Put a stop to procrastination

Nov 2, 2011 at 1:10 p.m. ET

At some point or another, we all procrastinate -- but some of us do it more than others. We leave things until the last minute, find excuses not to get things done and have days where we do everything but what's currently on our to-do list. If that sounds like you, we're here to help. We've put together a list of simple strategies aimed at helping you get more done sans stress and find a way to put a stop to procrastination once and for all.

Woman with to do list

1Make task-specific lists -- and use them

It's one thing to make a list but if you're not going to use it, it won't do you any good. Lists are a great way to stay organized, on track and ensure that everything you need to do gets done on time. But don't just make one long list containing everything from "put the laundry away" to "finish budget report" -- make task-specific lists to get even more organized. Have one list for things you need to do at home, such as chores, grocery shopping or any other maintenance on your space, one list for work containing all tasks related to your job and one list for family and social tasks, such as making plans with someone you haven't seen in a while or getting family together for a birthday or other special occasion. Even though three lists seem more daunting than one, having one for each area of your life will make you feel much more in control of what you need to do.

Crossings things off of your to-do list feels good. Use that feeling of accomplishment as an incentive to continue getting things done.


Once you know what you have to do in a day or a week, prioritize your tasks according to importance so you know where to start and what to focus on. If you don't prioritize your to-dos, you could easily end up not giving yourself enough time to complete something of importance, while spending too much time on something that doesn't matter as much or that has a longer lead time.

Here's how: Go through your tasks and pick out the ones that you know for sure need to get done that day. Highlight them or write them on a white board or on your calendar as a reminder of your must-dos for the day. That way you won't lose sight of what's important and you can really focus on what your main goals are. Put the rest of your tasks into two other categories: "should do" and "would like to do" to further break down your to-dos.

3Build in time for distractions

We all get distracted -- by Facebook, Twitter, email and YouTube videos. We're not suggesting you quit all of these things cold turkey, but do build in a specific amount of time for digital distractions. That way you won't get carried away and lose hours on end watching funny video clips online or exchanging Facebook messages with friends about where you're going to meet for dinner later. You can opt for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes during lunch or decide on one larger block of time. You may need to experiment to find out what works best for you. Let's face it -- you're going to check your email and search for non-work related things online anyway, so you might as well allow yourself to do it -- but in a much more controlled manner.

4Try timed tasks

Some people respond well when they have a set time in which to get something done. Along with prioritizing your tasks, assign times to each of them, too. This may spur you to get more done because you know there is a clock ticking while you work. Sure, it's an arbitrary clock, but just having a time limit is a great way to get moving faster and more efficiently than you normally would. It's OK if you don't finish or need to augment the amount of time you've assigned to something -- the point is to use the seconds ticking away as a personal challenge to beat the clock or make good time. Turn it into a game -- the day will go by much faster and you'll be surprised at how much you accomplish when you're under the gun.

5Reward yourself

Reward yourself for a job well-done (and a complete to-do list) as an incentive to get more done in a day than you normally would. You can also build in mini-rewards for each item you cross off -- for instance, if you do the one thing you are dreading most, you get 15 extra minutes of online time to read your favorite website. Or if you get through the first three items on your list faster than the time you allotted, you can treat yourself to a mid-afternoon latte. You don't want to break the bank with rewards for every task you complete, but this procrastination-busting method can really help spur you on during days you just can't seem to get motivated.

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