Stop procrastinating before it stops you

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Procrastination is a thief.  It robs you of the one commodity that you just can't buy back:  time.  It throws off schedules.  It replaces accomplishment with inaction.  It turns dreams into nightmares. 

 When faced with a task that you just don't want to do, many of us simply put it off until tomorrow.  That's why tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.  And one of these days becomes none of these days.

Putting off an unpleasant task until tomorrow simply gives you more time for your imagination to make a mountain out of a possible molehill . . . more time for anxiety to sap your self-confidence.

Most of us can relate to occasional bouts of procrastination - the phone call you have been dreading to place, the project that you just can't get excited about, the meeting that you should have scheduled two weeks ago.  But why can't we just get in gear?

Thomas A. Harris, author of "I'm OK, You're OK," said there are three things that give people the "wantivation" to change:  They must hurt sufficiently, they must experience despair or boredom, or they must suddenly discover they can change.

He explained, "Until one of these three is realized, any excuse not to change will suffice.  As Mark Twain once said, 'Why put off until tomorrow that which you can put off until the day after tomorrow?'"

Dr. Gail Saltz, author of "Becoming Real:  Defeating the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back," says that 20 percent of Americans are considered "chronic procrastinators."  But it's not about laziness, it's about fear, she says.  Among the reasons:

  • Fear of failure.  Are you so paralyzed by the fear of failure that you'd rather just not try at all?
  • Fear of success.  Do you think that if you succeed at something then the bar will be set so high that you will never reach it again?  Or are you afraid that you don't deserve success?
  • A need to be defiant.  Is life generally a battle for control?  Are you taking a passive-aggressive approach to control by procrastinating?
  • A thrill-seeker procrastinator.  Are you trying to avoid the boredom of daily tasks?  Does boredom terrify you?  Do you need to create a crisis to keep things interesting?

Understanding procrastination will help you break the paralyzing habit of putting off what you need to do.  Then you can begin to make the changes that will help you tackle your work with more determination.

Start prioritizing so you won't get overwhelmed.  Create to-do lists and figure out what's important.  As the old saying goes, "Well begun is half done."  Knowing what you need to do is not enough.  You need to plan to track your progress.

Then do just one step.  Gather some preliminary information, call one person, or figure out what tools you need.  Once you've completed that task, give yourself permission to do something else.  In many cases, once you've begun you'll be more inclined to keep on working.  Even if you don't, you'll be one step closer to success when you come back to the task later.

I find it helpful to set a deadline, even when the project isn't time-sensitive.  That way, there's nothing hanging over my head that is cluttering up the rest of my workload.  I also write down my to-do list so that I can focus on one item at a time.

Procrastination is a problem at all levels.  Charles M. Schwab, who founded Bethlehem Steel Company in 1904, was a master of his schedule.  He made it a practice of investing five minutes each day analyzing the problems he should tackle the next day.  He would write down those tasks in the order of priority.

When he arrived at his office the next morning, he would start with the top issue on his list and move on in order.  "This is the most practical lesson I've ever learned," he claimed, and shared this example to prove his point:  "I had put off a phone call for nine months, so I decided to list it as my number one task on my next day's agenda.  That call netted a $2 million order."

I'm not sure what that would translate to in today's economy, but I'd be happy with a $2 million order any day!  Make the call!

Mackay's Moral:  Overcoming procrastination helps your to-do list become your all-done list.