Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2002 / 13 Teves, 5763

Marty Nemko

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Consumer Reports

Curing procrastination | Your procrastination may not need curing. Let's say you've been procrastinating looking for another job. Your mind, having factored in everything, may wisely be telling you you're better off staying put.

But if, rationally, you know you shouldn't procrastinate a task, here are my favorite cures.

Here's how I control my own tendency to procrastinate. I try to stay focused on my next few-second task. When I feel a compelling urge to play instead of work, I usually indulge it--guilt free. For example, I might take a few minutes to grab a snack, but I try to keep the play short so there's enough time to get my work done.

Here are other procrasti-cures:

Make the task as pleasurable as possible. As you're doing the task, keep asking yourself, "What's the fun way to do this?"

Use the one-minute struggle. When you get stuck, struggle for just one minute. After that, ask yourself if you need help, if you could delegate that part, or if you could complete the task without the hard part.

Spacey people often have big dreams but can't stay focused enough to accomplish even small goals. A cure: set a timer to go off every three minutes. Each time it buzzes, ask yourself, "Is this the most direct route to completing the task?" In some cases, Ritalin can be helpful.

If you procrastinate because you feel you need the adrenaline rush of a last-minute race to get the task done, remember that except in dead-end jobs and in school, last-minute work usually doesn't cut it.

Many people procrastinate contacting potential employers because they don't want to impose. An unsolicited e-mail is only a small imposition. And remember the karma concept: it's okay to make an unsolicited query as long as you remember to be kind to job seekers who ask for your help.

Other people procrastinate their job search because they believe they're unworthy. Solution: be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. That way, if the employer expresses interest, she believes that, even knowing your weaknesses, you're worthy of consideration.

For big projects, draw a thermometer and tape it to your desk. Instead of numbers on the side, write the little steps you need to do to get the task done. Every time you complete a step, color in that part of the thermometer. This technique helps churches raise lots of money. My wife says it was the key to getting her Ph.D. dissertation done.

The Scarlet P. Write the letter "P" (for procrastinator) on the outside of your hand so everyone can see it. That P, which follows you everywhere, is an ongoing reminder that curing your procrastination is Job One. The P is also embarrassing, so it may motivate you to overcome the problem so you can honorably remove it.

Find someone to check in with. I allow procrastinating clients to e-mail me nightly with a letter grade for their day's efforts.

Many procrastinators fear failure. Sometimes that fear should be heeded, for example, if you fear applying for a job because you're not really qualified. If so, get training or change job targets. But even when reasonably qualified, procrastinators may still so fear failure that they don't apply for jobs. Of course, not trying ensures failure. Most successful people try and fail frequently, learning from their mistakes.

Other procrastinators fear success. For example, a job seeker might be afraid that if she gets a job, she'll have no time for family or fun. The cure: Recognize that you can set limits. If an employer wants 60 hours a week, that's not the right employer for you.

Some procrastinators benefit from this tough-love lecture: Severe procrastinators are usually losers. Yes, losers. They usually fail at work and in relationships. And you're on the path toward loserhood. The good news is that there's still time to change--if you start recognizing that all the self-pity, self-help books, and psychotherapy in the world won't replace just doing it--work before play, no excuses. Every time you're deciding whether to work or goof off, you're taking a step toward being a winner or a loser. It's your choice.

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JWR contributor Dr. Marty Nemko is a career and education counselor in Oakland, California and hosts "Work With Marty Nemko," Sundays 11 to noon on KALW, 91.7FM. He is co-author of Cool Careers for Dummies. Comment by clicking here.


12/12/02: The World's Shortest Course on Self-Employment
12/05/02: Men as Beasts of Burden
11/21/02: Beware of going back to school

© 2002, Dr. Marty Nemko