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Break the procrastination habit... today?

From M, winter 2004

"People think that procrastination is a terrible character flaw," says psychologist Glenn Hirsch, assistant director of University Counseling and Consulting Service, "but everyone procrastinates. It's a natural part of the human experience." Putting things off is a habit that you learn and can unlearn--or at least learn to manage, says Hirsch. He recommends, first of all, that you get honest with yourself about your procrastination. Look at what the hidden rewards are for procrastinating and what you'd have to give up if you stopped procrastinating. Then you need to get real about how motivated you are to change. "Procrastination can be a very hard habit to break," says Hirsch, "and you're probably not going to do it unless you are really motivated." Hirsch offers these tips to help us get out of the procrastination habit.

  1. Break down the task into very small chunks. It's easier not to procrastinate when you have manageable tasks.
  2. Set a time to finish one chunk. It's helpful to think about what would prevent you from getting this task done and to strategize about how to avoid that. For example, if you're likely to talk on the phone, unplug the phone or forward calls to your voice mail. If you're too distracted at your house, go to the library.
  3. Have some accountability around finishing the job. Tell someone your plans.
  4. Have some small rewards for yourself. Find something you're willing to give yourself if you succeed--and willing to go without if you don't succeed.
If you do well, go on to the next chunk. If you're not successful, analyze what went wrong and figure out what you could do differently the next time. And don't give up or feel bad. "Sometimes failures can be very helpful if people are willing to look at what went wrong and learn from the experience," says Hirsch.

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