time management

Your Tiny First Step: 5 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Start Getting Things Done

July 5, 2021

Reading Time: 16 minutes

Your Tiny First Step: 5 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Start Getting Things Done

We’re all guilty of procrastination, but what do we do about it? Your first step might be simpler than you think. In this episode, we’ll start by recognizing what procrastination looks like. Sometimes it can really sneak up on us and feel productive, even though it’s not.








Episode 87 is part three in our three part series all about putting things off, doing stuff later, and getting around to it at some point.


Truth be told, the reason why it’s taken me so long – 80+ episodes to get around to writing an episode on procrastination is because I was putting it off.

Out of all of the time management and productivity topics and strategies I’ve studied over the years, I’ve never really spent time digging into procrastination. What exactly it is… why we do it… and what to do about it.

What I did know is that it’s incredibly common – and one of the most requested topics from It’s About Time listeners. And I knew that I wanted to fully understand it before talking about it on the show.

I also knew that putting together an episode about procrastination was going to take some focused research, and once I got started, it was hard to stop. That’s why instead of skimping and doing one broad episode, I’ve divided up all of this procrastination goodness into three episodes.

Back in Episode 85, I shared 5 things you should know about procrastination, procrastination personality types, procrastination as a symptom for medical conditions and more.

Then in Episode 86, I shared the 5 questions you should ask yourself when you feel like procrastinating. That’s where I really laid out the procrastination equation and why we put things off.

So If you haven’t listened to those yet, go ahead and listen to those, then come right back. Those two episodes set the stage for the action packed strategies you’ll find up ahead in Episode 87.

If Episode 85 is the What and Episode 86 is the Why – today we’re digging into the HOW in Episode 87 – as in HOW to combat procrastination and get things done.

What. Why and How.

So today – in part three, I’m wrapping up our series on procrastination by sharing

  • How to recognize when you’re procrastinating – because sometimes it sneaks up on us

  • Five common reasons why we put things off

  • How to push past fear, break down overwhelm and have more fun

  • And finally the key ingredient to finally taking action and knocking out your most dreaded, most procrastinated tasks

Why We Procrastinate

In last week’s episode, we focused in on WHY we procrastinate.

Self-Control & Motivation v. Negative Factors

We learned that when the negative factors of doing the thing outweigh our self-control and motivation, we’re more likely to put something off until later. But – if you’re able to get clear on your motivation – your why for doing the thing – or make some adjustments to those negative factors – the things that are holding you back – you can tip the scales in the direction of taking action.

Example: Updating Your Website

For instance, if you’re putting off updating your website, something you KNOW you need to do and you even WANT to do, but you find yourself doing everything BUT working on your website, you could ask yourself – “What’s my motivation? Why do I want to update my website?” 

Well… I want to update my website so I can attract more of my ideal clients and help them see that I’m the best choice for them. And by attracting more of my ideal clients, I can then work with more ideal clients, which results in more income, which results in being able to pay for more experiences for my family.

Okay – that’s pretty solid motivation.

On the flip side, What are the negative factors?

Well, updating my website is hard. I can’t do it in 5 or 10 minute pockets of time, I need at least 30 minutes of focus to truly make progress and I’m having a hard time making finding 30 minute windows and dealing with distractions.

Can you pick out the negative factors in that situation?

Updating the website feels hard, plus finding time to truly focus is challenging.

What’s the next step?

So what do we do next? Question Number 5 from Episode 86 was this – How can I adjust those negative factors? In the case of this website update procrastination, what changes can I make to make this feel less hard or to find more focus time?

That’s the focus of this episode: How to make adjustments to the most common reasons why we procrastinate. 

What Does Procrastination Look Like?

But all of that is only helpful if you actually recognize that you’re procrastinating.

Wait – what?

Yes – you can actually be procrastinating without even realizing it, because your procrastination can look or feel productive. And that negative factor in the website example – not being able to find the time? That’s classic procrastination without calling it procrastination.

So what does procrastination look like when it’s not so obvious, and how can it sneak up on us?

Procrastination Looks Like…

For starters, it looks like doing busy work to avoid what you really need to do.

