4 Ways to Beat Procrastination

5 minute read article Leadership   Technology   Productivity Comments

Procrastination, as they say, is a bitch.

The dictionary defines procrastination as:

To keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring

We’ve all been there. I sure know I have. Procrastination is a deep, dark hole that’s easy to fall into. I still laugh at this memory that comes up every year:

A Facebook post from 2015 or so Irony: working on a presentation about productivity, specifically about reducing distractions and where am I right now? Facebook.

While this talks of “distractions,” it was really about procrastinating on something that had to be done. It’s easy to put things off when we have things to distract us from the real work. Thankfully, when I get in a slump, when I’m not feeling productive, and I know I have work to do, I have several tactics I use to get unstuck.

Eisenhower Matrix

There has been a lot written about the Eisenhower Matrix because it’s a great tool to help you figure out what you should be working on and what you can ignore.

The Eisenhower Matrix

I make use of this matrix all the time, especially if I have a lot of tasks I’m procrasting on. I’ll take a blank sheet of paper and draw the matrix and then start filling in the tasks where I think they fit. There are some that are obvious fits for the Important row. Whether they are Urgent or Not Urgent, I know should be working on them, and sometimes seeing them in this form is all it takes to get me started. It also helps me figure out what I can delegate and what I can ignore.

I tend to make the items in each section of the matrix checkboxes so as I finish them, I can write a check in the box and see progress. Seeing progress is a great motivator to keep going.

Just Do It: The Two-Minute Rule

David Allen’s Getting Things Done is a whole system for organizing your life to such an extent that you always know what the “next thing” to do is. Everything is in its place so it can be out of your head. It is a framework that involves five basic steps: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage.

While I appreciate the idea behind GTD, I believe the most valuable piece of advice from his 300 page book is The Two-Minute Rule. This rule states that if something can be done in two minutes or less, you should just do it because it will take more time to put it in the system than just doing it.

The Two-Minute Rule is great for things like email. If I get an email for a survey (say from JetBrains), I’ll do it and delete the email. If I get an email that’s more in-depth, or something I can’t address in the moment, I’ll set the follow-up flag and come back to it when I have more time, or when the time is more appropriate.

I love the features in 37signals Hey.com email app. Not only does it really faciliate quick actions on emails, it also lets me set an email “aside” or even tell the app to “bubble” it back up at a later time so it’s not just sitting there unread.

Jumping back to the Eisenhower Matrix, there may be items on there that can be done in two minutes or less! If so, I DO THEM!

Maybe one of the items on the Matrix is bigger; part of a project I’m working on. I know there’s something I can do to get started. Maybe it’s cloning the repo. Maybe it’s cracking open the task board to see what’s next. It could be just running the tests for the project.

You can use the Two-Minute Rule around the house, too. If I walk by a litter box that needs to be cleaned, I just do it. It probably takes less than two minutes to do, and if I walk past it and do nothing, it’ll still be there waiting for me, so why not just get it done? My desk is a perpetual mess, so if I look over and see some books that need to be taken care of and I have a couple minutes before a call, I’ll put the books back on the proper shelf.

Once you get started, it’s easy to find little things you can do, and any little bit helps.


I probably first heard of the Pomodoro Technique in the early-to-mid 2000s and immediately embraced it. While I don’t use it as much these days, when I’m stuck, it’s a great way to get un-stuck.

The idea behind this technique is that you completely focus on something for a period of time, say 25 minutes, and you don’t do anything else but work on the “thing” for the entire time. That means no email (unless you’re processing email), no surfing, no distractions, no interruptions. At the end of the 25 minutes, you take a 5-minute break, and then start the cycle over again.

It takes discipline to focus on a single thing for 25 minutes, but once you’ve done a couple, you’ll find a nice groove and may even ignore the break. I think that’s perfectly fine.

I’ve worked on teams where we used it at a team level and it was effective. The team could get 7 or 8 solid pomodoros in during a workday. The hardest part was training others outside of our team to look at the whiteboard in our team room to know whether they could interrupt us, or if we were in the middle of a pomodoro.

I do want to say that some people criticize this technique because they say it destroys “Flow State.” I call bullshit because if you find yourself in that amazing state of flow, keep going and ignore the timer. At that point, the timer doesn’t matter!

You can do it the old-fashioned way and buy an egg timer, turn the dial, and let it “ding” when it’s done, OR you can use the timer function on your phone or PC. There are also dozens (hundreds?) of apps out there to help track your pomodoro sessions.

There is a great book that describes the technique if you’re interested in learning more. I review the book every couple years, and I’m always surprised how much I learn from the book even though the basic technique is simple.

Take a Break

Sometimes the best thing to do is to take a break. Get away from the office and all the distractions. Take a walk, workout, play with your dog or cat, play a video game for a few minutes, read a book, but then come back and get right back into it.

Final Thoughts

Procrastination keeps us from getting important work done. Yes, the work may be boring and unfulfilling, but it still needs to be done. I hope the four things I described above (The Eisenhower Matrix, the Two-Minute Rule, the Pomodoro Technique, and taking a break) help you the next time you find yourself putting things off.

What methods do you use? Leave a comment and let me know!

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