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Confessions of a Reformed Procrastinator

Break the Energy-Sapping Cycle
  -- By Mike Kramer, Staff Writer
This article has been a long time coming. In fact, it’s probably several years overdue. Why? Because… I’m a closet procrastinator.

I’ve been too aware for too long that I’ve suffered this affliction. In college, 73% of my studying (I checked) was done between the hours of 11pm and 4am the night before exams, fueled by Cheetos and Mountain Dew. My car always stayed dirty, my fridge was always cluttered, and the malls always stayed open an extra hour for me on Christmas Eve. I once didn’t eat breakfast because making toast seemed like work. True story.

Over the years, I’ve learned to cope with this burden and even overcome it in many significant ways. I can’t tell you what a HUGE difference just a few simple goal-setting techniques have made. Being accountable to something written on paper compels me to act. It may be true that thinking before you act is a virtue. But too much thinking leads to very little action. And action is everything when it comes to reaching meaningful goals and leading a meaningful life.

But I learned a valuable lesson the other day that may help me even more. I learned that I’m still procrastinating in a lot of small, unseen ways that can add up to frustrating days.

Here’s what happened: On the way to work, I stopped at the intersection at the end of our street. On that corner is a mailbox, and I had three letters in the car to mail. Being late for work, though, my first thought – as it has been for years – was "I’m in a hurry, I’ll just mail them at lunchtime." But instead of driving on, I stopped my procrastinating self. I realized that I was actually prepared to take 5-10 minutes out of my lunch hour, get back in my car, slog through traffic, and run to the post office – just for the sake of not having to do it right now. Such is the irrational nature of a procrastinator.

I scolded myself for being so stupid, got out of the car, dropped the mail, and was on my way. Cost: 10 seconds. Payoff: No more brain space wasted on mail, and a traffic-free lunch. Lesson learned.

I know there are a lot of closet procrastinators like me out there, people who have goals or things to do (big or small), but put off acting on them for one reason or another.

We’re stressed when we procrastinate. But then we also procrastinate when we’re stressed. Procrastination is a nasty beast. It’s a mean, energy-sapping, time-chewing cycle. But you can break out of it. If I can do it, anyone can.

It’s really a mindset and a habit. It’s a matter of deciding to just get something out of the way while you have the chance. Here are my rules for breaking the procrastination habit:
  1. When in doubt, act.
  2. Erase your To-Do List every day or week and start over. Running lists end up with items that stick around too long, sink to the bottom and end up as invisible as Lincoln’s ghost.
  3. Hang around action-oriented people. People with energy often have a thrill for life, and it’s easy to pick up some of that spirit.
  4. Get plenty of exercise and sleep. Nothing makes you want to put things off more than feeling groggy or drained.
  5. Filter down and simplify. Does everything on your To-Do List belong there? As lists get longer, we procrastinators can freeze up and not know which way to turn first.
  6. Right now – before you read the next paragraph – go do something you put off earlier today…There, doesn’t that feel better? Remember and cherish that feeling.
I’m not always successful at not procrastinating. I have my share of setbacks. But with goal setting and the personal leadership I’ve learned with SparkPeople, as well as the rules above, I’m getting a lot better. I find that the more action I put in my day, the more fun it is, and the more time I have to do the stuff I really want to do – with a clear mind, a clear conscience, and a cleared-off To-Do List.