5 Secrets to Help You Stop Procrastinating and Stay Motivated

Every so often one of my clients will sigh dramatically and say, “I can’t stop procrastinating. How do I stay motivated?”

That’s when I start pumping my chest and rolling my arms like a 90s In Living Color Fly Girl. “Break it on down! Break it on down!”

Most of my clients will laugh and do a little shimmy, while others will smile nervously and begin to wonder why they’re paying me.

Either way, I’ve made my point.

Almost all procrastination can be handled by breaking down your big impossible tasks into easy-to-swallow, bite-sized pieces. Don’t worry about selling a million widgets—just get your website running.

But what about those times when you’ve broke it down, and you still can’t seem to get your butt in gear?

Well, I won’t make you don a spandex jumpsuit and do the running man with me (that’s for my elite mastermind), but I can show you how to shake off the stalling and find your lost mojo.

Here are 5 secrets to help you stop procrastinating and stay motivated.

Ask Yourself the Tough Question

Whenever you’re procrastinating, the obvious reason is because you don’t want to do something. But the real question is WHY do you not want to do something? Sometimes our subconscious minds know something we cannot comprehend at a conscious level.

Let’s say you’re starting or growing a business like so many of my clients are and you find yourself procrastinating when you should be doing the very things that can help your business grow.

If you ask yourself why you’re starting a business, how would you answer?

  1. Because I hate my corporate job and will do anything it get out of it.
  2. To prove to my [insert relative or friend] that I can make something of myself.
  3. To make piles of money that I can swim in like Scrooge McDuck.
  4. Because every fiber of my being wants to do this and I want to serve the world in a bigger way.

Take a wild guess which answer will give you endless motivation.

Yep, if your choice is intrinsically motivated, you’ll rarely procrastinate because you know with all your heart that you’re doing the right thing for you and your life.

Extrinsic motivation (like to make money, prove something, or to avoid a bad situation) will eventually slow you down when you hit obstacles along the way…and you always will.

Motivation Homework: The next time you’re procrastinating, ask yourself why. If you’re not motivated by an internal desire, find a way to shift your focus or change what you’re doing.

For example, if you’re procrastinating on writing a blog post because you feel like you should do it but don’t want to, maybe you can do something else like film a video or record a podcast instead.

Analyze Your Time

You might be surprised by how much time you’re wasting throughout the day. Or maybe not. Some procrastinators are acutely aware of the minutes ticking by while their work gathers dust.

That’s why I encourage my clients to keep time logs for at least a day. Write down everything you do for any entire day in half-hour increments. Then categorize your tasks as urgent + important, not urgent + important, urgent + not important, or not urgent + not important. Click here to access the Editor’s Toolkit for a copy of a time log as well as dozens of other free worksheets.

Once you’ve categorized all your activities, take an honest look at where you spend your time. Do you wait to do your urgent + important activities at the last minute? What are you doing right before a long stretch of procrastination? Is there a trigger that sets you off?

Motivation Homework: Move your urgent +important activities to the very start of your work day. That way, if you procrastinate later, your most important tasks are finished. Not sure what to do first? Always start with the activities that are closet to money or are directly tied to you getting paid.

Next, find your procrastination trigger points and eliminate them. For example, if you tend to procrastinate immediately after checking your email, don’t open your email until after you do your work.

Ditch Your Distractions

As I just mentioned, email is a common procrastination trigger but social media platforms like Facebook and Instragram are right up there too. Procrastinators are often tempted to put off their work when they’re surrounded by distractions. Your job is to clean up your environment so that your work is all you see.

Close Facebook, social media, your email, BuzzFeed, or whatever websites cause you to lose yourself for hours on end. I don’t care how cute those cat videos are—your work is more important! Also look for real life distractions such as laundry or dirty dishes if you work at home or talkative coworkers if you work in an office.

And if you can’t get rid of your distractions (ie, your kids or your dog?). Try working with a timer. Set the timer on your phone for 15 minutes and see how much you can get done in that short amount of time. Racing the clock and giving yourself a sense of urgency will help you focus on what’s most important.

