Reduce Procrastination by Making it Easy to Start

posted by Andrea | 07/30/2014

getting started

No matter who you are, I’m guessing that you struggle with procrastination every now and then… or maybe it’s just me!

I try really hard not to procrastinate — not only because it makes me look bad here on the blog, but also because I truly do know how much time and energy procrastination wastes.

So often we procrastinate on simple tasks like making the bed, washing the dishes, putting away the already folded laundry, filing a few papers, straightening out a drawer or shelf, making dinner etc. etc. and by the end of the day, we’ve wasted so much time and energy THINKING about all the thing we SHOULD be doing that we could have actually completed most of those tasks in the same amount of time.

 

In previous blog posts, I’ve often mentioned how helpful it is for me to set a timer when I sense that I’m starting to procrastinate. This way, I realize how quickly I’m able to complete certain projects (like cleaning out the dishwasher or filing a stack of papers) which then often gives me the motivation to keep going and finish the project.

However, this still doesn’t address the issue of actually getting started — and getting started is the most important part in banishing procrastination. “Getting started” also happens to be the most difficult part for many people.

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photo source

As I thought back on the situations when I’m most likely to procrastinate, a light bulb went on and I realized something I did in almost every situation that greatly reduced my procrastinating tendencies…

I made it really easy to get started.

Let me explain…

If I’m feeling a little less than excited about a painting project, I might simply take 10 minutes and get all my supplies out. I’d get the paint ready, get the brush and roller ready, lay out the drop cloths, etc. Then, maybe later that day or the next day, I’ll do the actual painting.

This way, when I have the time to paint, I can jump right in and start painting immediately — I don’t have to waste time with those preliminary steps.

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Another example from my blogging life is that I’ll often start 4-6 blog posts in one day. I’ll write a few sentences and maybe a rough outline… but then I’ll stop. The rough outlines only take me a few minutes, but from that moment on, I periodically think about those blog post topics and the outlines as I go through my day. I’ll start to form the posts in my mind while I’m doing other tasks like feeding a baby, watering flowers, driving to the store, etc. etc.

This way, when I actually have the time to sit down and write for a couple hours, I have SO many ideas swirling around in my head that I almost never experience writer’s block or waste time staring at a blank screen.

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One more example from my kitchen: I often find the dinner hour somewhat overwhelming (can anyone relate?) and if I wait until 4:30 or 5:00 to get started, I can almost guarantee we’ll be having grilled cheese, frozen pizza, or fast food. However, if I make it really easy to get started with dinner, I can easily have a nice simple meal on the table by 5:30 even with 2 kids vying for my attention.

All it takes for me to accomplish this is spending 5 minutes the night before pulling anything I need out of the pantry or out of the freezer. Then throughout the next day, I’ll slowly prepare bits and pieces of our meal in the small pockets of free time I find. I might brown sausage or cook up some meat while Nora eats breakfast. Maybe I’ll cut up fruits and veggies while Nora eat’s lunch, we can bake together while Simon is napping, and then I assemble dinner and pop it in the oven after Dave gets home and “rescues” me from my little helpers :)

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I realize this might sound ridiculously simple, but I can confidently speak from lots of personal experience that this really does work. 

I’ve found that in my own life, the times when it’s easiest to procrastinate are when I’m not planning ahead and I’m not prepared to get started. However, if I do a little planning ahead and make it super easy to “pick up where I left off”, I’m far less likely to procrastinate.

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photo source

The way I look at it is… by taking a few minutes right now to get the room ready to paint, draft up a few blog posts, or start prepping dinner, I will save myself SO much time, energy, and stress later on. Plus, I would need to do all that prep work at some point anyway — so I’m really not wasting any time by breaking down my tasks into more manageable chunks.

Instead, I’m making it super easy for me to simply dive in, get started, and be productive when I actually have a few minutes of free time (which are increasingly difficult to come by these days!)

What about you? Do you have any ingenious time-saving, productivity-boosting tips?

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26 comments

  1. LoriB

    07/30/2014

    Andrea, I think you are a genious. For me, this is one of the best blog posts ever. Thank you!

