You’re ready to start that new fitness regimen … tomorrow. That’s also when you’ll start tracking your calories, catching up on work deadlines, doing those minor fixit tasks around the house and meal prepping for the week. For many people, “tomorrow” gets loaded with good intentions, mostly because it never gets here.
“Procrastination is really common, especially in our fast-paced lives,” says Jennifer Stagg, ND, of Whole Health Wellness Center in Connecticut. “Chronic procrastinators tend to miss deadlines more often, have difficulty scheduling adequate time to complete tasks and organize their schedules and have problems prioritizing.”
Everyone procrastinates occasionally, she says. We might put off sorting through our receipts when tax time is months away or buying a birthday card until the day of a friend’s party. But it’s when procrastination becomes chronic it can have a negative ripple effect, especially when it comes to your health. That’s when you’re paying for a gym you never visit and buying vegetables you’ll never eat.
If this is the year you’ll be turning tomorrow into today, it’s helpful to play around with different strategies to see what works for you as a procrastination buster. Here are some ideas to kick off your fresh get-it-done efforts:
1. PRIORITIZE YOUR ATTACK
One of the most common reasons people procrastinate, whether unconsciously or not, is an overwhelming list of tasks and not knowing where to start, believes Chris O’Neill, CEO of work organization app company Evernote.
“Controlling the noise and focusing on the most important task will move the needle and create the best results,” he says. “Once you are clear on what you need to accomplish first, the rest falls into place.”
That means identifying just one priority for the day and clearing it off the deck from the start. If more fitness is a big goal, consider becoming a morning exerciser. Or if your focus is to skip junk food today, make meal prep for the day part of your breakfast routine.
2. SET MICRO-GOALS
If you’re trying to reach a lofty goal, you need to work backward, says Brent Gleeson, author of “TakingPoint: A Navy SEAL’s 10 Fail Safe Principles for Leading Through Change.”
“Identify intermediated, time-bound milestones that will lead you toward fulfilling the ultimate goal,” he says. “Then, tackle those milestones one at a time. That allows you to celebrate quick wins and show tangible progress toward the goal.”
Appreciating progress is a major part of avoiding procrastination, he adds, because you come to anticipate those celebrations.
3. HONOR THE 15-MINUTE RULE
For fitness guru Jillian Michaels, the key to avoiding exercise procrastination — yes, even she feels the pull to put it off — is to make a promise she’ll only work out for 15 minutes. After that time, if she’s still not feeling it, she’ll call it a day.
“That makes it far more palatable and less daunting,” she says. “That said, nine times out of 10, once I get started, I feel much better and end up completing another 15 minutes.”
She also encourages people to give up the notion of perfection. If you don’t have a HIIT training session in you today, then so be it, she notes: “If all you can manage is some restorative yoga, that’s a win. The key is to keep yourself moving.”
READ MORE > HOW TO GET BACK ON TRACK WHEN YOU’VE SLIPPED
4. VISUALIZE SUCCESS
Sometimes, procrastination can be easy when we can’t imagine the benefits, which is what makes visualization an important tool, believes Ruthie Schulder, president of New York design firm The Participation Agency.
“Visualize how amazing it will feel to remove that one task that is stressing you out,” she advises. “I like to think about all of the more exciting, big-picture career things I’ll get to move on to once that task is completed.”
It’s also helpful to visualize an immediate reward, she suggests. That might be taking a walk once your task is done or getting a stretch break. Making your reward into something healthy keeps you moving forward toward completing other important tasks.
5. BE KIND TO YOURSELF
“When you say, “I’m a procrastinator,” you strengthen that idea in your brain,” says Taylor Jacobson, founder and CEO of Focusmate, a productivity software maker.
“You get better at relating to yourself as a procrastinator,” he notes. “And you subtly condemn yourself. There’s nothing good about having that label.”
Instead, use a judgment-free narrative, he suggests, like saying, “I haven’t yet gotten my workout in today,” or “I haven’t answered those emails yet.” Telling yourself that you will accomplish all of your goals and everyday tasks — even if that’s not quite the truth yet — changes how you think about yourself, Jacobson says.
Much like anything else — fitness, meal plans, de-stress techniques — what works for someone else may not click for you. So, it’s best to keep that in mind and try different techniques until you find one that seems like a good fit for your goals.
Most of all, start it today, and give it plenty of time to work.
“A pattern of chronic procrastination is difficult to break,” says Dr. Stagg. “Learning scheduling and prioritization skills on their own is not enough; the key is practicing these new behaviors consistently. The brain actually needs to be rewired, and this requires daily maintenance for at least 6–8 weeks to start to become a more natural behavior.”