How to conquer procrastination

We have all had one of those days. Sometimes a little too often. We have plenty of time, but nothing gets done. Yes, we find plenty to do, but it seems to be anything but the things we were supposed to be doing.

Some of us even lose most of our time, because we fritter it away, doing nothing very much. This is easier than doing something important, which takes concentration and, significantly, involves the possibility of failure.

So, rather like a hedgehog, it is easier to curl up into a little ball of inaction: it feels safe. Of course, most of us feel uncomfortable with total inaction, so we replace meaningful activity with meaningless "displacement" activities. This is procrastination: putting off what we know we need to do.

The first step to conquering procrastination is to own up to it. Once you do that, you may find you can get on with the job at hand. If not, here is a sample of seven ways to conquer procrastination and get things done.

1. Procrastination is comfortable

On the other hand, your task is not: it is scary, unpleasant or daunting.  So remove the cosy feeling of inaction by focusing on what will happen if you continue to do nothing. If there were no consequences, you could readily remove it from your to do list, but while they seem far off, they have little power.

2. Start small

Start with a small part of the task or project. Pick one little thing that you can do, which is easy. That way, it won't disrupt the cosiness. Once you get started, the momentum will carry you forward with new confidence.

3. Work in small chunks

After starting small, move on to the next chunk: don't try and do the whole job at once. Divide it up and even give yourself a break between each chunk. Nobody could eat an elephant at one sitting, but chopped up into steaks and carefully frozen…

Please note: neither nor the author advocate eating elephants!

4. Celebrate success

Promise yourself little treats. Each time you complete a chunk, make a point of congratulating and rewarding yourself. Nothing motivates us like success because when we notice it, we feel good, which makes us more confident, and gives us a real boost.

5. Create pressure

It's easy to procrastinate when there are no consequences. Make a promise to someone, which you know you have to keep. Some people create pressure by waiting until the last minute. Set yourself an early deadline, to increase the pressure further - and give you contingency time, in case something goes wrong.

6. Choose your moment

Some of you work best with a coffee, others first thing in the morning, some at the end of the day, some in a café. Know your preference and use it. If there is a time and place where you are at your most productive, harness that for special tasks or for when you get truly stuck.

7. Focus

One of the key enablers for a procrastinator is distraction. Having other things around you gives your mind ample opportunities to alight on something new and seize it. Clear your desk and turn off your computer. If you need to use your computer, turn off all other applications. Gather everything you need for the job and go to where you are going to do it. If you can do the work anywhere, go somewhere else, with only the things you need.

Procrastination is a time killer. You cannot make or save time, but you can teach yourself to use it well. If all else fails, grit your teeth and dare yourself to get started.

Learn more about overcoming procrastination in Dr Mike Clayton's book, Brilliant Time Management.  See for details.

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