How to Stop Procrastinating

Take on that ever-growing to-do list with these easy tips.

Condensed from Reader's Digest | March 2011

You’ve got a slide show due on Wednesday, you need to wash your son’s soccer uniform before tomorrow, you haven’t had your teeth cleaned in eight months and the faucet has been leaking since last Tuesday. So what do you do? Update your Facebook status, of course! According to researcher Piers Steel, PhD, 95 percent of people put off till tomorrow what they could do today, a habit that affects friends, families and coworkers. A few tips for kicking a ticking habit:

Define the task. “Procrastination is driven, in part, by the gap between effort (which is required now) and reward (which you reap only in the future, if ever),” writes James Surowiecki in the New Yorker. Paraphrasing David Allen’s classic Getting Things Done, he points out, “The vaguer the task, or the more abstract the thinking it requires, the less likely you are to finish it.”

Focus. Leo Babauta, the author of Focus and the blog Zen Habits , suggests writing the word focus on an index card and putting it on your desk: simple, and, he promises, effective. Too many tasks that are tough to prioritize and are competing for your time? Babauta suggests picking the three or five most important ones, doing the one that excites you first, and focusing (that word again) on one task at a time.

Just get started. Set a timer for 25 minutes and start your task, suggests Ryan Waggoner on lifehacker.com. You can do almost anything for 25 minutes, can’t you?

Let the computer police your use of the Internet. Online, you can chat, shop, and waste time by barely lifting a finger. “It’s like trying to diet with a magic spoon of ice cream following you around,” writes Steel in The Procrastination Equation (Harper, $25.99). RescueTime, a free online time-management tool, can “nudge” you back to work by tracking how you spend your time online (by day, hour and week), as well as block the Internet (free and upgraded versions for $6-$9 a month available at rescuetime.com). A favorite of writer Nora Ephron: Freedom Internet-blocking software ($10, with a free trial).

Aim for “good enough. “Any improvement,” Waggoner says, “no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.”

Bet on yourself—literally. At the online motivator, stickK.com, featured on CBS Sunday Morning, you can post your goals, who will make sure you achieve them, and how much you’ll pay if you fail. (You’re encouraged to donate any money you lose to a charity you hate.)

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