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Ending Procrastination: A New Look at the Old Demon

Do you believe that the best way to deal with procrastination is to "get tough" with yourself and "just do it?" Many people take this approach. What's behind it is the sense that procrastination is essentially a character flaw, a weakness, and that the only way to deal with it is to muscle past it through sheer will. But the truth is, there's a more effective way to approach it that also happens to be much more self- respectful.

Essentially, the idea is to identify what's MOTIVATING the procrastination behavior, consider it valid, and then address THAT. For example, you may be putting off doing something because you actually don't know how to do it. The way to solve that would be to get some help. Or, perhaps you're avoiding making a particular phone call because you are afraid of the outcome. One way to address the fear is to schedule a call with someone you trust before and after the fear-inducing call, in order to have support before and after the difficult encounter.

Get the idea? Give up the character flaw idea, and look for what's really underlying the procrastination. Once you know what that is, you can usually figure out a way to deal with it, get unstuck, and get moving again.

What follows are real life examples of how two of my clients solved the problems underlying their procrastination:

PROCRASTINATION: I'm not writing the letter.
PROBLEM: I want the letter to be brilliant and creative but don't feel brilliant and creative about it.
SOLUTION: "I realized it was more important for the letter to be OUT than to be brilliant. Once I decided I could write a less-than-spectacular letter, it became much easier to just sit down and do it."
CONCEPT: Don't get it right, get it written. "Expedient" is not a dirty word. Sometimes, it serves you better to have the B+ letter out in the world already, being read, than to have the A+ letter still sitting in your word processor, unfinished, and nagging at you.

PROCRASTINATION: I'm not unpacking the boxes in my new office.
PROBLEM: Boring!!
SOLUTION: "I hired my [young] daughter to unpack the boxes, shelve the books (I had to tell her where), and dismantle the boxes. She was happy to do the work and earn a little money, and she thought it was cool to help me. I was happy because we got to spend that time together AND . . . the job got done."
CONCEPT: Delegate! If a task seems boring, it's often a good clue that this is a job to delegate. You may need to supervise or train someone to do it, but there is likely to be someone for whom the job would be a plus. Find that person and work out a deal. Delegation arrangements can be paid or bartered in infinite creative ways. Don't be stopped by failure of the imagination.

Here are the steps that you can take when tackling a procrastination. Please note that each step is important. Don't under-respect any of the steps just because you think you already know how to do them. And don't underestimate how long it may take you to master some of these steps. Some people, for example, find it takes a very long time to learn how to stop judging themselves.

  • Recognize when you are procrastinating.
  • Notice if you are judging yourself for procrastinating.
  • If you are judging yourself, stop. If you're not judging yourself, acknowledge yourself for that.
  • Identify what's motivating the procrastination.
  • Solve the problem that's underlying (motivating) the procrastination.
  • Take the action that you no longer need to procrastinate.
  • Say this to yourself: "Well done!"
  • Good luck ? and let me know how this works for you!

    Copyright 2005, Sharon Teitelbaum.

    Sharon Teitelbaum is a Work-Life and Career Coach who works with high achieving women with young children, people at mid-career, and professionals seeking greater career satisfaction or work-life balance. Her book, Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: Restoring Work-Life Balance, is available at her website,

    Certified as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Sharon works by phone with clients around the world and in-person in Boston.

    She delivers keynotes and workshops on work-life balance issues, has been in national publications including The New York Times and Working Mother Magazine, and has appeared on cable and network television. She publishes Strategies for Change, a newsletter offering practical tips for work-life success.

    Sharon has been married for 30 years and is the mother of two amazing young women. You can contact her here.

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