk down to my basement gym to exercise rather than get into my car and drive to the local gym. In addition, I work out in the evenings after my kids go to bed and conceptualize exercise as my reward for completing the work and family responsibilities of the day. Finally, my exercise routine involves weight training during the workweek and cardio on the weekends. Being specific about my where, when, and how has kept exercise an integral part of my life.

4. Reward yourself often.

Procrastination often results from excessive anxiety as we anticipate a future event. We often become overwhelmed by fixating on a large goal in the distant future instead of tackling the present tasks leading to that goal.

People often tell me that they feel overwhelmed at the start of their day in anticipation of everything they need to accomplish. As a result, they may procrastinate by staying in bed longer. In such situations, I remind them to focus on completing one task at a time and reward themselves for completing the task.

You can reward yourself after getting ready in the morning, arriving to work on time, or completing a challenging work requirement. You can say something positive to yourself such as “Nice job with that task!” or even go for a brief walk, if time permits. Such rewards are powerful reinforcers to stay the course.

If you are going to embark on a long journey to achieve a goal, you might as well enjoy it. Finding joy and happiness along the way will increase your odds of staying on course. Try to appreciate that you are learning new concepts as a student, developing new career skills, or implementing lifestyle changes that are molding you into a healthier version of yourself.

5. Get an accountability partner.

There is a false narrative that success occurs in a silo. That could not be the furthest thing from the truth. We are interdependent and rely on one another to reach our goals. I would not be the physician I am today without my loving family, the guidance of mentors, and the support of friends and colleagues.

Support can take on different forms. For example, it can be helpful to have an accountability partner. Knowing that a loved one is watching can serve as a powerful motivator to stay the course. We care deeply about what others think of us. The last thing we want to do is let them down by not keeping our word to them. Having an accountability partner can protect you from procrastinating on a task at hand.

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