How do you stop procrastinating?

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I find that I procrastinate most about the tasks I dislike doing, and I think it's likely that is true of most people. Therefore, one of my most successful methods of dealing with procrastination is to first do the task that I least want to do. This has two advantages.  First, the task I have procrastinated about is done, and second, for the rest of my day, I do not have that task hanging over my head, draining my energy and making me feel guilty about what is undone.  For example, when I practiced law, I never minded doing research and writing briefs, but I hated to write boilerplate complaints and answers.  So I always got those out of the way.  Now that I teach, I find that I dread having to grade handwritten work, as opposed to work that is typed.  I do the handwritten quizzes first and then reward myself with the typed quizzes.  When you have schoolwork to do, first do the work you like the least. You will be amazed at how much more productive you are. 

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It’s pretty easy to procrastinate. When the clock’s ticking, however, getting a task completed on time is critical. Here are three tips for beating the urge to procrastinate.

  1. Set a series of deadlines. Break down a larger task into steps. For example, if you have a 3,000-word paper to write, create the outline first. Once the outline’s done, get up stretch, and move to the second step. Reasonable steps would be one section per task.
  2. Find a quiet place where distractions are limited. If you’re the type to get distracted by the Internet or Facebook, leave your cell phone behind. Turn off unnecessary programs. If you don’t need the internet for your work, turn off your router or modem while you work.
  3. Don’t wait till the last minute. Once you’re assigned a job or project, start tackling it when you have some free time. If you’re given a week to complete an essay, work for a small amount of time each night.

By breaking tasks into reasonable chunks and getting started immediately, you don’t feel the pressure as the deadline nears. Having a good head start reduces stress and makes you less likely to procrastinate.

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How can I overcome procrastination?

Procrastination is an issue that many people deal with. There are a few methods for getting yourself moving that may be beneficial to you.

When you find yourself procrastinating from completing one specific important task, try to unpack the reasons why you don't want to do it. Consider, too, what you actually need to do to complete it. If you're procrastinating writing a paper, for example, you might break it down into these individual steps: choosing a topic, finding sources, reading sources, writing an outline, expanding the outline into a first draft, and polishing it into a second draft. None of those tasks is too huge on its own. Start with the first one, and take it one thing at a time.

More generally, implementing regular systems and routines in your life can set you up to succeed. If there is a big weekly chore you dread, for example, parcel it out. Find twenty minutes every day to work on it a little bit. Twenty minutes isn't much time on its own, but spending that much time on something every day from Monday to Saturday means you're already two hours into it by Sunday. If you feel like some progress has already been made, the project won't feel quite so intimidating when you do sit down to finish it.

It's also really important to take time to appreciate your accomplishments when you do finish something. You only get that rewarding feeling by doing the thing you're procrastinating from, which means even the most objectionable tasks will have a positive outcome for you. The sooner you finish that task, the sooner you get to feel that positive outcome. And the sooner you get to do something else. This is also an important thing to keep in mind; the less you procrastinate, the more time you have for other things.

There is an American Psychology Association article in the linked resources. The article draws a distinction between chronic procrastinators—those who struggle to accomplish even their most basic goals—and those who procrastinate on a few tasks here and there. It's worth considering which of these groups you fall into. That will help you determine how to approach the issue of procrastination in a way that is personally effective.

It's worth noting that recognizing a pattern that doesn't work for you is the first step toward changing it. That means by asking this question, you're already moving towards positive change.

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