Stop Procrastinating

It’s 9 a.m. and I’m on a deadline to get my column written and sent to the newspaper. I am researching a new topic, and it’s very time consuming. During my research the phone rings and I get tied up in a 40-minute call. Getting back to my column, a news alert comes in on my computer, and I click on it to read the article. This leads me to a related article that I find quite fascinating. Getting back to my column, I am almost ready to begin writing when several emails come through, two of them important. So I respond to them and engage in a back-and-forth correspondence with both people.

After lunch I just don’t feel like writing, so I decide to go though the piles on my desk and sort them into “urgent,” “less urgent” or “bills.” Another phone call comes in, and several more emails. Then the dog wants to go for a walk. Before I know it, it is late afternoon and I haven’t yet written a word.

We all procrastinate some of the time. It may be because the task in front of us is difficult, even taxing. Perhaps it simply doesn’t feel pleasant, or it’s boring, or we fear we won’t do well, so we turn to things that feel more pleasant, more fun or easier. But some people put things off most of the time, and it compromises their ability to function well, to make the most of their lives, and it severely undercuts their self-image, self-worth and self-esteem. If this describes you, the time has come to get your procrastination under control. Here’s how:

First, break the task down into very small steps, and then take the first step and begin what you’ve been putting off. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” said Lao Tzu 2600 years ago. Take the first step or two, and you’ll feel more empowered. (That’s how I started writing the column I had been avoiding.)

Second, depression, anxiety, OCD, and ADHD are all associated with procrastination. So is the fear of failure, the fear of succeeding (more and more might get asked of me), and perfectionism. So if any of these characterize you, it would be wise to consult a medical doctor or a psychotherapist for assistance, because you may need some help to overcome it.

Third, “I’m not in the mood” is a common reason people use to rationalize procrastinating on a task that needs to get done, but this can easily become an excuse for you to never do the task, because you indeed may never feel like it. All of us do things we don’t feel like doing all the time—have you ever had a child, a dog, or a job? They require that you do things whether you feel like it or not, right? And who feels like scrubbing the toilet or cleaning vomit out of a carpet? But hopefully you do it when it needs being done. Who said you need to feel like it? It’s a task that needs to be done, so do it and quit looking for easier or more pleasant things to do.

Fourth, you cannot continually beat yourself up for past failures and previous times you put things off, because all that does is paralyze you. It will make you feel that you just can’t get anything together, and then you will feel way worse about yourself. Finally, keep a to-do list and prioritize what’s most important, so you don’t have the excuse that you forgot to do something important.

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