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Avoid that thief of time - procrastination by Jeanne Calitz

I recently found this great article on strategies to avoid procrastination. I'm sure it is a timely reminder for many of you, particularly as the school holidays are finishing and I'm sure some of you haven't completed your holiday homework.

Everybody procrastinates in some way - the work assignment we leave for later, the visit to the gymnasium we put off in favour of an exciting TV programme, the dishes we leave in the sink to go out and have a drink with some friends.

The problem is that procrastination can become a habit, and one that can seriously influence our productivity - and good standing - at work.

Psychology professors Joseph Ferrari and Timothy Pychyl see procrastination as a lifestyle. "And it cuts across all domains of life. [Procrastinators] don't pay bills on time. They miss opportunities for buying tickets to concerts. They file income tax returns late." (Psychology Today)

According to these experts, procrastination is a negative habit, and those who practice it can be divided into three basic groups:

the arousal types, who put things off because they like to work under pressure and enjoy the rush of adrenaline;
the avoiders, who can't face the completion of a task;
and decisional procrastinators, who take their time getting started because they experience difficulty making decisions.
All three of these exhibit certain behaviour that strengthens the pattern of procrastination. Generally, they lie to themselves, arguing that a specific task is not important, or that they will have more energy to complete it the next day. Also, procrastinators tend to look for distractions to help them avoid their tasks.

The problem is that procrastination can seriously damage your personal and work life - putting tasks off again and again leads to greater stress and pressure at a later time, which is not conducive to emotional and physical wellness. Another problem is that, when one employee habitually puts off his workload, his or her colleagues will be forced to pick up the slack, which will breed resentment.

So, let's take a look at some tips for avoiding procrastination:

1. Learn to prioritise: Take a good look at your responsibilities and then decide which task bears the most importance. Brian Tracy, author of the acclaimed Eat that Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, argues: "Perhaps the very best question that you can memorise and repeat, over and over, is 'what is the most valuable use of my time right now?' "

2. Eat that frog! Take a leaf from Tracy's book and tackle the task that holds the least appeal. The title, of course, stems from Mark Twain's humorous quote: "If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, the rest of your day will be wonderful." Jokes aside, Twain and Tracy have a point - if you start and finish the worst project on your list first, the rest of the day will go smoother.

3. Avoid feelings of being overwhelmed by huge projects by dividing it into smaller tasks that will be more easily accomplished.

4. When starting on any project or task, be sure to create clear and realistic goals for what it is you want to achieve, also try to create a realistic deadline for each task.

5. Don't sit around and wait for inspiration. If you are writing an article, don't become demotivated if you can't think of the perfect introduction - just start writing! The more you work, the more the ideas will flow.

6. Try not to let perfectionism stand in your way of getting started. Advocates the internationally known motivational speaker Steve Pavlina: "An imperfect job completed today is always superior to the perfect job delayed indefinitely."

7. Another useful piece of advice from Pavlina is to change your attitude towards the project or task to be completed. According to him, the key is to replace feelings of "have to" with "want to". When a person feels that he "has to" complete something, it leads to feelings of resentment.

8. Go on, spoil yourself: To help with the abovementioned tip, it is a good idea to set small, immediate rewards for completing certain tasks. This gives you something to look forward to.

9. Avoid distractions and strive to create the optimum conditions for working at your best. Clear your desk from clutter and distractions and bring some soothing music and earphones to work in order to drown out the office buzz.

10. Avoid the temptation of a quick coffee with co-workers or a little gossip at the water cooler - these will only break your stride and keep you from your goals.

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About the Author Jeanne Calitz is the staff writer for Careers24. Careers24 is a South Africa based job and recruitment portal. Career seekers can search thousands of jobs and apply online. Recruiters can advertise jobs and search thousands of resumes to find the perfect candidate for the job.

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