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How conquering procrastination can help you reduce stress

I believe that procrastination is the No. 1 cause of stress in our society today. Throughout history, great thinkers have noted the connection between the failure to take action and the feeling of anxiety. The American philosopher William James once said, "Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging of an uncompleted task."

If you have the habit of putting off tasks you fear-if you tend to avoid situations and events that terrify you-your fears have grown out of proportion. Every time you decide not to do something because you're afraid of failing, your self-confidence takes another hit. There is only one way to overcome fear-you have to force yourself to do the thing you fear. When you face your fear and do it anyway, your confidence gets a big boost. Soon you will laugh at the imaginary fears that have kept you from becoming all that you can be. And you can do something about it today.

Establish goals. Prioritize. Measure your progress. Ask friends and office mates for feedback. Adjust your goals if necessary. Reward yourself when you finish jobs. If you're a leader, get procrastinators to encourage each other. Help them overcome their fear of getting things done. Find a mentor to help you overcome your fear. When I have to do the thing I fear, I recite a verse from the Bible: "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Phil. 4:13)

Be as truthful as you can in your estimate of how long it will take to do the things you dislike. Many of the tasks we put off are simple ones. They cause an amount of stress in our lives that is altogether out of proportion to the time they require for completion. Think of when it took you much less time to do a dreaded job than you thought it would take. Can you learn something from that experience that could be applied to a task that has been left undone? Research shows that workers waste as much as a third of their workday. These same workers habitually complain about chronic stress caused by not having enough time to finish their jobs. Can you see the connection? The less you accomplish, the more you suffer from the sensation of stress and anxiety.

The only way to get at the root of the problem is by measuring how you spend your time. Keep a log of how much time you spend on things that you don't need to do. Make a note of the things that could be done more efficiently. Try to do this for one full workday. When you analyze your list, you may be shocked at how much waste has seeped into your workday. Treat those items as a list of wasteful activities that need to be kept in check or completely eliminated. You probably don't control the cause of all the wasted time you've identified. Ask yourself what you can do to eliminate those things that you can control.

As the Mad Hatter said to Alice, "If you knew time as well as I do, you wouldn't talk about wasting it."


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