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Five Ways to Counteract Procrastination


Physicians and others in medical practices are not immune to putting things off. Here’s a five-step plan to start getting things done.

Throughout our lives, everyone on planet Earth, at one time or another, procrastinates. It is part of the human condition. Even high-achieving physicians, with demonstrated academic and professional excellence, procrastinate in some areas of their life, at least on occasion.

How would you feel if you could become the kind of person who hardly ever procrastinates? I know it is possible, because after a long, hard battle, I have achieved this myself.

Fret upon fret
Years back, I realized that the time I spent procrastinating and then fretting about it was perhaps the greatest drain on my time and well-being that I could engender. I pondered: What would a typical day be like if, instead of putting off what I preferred not to do, I made that my first task of the day?

It was not easy to develop this habit, even after I had committed to this type of approach to my work and my life. I still found myself lapsing back into old patterns but, more often than not, I was able to tackle the most challenging task first - even ones that I preferred to delay indefinitely.

The feeling that I experienced as a result of taking on the most challenging tasks first, rather than putting them off, became reinforcing. Soon, recognizing how great the rest of my mornings would feel if I knocked out the most difficult task first, I started to look forward to being an anti-procrastinator. This tendency spilled over into other aspects of my life.

Do it now!

If there was a phone call I was putting off, I would now decide to make the call there and then. If there was a bill I had to pay, I wrote a check, and put it in the envelope with a stamp, ready to mail. Likewise, you can begin to develop the same kind of approach. Here are some suggestions:

1. Make a list of the tasks you would rather put off. These can be one-time tasks, recurring tasks, or small items that you prefer not to handle it all.

2. Decide which of these tasks must be done by you and you alone because you have the knowledge, skills, and expertise to handle the issue. It can't be farmed out to anyone else. Anything that can be handed off - delegated - ought to be. You can also always monitor the results afterwards.

3. Rank the items you prefer to delay in order of importance. I'm not saying that you have to tackle the single most challenging and most important task first; that's too much to ask in the outset. However, among the top three to five tasks that you've been putting off, that you and you alone must address, on what can you get started?

4. Approach this task head-on, line up the resources that you need, clear away the time and the space, and give it your best. If it helps, set the timer on your smartphone to 20 minutes and promise yourself you'll work for 20-minute segments, after which time you can take a break, check e-mail, or do whatever you like. Then, reset the timer and go for another 20 minutes. In this manner you'd be surprised at how productive you can become.

5. Another day, hopefully the day after the first day you became an anti-procrastinator, tackle the next project you'd rather be putting off. I'm not saying you'll be able to develop this habit within a matter of days, but it sure wouldn't hurt that it happened, will it?

Get in the habit

One of the ways in which I was able to become a self-starter was to realize that for too much of our lives not only do we not get to the tasks that we know we need to address, we drown in the emotional soup of why we're not getting to them. In that sense, we experience a double loss. Once you develop the habit of grabbing the bull by the horns, you'll seriously wonder why you took any other approach to life.

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