Do you ever say this? “I can always exercise tomorrow.” Or “I’ll make those sales calls next week.” Or “I’ll apologize to her tomorrow.” Or “It’s only one donut, I’ll start my diet this weekend.”Admit it, you procrastinate. I procrastinate as well – we all do. And even when we know better – we still slide into that convenient excuse that gets us out of the work that we know needs to be done. The challenge is that we get a payoff to putting off hard work that is sometimes hard to compete with. At a primal level, we are wired to avoid hard work (your choice: go to the gym or watch Friends reruns?) “The lizard brain” says author Seth Godin “adores a deadline that slips, an item that doesn’t ship and most of all, busywork.”The good news is that there is a better way and it is easier than you think. With just a little change in thinking and shift in habit you can move from putting off to putting on the work that really gets results. Yes, the emails and paper shuffling can wait-there are bigger rewards to be had and I’m going to show you how to get there.Why we do itThe word procrastinate is formed from two Latin words – pro, meaning ‘forward’, and crastinus, meaning ‘belonging to tomorrow’. So, procrastination is the act of putting something into tomorrow and, of course, it suggests that it is always ‘in tomorrow’ – so never gets done.We pay our taxes late and are penalized, even though last year we swore we wouldn’t. We put off starting the diet because it’s ‘not a good time’, or because everyone else ordered the cheesecake with fresh strawberries. We put off making those sales calls we planned to do because we convince ourselves it’s not the perfect time. Or we avoid giving an employee tough feedback because we don’t want to hurt their feelings.It’s crazy-making behavior and we keep doing it!We all have a natural tendency to avoid the pain of hard work – we want to put it off and to take what author Robert Fritz calls the “path of least resistance.” And now with email, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of digital distractions we can fill every available minute.I have been writing for some time about how we have moved into what I call the “Age of Distraction.” Our phones are beeping, people drop by our desk, email floods our InBox 24/7 and our mind swims with To-Do lists that never seem to end. In the Age of Distraction we need to sharpen our skills to stay off the path of least resistance and on the road of effectiveness.Being effective isn’t necessarily about working harder. Instead, effectiveness is all about constantly making good decisions to maximize what you make of your minutes.A mental re-frameWhen you procrastinate, you are not idle – you are still doing something (it’s just the wrong thing.) When you keep yourself busy to avoid that tough conversation you were doing something. When you flopped down on in front of Seinfeld reruns instead of going for a walk you were still doing something. And when you spent an hour on email you were still doing something.In other words, you don’t procrastinate-you just make bad decisions.So, it stands to reason that if you are active when you procrastinate, then the path to more success is to simply redirect your activity.When I return from a meeting, I might be tempted to work on the 30 new emails that arrived since I left. The reality is that most of these emails have little value – they’re certainly not as important as my Day Plan. Instead, I need to make a better decision and allow just five minutes to scan for critical emails and then I turn my attention to my Plan.It’s simply about staying in motion, but with better choices, so you can create great habits that get you more of what you want.Procrastination is a habitI hope by now you are getting this important distinction: you are not a procrastinator – you just have habits that make you look like one. And the best antidote for habits that don’t serve you is to create better habits that do. The following strategies will get you started on your new, better habits. I know because I use them daily and so do many of my clients. The trick is you have to use them repeatedly to allow the new habit to take root and really benefit you. To get started I suggest you pick just one of these and try it for a week and then notice the results.Pay close attention to what slight shift in feeling and results you are getting. Did you complete something you had been putting off for weeks? Great, keep practicing the new habit. Did you stick to your plan for the morning and resist unwanted distractions? Great, that’s a sign that your change is working. If not, choose another new habit from this list and try it for a week. Anyone of these strategies might be the one you need to accelerate your results and avoid procrastination. Okay, here we go…Take responsibility for each delay.Do you ever catch yourself scanning your To-Do list, thinking why this isn’t the perfect time for any of them and doing none of them? How long did that take you? Five minutes, ten – it all adds up. If you were wasting money on food you don’t need or clothes you don’t wear, hopefully you would stop. Well, time is just as important.When I catch myself scanning my Day Plan and still not taking action – I recognize it for what it is – procrastination. My trick is to catch myself, pick one quick win, do it, and then cross it off the list. Success fuels more success and one task leads to another and another. Before I know it I am on a roll, crossing work off my list and feeling more optimistic.When you catch yourself slipping into old, negative self-talk about how little time you have or how big the project is you need to start on, stop. Stop and restate your thoughts as a positive affirmation (“In 20 minutes I can get a good start on this”, or “Once I start I will enjoy seeing the results” or “It will feel so good to see this moving