Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Marty Nemko, How to do life: Quelling procrastination
How to Do Life

Marty Nemko, How to do life: Quelling procrastination

  • Updated

These tips have helped my clients reduce their procrastination. Perhaps one or more will help you.

Find the motivation by picturing the benefits of doing the task and the liabilities of not. Possible benefits: Proving that naysayer wrong. Giving yourself a reward, even for just 10 minutes of work. Knowing that you’ll feel good checking off that item on your to-do list. Possible liability: Your boss or romantic partner will be disappointed in you.

Replace excess rumination with a low-risk action. Promptly starting the task makes it more likely you’ll have time to revise, which boosts the chance your work will be good. And even if it’s not, acting rather than excess ruminating is more likely to yield a lesson that can boost your future chances of success.

Write baby steps? If it’s a complex or long task, do you want to write the baby steps, the milestones that you can check off as they’re done? That feels good. If you don’t know a wise way to break down a task, is there someone you should ask?

Do it the fun way. For example, would listening to music while you work be worth whatever distraction it causes? Should you just create a few talking points rather than writing a script? If you’re a people person who has to write a report, could you replace some of the spreadsheets with interviews?

Make doing the task non-negotiable. Push yourself to start now. That’s key to getting things done well and with less pain. Worst case, the task is done early, not hanging over your head, which frees you up for other tasks, you’ll feel good about yourself, and maybe people will be impressed with you.

Ritualize. Tie a regular-occurring or big single task to a particular time or activity. For example, exercise right before dinner. Make that inviolate, as non-negotiable as brushing your teeth each morning. A side benefit of exercising in the late afternoon: By the time the post-exercise fatigue sets in, you’re closer to bedtime. If you exercise in the morning, the fatigue sets in during your work day.

The moment of truth. That’s when you’re deciding, consciously or not, whether to do the task or something more pleasant. Make yourself do the first few-second part, then the second few-second part. An object in motion, well, you know.

Start with the easy or the hard? Will starting with the easy get you going or should you start with the hard? Mark Twain quipped that we should start each day by eating a live frog; that guarantees that the rest of your day will be easier.

The Pomodoro Technique. That merges the benefits of structure, rewards, and forcing yourself out of your chair. As they say, sitting is the new smoking. Set a timer for 20 minutes. It needn’t be one of those tomato-shaped kitchen timers for which the Pomodoro Technique is named. Work for 20, then take a 5-minute break, work 20 more and take a 5-minute break, work 20 more and a 10-minute break. That’s a pomodoro.

Create time pressure. For example, if you’d like to break at noon, say “I’m going to get X done before noon.”

Be accountable to someone. If fear of embarrassment might reduce your procrastination, share your goal with a friend or on social media, for example, that you’ll finish that report by Monday at 9 a.m. You might even give the friend a $50 check to a politician you dislike and say, “If I don’t get the task done on time, mail it.”

Recognize that being productive is core to a life well-lived. Even if your work is mundane, people live a wiser, more contributory life if they are quite productive

For more tips, see my column on time management. (

A new study has found that puppies are wired to communicate with humans from birth. Dogs are born with “human-like” social skills that give them an advantage when it comes to bonding with people. Researchers found that puppies are able to understand some human gestures. However, they aren’t able to communicate back until they are a little older. 375 eight-week-old puppies took part in the study. The dogs had little previous one-on-one interaction with humans. In one test, the puppies were able to find a hidden treat by following human pointing gestures. These findings suggest that dogs are biologically prepared for communication with humans, Dr. Emily Bray, University of Arizona

Catch up on Napa County's top news stories

In case you missed it, here is a look at the most-read stories on

Get unlimited digital access to the Napa Valley Register for just $1 for your first 3 months! Enjoy every article without restrictions and find tons of subscriber-only perks, such as access to our daily eEdition. Click here for details!

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach:, and husband of Napa County Schools Superintendent, Barbara Nemko.

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News