Don't get distracted.  Keep starting.  That's all.
I learned a lot about procrastination while writing my doctoral dissertation and wrote this site to help myself and others fight procrastination.  You are welcome to email me your own insights or suggestions.  By the way, I turned in my thesis titled "Characterization of Mice Lacking Kv4.2, an A-Type Potassium Channel", to the university on March 15, 2002.  Finally after six and a half years.

Don't get distracted.  Keep starting.  That's all.

The first step in preventing procrastination is to avoid engaging in any distracting activity.  The likelihood of finding yourself distracted depends on at least two things: your determination to work and the level of distraction in the surroundings.  It is critical that you both have the determination to work and are in an environment sufficiently conducive to work.  Then, the second step is to keep starting.  It is probably unreasonable to expect yourself to stay at a constantly high level of determination and focus.  You must keep starting and keep working after breaks and setbacks.

It is probably obvious that the first and second steps are complementary.  Once you stop letting yourself get distracted, it is surprisingly difficult to do just nothing instead of starting to work and once you start working, often you soon find yourself in a groove that keeps you working and maybe even enjoying it.

So the goals to keep in mind while trying to complete an assignment within a reasonable amount of time are simple: donít get distracted and keep starting.  Still, meeting just these two goals can be difficult due to the impulsive human nature and the level of distraction around you.  Iíve collected and listed some more specific ideas from my own experiences and readings to help prevent procrastination.  Most work by helping you meet the two goals mentioned above.

Of course, these ideas have a chance to work only if you seriously apply them.  They wonít work just because you read them.  Sometimes, you need to constantly remind yourself of these ideas to benefit from them because procrastinating is always so tempting.  I've flipped through quite a few books and read many websites, but there are NO EASY SOLUTIONS.  Procrastination happens due to a combination of many little reasons with the common theme that people are simply not very good at denying themselves immediate pleasure for a delayed reward.  So I guess you have to keep working at it.  It's tough.

Good Habits

The critical difference between procrastinators and productive non-procrastinators is in the amount of work accomplished early and far away from the deadline and not near the deadline.  Good habits let you accomplish a lot with relative ease, regardless of when the deadline is.

Keep regular working hours.  Itís easier to motivate yourself when all others are working.

Keep regular sleeping hours.  Getting enough sleep is important for good motivation and concentration.

Exercise regularly to keep your energy up.

Eat healthy; donít eat to procrastinate.

Have playtime at the end of each day if the tasks reasonably planned were all accomplished.  Relax and play.  Absolutely do not work at this time.

Don't think of a task as a big block of work.  When you begin, spend time breaking the whole task down into smaller pieces.  This will reduce uncertainty and stress, making starting easier.  It will also help you get a more concrete estimate of how much time a task will take, which can motivate you.  So itís almost always a good idea to break the task down.

Take time to mentally get ready for the task.  Procrastination is not an easy opponent.  Without the necessary determination, defeat is often inevitable.  Read this page.  Pray.  Achieve a serene and focused mind before you begin.

Before beginning an assignment, address the uncertainties involved.  Try to get the answers to such questions as whether it would be possible to do a particular task.  Usually, the only way to answer such question is by starting.

Self-Control

Overcome the impulse control problem (which, by the way, is a part of human nature) with a serene and focused mind.  Whenever an impulse to get distracted grips you, have a moment of silence and serenity. Then go back to work.  Repeat as often as necessary.  Remember that once you are in a working groove, work can be enjoyable.

One weapon against the impulse control problem is logical thinking.  Avoid making spontaneous decisions, which are more likely to be errant.

Make a reasonable plan beforehand as to which activities are allowed and which are not.  Stick to the plan.  The plan doesnít need to be perfect.  Itís okay if you miss out on a few worthwhile activities by following such a plan.  The plan can still help you by effectively preventing you from wasting too much time on useless activities.

Take it easy.  Work can be enjoyable.  It can be at least tolerable if other activities are not considered as options.  Remember that the impulse control problem coincides with errantly inflated importance or attractiveness of other activities.

You are particularly vulnerable to distractions when you canít decide quickly how to proceed.  Take a deep breath.  Resist the temptation.  Make a decision.  For most assignments, decisions are reversible; make revisions later.

Distracting activities become more attractive the more you do them.  Also, the longer you procrastinate, the more difficult it is to stop.

Take breaks to re-energize, not to engage in addictive activities such as web surfing or playing computer games.

