Chicago — Vickie Austin didn't put off her Christmas shopping to the last minute this year.
A full 10 days before the holiday, her presents were bought, wrapped, mailed and sitting under her relatives' Christmas trees.
"For the first time in years, I didn't pay more for postage than gifts," she said. "Last year, I procrastinated. I spent a fortune on Priority Mail, and it still didn't get there on time."
Austin, a Wheaton, Ill., business coach, credits a "Procrastination Cessation" seminar by Chicago time-management consultant Marianna Swallow for her turnaround this year.
"When there's a group like that in a seminar setting, you get a sense of 'You're not the only one.' I don't think anybody completely overcomes procrastination; it's something that goes in waves."
As people start thinking about how to change their lives in the new year, getting a grip on procrastination is one way to find some peace, said Swallow, president of M. Runge and Associates (mrunge.com).
"How important is it for you to save that time?" she asked. "How important is it for you to get those things done and not have it hanging over your head when you go to bed at midnight tonight?"
Even if she were in bed before midnight, Maria Burud of Chicago would find herself waking up with concerns about the coming day.
Four years ago, she launched her own sales training and consulting firm, the Zanon Group, after years as an executive with technology companies. She no longer had an assistant to keep her on track. Plus, she was a single mom juggling her three children's sports and musical activities.
She hired Swallow in 2004 for one-on-one sessions to help her get organized and stop procrastinating. Burud said a key tip that Swallow suggested was to break her tasks down into small steps to avoid discouragement.
"Before, I would put on my to-do list: 'Create sales handbook for Client XYZ.' Well, there's like nine distinct items in that one statement," Burud said.
Now, her to-do list might say: Write copy for handbook. Create Power Point. Send handbook to printer. Buy binders. Pick up handbooks from printer. Assemble binders.
She also has gotten better organized, she said, using her PDA for long-term appointments and a hardcover notebook to track daily activities. (Swallow told her to buy a notebook she found visually attractive so she would enjoy using it.)
"I get things done faster," Burud said, "with less stress."
Tips to help you get going
Chicago time-management consultant Marianna Swallow offers a few common tips to deal with putting things off: ¢ Identify your bugaboo, the thing that drives you nuts. What is the one thing that you're constantly thinking about on and off the job? ¢ What is procrastination costing you? One of Swallow's seminar participants put off paying a traffic ticket - for the third time - and wound up with her license suspended. ¢ Find the tiniest step you can find to get started on the project. If you're planning to redecorate your living room, Swallow said, don't try to do everything in one day. Go to a home-improvement store and pick up some cards of paint samples. Then call it a day. ¢ Give yourself the freedom to delete minor, unfulfilled projects from the edges of your list. Maybe you've tried to arrange a lunch with an acquaintance and it has been canceled and rescheduled several times. At some point, Swallow says, it's OK to say, "This just isn't going to happen."