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

A few years ago I worked on the crisis team at a PR firm in New Orleans. The 24/7 on call nature of the work was really starting to get to me, but I wasn’t fully admitting it to myself yet. So, every morning when I got to work at 9, I would grab a piping hot mocha flavored coffee from the Keurig in the breakroom, sit down at my fingerprint smudged glass top desk, open my laptop and literally spend the first hour of the workday reading the news.

I’d tell myself that it was to stay on top of current events like a good PR pro, but when I really got to the root of it, I was avoiding getting started on work that just wasn’t fulfilling to me. Not to mention, I had a terrible time focusing on anything in that open office environment.

So – let’s have a quick reality check moment.

Running Out of Time

If you’ve ever made a to-do list with 17 things on, and you start your day by knocking out 11 unimportant things, and by the time 5:00 rolls around, you never “had time to do the actual important things on your list” – that’s not running out of time… you might be procrastinating.

Saying Yes to Too Many Requests

If you find yourself saying “Yes” to requests from other people, and your schedule gets filled to the brim to the point that you can’t do what truly needs to be done? You might be procrastinating. Just a reminder, especially for you Enneagram 2’s who are listening,  just because someone asks you to do something, doesn’t mean you have to say yes.

By the way, this is starting to feel a bit like those “You Might be a Redneck Jokes” by Jeff Foxworthy in the 90’s. 



Photo Credit: Sarah Becker Photography

Photo Credit: Sarah Becker Photography

Always in Learning Mode

If you find yourself buying another online course, or another book, joining another membership or mastermind, or admission to another conference instead of taking action on what you’ve already learned? … you might be procrastinating.

Analysis Paralysis 

If you find yourself doing just a little more research, making another pro’s and con’s list, or asking for more advice before making a decision? You might be procrastinating.

Too Many Breaks

If you find yourself taking too many breaks, or taking poorly timed breaks, or rewarding yourself with a break even though you haven’t done much? You might be procrastinating. Now – you know that I am a huge advocate for taking breaks as a way to stay mentally sharp, combat burnout and rejuvenate your creativity. But rewarding yourself with a 30 minute break after reading 1 page of a report probably isn’t a productive break.

Waiting for Perfect Conditions

If you’re waiting for perfect conditions to get started. You need complete and total silence. No distractions. It can’t be too hot, or too cold. And now your neighbors dogs are barking. Can’t start now. And anyway, you’re hungry and it’s almost lunchtime so you might as well wait til after lunch. Oh what time is it? It’s 12:46? Let’s officially start at 1:00.

If you’re waiting for circumstances to be “Just right” or you’re waiting for the “right time” you might be procrastinating.

Chasing Distractions

How about distractions? It’s so common to say – I was going to get the thing done, but then life happened, and there were so many distractions that popped up. Life always happens. Distractions will always pop up.

Sure – there are certain things that pop up that you absolutely have to contend with. For example, as I was writing this episode, my sweet darling precious baby girl Elizabeth had a blowout of disastrous in her light blue bouncy chair. So I had to stop what I was doing, clean her, clean the chair, and start a load of laundry. The whole clean up process took about 15 minutes. It was not pretty.

During the cleanup phase, more things to do popped into my head. I could put in a grocery order real quick. I should check and see if I have any instagram DMs or replies to my comments on Facebook. But in the spirit of this episode – I sat back down and kept writing.

Distractions will always pop up. You will always find something else to do – things that are also worth doing!  But if you let them consistently get in the way of what you need to do? You might be procrastinating.

Procrastination can take many forms.

As you can see – and you’ve probably experienced, procrastination can take so many forms – and we may not even fully realize that we’re procrastinating as it’s happening. We might not even be able to pinpoint what we’re procrastinating in that moment. But if any of these scenarios sounded familiar to you – please know that you’re not alone. Just like we covered back in Episode 85 – everyone procrastinates. 

The 5 Most Common Reasons Why We Procrastinate

So – what do we do? Since I can’t give you advice for every single possible procrastination scenario, I’ve picked out the 5 most common reasons why we procrastinate.