Seek help from friends, if available, to fight off distraction.  Also, consider using the "rubber-band-on-wrist" technique, the "write-what-you-are-tempted-to-do-on-paper-and-then-rip-it" technique and the "do-something-else-like-walking-around-the-department" technique.

Use a little notebook to make notes of every 5-minute block of time used productively or unproductively.  This is a way of keeping track of self-control.

Determination

Determination comes from your desire to obtain what you want and your assessment as to your ability to obtain it.  It helps to be passionate and confident.

Believe in things that help you.  For example, believe that you will be able to finish the task in time if you focus and take one step at a time.

Quick certain rewards can motivate you.  Distant uncertain rewards tend to discourage.  If possible, get concrete ideas of what rewards to expect and when.  Be positive about the future rewards and be confident about your ability to obtain them.  Also, be as certain as possible about the negative consequences of unfinished tasks and about the firmness of deadlines to help get motivated to work now.

There are bound to be times when there will be uncertainties as to the possibility of success or the ultimate worth of success.  These uncertainties can discourage and reinforce any procrastinating tendencies.  Try to be positive, but ultimately one can counter the negative feelings only by starting, thus making the work more tolerable and bringing it closer to completion.

Don't mind the things you can't control, such as what others will think of you or whether you have time to finish.  More generally, donít worry.  Just do.

Don't let the time you've wasted discourage you.  You can't have it back.  Again, donít worry.  Just do.

Negative feelings and procrastination are mutually reinforcing.  Stress and doubt discourage action and then inaction leads to more stress and doubt as the deadline looms.

Your perception of the task should be such that it seems challenging, but not too much so.  See if you can set for yourself a reasonable and challenging goal that you can get excited about.  Plan to reward yourself well if you meet the goal.  Pat yourself on the back at least.

One possible challenging goal can be to attempt to complete an assignment in an absolute minimum amount of time.  Consider any shortcuts that will speed you up on your way to a decent product, without waiting for all the shortcuts to occur to you.  You can improve later after gaining the confidence that you can finish it.  You can pretend that you only have the minimum amount of time left due to inevitable procrastination.  Reward yourself definitely and plentifully with play afterwards.

When working on a task for which an infinite amount of improvement is always possible, first accomplish the minimum quickly and reward yourself with play.  Then, improve the assignment as time allows.

Donít avoid stress.  Attack it by working.  It often goes away soon after you start working.

Don't set unrealistic goals.  The most important goal is to spend this moment working.

When writing, try to write fast.  It can be exciting and reassuring to fill up pages quickly.  Do not worry too much about quality.  Keep writing and edit later.  This requires effort to overcome the usual carefulness.

Focus on Starting Now

Every moment spent working will bring a feeling of accomplishment while every moment wasted will bring a feeling of disappointment.  Thus, motivation can follow action.  It can be a miserable experience to procrastinate in a continuing cycle of disappointment.  So start.

You can only control what you do this moment.  So start.

Starting can be difficult.  Learning to do a new thing can be particularly so because of all the extra uncertainties.  Ask for help, if available.

Starting can also be particularly difficult if many steps need to be taken before you can actually start producing what is tangible and useful.  List the steps and get them done.  There is no other choice.

Donít think that you should work in big blocks of time.  Every second helps.  So start even if you have to do something else soon.  Itís okay and may even be better to take a break in the middle of a section since itís then easier to get back into a groove again afterwards.

Start working as soon as possible knowing that each moment reduces the amount left to do.  Donít expect yourself to be able to work in a focused manner later on.  Some procrastination and inefficiency, although avoidable, are to be expected.

Closer the deadline, more stressful is the work.  So work now.

To help get started, set an EASY specific goal for this moment.  Make sure it's so easy that you will do it.  The first thirty minutes are the toughest.  Long-term goals can be ambitious.

When a deadline seems far away, avoid the trap of compacting the tasks in your mind and underestimating the time that the tasks will take.  Do not start working with just enough time to finish.  Do not use optimistic ideas to justify procrastination.

In conclusion, don't worry.  Don't think too much.  Just keep avoiding getting distracted and keep on starting.  I think that's just about all you can do.

©2002 W. E. Jung. Version 2002.03.20
References
Procrastination : Why You Do It, What to Do About It by Jane B. Burka, Lenora M. Yuen
The Now Habit : A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil A. Fiore
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
1