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5 Ways to Break the Habit of Procrastination

By Maxwell Leadership | February 27, 2024
5 Ways to Break the Habit of Procrastination

“Procrastinators of the world unite!… Tomorrow.” This pithy saying appears on novelty t-shirts all across the internet. But behind the joke, it hints at a major habit haunting millions of adults today – the habit of putting off until tomorrow, or the next day, or someday soon, what can be done today.

From the Latin pro, meaning “forward,” and crastinus, meaning “of tomorrow,” the practice of procrastination has plagued humankind for centuries. One 2014 study found that between 20% and 25% of adults regularly procrastinate. Are you one of them? If you are, then take heart – you’re in good company. Some of the world’s most influential artists, authors, and inventors had a problem with procrastination. (Les Misérables author Victor Hugo is even known to have stripped naked and sent away his clothes to prevent him from leaving his home until he got work done.)

But that’s not an approach we all have the luxury of trying! So, what can you do instead to break the habit?

The Process of Overcoming Procrastination

Whether you’re pushing back a life goal or a daily chore, here are 5 things you can do take initiative:


Chinese philosopher Mencius once said, “If your deeds are unsuccessful, seek the reason in yourself. When your own person is correct, the whole world will turn to you.” Procrastination is like any problem – the solution is rooted in the cause. Identify the cause, and you are one step closer to solving the problem.

Are you taking responsibility for your actions? Are you waiting for others to motivate you instead of working to motivate yourself? Are you waiting for everything to be perfect before you act? Are you fantasizing about tomorrow instead of focusing on what you can do today? Or is there some other issue that is preventing you from taking action?

What’s important is that you separate legitimate reasons from excuses. An excuse puts the blame on someone or something outside you. Excuses are like exit signs on the road of progress. They take us off track. Know this: it’s easier to move from failure to success than from excuses to success. Eliminate excuses. Once you’ve done that, you can turn your attention to the reasons—and how to overcome them.


Procrastination is the fertilizer that makes difficulties grow. When you take too long to decide about an opportunity that presents itself, you will miss out on seizing it.

To get yourself over the hump, focus on what you’ll get out of it if you finish the task. Whatever it is, if you’ve been putting it off, it is probably significant in some way.  Will completing the task bring a financial benefit? Will it clear the way for something else you would like to do? Does it represent a milestone in your development or the completion of something bigger? At the very least, does it help to clear the decks for you emotionally? If you seek a positive reason, you are likely to find one.

Once you find that idea, start moving forward and act decisively. U.S. admiral William Halsey observed, “All problems become smaller if you don’t dodge them, but confront them. Touch a thistle timidly, and it pricks you; grasp it boldly, and its spines crumble.”


No one achieves success alone. In The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, John Maxwell outlines the Law of Significance: “One is too small a number to achieve greatness.”

Lindbergh didn’t fly solo across the Atlantic without help. Einstein didn’t develop the theory of relativity in a vacuum. Even as influential as Isaac Newton was, he attributed his accomplishments to those who inspired him: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” All successful people have had help of some kind.

And if you want to succeed as well, having help improves your odds. At the end of the day, whether or not you choose to act is up to you. But one study from the American Society of Training and Development reveals that involving other people in your goals dramatically increases your chances of following through. You are 65% more likely to succeed when you commit to another person – and 95% more likely when you meet with an accountability partner on a regular basis.


Once you remove some of the internal barriers that may be stopping you from taking initiative and you enlist the help of others, you’re ready to get practical. Many times large tasks can get overwhelming, and that’s a problem because overwhelmed people rarely take action.

Here are some ways you can break down an intimidating goal into more manageable parts:

  • Divide it by categories. Most large objectives are complex and can be broken into steps for functions.
  • Prioritize it by importance. When we don’t take initiative and prioritize what we must do according to its importance, the tasks begin to arrange themselves according to their urgency. When the urgent starts driving you instead of the important, you lose any kind of initiative edge, and instead of activating your talent, it robs you of the best opportunities to use it.
  • Order it by sequence. Dividing the task according to its categories helps you to understand how you will need to accomplish it. Prioritizing by importance helps you to understand why you need to do each part of it. Ordering by sequence helps you to know when each part needs to be done. The important thing here is to create a timetable, give yourself deadlines, and stick to them. The biggest lie we tell ourselves when it comes to action is, “I’ll do it later.”


Dawson Trotman, author and founder of The Navigators, observed, “The greatest time wasted is the time getting started.” Haven’t you found that to be true? The hardest part of writing a letter is penning the first line. The hardest part of making a tough call is picking up the phone. The most difficult part of practicing the piano is sitting down at the keyboard.

It’s the start that often stops people. So how do you overcome that difficulty? Try scheduling a specific time for something you don’t like doing. For example, if dealing with difficult people is a regular part of your job, but you tend to avoid doing it, then schedule a set time for it. Maybe the best time would be between 2 and 3 PM every day. Treat it like an appointment, and when 3 PM rolls around, stop until the next day.

Take action today to ensure personal growth tomorrow.

It takes action (the right action) to reap the compounding benefits of consistent improvement. For you, that action could be joining the Maxwell Leadership Certified Team. To date, more than 50,000 people have found that was the right move for them. Your next step is to speak with a program advisor about whether becoming a Certified Team Member is the right move for your career.

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