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Stop Procrastinating – Right Now!

Run a Dash

For just five minutes, do nothing but work on the task that had you stalled — then quit. "That's why it's a dash. By committing to a ridiculously short amount of time, you ensure that you will meet your goal without getting stressed out," explains Merlin Mann, founder and editor of the personal productivity Website 43folders.com.

"Start by asking, 'What's the simplest step I can take to get things in motion?'" Mann advises. If you've got to clean out the attic, aim for five minutes of packing up old toys, and stop when the timer buzzes. By building in a light at the end of the tunnel, the dash gets you to begin, which is often the hardest part. "Many procrastinators just don't know how to take the first step," says Mann. If you do nothing more than a short dash, at least you'll have begun, which is better than surfing the Net for hints on attic reorganizing.

Furthermore, you may be surprised at what can happen in five minutes. Emptying the dishwasher was the daily job Amy Mayer, 49, of Charlotte, NC, most dreaded. But then she timed it. "It only takes five minutes!" she discovered. "After I realized that, I was able to walk up to it much more easily." And once you've actually started, you may find that it's hard to stop as you gain momentum, make progress, and maybe even start to enjoy jobs like sorting through your teen's old baby toys.

Skip Grandiose Goals

Faced with an intimidating task like "start exercising," who wouldn't procrastinate? Ambitious to-do lists can be a form of self-sabotage that sets us up for failure. Making the list can even become a project unto itself. "We trick ourselves into thinking our planning is actually doing, but it's really just part of the procrastination," says Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., a psychologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. "Planning substitutes for real action."

To make sure your to-dos actually get done, try what Mann calls pebbling: Break off tiny pieces of the mountainous job, writing down only tasks that you can accomplish in 24 hours. Instead of jotting, "File my taxes," a job that can easily take days, write, "Get my receipts out and put them on the table." Instead of "Buy a new car," try, "Call the car dealership and set up a meeting for Friday." By addressing pebbles, not mountains, you are much likelier to meet your goals, which in turn inspires the confidence to climb future mountains — one pebble at a time.

Keep Distraction at a Distance

"The U.S. gross national product would probably rise by $50 billion if that 'new e-mail' notification sound were to suddenly disappear," estimates Steel. If you're balancing your checkbook online, and then hear that beep, you may only spend four seconds reading the e-mail — but next thing you know, you're organizing your in-box, surfing the Web, looking up that recipe for Cornish game hen. The checkbook? A distant memory.

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