We have all been there and done that. We know we should be working on a project but all around us are distractions. These devilish temptations are reaching out to us, offering us instant gratification, immediate pleasure and satisfaction. In comparison, the work we should be doing seems dull, onerous and the outcome somewhere down the road, if at all. In these situations, we have all given in, in some way or another to taking the easy road. While we told ourselves that it would only be a quick distraction from what we know we should be doing, often the momentary distractions lead to another and before we know it, a sizeable chunk of time was lost. Then we beat ourselves up for our lack of self discipline and willpower, promising that we will do better next time. There are, however, simple habits that we can form that will help us to get the upper hand on procrastination.

Here are 7 ways we can tap into our emotions to help us slay the procrastination beast. 

Tie the task, you want to avoid, to a larger goal you are passionate about

We are quicker to get to work on a project when we have a positive emotional charge around the outcome. Even though we can’t see how completing the report will have any immediate benefit to us, thinking about how wonderful it will feel to get that promotion we crave will help motivate us if we can see doing a great job on the report as a stepping stone to advancement.  

Start with the easiest part first

The most difficult step in completing a task is to get started. Often, we think of something we have to do in terms of linear sequences, beginning, middle and end. However, in many cases we can start anywhere and work around to the end. Starting at the easiest part takes less emotional resistance and once we get started, we tend to get on a roll, which gives us the momentum to keep going.  

Break it down into small chunks

The task will seem less daunting if we tell ourselves that we are going to only spend five minutes working on it. Like starting with the easiest part first, we find that once we are into the actual work, we find it easier to continue to focus than to come back to it later.  We’ll find ourselves continuing to work past the committed time that we told ourselves.  

Manage your distractions before you start

If you struggle with impulsiveness the chances of being distracted will be greatly reduced if you think about what may throw you off track from your work before you start.

This allows you to unplug, disconnect and put a hold on everything and everyone that could potentially disrupt your focus and throw you off track. 

Self awareness of what environments you work best in

One size does not fit all when it comes to the best environment for you. I realized this when in University, we were advised that to study effectively one needed a quiet place with no disturbances. For myself, a quiet environment lead to daydreaming and tuning out. Having an area with lots of other students around actually stimulated my focusing ability. If you don’t know what your best environment is, practice in different ones until you find the one that stimulates you the most.  

Set up rewards along the way

Before you start to knock something off your to do list that will take considerable time and effort, set yourself up with a system of rewards along the way. Think about how delicious that creamy double mocha latte will taste prior to working an hour or two on your project. After you have done your work, savour the reward and remember how good and satisfying it felt for next time you have to get into doing work that emotionally you would rather avoid. Make the reward something you wouldn’t normally give yourself or do something for yourself to feel special.  

Work on overcoming perfectionism

Having the need to be perfect can be a major stumbling block to getting started on any project. Winston Churchill summed it up well, “Perfection(ism) is the enemy of progress. When we decide we want to try something new, the opportunity and fear of failure and rejection come knocking.” The fear of making mistakes keeps many of us paralyzed and unable to begin. We learn by doing and making mistakes. Think of the times in your life that you failed, but changed direction and succeeded in the end. 


  • Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, internationally published author and speaker.  To take the EI Quiz go to theotherkindofsmart.com.  His book THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success has been published in 4 languages. Harvey writes for FAST COMPANY and has a monthly column with HRPROFESSIONALS MAGAZINE. You can follow him on Twitter @theeiguy.