How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Getting Things Done

Not only is procrastination unproductive and stressful, it can also stop us from ever getting around to doing those creative things that we wish we could do, like writing that short story or painting that portrait.

In a follow up to her hugely popular article on how to overcome the inner critic, Lilian Wissink - a psychologist with over 20 years experience - breaks down the key areas in which we tend to procrastinate, and gives simple advice on how to finally make procrastination a thing of the past.


Lilian Wissink

Procrastination is often linked to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Stress levels for procrastinators are much higher than for people who don’t procrastinate. However, once we make a start on a task, we tend to feel happier and our stress level starts to drop.

There are many strategies to help break our procrastination habits and finally stop procrastinating and start getting things done. No one strategy is right for everyone. What’s important is a willingness to experiment with different options and work out what’s best for you.

The Four "Procrastination Traps" and How to Avoid Them

In order to break down these strategies we will look at four main stages when people commonly procrastinate:

• Getting organized.
• Deciding on a project you want to do.
• Starting on a project.
• Stopping when the going gets tough.

Let's look at each stage in more detail. You will find a number of questions that will help you to identify the areas you need to address in order to move forward.

Getting Organized - Prepare Yourself for Creative Work That You Will Actually Do

Ask yourself these questions to get organized and create an environment in which you can do your creative work and be at your most productive.

Choosing a Space:

  • Do you need to find somewhere to play your music without worrying about the neighbors?
  • Do you need to find a place in your home to set up your art or craft materials?
  • Do you need to tidy your desk, sort out your studio or workshop?
  • Does your creative workspace have good ventilation and lighting and an outlook that’s inspiring?
  • If you have a dingy workspace, perhaps you can brighten it up in some way so it’s a more inviting place in which to be.

Getting the Best Materials

  • Are you using cheap student quality paint or paper that gives poor results?
  • Do you need more materials and better tools?
  • Do you need to get your piano tuned?

Finding a Community

  • Do you need to find out what workshops, individual tuition, and another education is available in your area?
  • Would you like to find a creative buddy or two to work alongside?
  • Do you need to join your local Arts Society?
  • A writers’ group?
  • A craft group?
  • Percussion group?

Your Inner Mind

  • Are you are avoiding creative expression because of your underlying fears?
  • What do you notice your Inner Critic saying about getting ready and making a start?
  • Does your Inner Softie make a comment too?
  • Do you use other means to distract yourself, such as alcohol?
  • Are there harmful habits you need to change?
  • It may also help to talk to a counselor or someone you trust about these things.

Consider your lifestyle.

  • Do you need to engage in certain self-care/stress management strategies?
  • Can you identify ways you might waste time, such as watching too much television or sitting in front of a computer?

Making a Commitment

  • What will you do to set yourself up for your creative time?
  • Are you willing to do this?
  • What’s the first step you need to take?

Deciding On Your First Creative Product

What will I write/paint/sing/play/craft today? This question often causes anxiety, especially when asked at the start of your creative time. So it’s helpful to think of a few ideas beforehand, as then you will already have a direction in mind. Here are some ways to get you started:

  • Generate ideas as you go along in life. Take notice of what you are drawn to and what you are interested in.
  • Keep a notebook handy so you can jot down ideas. If you compose music or write poetry, you might become inspired while having coffee in the local café. If you are an artist, take a small pad with you so you can do a quick sketch when inspiration strikes. A camera is helpful too.
  • Keep all your ideas. Even though you might not follow through with an idea straightaway, it could be just the inspiration you need later, e.g. ideas for scenes/characters you want to write about/paint/photograph; songs you want to sing; interesting craft projects.
  • Make sure you keep your inspirational material handy, perhaps in a special folder or box so you can look through it when needed.
  • Writing down your ideas also releases the busyness of your mind chatter and helps you to come back to the present moment.
  • Keep an art diary or scrapbook for your ideas— you can include pictures from magazines, sayings/words, photos, colors, and images.
  • Be open to inspiration at different times of the day, whether you are pulling out weeds in your garden or stuck in a traffic jam.
  • And finally you don’t have to have a specific task in mind when you start your creative time. Start anywhere! You can improvise with sounds or notes, play and experiment with your art materials. Be aware of what emerges when you do this and respond to what evolves. Go with the flow.

Beginning Your Project

Making a start also daunts many people. There is something challenging about that empty computer screen or blank canvas … waiting … waiting. Here are some ideas that can help:

  • At the start of your creative time make sure you have all the material and equipment you need. Organize a cup of tea/coffee/water for yourself and whatever else helps you feel ready to go.
  • Give yourself permission to start anywhere rather than at the beginning. For example, write the conclusion of your story before the beginning, sing the chorus rather than the verse. This frees you and warms up the creative flow.
  • Some people like to create a special ritual as a way to prepare. They feel it helps them to get in the right mood. Perhaps there is certain music you can play. You might like to do a short relaxation and visualization exercise.
  • Don’t expect yourself to fire up straight away. The mind and body need to become reacquainted and warmed up before you are ready to create. So give yourself a short warm-up period before the more intensive work begins.
  • If you are an artist, do some simple pencil sketches, dabble with your paints or experiment with little mud maps of your chosen scene.
  • If you are a singer, allow your voice to warm up — perhaps do some improvisation and have some fun. You can also do this if you are a musician or an actor.
  • If you are a writer, you can warm up by reading what you have written previously and brainstorm some ideas about where you might want to go next.

How to Avoid Stopping When Things Get Tough

There will be occasions when you are likely to feel challenged and frustrated. Remember that this is part of the creative process. It doesn’t mean you haven’t got what it takes.

Occasionally creative projects go smoothly but sometimes there is challenge after challenge.

It’s important to accept frustration as part of the process. We can walk away, but this interrupts and halts our progress. Don’t resist the challenge and associated feelings; go with it and accept it.

See frustration as a chance to ask a different sort of question and search for a new solution. Let the challenge propel you forward. You are likely to be on the brink of something exciting.

Exercise: Taking the Initiative

In your journal or on a piece of paper write down your answers to the following questions:

• What did you discover about procrastination from reading this article?
• What’s one thing you can change about engaging in your creative pursuit?
• What will you do about making this change?

Creative Seed 3D250Lilian Wissink, a counselling psychologist with over 20 years experience, is the author of The Creative Seed - How to Enrich Your Life Through Creativity. Download the eBook version from Exisle Empowerment today to begin your creative journey, stop procrastinating, and achieve your creative and artistic dreams.