Those are

  1. Fear – fear of failure and fear of success. Anxiety and perfectionism also fall into this category, because perfectionism and fear of failure go hand in hand.

  2. The task is overwhelming – it feels so big you don’t know where to start, so you don’t

  3. You are overwhelmed – you’ve got so much to do, so much on your plate that you don’t know where to start, so you don’t

  4. The task is boring or unfulfilling. You’ve got to do it – whether it’s for your job, or a boring house chore like cleaning your baseboards.

  5. You’re exhausted. You’ve been doing and doing so hard, that you just don’t feel like doing anymore.

We’ll take a look at each out, and I’ll share questions you can ask yourself, and strategies for tackling each one, and getting the thing done – or at least getting it started, which can be half the battle.



Photo Credit: Sarah Becker Photography

Photo Credit: Sarah Becker Photography

I’m afraid.

Let’s start by talking about fear.

Fear of Failure / Perfectionism

Very often, we procrastinate getting started because we’re afraid. And that fear can be for many reasons. You’re afraid of failing. What will people think? What if you don’t do a very good job? What if you make a mistake? This is often what keeps perfectionists from getting started, they’re afraid they can’t produce something perfect – so they delay starting as long as possible.

Fear of Success

And just like you can fear failure,  you can be afraid of success. What if you follow through and launch that new business or apply for that job and it actually works out? Suddenly you have new responsibilities, and that thought of those new responsibilities – even if they’re a good thing, something you want – can feel scary. Can I handle it? What if everyone finds out I’m a fraud?


And then there’s anxiety. When I group anxiety into this bucket, I’m talking about everyday stress and anxiety, not clinical anxiety. You can feel anxious about something for a reason you can’t quite put your finger on.

And – by the way – If you do find that you procrastinate on a regular basis due to unrelenting feelings of anxiety, procrastination is a common symptom of anxiety and depression, and you may want to consider seeing a medical professional to learn more.

What’s the worst case scenario, and how would you bounce back?

So when you’re procrastinating due to fear or anxiety, I encourage you to ask yourself

  • What’s the worst that could happen?

  • What’s the worst case scenario?

And then totally picture the worst thing, or the worst case scenario. What would that look like? I know this is going to be totally terrifying in some cases – especially if you’re an enneagram 6.

Now that you’ve pictured the worst case – how would you bounce back if the worst case scenario actually happened?

Very often, when we come up with the worst case scenario, it’s honestly not that bad. And even better – when we go ahead and think about how we’d bounce back, how we’d handled it or respond – we realize that even the worst case scenario can be totally manageable. Recognizing this can help you push past fear and get started.

So once you’ve pushed past the fear, ask yourself…

What’s your tiny first step?

What’s the one small thing you can do – the one small action you can take to go from stalled to started?

And then – take it. 

It’s overwhelming.

Next up – When the task is overwhelming.

For example – planning a wedding. That’s a big task.

After I got engaged, I actually didn’t jump in and start planning. Planning a wedding felt super overwhelming. Huge! There were so many things to research, plan, and organize.

What does DONE look like?

So when the task itself is overwhelming ask yourself this question:

  • What does done look like?

This question works just as well for wedding planning as it does first birthday planning, or annual report writing, or funnel building, house building or resume building.

What does done look like?

Having a clear picture of “done,” “complete,” or “finished” gives you something to work toward. Like the picture on the puzzle box – it helps you figure out the milestones and identify the pieces and parts necessary to getting to the finish line.

How can you break “done” into smaller, more manageable parts?

Which brings us to the next question – Once you know what “done” looks like – How can you break it into smaller, more manageable parts?

tasks v. projects

One of the biggest to-do list pitfalls I see with my time management clients is that their daily to-do list is a messy mix of tasks and projects. To-do lists are for tasks, not projects, and here’s why.

A task is one step. One and done. Check. Move on.

A project, on the other hand, has multiple steps before it can be considered done.

Let’s play project or task. Here we go:

Make a dentist appointment. Project or task?

That’s a task. You call the dentist’s office. Make the appointment. Boom. You’re done.

Plan vacation. Is that a project or a task?

