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October 14, 2014 10:33 AM EDT

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We all know that sinking feeling. A deadline is drawing closer and you haven’t even started yet. You begin to panic and a dull nausea sets in. There is nothing worse than having two hours remaining to complete a project that you know will take more like five. You sit there saying to yourself, “Why didn’t I get this started yesterday?” or “What the heck happened to the time?”

Wouldn’t it be great to build the habits that will get you working on that project well before it is due so this never happens again? The good news is that by following these tips, you can be productive and get your most important projects and assignments done on time—every time.

1. Do the hard stuff now

Do you have a long laundry list of things you have to accomplish? Prioritize your list and do the hardest thing to accomplish on your list first and put it to bed. Once you complete your hardest assignment, the rest of your list will be a cakewalk.

2. Or do the easy stuff now

Sometimes, taking the opposite approach works best: Take on all the easy and smaller things on your list and save that huge project for last. Taking care of the little things first can actually help you muster the willpower to tackle that last biggie. A side note here: Set up a time frame for getting your smaller jobs completed so you have plenty of time for the big stuff.

3. Be nice to yourself

When we constantly bash ourselves for not living up to our own high expectations, we make ourselves feel even more defeated and less likely to produce anything at all. Be nice to yourself and encourage yourself to go on. Positive thoughts will lead you to better results.

4. Grow your willpower

Did you know that if you practice pushing yourself every day—even a little—your willpower strengthens? It’s true. Try it. Push yourself each day to do something you keep putting off, even if you work at it for only a short time. Over time, your willpower muscles will strengthen, making you even more effective at getting things done.

5. One thing at a time

Do you have a huge report that needs to go out and you’re feeling completely overwhelmed by the research, interviewing, and writing involved? Break it down into small, edible portions. Write your deadline on a piece of paper, and then break down your contract into half-hour or hourlong portions with numerous 15-minute to half-hour breaks or rewards sandwiched in. Before you know it, you will be taking that project off your to-do list.

6. Go for a walk

It’s true: People who exercise regularly have greater willpower and are more effective. The extra oxygen to the brain that the activity brings along with it can do wonders for your productivity. You don’t have to hit the gym for an hour every day or really run a marathon. Go out for a walk to grab a coffee with a co-worker, or take a jog, or go for a bike ride during lunch.

7. Reward and then pounce

Tell yourself that after one more episode of The Big Bang Theory, or making one more phone call to a friend, that you will begin that long-overdue project. Yes! Reward yourself with something fun, but tell yourself that as soon as that reward is over or finished, you will dive into your project. Try it–it really works!

8. Expect the unexpected

Remember, not everything goes as planned. Sometimes, we begin our project in earnest, and then, bam, we get an urgent phone call from a client and the project gets put on the side burner. Prepare yourself for these interruptions and expect them. Scribble a few quick notes so you don’t forget where you were—your thoughts at that moment—and then focus on the emergency. Once the interruption has passed, start by reviewing where you were; look at your notes, refresh your brain, and then get back to it.

9. Just do something

Even if you just type the first sentence or the first paragraph, just get started—small steps lead to big things. Once you get some momentum going, you’ll find yourself moving toward your goal. And if you don’t? Then put it aside for a little while and get back to it later.

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