Help! I’m Procrastinating and I Can’t Get Up!

Help! I’m Procrastinating and I Can’t Get Up!

Why hello there, loyal readers, on this, a random day of the week that is definitely not when we regularly schedule a new article! Did you miss us?

Do not be afraid! We have neither abandoned you nor forgotten to update the blog. This article is coming to you late for one very simple, completely understandable reason: I was… procrastinating.

Yes, it’s true. Even we, the humble-yet-perfect proprietresses of this Internet blog sometimes suffer from lapses in productivity. It’s a perfectly normal condition that lots of people deal with. Nothing to be ashamed of! We can try again next week. I’m sure I’ll be able to perform then!

But now it’s time we talked about productivity and how to fucking force it even when you’re not in the mood. Because you know what procrastination really is? Besides a completely average and not-humiliating dysfunction, that is?

It’s a waste of money.

You must pay to procrastinate

I have a coworker who not only works full-time at two completely separate publishing houses, but moonlights as a real estate agent, sunsets as an actor, and twilights as a college professor. We refer to him as “the self-cleaning oven.”

He is remarkably productive, and as a result, he’s raking in the cash from his multiple full-time jobs and side hustles.

When I asked him how he finds the time to do it all, his answer was pretty simple: “I never procrastinate.”

Which, as far as rules to live by go, is… annoyingly simple.

Like the Dowager Countess, my hyper-productive coworker also does not know the meaning of a weekend.

When I’m feeling guilty about procrastinating, it’s almost never because I know I “should” be productive for my own personal betterment or whatevs. It’s never because I know I’m “letting myself down.” “Letting myself down” is also apparently what happens when I eat too much pizza in a single sitting, and that’s a decision I will never, ever regret in my entire life I fucking swear to you.

No. I feel guilty about procrastinating because I know that every minute spent scrolling through the most under-appreciated moments in Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Tumblr is a minute I’m not making money.

And the less money I earn at this stage of my life, the longer I’ll be forced to wile away my youth in service to The Man. My path to financial independence—nay, to freedom, is paved with money I earn right heckin’ now. If I’m procrastinating, it means I’m basically pissing away the moments I get to spend as my own master, rather than as a wage slave in The System™.

And in conclusion, procrastination is the patriarchy’s way of insidiously withering our ability to smash it. Thank you for attending my Ted Talk.

The cause of my unproductivity

The most common cause of being unproductive, for me at least, is feeling overwhelmed. When I know I have more to do than I can easily accomplish in a day, I tie my brain up in knots worrying about it all. And that wastes precious time and mental energy that could be used productively.

Over the last week I was on deadline with four projects at work, I traveled to a distant state to attend a friend’s wedding (it was lovely, thanks for asking), I started a new freelance project, and I needed to figure out travel logistics for another trip. On top of that, I needed to wade through several moderately pressing personal emails, deal with my elderly pup’s newfound destructive tendencies (RIP nine pairs of underwear, six toilet paper rolls, an entire kitchen trashcan, and all the carrots in the garden), and find time to do laundry at some point.

It was overwhelming. And so, so much easier to just… read a book. Ah, the oldest form of human escapism! Nothing can harm me, least of all my own self-destructive procrastination, while I’m reading about vengeful, sentient spaceships!

But avoiding everything I had to do didn’t make it magically disappear. Nor did it manifest some magical House Elf or pro bono personal assistant who could just do all the things for me.

Instead it all just sat there, metaphorically staring me down, unblinking and growing almost imperceptibly larger by the minute until everything was dire and terrible.

Procrastinating on what I had to do didn’t do shit to help me. And in fact, it actually hurt me. For I still had to do everything… I just had less time in which to do it.

But how does one force oneself to do it when one is not in the mood?

Do the hardest thing first

Remember how I have the heart of a terrified prey animal during the lean winter months? I’m basically that rapidly-dead quail from Bambi, but with slightly more self control.

Sometimes I feel anxious or intimidated about completing a particularly difficult or important task. And this results in me just… not doing it for hours on end. I put it off and put it off while I do easier/less important shit. And all the while the anxiety is building in me to the point that my worry over fucking up said difficult task is so blown out of proportion that it causes me more stress than if I’d just taken care of it right away!

Which, incidentally, is exactly what I recommend doing.

Do the hardest thing first. As soon as you wake up, face off with the most difficult thing you have to do that day and crush it. The rest of your day will be a cakewalk by comparison.

Don’t ease into your day by answering a few inconsequential emails or reading the news. Do the hardest thing first! Just do it and it’s done. Do it and you’re free of the anxiety and stress that would otherwise build up during procrastination.

Plus, once you’ve got the hardest thing out of the way, you can procrastinate guilt-free! And isn’t that the dream?

The Pomodoro Technique

When I’m finding it hard to be productive and stay focused, I turn to the Pomodoro Technique to get me back on track.

In the late 1980s Francesco Cirillo developed a time management technique that uses a timer to break down work into intervals separated by short breaks. So, twenty-five minutes of working followed by five minutes of play. Rinse and repeat until the work is done. Cirillo named his technique and the intervals after the Italian word for “tomato” because of the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to time his intervals.

