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How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Moving

Make a list to stop procrastination.
Make a list to stop procrastination.

One of my good friends is a world-class procrastinator. Whenever she has something important to do, she'll avoid it until the last possible minute. Then she'll rush around trying to complete the task, with results that range from haphazard to disastrous.

The strange thing about her is, she's also a bit of a perfectionist. It took me years to figure out that's one of the reasons why she puts things off for so long.

She's convinced herself that IF she's forced get everything done in an unrealistically short period of time, it's OK if the results are only mediocre. After all, she didn't have enough time to do a proper job.

That frantic rush to do something at the last minute, extends to every area of her life. She grabs whatever food is available as she's rushing out the door. Her idea of regular exercise is paying her monthly gym bill, without actually working out more than once or twice every few weeks.

Over the years her slapdash approach has started to seriously affect her health. She's 30 pounds overweight, her blood pressure is high and simple things like unloading her kids from the car leave her breathless. So I offered her three suggestions on how to start confronting the problem.

First I told her to figure out her procrastination points. Those times when she realizes she should be doing one thing, but instead does something else. When that happens, I told her to stop and make a list of everything she wants to get done in the next four hours. In a recent list she said she needed to: Write up a presentation for work, check and respond to emails, pay the bills that had come in and go to the gym for a workout.

Then I had her write a number beside each item and rank its importance. Keep in mind, I explained that regular exercise should always be between 8 and 10 (very important) on a 10 point scale. Without your health, nothing else matters. So that 30 minutes of exercise is vitally important.

When she looked at the list, she realized that her desire to check emails and pay the bills right away were merely distractions. The bills could wait for a couple of days. She then scheduled a regular time to do mail on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. She could also relegate checking email to a couple pre-set times a day, so they wouldn't interrupt her thoughts when she was working on difficult tasks.

It was important to block out a couple of hours for the presentation and start that right away. She was relaxed, so it was easier to build the presentation and she was done in under an hour. Then she grabbed her workout bag and headed to the gym for an intense 30-minute session. Two hours after prioritizing her tasks, she had completed the two most vital things she needed and she could now do the less important (but distracting things) she enjoyed.

When you start to procrastinate, make a list of the tasks you need to accomplish over the next 4-8 hours. Rank them on a scale of 1-10 and begin doing the most important ones first. 

For tasks that can't be fit into a 4 to 8-hour window, break them down into more manageable chunks. Eating healthier is an example of something that can seem too large or overwhelming to tackle, so focus on just one aspect of your diet.

Pledge to drink nothing but water for a week, figure out a healthy breakfast to start your day or pack a lunch instead of visiting the local fast food outlet. Do just one of those things and leave the rest unchanged. After a couple of weeks, decide on the next thing you want to deal with.

Making a list, prioritizing your tasks and breaking large jobs into manageable chunks can all help overcome the urge to procrastinate.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.