“Caroline, I’m scared of what will happen when we complete my coaching program. I know we’ve worked a lot on self-sabotage and fear, but I don’t know how I will keep myself in check after our program is over. What other checks and balances can I have in the future to prevent self-sabotage and procrastination from creeping back in?”

This was a genuine concern for my client in one of our coaching sessions. It’s easy for someone to have momentum when working with a coach, as this provides regular accountability.

During this coaching session, we came up with a process that my client could use to manage procrastination.

My client was not the only person with this challenge. Some years back,  I sent out an SMS asking my contacts for the 3 main challenges they were facing at that time. Procrastination emerged a winner across the board.

In the words of one respondent, “A big one for me is procrastination. I lay off things and can be quite inconsistent. I don’t manage to follow through on anything. This is a challenge because I need to complete tasks (in order) to see progress. Any tips on these two?”

I too have battled procrastination personally and in my work and business. I’ve had to come up with strategies to take action, even when I don’t want to.

In this article, I share a system for overcoming procrastination that my clients and I use.

What is procrastination?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, procrastination is “…the action of delaying or postponing something.” Simply put then, procrastination is the act of putting things off until later.

However, the more you put things aside, the harder it gets for you to get back on track. Most of the work that is procrastinated on is never done, or it gets done shoddily.

Procrastination has also been termed as the thief of time and profit. It’s one of the main reasons why people don’t achieve their most desired goals. It’s also a major cause of overwhelm and failure.

We’re all victims of procrastination at one time or another. The main challenge is finding out ways to work yourself into action.

Successful procrastinators are experts at not taking action. They procrastinate even when they have all the resources needed to achieve the goals they set for themselves. And it’s no wonder then that procrastination generally leads to self-sabotage.

Today, I’d like to share with you the process I used with my client. It’s a 3-step process you can use anytime you notice that you’re putting things off.

How to overcome procrastination and get things done

Step 1: Get Clear

Write down all the things that you’ve been procrastinating on and then rank them using the 4D criteria.

These are the things that you will do and that will make the biggest difference in your life when you achieve them. For example, constant exercise will lead to increased energy and optimal health. In contrast, lack of exercise will have negative health implications in the future.

These are things that you can hand over to someone else or hire someone to do for you. For example, delegating housework to your househelp or hiring someone to clean your home twice a week frees up your time.

These are things that you want to do, but they are neither here nor there. They may have seemed important when you set them as goals, but they aren’t so important anymore. This list also includes things that you can do at a later date. You’re not procrastinating on them, but they’re not high on your priority scale.

Put everything else here. Throw away or tear up this list so that you don’t get tempted to reclaim the items. Items in this list include:

  • Goals that have been overtaken by time, events, or circumstances.
  • Things that you know will not make a difference in your life.
  • Goals set for you by other people (including spouse, relatives, friends).


Step 2: Prioritize

Taking the things on your DO list and prioritize them in terms of importance (priority), sequence  (what needs to be done first), and time (when it needs to be done).

This means that #1 in your list is the most important task that also needs to be done first and to be done now.

Take numbers 1-6 in your prioritized list and write them on a clean sheet of paper. These are the tasks you will complete before picking up new tasks or goals.

Finally, break down each of these tasks/goals into smaller, more manageable bits that you can work on each month, week, or day.

Step 3: Implement the Rule of 6

This rule is a very simple and easy to use strategy for taking action on a daily basis. Consistent use of this rule will also eliminate procrastination forever, as it has done for me and my clients.

For today, you’ll simply use this rule to clear your pending tasks – the ones you procrastinate on.

The Rule of 6 means that you never work on more than 6 things at a time. When you have a lot of items to work on, you use Steps 1 and 2 above to prioritize your tasks. Then apply the Rule of 6 to the prioritized list.

Here’s how it works:

  • Take a 3×5 index card and write down the tasks you will do today (or tomorrow if you’re doing this exercise in the evening). These include your personal and work/business tasks. Be careful to only include things that you will do and not things that you want other people to do for you. Ensure that you include tasks from your prioritized list in Step 2 above.
  • During the day, work on task #1 until you complete it. Break down large tasks into smaller bits and put some effort in one bit each day. At the very least, give your large task a specific time limit each day (preferably first thing in the morning) so that you work on completing it progressively.
  • Cross off each task as you complete it and then move on to task #2. If you’re working on your tasks with a time limit, set a clock or timer for the specified time and focus 100% of your attention on that task. Cross it from the list when you complete the allocated time.
  • To make the most of your time, use the Pomodoro technique to manage your time when working on tasks that require large chunks of time.

One of my clients, who had lost a lot of opportunities due to poor time management, had this to say about the power of the Rule of 6:

“Today, I have completely transformed, Caroline taught me the ‘Rule of 6’ which is a fantastic tool for helping me to keep time. I plan ahead, not just for a day, but for a month. In my business, we are right now in November planning for the next year.”
Edna Thiong’o, (CEO, Breakthrough Consulting)


A word of caution

Sometimes people set goals that conflict with each other or with some deeply held personal values. This can easily lead to procrastination on the lesser goal.

For example, say you want to get married and have set meeting the man of your dreams as a goal for this year. At the same time, you value your independence. So you’re not keen to give up control of your life to someone else. You’re also a strong Christian and uphold Christian values such as the man being the head of the household.

You may not consciously realize the conflict inherent in your goals and values. But, at a deeper level, there is a fight going on in your mind.

As the year moves on, you meet men who fit your ideal husband criteria. Unfortunately, your personal value (independence) and religious value (who is the head of the household) clash with your desire to get married.

You find fault with almost all the men you meet. And you dismiss potential prospects due to your inner conflict.

Here’s another example:

Maybe you want to start a business while still employed. At the same time, you value the time spent with your family and want to spend all evenings and weekends with them.

Starting the business will immediately conflict with your family values and possibly take you away from your job. This clash may lead to sabotaging yourself at work, never starting the business, or starting the business and then giving up.

So as prioritize your goals, check in with yourself and identify whether there could be a clash between goals and values. When such a clash happens, your values or the goals that you’ve placed a higher emotional value on will always win.

Also, note that the mind doesn’t care much about what you say you want because it works with your emotions and feelings.

This means that anytime you want something but don’t believe that you can get it, you will not get it. Or if you want something but you have a stronger inner conviction that goes against your goals, you will not be able to achieve the goal you’re consciously thinking of.

Something extra

Procrastination is one of the main causes of overwhelm and burnout. Here are more articles that are part of a series on how to overcome overwhelm and overwork.

Your turn…

When you procrastinate, you give preference to tasks that are less urgent or do more pleasurable things before important ones. You keep putting off tasks until a later time and end up rushing to complete them at the last minute.

In this article, I’ve shared a 3-step process for overcoming procrastination. Consistent use of this 3-step process will help you take action and make progress towards your goals.

All of us procrastinate on one thing or another. What have you procrastinated on the most? Having read this article, what action will you take within the next week? Please share in the Comments.

(Images courtesy of Free Digital Photos and Unsplash)

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