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Stop Procrastinating – Right Now!

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.

"We have so many distractions now that are instantly available — and they're toxic to motivation," says Steel. "It's never been easier to procrastinate." The answer? If you need to get something done, turn off the e-mail sound or icon — heck, if you're at home, unplug the Internet connection altogether. Or take a tip from Stephanie Gabriel Boyden, 33, of Tucson, AZ, who increases her efficiency by scheduling a daily "electronics-free hour — no cell phone, instant-messaging, or e-mail for 60 solid minutes."

Eliminating distractions works off-line, too. "I tend to get distracted easily when I'm doing a chore I hate," says Catherine Boyd, 49, from Charlottesville, VA. "I'll start thinking of other things that are important, like checking the furnace valve, or calling the vet. I'd never let myself quit working to watch TV — but who could feel guilty about setting up the cat's yearly veterinary checkup? So now I keep a small pad handy and write down all those other tasks as they pop up in my head. Having that list removes the temptation to escape from the thing I really hate by doing other things I hate slightly less."

Schedule Fun First

"One of the most devastating consequences of procrastination is that it can lead you to put off living," says Fiore. In his research with graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, he found that the people who made time to play sports, hang out with friends, and enjoy themselves were the ones who actually got work done faster. "The procrastinators were always worrying, as if suffering were a superstitious offering to the gods," Fiore noted. "They were, in a sense, saying, 'See, I'm not having any fun — isn't that almost as good as doing the work?'"

Rather than allowing that procrastination-induced cloud of guilt to overshadow your life, Fiore counsels setting aside leisure hours first — before you schedule time to work. A night out with a friend, for example, becomes your reward for doing something less palatable, like covering the school board meeting for the PTA. That way, even while listening to hour three of the budget discussion, you'll remember that life is not all Excel sheets. Rather than feeling like Cinderella forever, you'll know you'll soon be having a ball again. Leigh Anderson, 34, of New York City, adds another twist. She hates cleaning house, so "I invite friends over every Thursday night. It gives me something to look forward to, and makes me tidy up pronto!"

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