And it’s really that simple.

The idea is that frequent breaks improve mental agility. There are also proven health benefits associated with getting up and moving around every once in a while instead of sitting in a chair typing for hours on end.

I often use my break pomodoros to do squats, tricep dips, or lunges around my office. It gets my blood flowing, freaks out the interns, and makes me feel smug about my physical fitness while still making progress on my nerdy indoor goals.

You can choose the length of your working and playing pomodoros according to what works for your schedule and workload. For example, today I was feeling particularly restless, so I interspersed twenty minutes of working at breakneck speed with ten minutes of exercise, walking the dog, doing post-travel laundry, or booking travel for the next few months.

You can break it down into smaller or larger pomodoros as you see fit. An hour on, ten minutes off. Thirty minutes on, thirty minutes off. Assess your scheduling needs and pomodoro accordingly!

I often find that within a few pomodoros, I hit my stride and don’t want to stop for breaks anymore. Once the work is flowing, you don’t have to force yourself to stop for break pomodoros anymore. Just ride out the productivity as long as it lasts, and then start cycling through breaks and working pomodoros again.


Ah, the Buckeye State. With its vast deciduous woodlands and Rust Belt cities and… metric fucktons of buckeyes, I assume? Ohio is more than just the Queen of the Politically Incendiary Midwest. It is a major tool in your arsenal for combating procrastination.

For Ohio, in the tongue of the indigenous Ojibwe, translates to “only handle it once” (it’s totes true you can look it up).

When the mail arrives, deal with each piece of mail as you pick it up—sort it, recycle it, pay it if it’s a bill from the Late Triassic where they still expect you to pay things by mail.

When the dryer buzzes, pull that shit out and fold each piece as you come to it. Don’t put it in a basket and move it somewhere else in the apartment to languish, developing wrinkles and cat hair as the decade soldiers on.

When you finish reading an email, respond to it! Don’t scroll through the rest of your inbox, averting your eyes from that thing you already wasted time and mental energy on. Only handle it once!

Only handling things once means you never decide to “do it later.” You do it immediately when “it” reveals itself to you. In this way, you’re eliminating your ability to procrastinate on something and getting it out of the way so you can focus on other things.

Also good for defending your home from roving piles of laundry and unsorted mail.

Ok but like I’m literally too depressed to do anything please help

All of these techniques will help you force yourself into a state of motivated productivity. But they’re not foolproof. For some people, the root of the problem starts much deeper.

If you’re depressed, sick, tired, or struggling under the weight of some other horrendous and debilitating circumstance, all of the tactics above just won’t cut it. By all means, you should try. But if it doesn’t work, don’t beat yourself up.

Instead, get to the root of the problem: your health and well-being, both mental and physical. To that end, we offer you our Burnout Workshop: a comprehensive, actionable, dirt cheap video course and workbook filled with practical solutions and exercises to stop the burn and help you catch your breath. Also… it’s funny as hell! Our moms said so!

Also, here is our advice on learning to cope with your mental health in order to succeed in life:

Now it’s time to hear from you, oh productive citizens of Bitch Nation! Tell us your anti-procrastination techniques in a comment below!

14 thoughts to “Help! I’m Procrastinating and I Can’t Get Up!”

  1. Some other ones I like:

    Re-asses your to-do list. If there are items on there you somehow never, ever get to…maybe there’s a reason and they might not be as important as you think they are. It can be a waste of time to do pointless or arbitrary tasks as well.

    I’ve found that tasks can often expand to fill whatever time you allot it. On some of my best days, I make a list of the things that would make me feel very productive and satisfied if I accomplished all of them. Then I complete them as rapidly as possible, while still paying attention to quality. Once they’re all done, I’m done! No need to feel like I have to stare at my work email or waste time on the internet just to hit a standard 8 hour day. (YMMV if you work in an office with others and/or a boss.)

  2. I know it’s the trendy thing on Instagram and whatnot, but I have found that bullet journaling has been super helpful in terms of stopping procrastination and just keeping track of shit. I initially avoided it because social media made it seem super elaborate and more like an artsy project, which is not my thing. But at its core, it is a simple and effective way to break down tasks into yearly, monthly, daily priorities. It is particularly useful for:

    a) forcing yourself to do important, but non-urgent goals that can get easily pushed back in the daily bustle, like making a doctor’s appointment, changing your insurance carrier, etc. b) keeping track of multiple responsibilities in various aspects of your life c) having habit trackers to encourage positive behaviors you often don’t have time for, like working out, learning some new skills, etc. d) MOST IMPORTANT- setting up a forgiving system if you end up not doing something and shifting task priorities. It’s also great if you have multiple reminders/to-do lists in different places, like Google Calendar, phone apps, post-its at your desk- it consolidates everything.

    It’s a super flexible system, so you can make it work however suits your life. I keep mine fairly simple without too much artsy things, but you can make it very pretty. Once you set it up, it is very little time out of your day. As someone with ADHD who is balancing full time work and grad school, it really helps me focus and prioritize, not get distracted by new problems or tasks cropping up, and deal with anxiety when I feel overwhelmed.

