Fight Procrastination

Going to the gym. Delivering bad news. Making complicated travel arrangements. Dealing with tech support. We all have to force ourselves to do things that we just don't want to do. Here are some tricks that help me power through the procrastination (usually):

1. Do it first thing in the morning. The night before, commit to tackling that dreaded task, and the next day, at the first possible moment, just do it. Don't allow yourself to reflect or procrastinate. Whatever you're dreading, you're going to invent more creative excuses as the day unfolds. One of my personal commandments is "Do it now."

Related: Stop Procrastinating - Right Now!

2. Make preparations and assemble the proper tools.
A wonderful term from the world of cooking is mise en place, a French phrase that means "everything in its place." Chefs use mise en place to describe the preparation that's done before the actual cooking: gathering ingredients and implements, chopping, and measuring so everything is at hand. Mise en place is preparation, but it's also a state of mind: everything at the ready, so there's no need to run out to the store or begin a frantic search for a sifter. Similarly, I find that when I'm dreading a task, it helps me to prepare in advance by gathering the information or tools I need to tackle the job. Then, once I begin, I have a pleasing sense of success. Also, having particularly beautiful or well-made tools - excellent kitchen knives, a colorful set of file folders - can make irksome chores more pleasant.

3. Ask someone to keep you company. Studies show that we enjoy practically every activity more when we're with other people. A companion can be a fun distraction, a source of reassurance, or moral support. If you have to see a divorce lawyer, pack for a move, or just clean out your closet, some company might make it a lot easier. Plus, your friend will keep you from backing out altogether. Along the same lines...

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4. Find ways to make the task more pleasant. If you're dreading that first cold outdoor run of the spring, try running alongside your son as he rides his new bike. If you have to deep-clean the house for your in-laws' visit, blast your favorite dance music while you vacuum. If you have to spend the afternoon running a series of dull errands, promise yourself to make the final stop be at your favorite bookstore.

5. Become a regular. As counter intuitive as this sounds, if you find yourself putting off a frequent task, try doing it every single day. When, as a committed couch potato, I was trying to develop the habit of exercising, I pushed myself to do it almost every single day; if I tried to exercise four times a week, I spent too much mental energy asking myself, Today or tomorrow? How many times have I gone this week? Does this count? If you have to do something every day, there's no dithering, no juggling. When I was launching my blog, The Happiness Project, I initially envisioned posting two or three times a week. Then a friend with a successful site convinced me that, no, I needed to post every day. And I do think it has been easier to write most days rather than, say, four times each week. One of my Secrets of Adulthood - lessons I've learned as a grown-up - is "What you do every day is more important than what you do once in a while." That said, cut yourself some slack if you can't maintain a perfect track record.

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6. Take a baby step. If you feel dismayed at the prospect of a chain of awful tasks that you have to accomplish, take just one step today. Tomorrow, take the next step. The forward motion will be encouraging, and before long you'll probably find yourself speeding toward completion. Although we often overestimate what we can do in a short time, we underestimate what we can do over the long term if we make a little progress each day. If you do a little each day, over the course of a month you'll get a lot accomplished.

7. Remember one of my Secrets of Adulthood: "It's OK to ask for help." If you're feeling paralyzed and can't seem to move forward on some necessary chore, ask for help. Why is this so hard? Every time I ask for help, I'm amazed at how much it...helps. Ask for advice, recommendations, and resources - the right help can make your task so much easier. Also, remember that most decisions don't require extensive research. When I'm frozen by my inability to choose among alternatives, I ask myself, How significant is the difference between one choice and another? How much time do I really need to spend choosing a toaster oven? I often take the almost-no-research route by asking a trusted, knowledgeable friend for help: "Where did your daughter go to summer camp?"; "What's an appropriate gift for a teacher?" Then I just follow that advice.

Related: 3 Easy Steps to Break Bad Habits


8. Protect yourself from interruption.
So often, I've finally steeled myself to start some difficult project only to be interrupted within a few minutes. Starting, stopping, and starting again makes a hard task much harder. Find a way to give yourself the space and quiet to get something done.

9. Don't put off the fun stuff! It's all too easy to postpone doing the things we enjoy. I love to knit, you might think. I'll knit as soon as I have some free time. You may never have any free time! If something's important to you, schedule it like a dentist's appointment, and don't cancel on yourself.

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10. Finally, remind yourself that completing a dreaded task is tremendously energizing.
Studies show that hitting a goal releases chemicals in the brain that give you pleasure. In fact, if you're feeling blue, although it may be the last thing you feel like doing, push yourself to cross some task off your to-do list. You'll get a big lift from it.

One thing to consider: How much time do you spend working on tasks you dislike? No one enjoys getting invasive medical tests or preparing tax returns, but if you feel as if your life consists of nothing but a series of dreaded chores, take note. Maybe it's time to consider switching jobs, delegating certain chores, or, if you can, throwing money at the problem. The fact that you dread doing something may be a sign that perhaps you should be doing something else.

True confession: Even as I write this, at this very minute, I'm putting off two dreaded tasks! I will write no more until I do them.

OK, they're done! It took a total of seven minutes, and I'd been procrastinating for days. Phew. I feel great.

-By Gretchen Rubin

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