forward.” Remember, a chorus of neurons are constantly eavesdropping on your mental machinations and being programmed. You your thoughts are your biggest cheerleaders, and sometimes even a cheerleader needs coaching.Tip the scales on procrastination.When you procrastinate you get a reward. It’s counterintuitive, but when don’t do the thing we were supposed to do we get rewarded for that.When you watch an Oprah rerun instead of walking the dog you are rewarded with leisure time. Similarly, when you lose an hour watching YouTube videos you get to avoid the housework. Now, here is how use your rewards in your favor.Think of every decision you make as being on a scale: on one side is “DOING” to represent getting something valuable done and the other side is “AVOIDING”. When you procrastinate about those sales calls the “AVOIDING” side is avoid rejection. And as long as we hold the thought that this is “better” we will always avoid the work.To tip the scale in your favour you need to first create a reward for doing that is bigger than what you get from avoiding. I like to see tasks crossed off my list (reward) so I record even small tasks on my Day Plan just so I can cross them off. I like to be well prepared for my speaking events (reward) so I block preparation time on my calendar months in advance. And my reward for sticking to my planned exercise in the morning is to record it on my calendar (as well as feeling great!) and see my fitness goals achieved.Using this model the trick to getting more of the right stuff done is to always have a valuable reward in mind before you start. If you want to tackle that report you’ve been putting off then break the task into 20-minute chunks and take a break after each one. If you want to have that tough conversation then imagine how much better you’ll feel once it’s behind you. We may be sophisticated and well educated, but in the end we’re all motivated by rewards.Chunk your work down.A standard in project management is to chunk down (break down) big jobs into smaller ones. This is great for delegation and measuring results, but it’s actually essential for motivation. Maybe this has happened to you: it’s 2:30 in the afternoon, you’ve had a demanding day and now you are scanning your list deciding what task to tackle next. And then you spot the entry “research venues for planning sessions” – “Yikes”, you think “that looks like an hour of fruitless phone calls and getting voice mail.”Instead, what if your entry was “1) call mike – ask what they did last time 2) email three venues for quotes.” Now you are looking at a 20-minute task with a defined outcome – simple.Best-selling author Dave Logan wrote his best-selling book Tribal Leadership using this technique. He calls it his “Multiple Put Down” technique because he is revising the project (like you revising that manual) over and over in 20-minute chunks until it’s complete. “During the 20 minutes”, says Logan “you must focus on that task without interruption. And unless the building burns down, do nothing but work on that task until the timer goes off. You may hit the wall, but keep going. The vast majority of people find they can work on that task ‘in the zone’ until the timer goes off.”I find that even fifteen minutes is enough time to rough out a table of contents for a report, book a meeting room, send a query note to a colleague, or review and make notes on a proposal. And anyone of these actions moves my project forward – just like a wheelbarrow.I like to use the analogy of a wheelbarrow full of dirt (maybe you’ve even done this in your garden.) When you first pick up the handles it feels heavy and awkward. Maneuvering like this is difficult and the load keeps threatening to tip and slip out. But if you get some momentum, like when you invest 20-minutes to make a few calls, or create that spreadsheet, suddenly the load seems lighter and more maneuverable. The trick is to get started and not stop – even if you are only make a small advance you are still moving in the right direction.Do the most difficult task first. Most people are morning people – that’s the time we have fresh, positive energy. In fact, we get work done faster and better. One study (of over 2,000 office workers) found that people typically have about a 90-minute higher energy period in the morning and another 60-minute period shortly after lunch. It’s like secret power sources ready to be tapped into every day. But, do you take advantage of this natural rhythm in your day?If you have a choice, plan to do your most difficult tasks (the ones you are most likely to procrastinate about) in your high-energy time zones. Leave your email, paper shuffling and returning calls for low-energy zones. This is such a simple change, but it will require some discipline.First you need to pre-plan for this time – if you wait for time to become available it may never happen. I always plan at the end of the day for the next day. Just five minutes will set you up for success in the morning. As an early riser I also have a small plan for the first two hours of the day (this time is always for writing, family and exercise.)Next, you have to be committed to your plan. There will be the inevitable emails, interruptions, and distractions that want to pull you off course – don’t let them. Block the time on your calendar and then treat that time like a client meeting – stick to it, be on time and show up smiling.Skip the perfection.Sometimes I catch myself fussing over the alignment of text on an invoice or double-checking the wording in my email when I actually had other, more important work that needed to be done. Will my client care about my eye for detail and clever underlines? I doubt it. My fussing is just an excuse for not doing real work.Let’s be honest, most work doesn’t have to be perfect (with exceptions for heart surgeons and airline pilots.) Sure