2 Tips for Overcoming Procrastination

A lot of productivity advice seems to focus on giving you tips to stay focused on and get motivated to do things you don’t want to do. I’m actually not into that sort of thing.

I think that if you are doing a lot of work where you have to “goad” yourself to get it done, you are probably in the wrong job. Plus, a lot of the detailed tactics for self-motivation don’t work long-term. It is far better to make procrastination a non-issue, which is what my first point gets at.

1. Love what you do

The best motivation is to love what you do. It’s far better to tackle the “problem” of motivation at the higher level so that you don’t even need to deal with the more detailed and specific motivational tactics.

The three components of motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If you find yourself needing to be motivated, rather than identifying tactics like “reward yourself after you get done with a hard task,” take a look at whether you believe in the purpose of your tasks (and, before that, actually know the purpose!), whether the tasks are too hard (or too easy), and whether you have the freedom to do them in your own way.

The best type of motivation is to want to do the things you have to do — to be pulled toward them by a desire to do them and make a difference and serve others — rather than to be pushed towards them through carrots and sticks (rewards and punishments). Intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation every time. When you like your work, procrastination typically becomes a non-issue.

Now, at the same time, there will always be tasks now and then that we just find ourselves entirely dis-inclined to do. Maybe it’s even a task we ordinary love, but we are extremely tired that day and yet are on a deadline and need to get it done. Or maybe there are other factors interfering. In these cases, tactics can sometimes be useful. Here’s one I’ve found useful.

2. Take Breaks After Starting the Next Part of a Task, Rather Than In Between

When you take a break, don’t take your break at a natural stopping point. Instead, get to a natural stopping point, and then start into the next segment of the task. This gets you into it a bit and gets your wheels turning. Then take your break. While you are on your break, your mind will be inclined to get going again, since you’ve already started in to it. So it will be easier to come back from the break and avoid letting the break turn into an extended period of procrastination.

  • Paul Marr

    I’ve wrestled a lot with motivation, and motivation driven by a desire to do one’s job sounds best! but then I look at examples like Moses, who certainly obeyed God and didi things he didn’t want to do; would we say he might have been in the wrong job? clearly not; I would observe that the presence of God in his assignment is what sustained and motivated him to stay the course in a very dean–end job: wander for 40 years in the wilderness until a generation died. How does that square with this article’s ideas? Paul

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

    Paul: I would say that Moses’s job wasn’t to wander for 40 years with no purpose. His job was to lead the nation of Israel, help them to remain faithful to God, and bring him glory as they wandered the desert. Moses may have absolutely loved the aspect of leading wayward children.

    Matt (and everyone else):
    In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul talks about how God has given us a spirit of discpline. The greek word for discipline there literally means to have a sound mind.

    I think that really gives a great perspective on your words about motivation. Many hear about motivation and think it’s about emotions and feelings. Many think the key to more motivation is a greater pull towards an activity. But it’s also about eliminating the friction that we use to resist the pull. It’s about seeing things clearly, with a sound mind of discipline, and then acting accordingly to what our sound mind sees as the best option.

    As far as breaks, I think that can be a dangerous way to reward yourself. It’s kinda like rewarding someone for exercising by allowing them to not exercise or rewarding someone on a diet by allowing them to eat. It’s essential to do rest and take breaks – but without proper motivation and discipline, it can easily become enabling.

    Here’s the absolute best trick I’ve heard for this. I use this and it really, really helps me. I heard about this weight loss trick a long time ago called the Apple Test. Basically, if you have cravings to eat, ask yourself if you would still be as hungry if you knew you were going to eat an apple. If your cravings subside, then you can tell it’s not authentic hunger but just cravings for sweets. If your cravings remain, then have something healthy to eat because you’re truly hungry.
    I’ve applied this with what I call the prayer test. When I feel like taking a break, I ask myself if I would still take a break if all I were going to do was to pray. This reminds me of the spiritual component of my time usage and helps me to diagnose whether I really need to rest briefly or whether or not I just want to procrastinate.

  • Matt

    Great thoughts, Loren. I’ve been getting hungry a lot more when I’m writing and haven’t been eating as healthy, and will now be using the apple test!

    Paul: Great question, and glad you brought that up.

    Building on Loren’s thoughts, I would say that, with any job, there will be components that are difficult and challenging–and sometimes even annoying. But the overall motivation pulls us through.

    To take a small example: I used to pull all-nighters quit a bit when we were in the midst of a very large web redesign project. The all-nighters in themselves are not fun, but I loved what I was doing and that made the difficulty of an all-nighter a secondary issue.

