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David Martin

This is a guest post by Patti Hatton.  She is a counselor in private practice. You can learn more about Patti here and follow her on Twitter.

Full! My gas meter registers full and that means I can drive around for days without having to think of whether I should stop now or later at the dreaded gas station.  I don’t enjoy pumping gas.  The hand pump is nasty and it makes my hands smell, the weather either makes me sweat or the wind messes up my hair. And I worry some stranger is going to try to grab my purse from the front seat, hand me a business card laced with a dangerous drug, and the list goes on.  I just don’t like it.

I wrestle between doing what I dislike, and further postponing the inevitable by trying to outsmart the low-fuel warning light.  The pressure on my decision-making heats up when the low-fuel warning light turns red and I start calculating the number of miles to my destination versus the number of miles I have in fuel.  Is there a gas station on my route or can I make it home and still have enough gas to do this dreaded task first thing in the morning?

How much emotional energy have I wasted in years of wrestling with this inanimate object?  Of course, the real battle is not between the car and me. The battle is within me - I put off the things I don’t want to do for as long as possible, stopping for gas, cleaning my messy desk (that I will organize soon), going to the gym to workout (that can wait another day), picking up the clothes at the dry cleaners, etc.

There is an antidote to this procrastination: devise a plan and decide in advance how you will handle those specific tasks that you tend to put off until the unknown later.  Setting a goal or establishing a plan orders your time and energy and creates a structure to get a job accomplished.  This is a process that once learned can apply to almost any situation, and the great news is - it works!

Imagine you have piles of papers on your desk that you want to go through and organize.  The thought of tackling the project all at once is overwhelming and there is not enough time to start and finish the project in one sitting, so you put it off until later.  The antidote:  determine a time of day that you will schedule a 30-minute period to only organize your desk.  You could choose Tuesday and Thursday from 7:30 to 8:00 p.m. before your favorite TV show to work on clearing off your desk, doing only what you can accomplish in that time period. This small, specific and measurable goal is something that is easily accomplished and leaves plenty of time to focus on other more enjoyable projects.  Scheduling a specific time during the week to accomplish the tasks that you tend to put off until later is a great way to manage your time and get the job done.

But what about putting gas in the car?  Well, I decided to follow my own advice; I devised a plan that helps me avoid that danger zone where my emotions intensify over the low-fuel warning light.  Now, when the gas meter reaches 80% empty, the plan beats my dysfunctional system; I either stop for gas just before driving home, or allow time for it as the first task the next morning.  Those are my two choices, no exceptions.  When I take action and refill my tank before the low-fuel warning light comes on, I feel on top of my game and in control.  The gas meter registers full, which lifts my mood every time and I don’t have to deal with that internal struggle (or worry about wrestling with my SUV over who is the boss).  Not only am I the boss of my car, I am the boss over my time.

Rather than let my procrastination drive me nuts, I choose to create structure through setting small, specific and achievable goals. Then my time and energy are ordered and I get a boost of self-esteem.