5 Key Tips to Beat Procrastination

The old Mark Twain advice is to eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.

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Hi, everyone! Have you ever sat down to work on a business pitch... or your resume... or an important speech you've been ask to give... and then realized it would be much less stressful to check the sports scores... or play solitaire... or check Facebook?  If so, join the crowd. Surveys find that 80% of college students are procrastinators, and 20% of the adult population, as well (although, of course, many of them may have just never been motivated to actually complete the surveys). But there is hope for those of us who, like Herman Melville, when writing "Moby Dick," need to be chained to our desks to complete a piece of work!   Here are my five quick tips to overcome procrastination: Tip 1: Start your day with the hardest task - that is, if you're up for it. This is the old Mark Twain advice to eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. In other words: Do the most challenging and difficult to-do item on your list before anything else, and you will have checked it off. Good advice, but only if you're actually up for it. Some of us might not be at our best selves first thing in the morning -- and in fact, might be better off eating our frogs in the afternoon -- when we're at our peak performance level -- or at night. So, the advice here is to realize when you're going to be at your best self -- and, at that point, eat your frog. See also: To Predict the Future, Try Creating It   Tip 2: Do quick to-dos super quickly. I remember getting advice early in my career to keep all sorts of email folders to manage inflow into my inbox -- folders telling me to respond tomorrow... or respond on Friday... or respond early next week. And at the time, I remember how overwhelming and inefficient this all sounded. My best practice now is to make a super quick assessment of an incoming message, think about if I can realistically respond immediately and then just do it. I can report that, with this strategy, I have only 12 total messages in my inbox as I write. Tip 3: Make your intentions public (and be accountable to someone). If overcoming procrastination is outside your comfort zone, make a pledge to take the leap and, ideally, have that pledge be public. You don't necessarily have to announce it to the world. But find someone supportive you can be accountable to and tell the person. It might be a close friend, or a colleague, or a group you belong to. The more you're accountable, the more likely you'll be to follow through. Tip 4: Reward yourself for small wins. Those of us who are perfectionists and high achievers might not necessarily feel it's "worth" celebrating that we started to respond to a few more emails... or that we were able to accomplish our most difficult task first thing in the morning. But in actuality these are achievements worth noting and celebrating. It's not easy to take the plunge. So, celebrate your small win and move on to the next one. Tip 5: Remember that not all procrastination is bad. Sometimes procrastination can actually serve a useful purpose. It can allow you to consider different ideas, think in original ways and then come back to your original task at hand with fresh insight. But there's an important caveat here: You actually have to return to the task at hand! That can be tough for chronic procrastinators. In the end, procrastination can be challenging to overcome; but, with a plan in place and the courage to take it forward, you can make great strides in your time management and productivity. See also: How to Move to the Post-Digital Age?   Are you a chronic procrastinator? What are your go-to strategies? Until next time.

Andy Molinsky

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Andy Molinsky

Andy Molinsky is a professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School, with a joint appointment in the Department of Psychology.

He received his Ph.D. in organizational behavior and M.A. in psychology from Harvard University.

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