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Procrastination: Today is Not That Day

Procrastinating often comes with a sense of guilt and stress. We know we should write, make phone calls, or finally clean up that messy spot, but life is just too busy. As the list of postponed to-do items keeps growing, it soon becomes difficult to know where to start. You can’t turn yourself into a new person overnight, so short of resigning yourself to live in a world of half-finished projects and best intentions, what can you do?

The impulse to postpone a difficult task can be driven by an inner dialog that has built up over time. Here are some ideas for changing the language of this unproductive dialog to create a different perspective:

“I would need to fully focus on it …”
Yes, it would be nice to only have a single task, but given the amount of daily distractions, how likely is that? When was the last time you truly had a full day to completely concentrate on one thing? Keeping in mind that the sustained attention span of adults is approximately 20 minutes, it makes sense to redefine the concept of “fully focusing.” Identifying the first 20-minute step of a seemingly daunting task reduces stress and creates a path for moving forward, so try telling yourself…

… I will focus on one small aspect.

I am too tired or stressed to deal with…
It’s certainly OK to give yourself a break on particularly stressful days, but addressing a long-postponed chore can also have an energizing effect. Is there any guarantee that you will get around to the task at another time? If you are too tired to keep looking at a screen, at least try to do some organizing to make the best use of time in high-focus hours. Depending on your level of focus and energy, it may be more helpful to say,

… Let’s see how far I can get.

When was the last time you truly had a full day to completely concentrate on one thing?

I am so busy I can’t possibly …
It is quite unlikely that your busy schedule will suddenly dissolve into celestial calm. Instead of piling even more (trivial) obligations on your plate, think for a minute about your true objectives – where do you want to go, who do you want to be? If you want the activities that occupy your time to contribute to these goals, it is effective to think,

… What are my priorities?

“It’s literally impossible to get everything done – time is limited; “everything” isn’t – and that’s great news, because it means you needn’t feel guilty for failing. You can turn, instead, on the far more manageable question of which things to deliberately neglect. […] Start from the assumption that something’s got to give, and focus on figuring out what,” wrote Oliver Burkeman recently.

Procrastination isn’t necessarily bad unless it clearly stands in your way. Hesitation to start a process that feels overwhelming is understandable, and only becomes an issue if it leads to personal and professional stagnation. Upon closer scrutiny, tasks that seem like insurmountable hurdles actually come with scaffolds and ladders that can literally be climbed one step at a time.

What are your best tips for dealing with procrastination?
I look forward to hear from you!

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