Realizing The Dream Deferred

Here are six ways to overcome procrastination and achieve your objective--now

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Your deadline is only three hours away, and you Still haven’t started the report assigned two weeks ago. Just when you’re about to begin, a wave of intense thirst overcomes you. You proceed to the coffee-maker, where you end up chatting with some co-workers.

Before you know it, two hours have passed. You scramble back to your desk and try to summon your trembling fingers to put your half-formed thoughts on the computer screen. Before you can finish the second of five pages, you spot the supervisor making her way toward your cubicle.

“Mistakes stemming from a rushed fob are inevitable,” says Grace Critton, senior training specialist for the New York Performance Cluster, U.S. Postal Service. “Product quality diminishes, which impacts negatively on a company’s image,” she says.

Each day another business fails and more money is wasted due to incessant thumb-twiddling of this sort. It goes without saying that overcoming procrastination will result in more productivity. But how can you get over the almost natural tendency to put off unpleasant or complex tasks?

A. Bates Lyons suggests completing a to-do list every morning. “But writing a laundry list is not enough,” says the owner of Tarrington, Connecticut-based A. Bates Lyons and Associates, a training and consulting firm. “Adding names and phone numbers, for example, makes it easier to get the items on the list done,” says the former manager of compensation at Philip Morris.

Larry Baker, co-author of Time Mastery Profile (Carlson Learning Co., $13; 860-489-5524), says reducing postponed time by five minutes every hour increases personal productivity by 8.3%. But procrastination doesn’t just affect the perpetrator. Perpetual dawdlers are often unaware that their actions can topple entire business.

Do you find yourself putting off work until the last minute? Instead of relying on excuses, try these six tips to help you overcome procrastination and become more productive:

  • Consider potential consequences.
  • Write down possible negative outcomes of your behavior. Will delaying a task be worth a missed deadline, poor-quality work or loss of a customer?
  • Take smaller bites.
  • Divide a big task into little steps and focus on completing them one at a time.
  • Delegate responsibility.
  • Don’t try to do it all yourself. Enlist the help of co-workers, friends or family to share the load.
  • Affirm yourself.
  • Give yourself a pep talk daily. Concentrate on inspirational phrases or words that will empower you to keep working.
  • Set deadlines and promise results.
  • Self-imposed deadlines and the expectations of others are often enough to get us to act. No one wants to lose face.
  • Reward yourself.
  • Give yourself a pat on the back or treat yourself to something nice–but only when you’ve deserved it.