Do you have one important item on your to-do list that never seems to get finished? What about that looming deadline that overwhelms you so much you don’t even know where to start?

Putting things off, especially tasks that we aren’t fond of or that aren’t easy, is something we all do. Even though you think just putting off an irritating task for a while longer lessens your stress, you’re wrong. Procrastination, in all its different forms, actually increases your stress. And depending on what you’re delaying doing, it can really cause problems.

What’s so bad about procrastination? Sometimes, nothing. Sorting that pile of magazines might not be top of your list, but it also isn’t going to really impact anyone. But have you been putting off paying bills or going after your degree? Paying bills late can give you bad credit. And not getting your degree can have a big impact on your career path.

We procrastinate to avoid things we find unpleasant. Sorting out the overcrowded garage or making a new financial plan is stressful, time consuming, tough work. It seems easier to put off doing the tough stuff. But that “stuff” isn’t going to just disappear. Once those things are done, you will feel less burdened, lighter, and much happier that the task is finally done.

Here are five ways to blast through your procrastination habit.

1. Write It Down

Having a visual to-do list can really help anyone who procrastinates. Break your list into manageable blocks so you aren’t facing 15 tasks all at once. Organize the list into what needs to be done first and give yourself deadlines.

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2. Make Small Goals

Really big jobs are most often put off because they seem unmanageable. But if you break your huge task into smaller goals, it’s easier to do. If you want your garage organized by the end of the month, give yourself weekly goals. Get the kids’ toys and all your sports gear organized this week. Start in on all the yard stuff next week. By the end of the month, you’ll have reached your goal.

3. Reward Yourself

Everyone likes a little recognition for all their efforts, and hard tasks might be easier to do if you give yourself some incentive. If you need to start a big presentation for work, tell yourself you can do something you like after two hours of working on the project. Want to catch up on “Orange Is the New Black?” Great! You can do it after you’ve worked on your task at hand for an hour. When it’s all done, plan to visit your favorite shop, take time to read your favorite magazine, get your nails done, or take a hike in a new place.

4. Don’t Kid Yourself

If you’re putting something off, it’s obviously something you don’t want to do. But sometimes you have to do unpleasant things. You might have to grit your teeth a little, but simply accepting that you’re doing something you really don’t like might make it easier.

5. Take the First Step

Figuring out retirement planning? Just take a few minutes to read an article or two. If you have a big speech to give, jot down a few ideas for an outline. And that garage? Just clean up by the door that leads into the house the next time you take out the trash. Taking the first step to get something done sometimes offers just enough incentive.

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When your task is all done, enjoy the feeling because it will be a relief to cross that off your list. Then take note of what worked to get your started on beating procrastination so you can use those tools the next time an overwhelming task rolls around.

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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