At your service: Sept. 1, 2010

If you’ve found yourself putting off important tasks over and over again, you’re not alone. In fact, most of us procrastinate to some degree.

The key to controlling and ultimately overcoming what can become a destructive habit is to recognize when you start procrastinating, understand why it happens (even to the best of us), and take action steps to better manage your time and resources.

In a nutshell, you procrastinate when you put off things that you should be focusing on right now, usually in favor of doing something that is more enjoyable or that you’re more comfortable doing.
One of the most common causes of procrastination is feeling overwhelmed by the task. You may not know where to begin; or you may doubt that you have the skills or resources you think you need. So you seek comfort in doing tasks you know you’re capable of completing. Unfortunately, the big task isn’t going to go away - truly important tasks rarely do. Whatever the reason behind procrastination, it must be recognized, dealt with and controlled before you miss the opportunity.

Step 1: Recognize that you’re Procrastinating
If you’re honest with yourself, you probably know when you’re procrastinating. But to be sure, you first need to make sure you know your priorities. Putting off an unimportant task isn’t procrastination; it’s probably good prioritization. It can be just as important to wait to perform a task until the resources you need are available. Knowing the difference will make it easy to recognize procrastination and move forward to complete the task.

Step 2: Work out WHY You’re Procrastinating
The reasons for procrastinating are linked to you and the task. Understanding that the reasons for procrastination are specific to each situation will make it easier to find the best approach to overcoming your reluctance to get going. Ultimately, we have two primary reasons for procrastinating: we find the task unpleasant; or we find the task overwhelming.

Step 3: Get over it!
When you are putting something off because you just don’t want to do it, and you really can’t delegate the work to someone else, find ways to motivate yourself to get moving.

The following approaches can be helpful:
Make up your own reward system. Promise yourself a special treat if you’ve completed a certain task within a designated timeframe. My favorite personal reward is getting to buy the sandwich I love most from the Flour Patch for lunch.

Ask someone else to check up on you. Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind self-help groups, and it is widely recognized as a highly effective approach. Make sure to pick a person who will hold your feet to the fire when you slack off.

Identify the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task. It can be very effective to simply shame yourself into doing whatever needs doing.

When you’re putting off starting a project because you find it overwhelming, you need to take a different approach.

Here are two tips:
Break the project into a set of smaller, more manageable tasks. You may find it helpful to create an action plan.

Start with some quick, small tasks if you can, even if these aren’t the logical first steps. You’ll feel that you’re achieving things, and begin to see that the whole project won’t be so overwhelming after all.

To have a good chance of conquering procrastination, you need to recognize that you’re doing it. Then, you need to identify why you’re procrastinating and take appropriate steps to overcome the block. Having moved forward, you will also see yourself in a more forgiving light; which makes it easier to do whatever is next on your list as well.