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10 Ways to Conquer Your Procrastination

Put aside your big project for just a moment longer to read this article.

Aren't you sick of hearing, "But you have so much potential”?

I don’t know about you, but I believe my life's worth is defined by what I've produced. Every time you forgo productivity in favor of TV, golf or gardening, aren't you wasting life’s most precious resource—time? The following ways to reduce procrastination have often worked for my clients. I hope you'll find at least one worth trying.

Set a big goal. Goethe said, “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” So what’s the most exciting goal you might achieve if you put your mind to it? Even if you’re unsure you could do it, might partial achievement or simply enjoying the process be good enough? Most people don’t have the intellectual firepower to make a big contribution, but you’re a Kiplinger reader. You do.

Picture the benefits of achieving your goal. Money? Fame? Self-esteem? A more meaningful life? Getting your spouse off your back?

Recognize that success lies mainly within you. Stop believing such nonsense as "The world is abundant. It will provide" or "It's in the hands of fate." Yes, luck matters, but success is mainly in your hands, although it sometimes requires the help of others you trust.

Recruit a partner. Compensate for your lack of drive by adding some firepower to your project as necessary.

Be aware of the “moment of truth.” That's when you decide, usually subconsciously, whether you should work or play. By making that choice consciously, you’ll more often choose the productive activity.

Start big projects NOW. It's tough to determine, in advance, how long a big project will take. So waiting until the last minute greatly increases the risk you'll do a bad job. Make this rule inviolate: I will start a big project as soon as it is assigned to me.

How do you get motivated to stick with that rule? Remind yourself that if you start right away, the project will be more fun:

• You'll avoid the stress of trying to get it done well at the last minute.

• You'll have time to play with the parts you like to do—for example, toying with words or illustrating.

• If you're done early, you'll have a chunk of free time that you can enjoy without the project hanging over your head.

• You'll likely have done a better job, which will yield more praise and make you proud of yourself.

Use the mantra "Make it fun; more will get done." Constantly ask yourself, "What's the fun way to do this task?”

Take the “one-minute struggle” test. If you haven’t made progress within a minute, additional struggling probably won't help. It merely will make you procrastinate more in the future as you recall the pain you experienced in doing previous tasks. After the one-minute mark, get help or try to figure out a way to do the project without the hard part.

Avoid perfectionism, especially on first drafts. Just get it on paper. It's far easier to revise your way to perfection than to generate it out of thin air.

Embrace discipline. Intelligence and discipline are the biggest factors distinguishing successful people from unsuccessful people. What does discipline mean? A few examples:

• Be willing to stay focused on a task, taking breaks only when necessary, until the task or a component of it is complete.

• Be willing to fight past the discomfort of not knowing: Struggle to master something, be willing to expose your deficiencies by asking a co-worker a question, or hire a tutor or mentor to accelerate your learning.

• Work longer hours. We tend to repress the obvious truth that the longer you work at your profession or avocation, the better you'll get.

Now stop reading Kiplinger and do something productive. All right, five more minutes with Kiplinger.

Marty Nemko is a contributing columnist for Kiplinger and has been named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Find more than 500 of his other published writings free at