From Procrastination to Productivity: Breaking the Cycle

By Deanna deBara | Published July 1, 2024

Strategies to Overcome Procrastination and Enhance Productivity

If you struggle with procrastination, you're not alone. Far from it, research suggests that chronic procrastination rates may be as high as 20 to 25%.

But just because procrastination is common doesn't mean it's not a problem. Procrastination makes it hard to get things done—decreasing productivity while increasing stress (as anyone who has left an important task or project to the last minute knows all too well).

So, the question is, how do you break the cycle of procrastination and get more things done (and done on time!)?

Let's take a look at strategies you can use to move from procrastination to productivity:

Tackle the most challenging task first

People tend to procrastinate on tasks and activities they find challenging or daunting. But the more you push those tasks off, the more complex and daunting they can feel.

This is why, if you want to break the cycle of procrastination, one of the best things you can do is tackle those challenging and daunting tasks first.

Sometimes referred to as "eating the frog," this productivity strategy involves identifying the hardest or most challenging task on your to-do list and then crossing that task off before any of your other to-dos (including to-dos that might feel easier, faster, or more accessible).

Tackling your most challenging task first offers a few benefits. First, if you're dreading the task, the more you put it off, the more dread you will feel—and that dread can take your focus, making it hard to get anything done. Getting it over with ASAP eliminates that dread—and frees up your energy and focus to work on other things.

Knocking off your most challenging task first also gives you a sense of accomplishment—and that accomplishment can boost motivation, making it easier to get things done for the rest of the day.

Tackling hard things first also makes sense from an energetic and cognitive perspective. For example, research suggests that people tend to perform at a higher level in the morning, so "eating the frog" allows you to get through challenging tasks when you're feeling the most focused and ready to perform.

Every day, look at your to-do list and identify the task that feels the most challenging or the most dreaded—and then, once you have that task, force yourself to complete it before anything else. Getting it off your plate will free up your mind to focus on the rest of your to-do list—and the boost of motivation you'll get from finishing something hard early in the day can help you increase productivity for the rest of your working hours.

Infuse accountability

Procrastination can feel like an isolating experience. But again, it's an extremely common behavior—and if you're struggling, chances are you have a friend, loved one, or colleague struggling.

Teaming up can be an extremely effective strategy if you both want to stop procrastinating and be more productive.

According to a study from the American Society of Training and Development, you are 65 percent more likely to hit a goal if you commit to achieving that goal to another person—and that includes a goal of breaking the procrastination cycle and increasing productivity.

Find someone you trust and respect to act as your accountability partner for overcoming procrastination. Work together to set concrete goals, like finishing a project you've been putting off or committing to "eating the frog" at the start of every work day. Then, check in with each other regularly to review your progress towards your goals.

If and when you hit your goals, celebrate! And if you struggle to meet your stated goals, brainstorm about what's not working, what you need to hit the goal, and how they can support you as you work towards it.

Infusing accountability in your attempt to overcome procrastination can significantly increase the likelihood of success, so consider enlisting the help of an accountability partner as you work on your procrastination-related behaviors.

Put your phone away

Many people procrastinate in favor of distraction. Instead of tackling the things they need to get done, they focus their attention on something else—often something that feels easier or more fun.

And when it comes to distraction, there is no bigger culprit than your smartphone.

A smartphone is a distraction machine; you can scroll social media, surf the internet, and text friends…the distractions are endless. And if you tend to procrastinate, having a phone nearby can make it too easy to reach for a "quick fix" distraction instead of powering through your work.

That's why, if you're serious about breaking the habit of procrastination, you might want to consider ditching your phone.

Commit to putting your phone out of sight during working hours. (And that means out of the room entirely; research from the University of Texas found that just having your phone nearby—even if the phone isn't actually on—can negatively impact cognitive functioning.) Let people know (both in your personal life and professional life) that you will be powering down your phone during work hours—and if they need to reach you, they should reach out via email or another method of communication that you can access without your phone (like Slack or a digital messaging app). 

Removing your phone completely can help remove the temptation for distraction. And because you can't easily distract yourself, you'll be more likely to focus on what needs to get done and increase your productivity in the process.

If your phone isn't your only or biggest distraction, look for other creative ways to eliminate those distractions so you can stop procrastination, focus on work, and get things done. For example, if you procrastinate on message boards, use a website blocker to block those boards during working hours. If you work from home—and are regularly distracted by home obligations—consider working from a coffee shop, coworking space, or other neutral space outside the house.

The point is that many people use distraction to procrastinate, and eliminating sources of distraction (including your phone!) can help you break that cycle of procrastination and be more productive throughout the day.

Productivity Tips  

Deanna deBara

Deanna deBara is an entrepreneur, speaker, and freelance writer who specializes in business and productivity topics. When she's not busy writing, she enjoys hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dog. See more of her work and learn more about her services at