I’m so overwhelmed by how much I’ve got to do that I avoid thinking about it, even though it only makes my bad situation worse. What can I do when I feel paralyzed by the enormity of the work I need to do?

Write down three “microtasks” that you can do within a few minutes. Remember how Lady Luck favors those who try— just do your best to focus on something worthwhile.

At this point, close your eyes and tell your mind that you have nothing else to worry about, no other concerns, just your first microtask. (I’m not kidding about the “close your eyes” part—remember, that can help disengage you from your previous thought patterns.) You may want to play a Pomodoro game with yourself. Can you get a start on the first few pages of the chapter in twenty-five minutes?

Accomplishing a lot of difficult tasks is like eating a salami. You go slice by slice—bit by bit. Cheer every accomplishment, even the tiniest ones. You’re moving ahead!

How long will it take to change my procrastination habits?

Although you will probably see some results right away, it may take about three months of adjustment to get in place a new set of working habits that you like and are comfortable with. Be patient and use common sense—don’t attempt to make drastic changes immediately because they may not be sustainable and that may only discourage you more.

My attention tends to hop all over the place, so it’s difficult for me to stay focused on the task at hand. Am I doomed to be a procrastinator?

Of course not! Many of my most creative and successful students have overcome ADHD and related attention difficulties using the types of tools I’ve outlined in this book. You can, too.

If your attention is easily divided, you especially will benefit from tools that help keep you focused on a specific task for a short period of time. These tools include a planner-journal, a whiteboard by your door, a timer, and scheduling and timing apps and programs on your smartphone or computer. All of these tools can help you turn your zombie procrastination habits into zombie “take charge” habits.

You’ve told me to use as little as possible of my willpower in dealing with procrastination. But shouldn’t I be using my willpower a lot so that I can strengthen it?

Willpower is a lot like muscle. You have to use your muscles to strengthen and develop them over time. But at any given time, your muscles have only so much energy available. Developing and using willpower is a bit of a balancing act. This is why it’s often important to pick only one difficult thing at a time that requires self-discipline if you are trying to make changes.

It’s easy to get myself to sit down and start my schoolwork. But as soon as I start, I find myself taking quick peeks at Facebook or my e-mail. Before I know it, it’s taken me eight hours to do a three-hour task.

The Pomodoro timer is your all-purpose zombie distracter. No one ever said you have to be perfect about overcoming habits of procrastination. All you need to do is keep working to improve your process.

What do you say to the student who procrastinates but refuses to accept his own role and instead blames everyone and everything except himself? Or the student who flunks every test but thinks she knows the materials better than her scores show?

If you find yourself constantly falling into situations where you think, “It’s not my fault,” something is wrong. Ultimately, you are the captain of your fate. If you aren’t getting the grades you’d like, you need to start making changes to steer yourself toward better shores, rather than blaming others.

A number of students have told me over the years that they “really knew the material.” They protest that they flunked because they don’t test well. Often, the student’s teammates tell me the real story: The student does little to no studying. It’s sad to say that misplaced self-confidence in one’s abilities can sometimes reach almost delusional levels. I’m convinced this is part of why employers like to hire people who are successful in math and science. Good grades in those disciplines are often based on objective data about a student’s ability to grapple with difficult material.

It’s worth reemphasizing that world-class experts in a variety of disciplines reveal that their path to expertise wasn’t easy. They slogged through some tedious, difficult times to get to their current level of expertise where they can glide by and make it all look easy.