It’s now or never: 5 ways to beat procrastination and get things done

The to-do list of a procrastinator. "Review project," and "Email update to boss" are not checked off. but "Watch Netflix" and "Make third cup of coffee" are checked off.

Right this second, millions of people are putting off something important. Whether it’s a pile of laundry or a difficult conversation, we all avoid things from time to time. And while chronic procrastination can have a serious impact on your life, day-to-day dawdling can be tamed. In fact, some of the most accomplished people in the world—like Bill Clinton and Margaret Atwood—are notorious procrastinators. So what tricks do procrastinators use to get things done? If you need a little help in that department—and most of us do every once in a while—here are five places to start.

1. Procrastinate strategically

According to some experts, procrastination can actually be a good thing. John Perry, author of The Art of Procrastination, claims that you can use it to get more done. According to Perry, stalling on smaller tasks gives you more time for the important ones. Author and professor Frank Partnoy manufactures motivation by waiting until the last minute—a way of feeding off the rush of completing tasks at the 11th hour. Partnoy also says that this type of stalling can help you avoid wasting time on tasks that ultimately don’t need to be done.

2. Make a commitment

Research has shown that if deadlines are too far away, people will procrastinate anyway. This is partially because it’s easy to blow things off when you’re only accountable to yourself. So instead, commit to evenly spaced-out deadlines with your boss. The research shows that you’re more likely to meet goals when they’re structured like this, and having accountability to an authority figure keeps you motivated.

3. Change your perspective

For a serious procrastinator, deadlines of any type might not be enough. If there’s something you really don’t want to do, you can talk yourself out of any deadline, no matter how close it is. Researchers have found that for people susceptible to this kind of thinking, focusing on motivation is more effective than deadlines.

4. Break your work into chunks

Distractions and procrastination go hand in hand—when you can’t focus, it’s nearly impossible to get things done. To battle this, try a “time-boxing” technique to find your focus. There’s plenty of info about these techniques online, from the “POWER HOUR” to Pomodoro. Most of them work by constricting you to short deadlines, which encourages you to resist distractions and hammer away on the task at hand.

5. Think about your future self

Some academics hypothesize that a procrastinator is making a choice to prioritize convenience for their “present self” over the consequences their “future self” will suffer. So the next time you catch yourself on the verge of stalling, consider the tradeoff. Wouldn’t you you rather do a little work now, and be better off in the future?

Nearly everyone procrastinates from time to time—even successful people. The trick is to either make procrastination work for you, or combat it with deadlines or other tools. That way, you can make sure that even with a little indulging in delays, you’ll still get plenty done. For more tips on improving your productivity at work, check out some of the newest features in Dropbox:

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