    Or Paul, suffering beatings and imprisonment. Not enjoyable in the slightest. Yet he said that he rejoiced in his sufferings, because it led to the greater advancement of the gospel — which he delighted in.

    Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him” even though he despised the shame (Hebrews 12:1-2).

    Even Moses led the people of God through the wilderness because he “counted suffering for the Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11). Note that Moses counted the suffering itself better (“greater riches”) than the treasures of Egypt, for when you see the ultimate reward (purpose — God’s rewards aren’t carrots held out to us, but have natural connections to what we do, just like marriage is the natural reward for love), the task itself takes on new meaning and there is a joy in the midst of it.

    Applying this to today, Hebrews 13:17 says that pastors are to take joy in their work: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

    And 1 Peter 5:2-3 actually commands pastors and elders to take joy in their work and be internally motivated — which is exactly what I’m saying above: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”

    If pastors are to take delight in their work, the rest of us are, too.

  • http://www.earninggrace.com Yuriy S

    Now if only we had a way to to figure out how to love that which we dont love. :)

  • paul

    thanks for the replies Loren and Matt; I’m trying to reconcile the ideal of work we like (you mention Matt this is best way to avoid procrastination) with working for a greater purpose: where do these cross over? will they necessarily? Might they never? DoesnGod call us to sacrificial work, to a vocation of hardship for a greater good? I think i hear you both saying our motivation should be outside our work, not in it. In which case we need to choose to focus on the greater purpose and goal repeatedly to keep that joy before us while we experience the daily grind of labor. I personally believe that, especially as men, we have to be able to find our joy in our relationship with Jesus Christ as our only fulfillment; to be able to find real, deep seated joy and personal fulfillment in Him and to avoid looking for it in our profession which will not fulfill (but we men are really bad about defining ourselves by our work and being disappointed and unhappy when it gets hard or takes a bad turn). if we are fulfilled by our Lord, so that we don’t need a job for fulfilment, then we can do whatever our Lord places before us, with joy, knowing whom we serve; for better or for worse, and draw great satisfaction from knowing God does through us in our vocation, even if we don’t “like” it many times. While I’m waxing eloquent, I find it hard to actually keep my priorities straight in my time and energies to stay close with my Lord so I don’t refocus my eyes on my work and get disappointed, leading me to procrastinate, create or seek diversions, etc..(I’ve been there). the Joy of being near Him throughout the day keeps my own position & work in Eternal perspective; it is possible to have joy doing pretty much anything, putting up with any c**p joyfulling because of Him who owns me and redeemed me; make all the difference in my attitude towards my job.

    look forward to exchaning more thoughts on this,


  • paul

    Hey Yuriy, love is a choice isn’t it?

  • Matt

    Paul: Maybe you will find these posts helpful:



    Note also these points from Mike Horton’s article “How to Discover Your Calling”:

    The Psalmist sings to the Lord, “You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:16). He gives us the desires of our hearts. So much for the “God’s-yes-was-louder-than-my-no” school of guidance counseling….

    God does give us the desires of our hearts. He is not out to get us, or to make us wander the vocational wilderness forever. Sometimes we are “dumped” into short-term vocations which to us seem utterly meaningless and yet in some way providentially equip us with a skill which will be vital in our as yet unknown calling in life. We just cannot figure out God’s secret plan, but we can trust it and learn from natural as well as biblical sources how we might better discern our calling.

    The questions, What are your skills?, What do you really enjoy?, What would get you up on Monday morning?, are in the realm of nature. Super-spirituality may look down on such mundane questions and try to steal into God’s secret chamber, but biblical piety is content to leaf through the book of nature. God has created us a certain way, given us certain habits, skills, longings, and drives.

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

    Paul: I would further add that using your God-given desires and skills to fulfill your vocation brings glory to God. The most loving and worshipful thing to do is not to sacrificially slog through drudgery but to find out where God wants us. When we find that, it will click like a puzzle piece that falls into place. God will get the most glory, and we will find the most happiness.
    Of course the danger of stressing our happiness at work is that our sinful natures may be unable to adequately define happiness. We need to to have a renewed mind (Rom 12:2) which will help us even discern what should make us happy in the first place. We need to be discerning as to what desires come from our flesh and what desires come from God.

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  • paul

    Matt, your June posts above are really good, as well as citing Paul on happiness and marriage: thanks much! You’ve connected some dots for me, and given me good food for thought and introspection on what impact I’m making in my vocations (I used plural since I’m working through Vieth which you recommended: thanks again!). thanks as well Loren, I’ll keep watching the blog; and check in every now and then. Take care

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