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Procrastinators -- people who put off doing a task until "later" even though it ought to be started now -- are in good company. A 2007 University of Calgary notes that up to one-fifth of the population struggles with this tendency. Procrastination may provide short-term satisfaction; however, stress or sub-standard performance are common long-term outcomes. Employing a few simple strategies can help prevent the post-procrastination blues.
Starting with a positive frame of mind can make a difference. Think about the benefits of completing the task. For example, successfully accomplishing several difficult projects may improve prospects for future advancement. Approaching the task with a can-do attitude rather than focusing on how onerous it is will also enhance the chances of success.
Move Things Forward
The most difficult aspect of starting a task is sometimes just that: getting started. Taking an action, however small, that will move things forward can break the ice. One strategy is to set a time limit -- for example, 5 or 10 minutes -- for working on a task that is proving troublesome. The short time frame makes the task seem less daunting, and the progress made during the set block of time lessens the distance to the final goal. This simple action can provide a kick-start that leads to significant progress.
For complex projects or activities, the tendency might be to circle around like a wrestler unsuccessfully seeking a good opening on a wary opponent, and end up doing nothing because of uncertainty about how to approach the project. Identifying the smaller tasks that make up the overall job can break this roadblock. Once identified, these smaller tasks seem less threatening, making it easier to take them on -- plus, this process provides a clearer idea where to start.
Set Rewards and Consequences
Sometimes the activity substituted for the task that ought to be started is simply the lesser of two evils; for example, catching up on non-urgent filing rather than taking the first steps on a big project. Deciding on a desirable reward for completing the big project may provide the motivation to get started on that task. On the other hand, recognizing or setting consequences for not getting started on the major project -- such as needing to spend extra time at work -- might provide the push to get moving.
Avoid Getting Sidetracked
There are many ways of getting waylaid from starting a less-favored task -- responding to non-urgent emails, engaging in extended non-business discussions with colleagues or unnecessarily prolonging telephone conversations are examples. Identify the activities most prone to get you side-tracked and stay focused on the task at hand.
- Forbes.com: Why You Procrastinate, and How to Stop It. Now.
- Good Housekeeping: Stop Procrastinating -- Right Now!
- Princeton University: The McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning: Understanding and Overcoming Procrastination
- Psychology Today: The Surefire First Step to Stop Procrastinating
- Psychology Today: 4 Steps to Stop Procrastinating
- University of Calgary: Sorry This is Late, We Meant to Send it Out Sooner
- American Psychological Association: Procrastination or 'intentional delay'?
- National Post: Dr. Piers Steel on the Procrastination Equation
Based in Mulmur, Ontario, Lisa Timpf has worked in human resources and communications since 1989. Timpf's corporate roles have included organizational development, internal and external communications, employee relations, employee surveys, and corporate governance. She holds a Bachelor of physical education from McMaster University.
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