Motivation Homework: Spend some time at the start of your day getting rid of all your online and real life distractions. Use a timer to create urgency in your day.

When all else fails, work with ambient noise in the background to drown out distractions. Ambient noise is especially helpful for me since I live in a flight path and airplanes fly over my apartment every few minutes!

Plan Your To-Do List the Night Before

I realize this sounds like one of those “easy tips” that people write about but no one actually does. But allow me to be your coach for a minute and insist that you stop resisting and just do it already!

I know you’re tired at night and you’d rather watch an episode (or 5) of “Orange is the New Black,” but planning your to-do list only takes 15 minutes. You can do that while you wait for the pizza delivery to arrive.

Do a brain dump and get all your nagging tasks onto one sheet of paper (or 5). Gather up all the notes you have stashed in your planner, on Post-Its, written on the backs of envelopes—everything! Once all your activities and tasks are in one place, determine 3 priorities for tomorrow and write them on a separate sheet of paper so you won’t get distracted by all your other tasks. Remember, these priorities are probably the ones closest to money.

Motivation Homework: Choose your 3 main priorities the night before and write them down at the top of a fresh sheet of paper. When you sit down at your desk the next day, only focus on those tasks until they’re completed. Then you can binge watch Netflix all you want.

For bonus points, keep a notebook and pen next to your bed. Whenever you have a thought that’s keeping you up at night, write it down so you get it out of your head and you can sleep soundly.

Edit Your Tasks With a Not-To-Do List

The next day after you do your 3 main priorities, you’ll probably notice a few things on your master to-do list that truly don’t have to get done. Perhaps many of them! A not-to-do list is just as important as your regular to-do list.

You don’t have to do it all, and you certainly don’t have to be Superwoman. Find projects that you can delegate to others, and you might have to decide to be OK with things not getting done or being done imperfectly. Seriously, your kids can fold the laundry. It won’t be “perfect,” but it will be done.

Here’s a free printable to help you edit your to-do list by removing these not-so-helpful tasks.

Write down all the tasks that are someone else’s responsibility, out of your control, drain your energy, or don’t need to get done. Be ruthless. Your time is precious!

This worksheet is one of dozens of free resources in the Editor’s Toolkit. Click here to get instant access.

This post focuses on Step 2 of the Life Editing Process, Delete Bad Influences. For more about life editing and what it can do for you, click here.

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  1. Belinda Basson on November 28, 2014 at 11:46 am

    I need lists. I work best if I have lists of lists. It all only really works if I remember to look at the lists, but the “brain dump” as you call it (love that!) is what works for me. I have had many little books over the years which I write my lists of things to do in as well as any other important information like addresses and phone numbers etc. That way I don’t loose the pieces of paper which numbers etc usually get written on and then laundered in the pocket of my jeans!

    Sometimes I like to procrastinate by re organizing my lists…that is my specialty!

  2. Jennifer Kennedy on June 17, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Loving this, Sage!! This week procrastination has been huge (after a long weekend of loads of work, though!).

    Usually my procrastination stems from being unsure about myself and unsure if people are going to enjoy what I put out.

    But, I always come back to focusing on my why. Why am I trying to build a business. I look at the larger picture of creating and building a business. Additionally, oftentimes I have to go back to the things I’ve previously created and read the wonderful feedback I’ve received to motivate me.

    Well, I’m procrastinating now..off to do some work. 😉


  3. Vidya Sury on June 16, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Fail to plan and you plan to fail – is one of my ex-boss’s favorite litanies, Sage! Truth is, when we wake up with a plan or at least a semblance of one, the day goes much better. Ask any Mom who has to get packed lunch boxes ready before 8 am. And imagine if she were to start thinking about what to cook when she woke up at 5 am! How frustrating. We all need direction, a destination to focus our efforts on. My favorite tip here is to lose the distractions – social media can be such a time suck! 😀 And oh yes, I have a don’t-do list. 😀

    Happy to connect with you!