Just do it!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Getty Images
Getty Images

Don't let procrastination rule your life. Take action now and achieve more than ever before.

We all know the adage "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today." But how many of us actually stick to it? Not many, if research from the University of Calgary, Canada, is anything to go by.

The study, which examined almost 700 scientific papers on why people procrastinate, found that a staggering 95 percent of us are guilty of putting things off. So how can you make sure you're not one of them?

Do something irreversible
"Sometimes you have to leave yourself no way out," says Jason Gracia of motivation website Motivation123.com. "When you click send, sign on the dotted line or say yes, you burn a bridge."

So instead of simply talking about redecorating the lounge, actually strip the old wallpaper off. You can't reverse this action, so you're committing yourself to finishing the task. "When you burn a bridge you make a commitment to yourself, to others, that can't easily be ignored," Gracia says.

Remove time wasters
Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, the Internet in general, computer games, text messaging … The list of modern-day distractions is endless, but unless you delete them from your life, or at least some of the day, you're unlikely to ever complete your to-do list. Even old-fashioned pastimes can absorb our attention: reading, watching TV, listening to music.

"The better you know your distractions, the easier it will be to avoid them," Gracia says. "Take time to figure them out, then write down ways to avoid them." Maybe you need to turn your phone off, delete games from your computer or dedicate a set amount of time each day to e-mail.

Believe in yourself
"The old saying is true — whether you believe you can or you believe you can't, you're probably right," says Dr Piers Steel, author of the Canadian study.

"People who believe they can are less likely to procrastinate, while procrastinators have less confidence in themselves and less expectancy they can actually complete a task."

If this sounds like you, try breaking things down into manageable chunks. You'll be more likely to succeed than if you tackle one huge task.

Know yourself
"Sometimes we procrastinate because we schedule things at the wrong time," Gracia says. If you promise yourself you'll hit the gym after work, but exercising is the last thing you want to do at 6pm, you'll always put it off.

Try a morning or weekend work-out instead. Likewise, if you know you lack the motivation to push yourself at the gym, sign up for personal training sessions or join a group fitness club. "Test some changes. You'll be surprised at what a little tweaking can do," Gracia says.

Reach out
"Ask for help, not because you don't know how to do something, but because it will make you move," Gracia says. If you make firm arrangements to go wallpaper shopping with a friend, you're more likely to actually buy some paper and get that lounge redecorated than if you try and nip in when you have a spare five minutes.

Even better if you can rope the friend into helping you decorate — arranging a time for them to come round means you have to get started.

Work on your willpower
Dr Steel says impulsiveness and a lack of self-control are often at the root of procrastination. Increase your self-control and you'll soon be ticking things off that list.

"Temptations close at hand are difficult to resist. But as you get better at self-control your expectancy about whether you can resist goes up, thus improving your ability to do so," Dr Steel says.

So next time you're in danger of putting something off, take immediate action to get started on it and that behaviour will soon become a habit.

Make a list
It's impossible to complete something that's undefined, so write a list. Tasks floating around your head have a tendency to drift away, but a list will remind you. "Before you go to bed, make a list of the things you want to do tomorrow," Gracia says. This also highlights where your problem areas are.

"Review your list the next night, crossing out everything you finished and circling everything left undone. Then look at the circles. Patterns will reveal your habits of procrastination," Gracia says. This will then help you realise the cause behind it.

"Are you scared, anxious, bored, tired, uninformed, indecisive, unfocused, disorganised, stressed? Merely knowing the cause of a problem can be enough to reveal a simple answer."

Your say: Do you procrastinate? How do you get yourself back on track? Share your tips below.

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