To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must begin by taking the first step – Chinese Proverb

Everyone procrastinates occasionally. Procrastinators have good intentions, they just can’t act on them. Chronic procrastinators find themselves running but going nowhere in a seemingly endless cycle of avoidance, anxiety and shame. The good news is it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Stress is how people react to a perceived threat in any situation and anxiety is the reaction to that stress. Procrastinating is a self-defeating form of stress relief but “telling a chronic procrastinator to just do it is like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up,” in the words of Joseph Ferrari, Professor of Psychology at DePaul University in Chicago.

The best way to reduce the impact of stress and manage procrastination is to take action and relieve the real cause. Learning to act when stressed is a skill that involves changing habitual negative behaviors into more productive ones. To start, take time to observe your own procrastination patterns. For more information, read Is Procrastination Holding You Back?

Here are some tips to help you get going.

1. Set Effective Goals

You will be much more likely to succeed if your goals are:

• Specific

• Achievable

• Meaningful

• Measurable

• Timely

Vague goals won’t give you the direction and details necessary to make them relevant and achievable. Unrealistic goals will demoralize you when you fail, backspace. However, it’s important to resist the urge to make goals too easy— you’ll want to have something to celebrate at the end.

If your goal is simply to “lose weight,” how will you know when, or if you have succeeded? A better goal would be “I will lose 10 lbs. in the next 60 days by improving my diet and exercising 3 times a week.” Can you be more specific?

Put your goal in writing as a statement of affirmation—something you believe to be true. Sign it and place it somewhere you will see it every day and be reminded of your commitment.

2. Prioritize Your Tasks

Make a list of everything you need to accomplish, starting with the most important at the top. Systematically work your way down the list. Think about your feelings of accomplishment as you complete each task.

3. Make an Action Plan

Don’t let tasks overwhelm you. Take them one bite at a time. This is especially important for big projects. Write down the steps necessary to complete the task. Crossing each one off as you complete it will help you see the progress you are making toward your goal.

4. Schedule Yourself

Make a daily planner and organize your activities around the actions needed each day. Be sure to schedule time for rewards as tasks are completed.

5. Take the 10-minute Challenge

When you have trouble getting started, turn the temptation to avoid work into a contest. Take an action step that you know is easy to do and see if you can complete it in 10 minutes. If you can, then reward yourself. If not, choose whether or not to continue for another 10 minutes. If you decide to stop working on the task, spend a few minutes planning a strategy to complete it and then schedule it.

6. Don’t Tune into Negative Thinking

Resist the urge to obsess about the outcome by staying focused on what you need to do this moment. Anytime you think about failing or disappointing others, read your goal statement out loud. Think about the good feelings that accompany completed tasks.

7. Stay with It

Procrastinating is a reaction to stress and a learned behavior. Keep in mind that it’s normal to fear failure and have doubts about yourself. Everyone fails sometime. Letting those things stay with you however, is a choice you make, and only you can change it. Once you see how stringing small victories together leads to success, you will understand why taking action toward your goal is the best way to manage stress and overcome procrastination.

Wishing you the best always,

Dr. Dale Simpson (The Every Day Psychologist)

Dale Simpson, PhD, is the father of five children. As a practicing psychologist for more than 37 years, he has counseled children, teens, adults and couples and currently practices in Venice, Florida. Dr. Simpson was a cofounder and publisher of an educational magazine, wrote the Inside the Family column for the magazine, served as a featured speaker at numerous parenting and homeschool conferences, and is the publisher of Learning for Life Press.

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