If you said project – you’re right. There are many steps that have to be taken before the vacation is considered planned. There’s research, there’s booking lodging, travel, coordinating dates, asking for time off. The whole nine yards.

In order to make an overwhelming task seem less daunting, break it down into the smaller parts and pieces it takes to get it done, then…

What’s your tiny first step?

What’s the one small thing you can do – the one small action you can take to go from stalled to started?

Then, take that step. 

And while you’re at it – next time you catch yourself writing a project on your to-do list, break it down into the smaller steps and write your tasks down instead.

I’m overwhelmed.

And speaking of to-do list – perhaps you’re procrastinating because you’ve got SO much to do. Projects on projects. Tasks on tasks. You’ve got so much swirling around in your head with life stuff, and work stuff, or business stuff, maybe school stuff, plus there’s your health, and your mother in law is coming to visit, and did you sign the field trip permission slip? Is dance class on Wednesday or Thursday? And when is that report due?

Get it OUT of your Head

When you’ve got so much to do that you’re deer in headlights stuck, I encourage you to start by getting it all out of your head.

Usually the source of our overwhelm is our attempt to organize everything inside our heads, and then we get down on ourselves when we forget things or get confused.



Photo Credit: Sarah Becker Photography

Photo Credit: Sarah Becker Photography

Do a “Mind Sweep”

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, grab a pen and some page – I like royal blue flair pens and sheets of looseleaf, but a Google Doc or even a Trello board work great – and just get everything out of your head. Some people call this a brain dump, but I prefer “mind sweep” because you’re walking through your brain space and sweeping all the cobwebs out of the nooks and crannies of your mind. Get everything written down until you literally can’t think of anything else.

Sort the Mind Sweep

Then, once you’ve got it all out and your brain feels oddly calm and empty, we’re going to organize our Mind Sweep list into four sections. Maybe you want to grab a fresh sheet of paper for this, but you’re going to put everything into one of these four categories: Must Do. Should Do. Could Do. Want to. Everything on your Mind Sweep list is going to fall into one of those four categories, and be really real with yourself about what MUST do means.

Once you’ve gotten everything out of your head and sorted into Must Do. Should Do. Could Do. and Want To, start with the Must Do’s. And then start with the most important and urgent Must Do.

Schedule the most important Must Do.

Once you’ve identified the most important, most urgent Must Do, schedule it with Time Blocks on your calendar. A quick refresher – a time block is a meeting you schedule with yourself to do specific work. Figure out when you can work on this most urgent Must Do, and block it.

And again – ask yourself – surprise surprise

What’s your tiny first step?

What’s the one small thing you can do – the one small action you can take to go from stalled to started?

Then, take that step. 

IT’s boring.

And then – what if the task you’re avoiding is boring or unfulfilling?

Soul crushing monotony. Like the guy from Office Space with the TPS reports.

Double Down on your Motivation

Your first step here is to double down on your motivation. Why is this important? And try your hardest to get to the root of WHY doing this boring, unfulfilling thing is truly important.

Find the FUN

Next – once you’ve gotten the motivation refresher, challenge yourself to make the task more fun or enjoyable. Can you wash the baseboards listening to Hip Hop Barbecue pandora? Can you eat an M&M every time you finish reading a page in your grad school textbook? Can you listen to your favorite podcast while you fold that mountain of laundry? What can you do to make this boring, unfulfilling task just a little more fun while you’re doing it?

Choose a Reward

And then – how can you reward yourself or celebrate when it’s done? But you have to decide in advance. After I mop the floors, I’m going to Sonic to get a milkshake! Or after I clean out the garage, I’m going to my favorite sushi restaurant for dinner – after a shower of course. When you decide in advance how you’ll celebrate getting through the boring, monotonous, unfulfilling thing, you take the power away from the boringness and give it to the anticipation of the reward.

And finally – you’ve got to identify – you guessed it…. your tiny first step.

The one small thing you can do – the one small action you can take to go from stalled to started?

Then, take that step. 

I’m exhausted.

Okay – last, but not least. You’re exhausted. You’ve been doing a lot – maybe you’ve been doing a lot of important things, maybe you’ve been procrastinating with a lot of small, insignificant things to avoid doing the important things.