    1. This is my kind of procrastination… “oh, you need that in a week or two? Ok, let me do all this other stuff then since we’ve clearly got plenty of time…”

  3. This was helpful to see at a time when I’m fooling myself into pretending on still doing something relevant since I’m looking at what’s updated on here to feel more adulty. Personally I’m a fan of using the Pomodoro Technique when I have a lot of things to get done and the most pressing has the fuzziest timeline. I’ll get burnt out if I’m grading or planning or writing for a long period of time, but I like to do the time limit, take a break, spend my next time on a household chore, break, smaller work task, break, return to big task, etc.

  4. I have ADHD and the executive dysfunction that goes with it is probably the absolute worst thing for me. I like some of these tips and Im going to start integrating them!

    As for things I already do, I really like the Samsung Notes app. I can create checklists easily, then check them off and they get crossed out and it looks satisfying. I also use the Forest app (theres also a browser extension) which functions similarly to a pomodoro, but it also blocks you from using certain websites/apps. If you successfully stay off those sites/apps a little tree/bush grows. You can then set a relaxation timer if you want, or you take however long a break you need, or plant a new tree. It’s great for me, because I get sucked into rabbit holes on my phone/laptop super easily. With forest, I set a timer, turn on Pandora or a podcast, and get to work. (You can specifically blacklist/whitelist apps and websites.)

    I would love to bujo, but I dont have the werewithall to keep track of and make myself write in a journal for any reason except to take sermon notes. (I have tried for years. I think iy runs in the family, tbh.) Right now Im testing habit tracking apps on my phone, since that is almost always with me and requires less mental effort once I do the initial setup, and I really need help with things like eating (healthy) food regularly (ie multiple times a day), exercising, and getting everything for my big girl job done.

  5. I found this really cool method of not thinking about distracting things, or at least figuring out what you really care about thinking about or not. Write it down, every recurring thought that you have, like “Should I cut my hair? Do I care about that?” or “Should I do yoga? Even if I don’t have much time for it?”. The thing to not do is “should” on yourself. Don’t think about “I _should_ cut my hair because everyone hates it.” or “I should do yoga because it’s good for you.” Instead, really think about if you have time to worry about it, if it matters to you, if you really care about it, and if you really want to do it. Everyone’s answer can be different, but if you truly care about something, don’t mark it off the list. If you can let go of something, Mark it off the list and don’t think about it anymore. It’s helped me at least consider what should be a priority in my life or not. Also, I try to schedule time out for my stuff, so I don’t do half of it and run out of time. Also setting the scene helps me a lot. If I’m gonna do schoolwork, I try to clean off my desk the right amount, get ok lighting, put on focus music, and have some water near me so I don’t have to get up as much. I also try to make myself energized by smelling peppermint, or some other nice smell that wakes me up, since I’m trying to not resort to caffeine as much. I use the Pomodoro method sometimes as well, but I use an app so I can just push a button to skip breaks or have something buzz or ring to remind me to take a quick break.

  6. A couple weeks ago I got completely overwhelmed at work. Since I was taking a week off (for FinCon) I had to get all my work done ahead of time for the week I’d be off. Makes me question if vacation time really exists if I just work extra before or after I go, but that’s a topic for another day. Anyway, so the I get another “super urgent” task, and then another, on top of all my usual stuff. You know what I did? I had a little cry. Not full on sobbing but just a little quiet cry. Then I pulled myself together, turned off my phone and email, and got to it. I work from home so nobody saw me cry but it released some built up tension. The most productive part of this embarrassing story is that shutting out all the distractions helped. I didn’t answer my phone, didn’t even look at my email and stayed away from social media.

    1. I 1,000% empathize and approve of the venting/overwhelmed/overworked brand of crying. It’s heckin productive!

  7. Okay, this is gonna sound kinda backwards, and it has nothing to do with finances, but procrastination LITERALLY saved my life.

    About 10 years ago, I was living with my brothers but home alone atm. I’d had a mental breakdown at work (that finally drove me to seek treatment for depression), and came home early, opting to leave my kids at day care while I took a few hours for myself.

    I really needed to get laundry done, but I just didn’t have the spoons for it, so I said “Screw it, I’ll take a nap and wash clothes later.” Not even two minutes after I laid down, a very large, old tree in the backyard gave up the ghost and came crashing down…directly into the laundry room.

    The house shaking and the noise made me jump up and investigate. After staring in shock for a few moments and a very awkward phone call to my brother who owned the house (“Hey, bro? Uh, there’s a tree in the laundry room…”), I took a closer look at the damage and thanked my lucky stars that I chose to be “lazy”. Even if I wasn’t killed, I more than likely would’ve been seriously hurt if I’d forced myself to be “productive”.

    So, when it comes to finance stuff, like asking for a raise? Yeah, procrastination is a bad thing. But when it comes to other aspects of life, like household chores? You never know when that urge to put it off till later is the universe’s way of saving your ass. (Most of the time, I’m sure it’s not, but every once in awhile, see above.)

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