Take Five: How To Prevail Over Procrastination

Tips for putting time back in your day

Part of the Take Five Series
Handling procrastination is often a balance of doing what you're supposed to do and what's fun, said Dan Ariely, Duke behavioral economist.
Handling procrastination is often a balance of doing what you're supposed to do and what's fun, said Dan Ariely, Duke behavioral economist.

It can be the elephant in the room, and we know it - excuses to put off tasks we must get done but don't immediately do anything about it. Right away, at least.

Procrastination is something that impacts us all, from chores at home to the pile of paperwork on a desk. The process of whether or not to put off important tasks is something we face every day.

"The basic problem is that we're faced with a lot of decisions with the thought of `what's good for me now and what's good for the future,'" said Duke behavioral economist Dan Ariely, author of The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. "In many of those decisions, the future is what we should care more about, but it's very hard for us to do it."

Stop passing the time and use these tips to fight procrastination:

1. Determine a cost and benefit

Ariely said when dealing with procrastination, acknowledging the issue can boil down to two different aspects. "Most of life is really about managing tensions between what we want and what we should do," he said. "Life is a combination of doing what we're supposed to do and having fun. Finding a tradeoff between these aspects is something we should be doing." Ariely said building self control helps combat temptation to put off important tasks and will let you get back to fun quicker.

2. Lighten up mundane tasks

Jessica Wakefield, psychotherapist and integrative health coach with Duke Integrative Medicine, suggests beating procrastination by adjusting your surroundings. She notes that adding enjoyable music in the background or just changing your environment can be beneficial. "It's about finding a place where your mind will think, 'I can get through this,'" she said.

3. Create a reward system

If you need to force your way through unexciting tasks, think of something important that you can enjoy by making sure you get the work done - and get it done well. Wakefield said rewards could be anything from taking a bubble bath to setting aside time for a hobby or short walk.

4. Break it down and set deadlines

If there's one looming large task, why not break it down into several small assignments? "We think of smaller tasks are more manageable and realistic, so it can be easier to check off one piece and move forward," Wakefield said. "By giving ourselves deadlines to work with, it also forces us to remain on schedule."

5. Follow the three "Ds"

If all else fails in addressing procrastination, Wakefield suggested following the guideline of:

  • Do it - Focus on completing one small part at a time.
  • Delegate it - Determine if someone else can assist with a task to get it done quicker.
  • Dump it - Ask yourself if a task truly needs to be done, but be honest. If a task shouldn't be "dumped," choose one of the other two options.