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Location: Small town, Northern Wisconsin

Barbara is an author, speaker and psychotherapist in private practice. She provides keynote presentations and is a Certified Professional Speaker, a designation held by fewer than 8% of the speakers in the world. She has appeared on FOX, CNN, and CBS and is considered an expert in relationships.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

How to Reduce Procrastination

Procrastination is on the rise and affects more men than women (about 54 out of 100 chronic procrastinators are men), according to Piers Steel, a Canadian industrial psychologist. And why not procrastinate? There are so many temptations that make it so easy; internet, TV, cell phones, Blackberries, iPods and games. In fact, wasting time is little more than a mouse click away for most of us. “That stupid game Minesweeper—that probably has cost billions of dollars for the whole society,” says Steel.

Procrastination is epidemic in all countries, occupations and age groups. There is actually a national Procrastination Day, though no one has gotten around to identifying the date, and several Procrastination Societies. The International Society for the Promotion of Procrastination has a website that requests potential members send in an application but then states, “If you actually get around to buying a stamp and mailing the envelope, you are obviously not qualified for membership and will not be accepted.”

So how do you reduce procrastination in your life? Here are some techniques and tips that can work for you:

  • Start each week with a planning session and review the plan for 5 minutes each morning. Use a daily planner and write down all important appointments and deadlines. Make sure that your priorities for each day are clear. Use a yellow highlighter to note anything that is ASAP or urgent.
  • Plan your days according to your personal energy. When are the most productive hours of your day? Focus on doing the most difficult tasks during these times when you are least likely to procrastinate.
  • Do at least one undesirable task first thing in the morning. The rest of the day you can feel that you at least accomplished something. If it was something you were avoiding, it will free up your energy.
  • Put a time limit on what you feel like avoiding. Knowing that there is an end in sight can give you new energy to get started or keep moving. Even the most unpleasant task becomes more bearable when you know that you don’t have to do it all day or until it is finished.
  • Divide big projects into smaller, doable pieces. This is where a chart can be very helpful with specific dates and timeframes. Do one step at a time. I am often asked how I find time to write books. I reply, “I don’t write books. I write 250 words at a time.” Much less intimating.
  • Control interruptions. Anticipate potential interruptions by turning off the phone, not answering the door and letting others know that you are working on a special project. And remember not to interrupt yourself with frequent checks of the e-mail, or getting up for yet, another, cup of coffee.
  • Balance your day and reward yourself. Use enjoyable tasks to fill in between those you are not so thrilled about doing. Take a walk or get outside for a break. It gives you something to look forward to and will give you new energy to tackle the rest of the day.
  • Practice learned industriousness. It is often said that success breeds success. There are times in our lives when we are “on a roll” and things just keep happening. This is because of a basic learning mechanism called classical conditioning. Hard work that leads to success is very rewarding. That is why successful people find it easier to work hard, they know the success is worth it. When you start a new task, make sure that you structure it so that your early efforts are successful. This will give you the conditioning to proceed.
  • Regulate your energy. “I’m too tired to work, (exercise, clean the yard, play with the kids, etc, etc.), is a common refrain for procrastinators. Especially work that requires concentration or physical exertion becomes hard to start when we feel energy depleted. Make sure you are doing the basics; eight hours of sleep, healthy meals, and exercising. While you may feel too tired to exercise, it actually increases your energy level over time. Sometimes you just have to force yourself to get started!
  • Get an accountability partner. When you tell someone you are going to do something, set a timetable and then have to report, you are much more likely to complete the task. Or better yet, form a MasterMind group with other professionals in your field and meet once a month to discuss career issues, projects, etc. It will help you stay focused and rapidly advance your career.

    Remember, procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried.

Copyright 2007 by Barbara Bartlein, All Rights Reserved

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