Doing Battle With Procrastination? Here's How to Win – For Good


Sometimes I get emails from Dumb Little Man's readers – and it's always lovely to receive these! One problem that people often mention is procrastination. They know that this bad habit is holding them back, but they're not sure how to beat it.
All you procrastinators out there – even those of you who told me not to write about this because you'd no longer have an excuse! – listen up. Here's my four-step battle plan for beating procrastination right into the ground:

  • Recognize the Enemy
  • Get out the Big Guns
  • Protect Your Flank
  • Never Retreat!
  1. Recognize the Enemy
    You're going to have a hard time beating procrastination if you don't recognize your enemy. Procrastination is a cunning creature and can sidle onto the daily battlefield in various guises:
    • Distractions (like web surfing)
    • "Urgent" tasks (emails / phone calls)
    • "I'll just..." tasks (tidy the desk, make a coffee, pop to the store...)
    Sometimes, you know you're faced with the enemy. You've just spent the last half-hour Twittering and looking at amusing pictures of cats online; procrastination's got you by the neck. Other times, procrastination wears the guise of productivity. Surely, getting your inbox cleared out is important? Well, maybe it is but are you just using that as an excuse not to get on with your really important work?
    Procrastination often wins by making small, incremental gains. Those five minutes of reading the newspaper turn into twenty. That coffee before making a start on work turns into a half-hour natter with your colleague.
    Recognize the enemy – and that's half the battle won.
  2. Get Out the Big Guns
    If you're going to beat procrastination – especially if you've done battle and retreated wounded in the past – then you need the big guns.
    My favorite way to blast procrastination right back into oblivion is what I call the just make a start method. When that cloud of procrastination hovers over a task, the best way to banish it is to dive right in. Get your hands dirty. Don't stop to think too much. Just open up that Word document, find that file, or pick up that phone. Taking action is the fastest possible way to send procrastination running.
    Some of the other big guns that will obliterate procrastination are:
    • Firm Deadlines (tell your boss you'll have the report on his desk by Friday)
    • Music (something with a strong, energetic beat – I like thrash metal...)
    • "Chunking" Down (write a step by step plan when you're feeling overwhelmed by a project)
  3. Protect Your Flank
    There's no point tackling procrastination head-on if you're not protecting your flank. Don't leave yourself open to attack. People do this all the time by working so much that they burn out, or by forgetting the physical aspect of procrastination.
    You need what the army calls R&R – rest and relaxation – if you're going to perform well. Trying to work long days, or working every weekend, is going to leave you wide open to procrastination's lure: when you're tired or stressed, it's hard to stay motivated. Learn to leave work at work.
    And, like any soldier, you need to stay fit. Getting regular exercise – just half an hour's brisk walking each day – is enough to really improve your focus. Stay well hydrated, and eat sensibly. You might have laughed in the face of procrastination in the morning, but huge lunch and a couple of beers aren't going to leave you in good shape for the afternoon.
  4. Never Retreat!
    Finally, recognize that there will be times when procrastination gets the better of you. You'll have days when you don't accomplish any of the tasks on your to-do lists. You'll lose whole afternoons to web comics and Facebook. You'll spend whole weekends watching DVDs, even when you planned to finally give the house a spring-clean.
    Don't let one lost skirmish turn into surrendering the war. You're always stronger than procrastination, and you can bounce back. The more often you win, the easier it'll be. Never retreat – never give up! Pick yourself off the ground, and start the battle again.


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