a bulletin board with notes that say do itI am likely one of the world’s foremost experts in procrastination. Ok, maybe that is an exaggeration, but my office is never cleaner than when I am putting off a major task. Believe me, I would much rather vacuum, dust, straighten, and do all the other parts of organizing than put my effort behind something I need to finish that I just don’t want to do.

The distance and lack of in-person engagement that is now a part of my work has somehow amplified this, too. Dealing with procrastination is a key piece of self-management. Poor time management, falling behind in tasks or projects, and working without a plan all contribute to procrastination. 

I regularly coach my clients through these hurdles. Fortunately, with a little bit of positive self-talk and the strategies that follow, each of us can successfully combat procrastination:

  1. Give it five minutes. Get your stuff together, decide your goal and set the timer for five minutes. You only have to work on the task for these few minutes, five earnest minutes in which you really make the effort to get started. If after that time, you still aren’t making progress, turn your attention to something else. Chances are that once you get going, five minutes will become fifty and you will be on your way to completing your bigger goal.
  2. Do the big task first. Put it on the calendar first thing in the morning or at a time when your energy is best and most focused. Get it out of the way so that you can get on to doing other things you enjoy more.
  3. Figure out why you don’t want to do it. Does the task at hand align with your skills and interests? Do you have the resources to complete it? If not, what will it take to get what you need? There might be times when you have the chance to delegate, ask for help, or find others who can help you kick-start your efforts. Knowing why you don’t want to do it is part of identifying what you need to overcome your procrastination. If you are a student, academic resource centers, tutors, and others can provide essential resources to help you get started.
  4. Break it into smaller chunks. Procrastination and the sense of overwhelm are best buddies and they want to keep you in a static place. What one or two sub-goals can you accomplish that will move you towards the big goal? Breaking the big task into smaller ones makes the final work seem less daunting.
  5. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate!! Research shows that when we acknowledge our forward progress, we build patterns that support long-term success. I ask my clients to reflect on and journal about the small things. Whether the five minute investment, the paragraph written, or the business proposal completed; all of them are small steps toward building self confidence in a way that supports long term success.

Perhaps the best piece of advice, and the one that I try to remember most, is just do it. Do today what you can do today!

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