“Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.” – Don Marquis

If you asked me what the most common reason for failure is, I’d say procrastination.

Most of us know this. Yet, we often fail to recognize how often we make this mistake. Because we are busy with the quotidian pressures of making a living and having a family, we feel it is only sensible to delay new projects until we have time “to do them well.”

As you can guess, I spend a lot of my professional and even my personal time encouraging people to carry out their ambitions. Almost every day, I am in a discussion with someone who tells me that he wants to accomplish something but admits that he hasn’t begun doing anything about it.

“I’m planning to get started as soon as I finish my master’s degree.”

Or …

“I’m going to begin next month, after I’ve finished filing my taxes.”

Or …

“I’m really eager to get started. First thing Monday morning …”

Procrastination is expressed in many ways and has many reasons, but it all means one thing: “I don’t want to start now.”

I have a 24-hour rule when it comes to getting things done. Whenever I come to the conclusion that I “have to” do something, I give myself 24 hours to take at least the first step toward getting it done.

I write it down on my daily task list. It’s highlighted in yellow. If it isn’t crossed out by the end of the day as “done,” I cancel all appointments for the following day and commit to doing nothing else.

I don’t take phone calls. I don’t read e-mail. I don’t allow people to come into my office for emergency visits. I come in early — extra early — and do nothing else but work on it.

Since I’ve been using this radical approach, I’ve been able to dramatically increase my personal productivity — and particularly in terms of goals that I have traditionally put off and put off.

By not allowing myself to procrastinate, I am doing many things I’ve always wanted to. I am healthier, wealthier, and wiser — and I wasn’t doing so badly to begin with.

Sometimes (and this honestly doesn’t happen too often), I get to my 24-hour deadline with nothing done — despite having set aside the time to get started. In those rare cases, I admit to myself that I’m emotionally incapable of accomplishing that goal. So I pull it off my list either permanently or for six months or a year, whatever feels right.

If you are putting off doing something important, it’s almost certainly because of fear. It helps to identify what exactly you are afraid of. Ask yourself, is it a fear of …

* failing?

* working hard?

* facing your ignorance?

Or could it be a fear of succeeding? I believe that some people procrastinate because they are actually content with their lives as they are and don’t really want them to change. They say they want to accomplish this or that because it seems like the right thing to do, but, in their heart of hearts, they actually don’t want anything to change (as it would if they succeeded).

I don’t know why my brother is putting off doing his Jiu Jitsu, but I think he needs to figure out what he’s afraid of. If he can do that, we can have a productive conversation about it. We can figure out if his fear is founded and, if it is, how it can be overcome.

Take notice of the deadlines you are setting for yourself. If they are more than 24 hours away, beware. You just may be fooling yourself.