3 steps to stop procrastinating

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"How will I ever start this project?" This question may lead you to carefully consider and think through the steps of accomplishing a pressing task. This deliberation be very useful in the workplace, since it permits a worker to complete tasks more successfully. However, there is a big difference between an occasional delay due to deliberation and a regular habit of procrastinating on work tasks.

Procrastination is a common human weakness, and all of us have fallen prey to it at one time or another. Maybe you are even procrastinating right now by reading this article instead of working on a project!

The following steps can help you to stop procrastinating now:

Understand why you are procrastinating. Have you found yourself putting off tasks at work until the very last possible minute? Try to determine why you procrastinate. Perhaps you think you work better under pressure, you don't enjoy certain tasks or you just get distracted with other things during the day. Maybe you like to wait for your boss to remind you, so you are sure it's an important enough task and high on her priority list. Perhaps it is fear, because you are not sure you can complete the task alone or feel that you don't have the needed skills to complete it successfully.

Action tip: Ask yourself why you procrastinate. If you are unsure, keep a daily log of your activities at work to discover where you are spending (or wasting) your time. This will help you uncover why you are procrastinating. Until you discover the why, it will be harder for you to combat the habit.

An important note: Some people do work better under pressure, and if you're one of them, that's OK! Just realize the difference between a reason (your performance is better under pressure across the board or on certain tasks) versus an excuse (procrastination).

Get started. Take a baby step on an unwanted task by working on it immediately and then planning to finish the task by breaking it up into manageable amounts. Create a task list to first work on the aspects you like the least. It may even be helpful to set reminders on your work computer or tablet, making sure that the time you allot is a realistic amount for working on the project.

By doing what you least like first, you can get ahead of procrastination. At the very least, the worst part will be over before you know it. Scheduling out a project in this manner is a big stress reducer and can help you manage your work week more effectively.

Action tip: Set your timer for 15 minutes, and get to work on your project. Stop when the timer goes off. Based on your first 15 minutes, you can gauge how long it will take you to finish the project. Set your timer for another 30 minutes, and decide when during the week you have a few chunks of time to continue working on the project. (They could be as little as 15- to 30-minute chunks.) Schedule a reminder for yourself for the days and times you have chosen, and stick to your plan.

This process can work well for certain projects that you can break up into steps. Others may require longer amounts of focus time and aren't as appropriate for these shorter time frames. Or, using time frames may not be the best way to break out the project. For example, coding a website can require longer periods of focused time than just 15 minutes. However, you can break this project into designing one page or sections of a page at a time, instead of using time as your method for breaking it up. Determine the best way to break up whatever project you are working on, and then create those baby steps based on that structure.

Learn how to manage your time. Chronic lateness is also a form of procrastination. This includes being late to work and meetings. Make an accurate estimate of how long it takes you to get to work in the morning or how long it takes you to get from your office space to the place of the meeting. If you walk into work at 9 a.m., it's impossible for you to be in a meeting and ready to go at 9:15. Be honest with yourself about timing, and schedule things accordingly. Then try moving up the time in your head. If a meeting is at 3, for example mentally aim for 2:30.

Another great way to better manage your time is to track it for one week to nail down what you typically spend it on. Track it using categories of tasks, rather than haphazardly writing down every single thing you do. For example, a small business owner may have categories such as marketing, administration, financial, sales and product or service tasks. Create separate columns on a page to track the time in each category. Do this for a minimum of a week, so you get an average for a typical day and week.

Next, analyze the time you tracked by asking yourself: Am I spending my time in the right places? Are there any areas I'm spending too much time on that someone else could handle or that could be automated? How can I adjust my work schedule or daily task schedule so that I'm working on the toughest tasks when I am most fresh and alert?

Action tip: Pull out your calendar this month, and look at your scheduled tasks and meetings. Ask yourself if the time allotted is realistic. Remember that you can't schedule meetings back to back. In your travel time, allow time for issues that come up – such as spilling coffee, stopping for gas, dealing with a frozen computer or updating a co-worker – and schedule accordingly.

You may find you need to make a few adjustments the first month you are implementing this system to get a sense of time frames for meetings, travel time and unexpected interruptions. After that, you should have the hang of it.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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