How to Eat an Elephant

October 14, 2011

by Mark Matteson I have put off this article for a long time. Why? It's a painful and uncomfortable subject. It's an elephant. The topic? PROCRASTINATION. How do you eat an elephant? Cut it up and eat it a bite at a time.Ben Franklin wrote in Poor Richard's Almanac, "We procrastinate on any project where the direction is unclear and will take longer than forty-five minutes." That is so true. Who procrastinates? Each and every one of us. We do it with big things, little things, unpleasant things. The list is long and painful: clean out the closet, mow the lawn, do the taxes, lose 30 pounds, write that book, organize the desktop (or office or car).There is a price to procrastination, too. I recently went through my inbox and found a notice that the tags for my son's car were due. I told myself, "I'll take care of it tomorrow." Big mistake-I forgot about it.Evan called me a week later to tell me he received a ticket for $124 after being stopped. The tags would have cost me $39. What are the emotional costs of procrastination? Doubt, fear, anxiety, resentment, self-pity, uncertainty, and lowered feelings of self-worth and esteem are among them. They hold us back from reaching our potential. Our habits and feelings betray us.

Well, I am looking to make NEW MISTAKES, not the same old ones. So, I am writing this for me, to remind myself what I need to do daily.Each of us moves toward pleasure and away from pain. It's how we are wired. I had to get real as to what was holding me back. I was making excuses. I found creative ways to avoid this unpleasant elephant.As I faced my giant pachyderm head-on, I brainstormed in my journal for some solutions. I hope they help you; I know they will help me. 

- Change your belief and self-image. Write out a new declaration. How about: I keep my word to myself. I have integrity and I finish what I start. I tackle uncomfortable projects with enthusiasm. I just do it! Repeat that affirmation five to fifty times a day for 30 days!  

- Make a list in a journal of all the projects and tasks you have been putting off. Prioritize the list in order of importance.   

- Take your number-one elephant and brainstorm, asking yourself on paper:a) What exactly needs to be done?  b) Why am I putting it off?  c) What are the benefits of getting this done?  d) What will it mean to me once I have completed this?    

- Make a long list of little action items (sub-goals) to take and put them in order of importance.   

- Estimate how long each little action will take (i.e., 20 minutes) to the right of the item.    

- Pick a date and put the action on your calendar. You have two options here:  a) Tackle it all in one day  b) Do an hour a day for however many days it takes to finish the task  

- Hold yourself accountable by telling someone you respect that you will do it.    

- Determine a reward you will give yourself when you have completed this project. Make it special and significant for you.  

- Get started and do the thing you don't like first. Remember when you were a kid, you ate the vegetables first? Maybe you put ketchup or lots of butter on them, but you ate them first. Then you enjoyed the rest of the meal.  - If you get stuck or frustrated, ask for help from someone who has done what you want to do and has been where you want to go.  When I decided to write Freedom from Fear eleven years ago, I got up at 5 a.m. every day for a month. I wrote first thing in the morning, three pages or for two hours, whichever came first. I have done that with every book I have written. I am doing it with the one I am writing now, three pages a day or for one hour, whichever comes first. It's amazing. The book is 75 percent complete. It writes itself.  Consider these words from great men about time and procrastination: "We shall never have more time.  We have, and always had, all the time there is. No object is served in waiting until next week or even until tomorrow. Keep going. Concentrate on something useful."  

-Arnold Bennett, from the book How to Live on 24 Hours a Day   "Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain."-William James   How soon "Not Now" becomes "NEVER."-Elbert Hubbard   "Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried."-Neil Armstrong    Is it time to acknowledge the elephant in your living room? Hand me that knife. I have some carving to do! 

Provided by Mark Matteson, Matteson Avenue. Subscribe to the Matteson Avenue e-zine by visiting Contact Mark Matteson by calling 1-877-672-2001 or by e-mail at  This information is brought to you by thePHCC Educational Foundation. Support the Foundation by making a contribution. Visit the Articles & Advice Archive for Links to past articles.    

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