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I was recently asked by a reporter to comment on the dilemma of procrastination. Here are some thoughts:

Why do people procrastinate? Among the common reasons I?ve observed:

We have a human tendency to over-value goodies in the short term (free time, spending money, sleep) and under-value things that will give us future benefits (investing, staying awake, saying no to that movie date). A natural consequence is procrastination, in which people put things off but feel uneasy about it.

Ironically, in the short run procrastination LOWERS our stress level. Of course, eventually it catches up with us.Fear of failure can also lead to procrastination. We all know someone who says, –Oh, if I?d tried, I could have?.– Fill in the blank ? gotten that job interview, fixed the problem, taken that trip. Not trying means not failing, at least directly.

There is also a planning fallacy. Meaning that we all tend to vastly underestimate just how long something is going to take us, often by a long shot.

Finally, I think feeling overwhelmed comes into it. If a project, job or task looks too big, we feel we?ll never get it done, and resist getting started.

What do you need to overcome procrastination? Rita?s two cents:

1. First, look at the whole body of things that you are working on. It may just be that you are doing too much. If you can, try to get the list down to 7 major things or fewer ? by definition, things that are less important will fall off the list. That?s step one. It?s been shown in scientific research that when people are involved with more than about 3 significant projects at a time, their value-added time drops considerably. So do less to accomplish more!
2. Get help if you can. There are often resources that you may not have thought of who could take on bits of a task. Many people really like being asked for help if it is within reason.
3. Next, break big projects down into littler pieces. If you are a list sort of person, you could break a huge task into things you can put on a list and cross off a list. Ideally, I like to work on things in 1.5 hour to 2 hour chunks ? or even less. Focus on getting started with one step, then the next, then the next.
4. Next, set aside specific time to deal with the issues you?ve been putting off. Give yourself a reward when you get one of them behind you ? could be a walk outside, a snack, a fun phone call, whatever.
5. I think it also helps to define what ?closure? really means ? when is the task done? How would you measure it?
6. Give yourself visible reinforcement that you are making progress. There is a reason why all those community fundraisers use huge thermometers to measure how they are doing ? you can do the same for tasks. Color in the percentages you finish as you do them.
7. Finally, it can sometimes help to find a procrastination buddy. Share what you are putting off with them and have them do the same with you. Then touch base with each other regularly to see how things are going. Sometimes, having someone else monitoring what you?re up to is just what the doctor ordered.

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