How to Stop Procrastinating and Get Back to Work

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Procrastination sneaks up on us at the office and keeps us from doing our best work

At times, it seems like procrastination is an actual affliction. It sneaks up when we least expect it, undermines our productivity and then diminishes our ability to get anything done. In the end, we're left feeling defeated and wondering why we can't get motivated to tackle the things we know we should deal with, but just don't want to do.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia Business School, has a simple strategy for overcoming our tendency to put things off:

  1. Change what scares you. Some of us can't get started because we're afraid of failing. The logic goes: if you don't try, you can't fail. But Halvorson says we're fearing the wrong thing. Don't fear failure. Fear the consequences of not getting it done or not accomplishing something that's meaningful. That fear triggers a different response by creating the urgency that can propel us forward.
  2. Stop waiting to "feel" like doing whatever is on the to-do list. We all have tasks we need, or even want, to do, but never quite "feel" like starting. Waiting to "feel" like it is an excuse to avoid finishing. Feelings have nothing to do it. Some stuff just needs to get done.
  3. Make a plan. Be specific. Don't clear our your inbox "tomorrow." Clear it out tomorrow from 2:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. Don't trust yourself to make the right decision in the moment. Make it ahead of time and stick to it. 

And the results? Grant Halvorson put it this way in her original article in the Harvard Business Review, "Can you imagine how much less guilt, stress, and frustration you would feel if you could somehow just make yourself do the things you don’t want to do when you are actually supposed to do them?  Not to mention how much happier and more effective you would be?"