Guests are coming this weekend—and you haven't cooked or cleaned the house.

An important project is due in three days—and you have barely scratched the surface.

The pain in your back just won't go away—but you still haven't made an appointment to see the doctor.

Do these situations sound familiar?  No one likes to do unpleasant tasks.  Yet, some people are just better at shoring up their resolve and plowing through the ordeal, while others put things off until...well, sometimes, forever.  Even crucial problems such as health issues get overlooked.

If you tend to wait until the last minute to do things, you might wonder if there is such a thing as a "naturally born procrastinator."  And the answer is a very qualified yes.  I hesitate to say yes because now you have a built-in excuse-and fightin' tool:  "Stop bothering me, honey, I was born this way."

A better way to look at procrastination is to view it as the sum of your confidence in your ability to manage the task, the importance you give to the task or issue, and your inherited tendencies to manage anxiety. For example, if you are wondering why you put off significant chores, sometimes the difficulty of completing a task and the greater the importance of it-such as making a doctor's appointment, the more you drag your feet.  After all, the doctor could find something really scary. 

Nonetheless, there are people who push through their fears and go to the doctor right away. It's not that these people like going to the doctor or cleaning out the attic or garage, it is just that they have what I call Dread Management.  These do-ers feel the anxiety of being overwhelmed, but they don't let their fears prevent them from taking action.

The good news is that even die-hard procrastinators can make improvements.  Here are some tips and information about procrastination.

1. Accept the dread factor.  Frightening, overwhelming, and just plain old unlikeable tasks make you back away because they diminish your sense of control.  The mess in the drawers seems too much, the clutter in the garage too big, the potential bad news from the doctor too terrifying.  Dreading these chores is normal.   

2. Take small steps.  Ignoring important things may increases the dread factor, but taking small steps toward your goal can lessen your sense of being overwhelmed.  Often, the first step is the hardest.  Once you make progress, you might wonder just what was so difficult. Do one section of the garage, look up the doctor's phone number or just turn on your computer and jot down key ideas for that paper you have to write.  Follow up with another small step. 

3. Stop at a good point.  Our tendency is to call it quits when the going gets to us.  This reaction, however, makes it more difficult to resume the odious deed.  Instead, quit at a point that will be easy to pick up again so that you can reduce the dread factor of returning to the same task.  For example, if you hate packing, stop at a point that is less demanding for the next time, such as packing your socks or underwear.

4. Know your procrastination signs.  Do you get up and read your mail?  Eat too much?  Stay in bed?  Call a friend?  Recognize your signs that you are going down that Put Things Off Road.  Take action before your fear of facing what you have to do gets the better of you.

5. Get a buddy.  Tell a friend or partner that you need help in getting going.  Ask him or her to work alongside you or call you to check on your progress.   Doing tasks together reduces the dread, gives you a kick in the pants, and adds the pleasure of social connection.

6. Build in rewards.  Set mini-goals and rewards.  For example, tell yourself that after you reach your benchmark for the task, you can then do something pleasant for a while. 

7. Learn when to say no.  People who are better at managing procrastination are often good at time management.  They don't take on too much.  You don't have to say yes to everything.  If possible, be pickier about what you agree to do.  Save your time and energy for your own projects.

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in relationships.  For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at Look for the Research box in the upper right.