Are You a Procrastinator?

Proven methods to start getting things done

Do you make daily resolutions to clear piles of paper from your desk, wash 10 loads of laundry, clean the garage, and get to the gym-only to find yourself bogged down at the end of each day? You’re not alone. A 2001 research study conducted at the University of Ottawa revealed that up to 70% of North Americans grapple with procrastination. The good news, according to Rita Emmett, author of The Procrastinator’s Handbook: Mastering the Art of Doing it Now (Walker & Company; $10.95), is that procrastination is simply a bad habit. “It’s much easier to quit procrastinating than it is to quit smoking or lose weight,” she says. “The first step to ending procrastination is to stop all-or-nothing thinking.”

“When you’re overwhelmed, your mind is usually in the future. You feel victimized or that you must do something,” says Neil Fiore (www.neilfiore.com),author of The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin; $13.95). Laureen Penn, an attorney from Woodbridge, Virginia, had a huge to-do list, which included exercising, volunteering, and taking Spanish classes. “At my worst, I spent my nights watching TV, eating, and calling people at home to complain about how overwhelmed I felt,” says the 37-year-old. “I was miserable and it was all I talked about.”

Fiore encourages procrastinators to focus on starting a project, not on finishing it. “‘I choose to start,’” is what you want to say to yourself, rather than “‘I have to finish,’” says Fiore, who emphasizes the importance of self-management. That’s exactly what Penn did. One morning, she made up her mind to get out of bed an hour early and head to the gym. Penn discovered that choosing to accomplish the first item on her to-do list had a domino effect. Soon, the former couch potato began volunteering as an advocate for children and even found time for Spanish lessons. By making exercise a priority, Penn achieved closure on her first goal, which generated the energy she needed to move on to other items on her list. Karen Leland, co-author of Watercooler Wisdom: How Smart People Prosper in the Face of Conflict, Pressure, and Change (New Harbinger Publications; $14.95), says, “Breaking up your projects and goals into manageable pieces will help you take action quickly and easily.”

All three experts emphasize the importance of setting deadlines for tasks, including mini-deadlines, and watching one’s internal dialogue. “Changing how you talk to yourself is a powerful tool for disengaging from procrastination,” says Fiore. “Through the use of language which reflects choice, commitment, and the option to say no, you’ll learn to direct your energy toward achieving your goals and feeling empowered rather than victimized.”

If you feel that your procrastination habits are weighing you down, seek counseling. “If you find yourself experiencing fear of failure, low self-worth, and low levels of self-regulation, you’re going to need outside help,” says Timothy A. Pychyl, an associate professor and the graduate chair in the department of psychology at Carelton College in Ottawa,

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