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4 ways to beat procrastination

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Procrastination could be the quintessential modern problem: The percentage of people who admitted to difficulties with procrastination is on the rise, according to studies.

As people grapple with the urge to put things off, economists and psychologists have turned the study of procrastination into a significant field.

And what have they discovered? Simply trying harder to “stop procrastinating” doesn’t work.

Here’s what will:

1. Make a contract with your future self. The classic example is Ulysses’ decision to have his men bind him, which would force him to adhere to his long-term aims.

A modern example is making a monetary bet with a friend that you’ll lose weight or finish a project.

2. Set a deadline and share it with others. The external pressure of a deadline can make you do what you actually want to do.

3. Break up an open-ended task into short-term projects. Procrastination is driven, in part, by the gap between effort (required now) and reward (which you reap in the future, maybe). David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, emphasizes turning abstract to-do’s into concrete tasks. The vaguer the task, the less likely you’ll finish it.

4. Reduce your choices. When people are afraid of making the wrong choice, they end up doing nothing.

— Adapted from “Later,” James Surowiecki, The New Yorker.

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