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  2. Debbie

    07/30/2014

    My biggest procrastination is in ironing clothes. The laundry process is most satisfying because I can see it dwindling away in a matter of hours while also doing other stuff. Once that’s done, I fold and put away some clothes in the dresser and some in a laundry basket for ironing. The next day I add the air dried clothes with the ironing pile. From there it seems that ironing pile doesn’t get touched until a week later, sometimes until the next laundry day. Uuggghhh! I don’t like it but not sure how to stop that procrastination.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Well I’m not sure if this is the answer you want to hear, but I don’t procrastinate on ironing because I never iron :)

    Seriously though, what about setting up the ironing board, getting the iron out, and putting everything right in the middle of your living room or kitchen. Sometimes I do stuff like that because it FORCES me to deal with it or walk around it ALL DAY LONG.

    Maybe you could iron in front of the TV? That always works for Dave when he irons his school clothes!

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    Debbie Reply:

    Thanks for all these suggestions, Andrea. I do wish I didn’t have to iron but I’m a little OCD on that part. I even iron my jeans and t-shirts because I don’t put that in the dryer so it’s all crunchy & wrinkled once air dried. My husband’s clothes is a different matter.

    Yes, setting up the ironing board might work and doing it in front of the TV in the living room would be good too. My problem is that our laundry room/ironing board is on the 2nd floor by our master bedroom. This means I would have to haul the ironing board, laundry basket downstairs to the living room. That in itself turns me off. We have no TV in our bedroom which is how I like it. I’ll keep thinking of ways to improve on this task.

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    Sarah Reply:

    Debbie,

    Have you tried putting your jeans and t-shirts in the dryer for 5-10 minutes to dewrinkle after they are dry on a “fluff/no heat” cycle? For me, that’s enough to get rid of the crunch.

    Also, do you listen to podcasts or have something else you could listen to upstairs while ironing to avoid going downstairs?

    PS – I avoid ironing like the plague. I cheat and use Downy’s de-wrinkle spray most of the time.

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    Tara Reply:

    Debbie,
    A little trick I learned about air drying fabric without it getting crunchy is to toss the wet clothes in the dryer on low heat for 5-10 minutes, then hang/lay dry. It’s surprisingly effective, and doesn’t seem to cause any/much shrinkage because you’re just fluffing the fibers a bit before drying. As an RA in college I had a couple residents who did all their laundry this way. They saved lots of quarters and had very smooth clothing. :-)

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  3. Barb

    07/30/2014

    Andrea, this is a wonderful tip! You are absolutely right! I do find it so much easier to complete longer tasks, because I’ve already started them and it’s “easy” to pick up where I left off. I will definitely be utilizing this tip more often. :)

    Thanks for the great post!

    [Reply]

  4. Diana

    07/30/2014

    Wonderful post! I’ve found supper is so much easier to pull together if I do a lot of the prep the night before (moving things to the fridge to thaw) or during the day (grating cheese, making sauces, etc.) Wonderful time and energy saving when suppertime comes!

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  5. Katherine

    07/30/2014

    Twice in the past week I’ve hired a sitter and- man- that pushes me to jump right into projects. Once was a mommy’s helper, who kept the kids happy downstairs while I tackled our bedroom mess. The other was a sitter who had the kids out of the house all day on Friday. I took that time to paint and stain furniture and do projects I wouldn’t start with kids around.

    Knowing it was on the calendar meant I was ready to jump in and use the time to its’ fullest when those sitters arrived.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    That’s an awesome idea Katherine! I’ve hired babysitters to clean before :) I always felt weird about it, but I just can’t seem to get any deep cleaning done with 2 kids around!

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  6. Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    07/30/2014

    This is so simple, but brilliant! And, no, you are not alone. I have never really thought about this before, but I find that it is very true. One thing I do is try to set minimum goals for each day. That is, I think of the things that are the most important things I need to do that day. Accomplishing them would make my day successful, but it also inspires me to one or two “extras”. Does this make sense? It works for me because there is always an endless amount of tasks to be done, but when I focus on the few most important, it seems less daunting. Anyway, thank you for the reminder that the starting is the hardest part!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I love this Heather — thanks so much for sharing. I kind of do the same thing and I call in my “top 5 list”. I NEED to get those things done, and the rest is extra.

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  7. Inna

    07/30/2014

    It is very important to plan things out ahead. Great post!

