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How to Turn Down the Noise in Your Life

STEP 3: Quit procrastinating.

Now that you've adjusted your focus level and mind-set, you should be ready to dive into the task at hand. If you aren't, it may be because the task seems either dauntingly important or mind-numbingly dull. Once again, you're facing the over- or understimulation that can sabotage your concentration — and the easiest, most tempting way out seems to be to avoid the job altogether.

Before you start another round of computer solitaire, "Ask yourself, What is it that I'm not doing right now?" says Palladino. "You may not be ready to tackle a job you're too nervous or too bored to face, but asking the question means that eventually, you'll face it — or at least you'll be aware that you're avoiding it, which moves you mentally a step closer to taking action."

There's a simple way to get motivated fast: Key in on the core reason why you need to get going on that task, whether it's to take control of your financial future, feel organized, or be a better friend. You can also sharpen your focus by asking, What is my procrastination costing me? Or mentally picture what achieving your goal will look and feel like. Envision the actual result or a dynamic image that symbolizes success or completion, such as the swoosh of a basketball through a basket. "By pinpointing a satisfying outcome, you motivate yourself to begin," says Palladino.

Natalie Giannelli, 25, a graduate student in environmental engineering at Stanford University in Stanford, CA, fends off procrastination and sharpens her focus by giving herself a taste of how good she's going to feel when a given project is done: "When I'm supposed to produce a technical report, I focus by prewriting the email that I'll be using to send it off, leaving a hole for the report itself," she says. "It pulls me into the task."

Something as low-tech as a kitchen timer may stoke your momentum. That's what stay-at-home mom Emily Marusich, 48, of Encinitas, CA, uses to structure her day. She alternates 20- to 30-minute periods of what she has to do (laundry, cleaning) with what she wants to do, such as reading books. "The timer keeps me honest and focused, and helps ensure that I balance work and play," she says.

If you're still dragging your feet on a to-do, ask yourself if you might be facing a crisis of confidence. "Consider phoning or emailing someone who believes in you or shares your dreams for the future — a spouse, child, best friend, mentor," says Palladino. Hearing their words of encouragement may help you get started. What's more, University of Wisconsin researchers found that when the names of friends and family were flashed on a screen for even a split second, subjects focused longer and harder on what they were doing. So even just thinking of the ones who have your back can help you get — and stay — focused.

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