it’s nice that the columns in your spreadsheet are all the same width and that your PowerPoint slides had colored bullets. But if you had half the time would you still go that extra step?When you catch yourself seeking perfection at the cost of other work, stop. Take a deep breath and ask yourself “One week from now will this matter?” At the end of the day only a few things you do really matter. The call to the client, the coaching conversation, the proposal sent on time or the sales calls. It’s sometimes tough to draw a clear line, but everything else is just filler. And the trick is to stay focused on the work that counts and to spend as little time as possible on the rest.A good exercise is to look at your list for today and do a quick assessment. First put a check mark beside all the work that gets measured and really counts (empowers staff, increases sales, delivers the goods, gives direction.) Next, make an estimate of the percent of time in your day that you dedicate to that work, as opposed to the rest of your list. If you don’t have 70-80% of your time available and allotted to that work you might have a problem. Either you aren’t delegating lower-value work to others, or you simply need to drop or defer some tasks. Changing your pattern of time allocation can have a huge impact everyday to your effectiveness. It’s either that or put in more hours – the choice is yours.Trick your brain.When I return to my hotel room, after delivering a speech, I am spent. I’ve had a long day, given it my all on stage, spent time talking to dozens of people, and I just want to crash in front of the television and ‘veg out’. But I know that what I really need is a walk outside or 30 minutes in the gym.So I trick my brain to choose the workout instead of a Dragon’s Den rerun. Here’s what I do.Before leaving my room I layout my workout gear on the bed. When I return I see my gear, remember my commitment, and head off to the gym. I’m going to be active anyway, so I might as well be active on the right thing.Here’s how you can apply this trick at work. Before you leave for a meeting clear your desk and just leave out the project you want to focus on when you return. Or, when you want to focus, close your Outlook email browser and put your phone on airplane mode so you aren’t tempted away from what you are working on.I use the same trick to get the most from my early morning hours. I make a short list before I head to bed of what I want to work on first thing in the morning and my plan for exercise. This simple routine has led to hundreds of pages of writing for my blog postings, e-books, and articles as well as hundreds of hours for my health. Pretty good results from a simple sticky note!Make it urgent.What is work like for you the day before vacation? Most people I ask that question to describe a somewhat frantic, but super effective day of making quick decisions and getting work off your list.I call this the “Day Before Vacation” phenomenon. It’s the experience of being totally focused on completion, incredibly resilient to challenges, optimistic and energetic. The funny thing is that nothing has actually changed. It’s still you at the same job, with the same work demands, but you are having a completely different experience. On that day you are focused on an exciting goal and you won’t let anything get in your way.The reality is that we can create whatever experience we want, whenever we want. And when we do we can also create a sense of urgency – and that’s important.Urgency is a healthy addition to any goal – it drives our energy and makes us want to resolve that stress. It’s like signing up for a ten km running race or charity walk. As soon as you commit you are out the door early in the morning for training runs and marking your calendar with workout dates. There is a sense of urgency that drives your behavior in a very positive way.If I want to create some success at work I have to first have a goal. Once I have a goal (it has to be one that I want) I can feel the motivation welling up and the work becomes more engaging.So, what can you do to create a sense of urgency in your work – as if you were going on vacation?Don’t get sucked in.Getting sucked into the email, interruptions and the paper shuffling vortex just means time and energy get wasted. You need to come to work ready to focus on only a few, but highly important, tasks.I can easily get overwhelmed with my list of competing priorities, tasks, projects, phone calls, and writing. I want to get it all done, but without a plan I can feel defeated before I start. And this is when my procrastination voice starts to whisper, “it’s time to check your email.” Twenty minutes later I’ve accomplished nothing, feel even more deflated and I’m no further ahead. Sound familiar?When this happens I am better to stop what I’m doing and revisit my ultimate priorities for the week. It’s like triage at a road side accident: we can’t do it all, so let’s get really clear about what we will do first, second, third, etc.A few minutes adjusting my list can get me off the To-Do treadmill and onto work that really leverages my time. That’s being effective.This isn’t positive thinkingPlease don’t read this as a lecture on positive thinking. As much as I am a fan of being an optimist and seeing the best in you-this is about strategies. Sometimes it takes more than a positive outlook to change a pattern we have had for years.Remember: this isn’t about perfect – it’s about gradual improvement that gets you more of what you want. To get immediate results commit to at least one of these strategies for a week and notice any change. If it works – stick with it, if not, move onto another solution.Nothing succeeds like success, so start now to create more success for you by reducing your procrastination.Copyright (c) 2013 Marathon Communications Inc. All rights reserved.