Maybe you’ve got a newborn, or a toddler or a newborn AND a toddler and you’re waking up multiple times a night, for multiple nights in a row,  but the time has come and you’ve got to make some progress on something you’ve been putting off, even though you’re tired.

What’s the deadline?

First – Get clear on the deadline. Do you really have to take action on this now, or can it wait? Do you have to do it all now? Can you cut yourself some slack and do it later guilt free? Can you ask for help? Yes – this is permission to procrastinate, because if you’re exhausted and the deadline isn’t ASAP chances are, getting some rest is going to make this task a lot more manageable.

Good Enough v. Unattainable Perfection

Second – Ask yourself – What does a B minus look like?

Very often our quest for perfection – just like we talked about earlier in this episode when we covered how to combat procrastination due to fear – very often our quest for perfection can hold us back from getting things done. So when you’re exhausted and you don’t want to start, go ahead and picture what done looks like.

What does an A+ look like, and then back it up and ask yourself What does a B minus look like? Chances are, your B minus work will do just fine in this scenario and this is a case in which done is definitely better than perfect.

Schedule the pieces that need to be done now.

Third – Once you’re clear on the deadline and what B minus work looks like, how can you create a manageable schedule to get it done, by creating time blocks for the different parts and pieces of the project. Do you have to do it all now?

What’s your tiny first step?

What’s the one small thing you can do – the one small action you can take to go from stalled to started?

Then, take that step. 

your tiny first step

You’ve now heard me say this five times, for all five of the most common reasons why we procrastinate.

What’s the one small thing you can do – the one small action you can take to go from stalled to started?

Sure – all five of those reasons are unique, and they each have their own obstacles to push through before you can get started. But in the end, we’re working toward that key ingredient – that tiny first step.

Here’s why –

The Cycle of Progress

Identifying your tiny first step, and taking it, means you’re making progress. Making progress – even a small, tiny win – releases a hit of the feel good chemical dopamine – which then increases your motivation. That motivation makes you want to keep making more progress, and get more small wins, which increases your motivation and continues the cycle of progress.


Procrastination. Everybody does it. But if you can recognize that you’re procrastinating and be honest with yourself about WHY you’re procrastinating, you can find your tiny first step, get a win and keep moving.

If you’re reading this right now then you’re equipped. You’re ready. You’ve taken the time to tune in and begin to understand why we wait. You know exactly what you need to start taking action, and I know you’re going to stop waiting and start doing.

next level life

And if you’re really ready to stop procrastinating and start doing, start getting those tiny wins and turn them into big wins, then I’ve created something just for you. I want you, my It’s About Time listeners to be the first to know about Next Level Life – the newest opportunity to work with me to take control of your time and achieve your big goals. 

You’ve listened to the episodes, and you’ve implemented what you’ve learned here and there – but what if you could work directly with me, alongside a tight-knit community of like-minded, ambitious women to take yourself, your business, your career to the next level?

Whether you’re growing your empire as a small business owner, or you’re climbing the latter and shattering glass ceilings, you’re invited to be a founding member of Next Level Life.

Weekly coaching sessions, a growing lesson library, private community and so much more – Next Level Life is the balanced approach to wholehearted living that you’ve been looking for, with me by your side for accountability, encouragement and motivation. 

In the last year I’ve coached 22 women on their path to living with more confidence, clarity and intention by helping them make the most of their time. Time is our most precious nonrenewable resource, and the one thing all of my clients have in common is that they want to live fulfilling lives with no regrets.

They want to grow their business, but also take vacation.

They want to get promoted, without sacrificing time with their families.

They want to work full time, go to grad school and still have the space to travel.

If that sounds like you, then I’d be honored to have you as a Founding Member of Next Level Life. Join the waitlist.


Episode 85: Now, Not Later: 5 Things You Need to Know About Procrastination

Episode 86: Why We Wait: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Feel Like Procrastinating

Next Level Life: Join the Waitlist to get all the details on this brand new coaching community for busy, ambitious women who want MORE out of life.


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