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  8. Leanne

    07/30/2014

    I need this swift kick, today! I wasn’t in a pit of a house… but I was procrastinating on getting a few jobs finished! my son was in the hospital last week….and I have let that be an excuse not to get some things purged, and reorganized! I took advantage of his “nap time” this afternoon…and the fact his brothers are with grandma and grandpa for the week to get all of my daily chores finished, my bathrooms cleaned, and a kitchen cabinet and hall closet purged and organized that had gotten “out of control”! thanks for these great reminders!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Sorry to hear about your son’s hospitalization but so glad you’re getting more organized — I’m sure it feels great!

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  9. Aa.

    07/30/2014

    I watched some while ago something that also speaks about procrastination. The main idea is: FORCE yourself to do the first step (something like you said) because then the actions will flow and you will engage in what you have to do. The most you procrastinate, the most you think about what you have to do and how hard and unpleasant it is and these thoughts are actually bad vibes, we should avoid them. Easier to say than to do. :D

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp7E973zozc

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for the video link! That is so true — I often have to force myself to get started on different projects because I don’t feel like doing them. But once I get started, it’s amazing how quickly I finish and then I don’t have to think about it anymore!

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  10. Julia K

    07/30/2014

    I was recently WAY behind in my taxes. It was complicated with two businesses involved and three years worth of paperwork to organise. I was really struggling with knowing WHERE to start. One day I sat down and typed up a list of the steps involved. By listing the tasks out one by one I was able to put them in a logical order and finally see the pathway to success. That list gave me a game plan and became the motivation to actually get started. Step 1 wasn’t that complicated and of course, with each step completed – the next one wasn’t quite as daunting.
    I can’t describe how wonderful if felt to get everything lodged – such a huge weight off my shoulders. I have now set up systems so that the process of the current year’s tax returns can be tackled on an ongoing basis. I caused myself such stress and it was all SO unnecessary !

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow — I can only imagine how great it felt to get that huge project crossed off your list! Way to go :)

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  11. Charlene Uchtman

    07/30/2014

    I do something similar when I am procrastinating. I tell myself that I don’t have to do it at all that day, if I am not motivated to finish after 5-15 minutes (depending on the size of the task) of working on it. This usually makes me realize that the job wasn’t going to take that long, or wasn’t going to be that hard, and once I got started I was willing and able to finish. On the other hand some projects really are that overwhelming but I can get them done eventually by working on them 10-15 minutes a day.

    [Reply]

  12. Charlene Uchtman

    07/30/2014

    Have you heard of this book on decision making? http://www.amazon.com/10-10-10-Fast-Powerful-Unstuck-Family/dp/B0057D9DL2

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    No, that’s a new book for me. I might have to check it out. Thanks Charlene!

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  13. Olga

    07/30/2014

    Andrea,

    Amen to this newsletter/topic! You nailed it! I find my self procrastinate more often but then it frustrates me even more.
    Thank you for putting this into words…now i”m going to finish one little project!

    [Reply]

  14. Sarah

    07/30/2014

    I love this! I am focusing on the one single next action I can do to move forward right now – whatever the project or task is.

    It’s amazing how breaking something into simple tasks and preparing can make it easier to simply START.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Sarah — I know that once I get started, finishing is SO much easier :)

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  15. Tracey

    07/31/2014

    Yes, it seems the hardest part (usually) is getting started…

    Gathering supplies or just taking the first step has always worked for me, too!

    I have a good example of this right now! My son is away at Scout camp (1st time) this week, and he has a new desk to go into his room. (He picked it out at a garage sale the day before he left, loves it, and knows I plan to switch it with his old one while he’s away. I’ve walked into his room every day to do it, get overwhelmed at the task, and walk back out. Of course, I’m missing him, too, so maybe just being in his room is a little too emotional!

    So yesterday, I simply went in there and took all the (6) drawers out of his old desk and put them on the bed, then cleared off the top. That’s it. Today, I’ll move the old desk out, and put the new one in it’s place. If I feel like moving the stuff into it today, I will. Or, I’ll do that part tomorrow.

    Sometimes breaking a bigger task into steps (and not doing it all at once!) is the way through. Writing down the steps for bigger projects can really help, too. Seeing all the little tasks listed out magically makes it all seem doable. I can always find pockets of time to do a step here and there.

    PS – while this is something he mostly could do on his own at 13, the timing wasn’t great and he’ll be exhausted after camp. It will be a nice thing for him to come home to!

    [Reply]

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