During one long, fun week in her sophomore year at Taylor University in Indiana, Kerry Shuey’s tendency for procrastination got the better of her.

With a paper due, she spent the better part of her day socializing with friends. When she finally sat down to write it, she was alone in the dorm’s lounge. In the midst of creating the paper from scratch, Shuey heard another kind of scratching. A mouse.

“I was scared to death of mice,” said Shuey, of Upper Allen Township, Pa. “I got up on my chair so the mouse wouldn’t run across my feet. I typed the whole thing like that.”

Shuey’s last-minute escapades didn’t cause her any ill effects. “I think I got a B on the paper,” she said.

Still, the mouse encounter shows it’s not always good to put things off until later.

Chronic procrastinators and the merely overwhelmed can decide to change for the better. Ticking off everything on your to-do list will make you feel more organized and in control of your life. But don’t beat yourself up for feeling overwhelmed in the first place.

Modern life can create myriad opportunities to put off until tomorrow what we can do today, says Simon Bronner, professor of American Studies at Penn State Harrisburg.

Besides our culture moving from one centered around community expectations to individual expression – where guilt, not shame, is the only motivator – technology can break down barriers that help us concentrate on the task at hand.

Not long ago, it was acceptable for someone to take the phone off the hook to finish a task. These days, being unreachable has become an almost-unpardonable sin, Bronner said.

Doing many things at once – such as tackling the toughest projects at work while helping your kids make straight A’s and keeping an immaculate house – is now indicative of someone who’s got his priorities straight, he said.

Those who want more time or aren’t deemed to be doing “enough” can be seen as lazy or incompetent. In fact, the opposite is often the case, Bronner said.

Though it’s been more than 30 years since that night in the lounge, Shuey said she still finds herself putting things off.

“I think I’ve improved, but I still have those tendencies,” she said.

Marisa Straub, a mother of two from Camp Hill, Pa., said her reasons for postponing household chores some days is simple: “You get overwhelmed. I have a 5-year-old, a 4-month-old and two hands.”

Laundry is her nemesis, she said. It makes it to the washer, no problem, but putting it away is another story. Straub said she finds solace in doing little bits at a time, writing a to-do list and crossing off her accomplishments and, a few times a week, taking time for herself at yoga class.

“It gives me exercise and peace,” she said.

We offer you tips on tackling procrastination at work and school. The lists can help you break through two-hour computer breaks at work, clear clutter from the living room or … wait. Did I just flip past a “CSI” rerun? I haven’t seen that one yet.

Oh well, there’s always next week.

Homework

Top homework time-wasters: Anything to do with computers or computer games, watching television, listening to music and finding songs to fill the iPod, cell phones and other activities.

Kathy Keys, recently named a 2007-08 outstanding teacher by the Shippensburg University School Study Council, offers some tips for busting through schoolwork procrastination:

– Take advantage of the tools (such as assignment books) schools provide to inform you of your progress, and record homework and tests. Check them regularly. If your school doesn’t provide them, buy one.

– Many teachers have their own Web pages, where all expectations, supplemental material and reminders are posted. Check it as often as needed. Many teachers also have real-time gradebook programs such as PowerSchool, which allow you to track homework assignments, projects and tests to the day each is accomplished.

– Establish a study routine. Set time aside to do homework.

– Establish a clear space to work, whether it’s the kitchen table, your bedroom or a study. Ask your parents to clear an area for this reason.

– If you are putting off homework because you are struggling in the subject, seek help. Look for study groups, tutors, etc.

– Assess your load of activities and responsibilities. If it’s too much, scale back. Make sure you are getting enough rest, down time and study time.

– Take advantage of teacher time lines when tackling big projects. If you meet each small deadline, you’ll be surprised how easily the big project comes together.

Work

Top time killers at work: Checking voice mail, e-mail, shuffling papers and cleaning work spaces to the point of avoiding real work.

Jim Rowell, president and co-founder of Rising Sun Consultants in Hershey, Pa., spends his workday helping others get the most out of theirs. Here are his tips for breaking through procrastination at work:

– Assess your work style. Do you like to accomplish one difficult thing or several hard things first?

– Make a to-do list that reflects your style. Make sure it contains a mix of tasks so you’re not fooling yourself into thinking you’re accomplishing more than you are. Cross items off as you complete them to keep up your motivation.

– Break your projects into chunks. Give yourself mini deadlines, such as “Today I will make four phone calls that affect the outcome of this project” or “By Friday, I will have created a chart to convey my information.”

– Decide what’s important. Rowell uses a system devised by Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” to help his clients. Tasks are either urgent or not urgent, important or not important. Spend your time dealing with the urgent and important items first, then the not-urgent but important things second, the not important but urgent things third and the not-important and not-urgent last. The last two categories are where the most time is wasted.

– Make sure you leave yourself sufficient emotional reserves to power your life. The lists and prioritizing will help that. Some people procrastinate, Rowell said, because they’re going, going, going and don’t have the energy to do every task they’ve assigned themselves. Constantly reassess even your most basic situations, including how you spend your free time.


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