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Procrastination affects most of us, to some degree or other. We don’t have to be chronic procrastinators to still find ourselves delaying unreasonably on a major – or minor – task.

Blogger James Clear says it stems from Newton’s first law of motion, which might be popularly stated: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.

It’s easy to procrastinate – to stay at rest.

But in the first part of the law lies a solution, he writes in his blog: “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. When it comes to being productive ... the most important thing is to find a way to get started. Once you get started, it is much easier to stay in motion.”

To overcome procrastination, find a way to start your task in less than two minutes, he recommends. That doesn’t mean complete the task. Indeed, you may not even tackle the primary element of the task. Just get started, and let Newton help you along.

Consultant Sam Horn gives different advice based on whether the task you’re delaying on is small or big. If it’s small, she suggests answering these five questions (her example is based on whether to have a difficult conversation with a subordinate):

  • Do I have to do this? Probably yes, because if you don’t address the behaviour it will become worse.
  • Do I have to do this? If you’re the supervisor, yes. Who else?
  • Do I want this done so I don’t have to worry or feel guilty about it any more? You (and others who deal with the person) have probably been putting up with the behaviour for a while. Think how relieved you will be to have this finished so it’s no longer stressing.
  • How long will this actually take? Usually this is an embarrassing question because the issue we are delaying on won’t take much time. “Often, the conversation itself will probably only take five to 20 minutes, yet you may have spent hours – weeks or months – thinking about it. Avoiding what needs to be done is a misuse, a waste, of time or energy,” she writes. That probably applies to many tasks you are procrastinating over.
  • Will this be any easier later on? Probably not. In fact, for this difficult conversation and many other issues it will be harder later on.

“These questions may sound simplistic, but they have the power to reverse a default of automatically and habitually putting things off with the promise to do them ... later,” she stresses.

As for procrastinating on bigger things, we tend to delay because "if we don’t know, we don’t go.” Often when considering something new, we become an object at rest.

To get going, she says, the first step is to consult a familiar friend: Google. Answers – or at least clues to the new situation we are contemplating – lie on the internet. “Go online right now. Phrase what you want to do as a question and put it into your favourite search engine. Whether you want to write for your industry magazine, present a white paper at a national conference or start a mentoring program at your organization ... you will discover online resources that will tell you how to take your first steps,” she says.

As well, don’t go it alone, she advises. Find others who can help you.

A final tip, from prolific writer Stephen King: “The scariest moment is always right before you start.”

Quick hits

  • To improve your communication, Procter & Gamble Co. chief executive officer David Taylor says you should regularly ask: Am I listening or am I waiting to speak?
  • Detailed plans are the wishful thinking of a scientific mind, says consultant Roy H. Williams. Instead of goals, he has objectives; goals have deadlines, objectives do not.
  • To become your best self, study your successes. Academics Laura Morgan Roberts, Emily Heaphy and Brianna Barker Caza suggest in Harvard Business Review that you conduct reviews of your own work after completing important activities to set benchmarks and identify best practices for future work. As well, notice positive feedback and ask questions so that you can better understand exactly how you made an impact.
  • Google Calendar users can hide the sidebar to focus more clearly on dates and events. Tech writer Jory MacKay advises you to click the three-line menu icon in the top left-hand corner to collapse or expand the menu bar.
  • Consultant Kevin Eikenberry lists five fears that cause procrastination: Fear of the unknown, of process, of failure, of falling short, and of success.

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