How can I eliminate procrastination?

The first step in overcoming procrastination is to identify its cause. If due to low self-esteem or a tough project, then prepare an action plan to deal with it. If fear of taking the wrong step is behind the procrastination, seek out others familiar with the work to discuss your ideas. Then you can pursue the project more confidently.

Some people can't focus on big projects unless small, insignificant work has been completed. If this is the cause of the problem, often it is better to finish the small tasks as quickly as possible and then turn to the major project than to force yourself to work on the bigger, more important task.

Start the task very early in the workday. Tell your staff that you should not be disturbed while you are at work on the assignment. Since scheduled activities have a better chance of getting done, just scheduling when you will work on a project increases the chances of your completing it on time. When scheduling, don't forget to set a deadline. Put that deadline in writing and post it where you will be constantly reminded about it. Even share your commitment with others so you will be further moved to get the work done.

Don't forget, either, to reward yourself when you have completed the task. If you think you might procrastinate over a task, determine what you should give yourself (e.g., special lunch, new clothes, an afternoon off) for completing it and follow through with the reward when the task is completed.

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People procrastinate for several reasons. Among them are:

Low self-esteem. Some people experience an internal conflict between others' expectations and their fears about meeting those expectations.

Overwhelming work. Sometimes tasks seem too difficult or time-consuming so we hold off working on them either in the hopes of having sufficient time later to do the work or out of intimidation about the amount of work entailed.

Poor prioritization. Important but difficult tasks are put aside as we handle smaller, easier, or more enjoyable tasks. Often, doing this misleads us to think that we have accomplished something.

Fear of failure. Some managers prefer not to work on a project out of fear of making a mistake.

Figuring out why you are procrastinating can help you remove the cause and get on with your work. Here are some other ideas:

Break the work into subsets, which can be done over time. The work will also look less formidable this way, and it will be easier to complete the job without having to affect other assignments.

You might want to just get started. The momentum then will carry you forward. Identify one simple thing—something that can be done quickly and easily and does not require conscious effort. It may be as simple as sharpening a pencil, putting a piece of paper into a typewriter, or turning on the personal computer in your office.

How do I determine what to do first?

List all those tasks you need to do and prioritize them according to one or more of the following criteria:

- Which jobs and deadlines are mandated from above? These are important assignments, but not always urgent. On the other hand, if your manager is pacing up and down in front of your desk waiting for an action file, you should go get it, even though it may take you away momentarily from an assignment that is both urgent and important.

Taking care of the problem gets rid of the distraction and will free you to focus on that urgent, important work needing your attention.

- Which jobs, if not done soon, might create bottlenecks in your area or impede the work of departments that you serve? As a general rule, these assignments fall into the category of urgent and important (if not to you, to others).

- Which jobs will have a major impact on your reputation with either internal or external customers? These jobs are important. Ask for details to determine if they are also urgent.

- Which tasks can be postponed or rejected? Neither important nor urgent, these tasks can be shelved until later. There are routine tasks that often can be postponed until the next day.

- Which tasks can be delegated to employees and which ones should you do yourself? When you delegate tasks, you need to make sure that your employees know the priorities you have set for them and your reasons and expectations for the work's completion.

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Work delegated is more likely to be completed on time if your employees know its importance as well as the timeframe for completion. Fail to do this, and you will wind up reprioritizing delegated work that your employees let slide and taking time away from your own duties to do the job yourself.

Where else can you get help? Besides your staff members (who have their own priorities to deal with), you have probably collected a few IOUs from peers who might be able to offer their help. Even if they're helping just because they don't want to be beholden to you indefinitely, help is help, and it should be accepted.

Besides prioritizing and delegating your daily workload, you should make it a practice to challenge deadlines. You will often find that externally imposed deadlines have more flexibility than you thought. For example, does your manager really need that report on Friday? If she won't read it over the weekend, asking to submit it on Monday will give you two extra days to edit and polish it.

How you request a deadline extension affects both your chances of getting it and the image you leave with your manager or another you ask for the extra time. State your case positively, in a collaborative manner: "It would really help if we could wait a couple of days on this report to see what direction the market will take."

Finally, since situations are so fast changing, stay in touch with your manager and customers (internal and/or external) to determine their needs and adjust either the work you are doing for them or your plans to complete the assignments to reflect any changes.

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