Everyone has fought the never ending waves of demons that are called procrastination. As the holder of a bachelor's degree and the writer of two books, a few websites, and a part-time housekeeper (albeit to my own family) I can say that I’ve slew my way through the hordes many times. However I tend to forget, like most of us, procrastination isn’t an exterior force, it’s not the devil in disguise. Or rather it is, but it’s the devil inside all of us. It comes from within us, and only from within ourselves can we overcome it.
Give yourself a Break (not a time-out)
Now, first off it's important to say, when we look at the effects of procrastination it isn’t all bad. I know there’s people out there whose lives or careers can become crippled by it, but it’s vital that people don’t beat yourselves up too badly about it. Psychologists (and writers alike) agree that a small shot of procrastinating can be just what you need to get the synapses firing on that idea you’re working on.
But as everyone knows; too much of anything is bad for you, the long term effects of procrastination really depends on your goal, and how hard you truly need to work to complete it. I’ll get back to that later, but for now, this is important, forgive yourself, even if you're procrastinating right now by reading this post, stop dragging yourself over the coals. It’s not going to make picking up the books any easier.
It’s easy to see how depression and procrastination can be directly linked; so remember, self-deprecation and self-motivation are NOT one in the same, in fact, they tend to adversely affect one another in a see-saw-like manner. So stop, you want to make a change, that’s great! You want to finish this essay, novel, album, hell all you want to do is clean your car out. That’s fantastic! Focus on the positives, that’s my unofficial step one. Focus on the positives, and from there we can start making leaps and bounds.
Fighting the good fight
So how do you go about overcoming procrastination when most of us love finding reasons not to something? “oh it’s a bit wet out, I’ll empty the bin later” of course you will, this is a perfectly justifiable reason. I mean who wants to get wet when they don’t have to? But you’ll notice, that if you think hard enough, you’ll find a justifiable reason not to do anything. Our brains are clever that way, they think they always know what’s best for us, and a part of them does, it's filtering out the difference where we procrastinators run into trouble.
What is procrastination? Tim Urban sums it up in these of images, showing how the procrastinator’s brain has a little something extra.
This monkey as Tim puts it is what makes the procrastinator prefer immediate satisfaction over long time success. That five minutes of gratification gives the procrastinator what they need to keep going. It’s one of the first problems you encounter, so here’s a tip that will help, focus on your end game.
Just think about it, fantasise about it, jeez obsess over it if that’s what you have to do. Think about how good it will be having that novel completed, that essay done, and if that doesn’t work go further. Think about the joy your readers will get from reading your work, think about how great your life will be once you have that degree and can land your dream job. Won’t it be awesome?!
You must give your work more intrinsic value. Make every paragraph, every pot cleaned, an instant gratification, remember that everything is just a means to an end.
Now you know how vital this is, how much it will do for you. Of course, this is only the beginning, a true procrastinator needs more that a bit of self-worth to finish what they’ve started, and we’ll get there, but first let’s make some headway through this task.
Building the muscles
So you know what you have to do, and you know why you WANT to do it. So let’s keep going, we don’t want to run out steam. Anyone who’s ever tried to put on a some muscle mass knows that the best way, instead over-eating with huge meals, is to break down your daily meals into smaller, more regular chunks. This allows your body to process what it’s in-taking more efficiently and leads to faster gains.
So next, we have to break down our task/s into more manageable chunks. Write out, step by step, what you need to do, or if you don’t have steps, just divide it into smaller jobs, or chapters or paragraphs. Once you’ve done that its time to look at where to make your first mark.
Difficulty OR Satisfaction: A personal choice
Now there're two ways to go about this. Most psychologists, and teachers for that matter, will recommend always start with the hardest thing. This is because people have finite amounts of energy for their day, and starting with the easiest and working their way up to the hard stuff, tends to mean you won’t have the energy for the hard stuff later, and you won’t be able to give it the attention it requires. It’s the building block of what your lecturer might call “efficient time management”.
This makes sense doesn’t it? Of course it does, but everyone lets out a collective sigh when they hear this. This is the exact opposite of what they want, and what we want always has a way of taking precedence. So my advice is to save that hard thing until you’ve got a swing going. Don’t leave it until the end, but first, you should focus on whatever will make you feel best, because feeling good will make that difficult task all the more easier.
No, I’m not talking about watching a dog struggling in shoes on YouTube, I’m talking about self-fulfilment. What part of your task will make you feel confident? What will make you WANT to keep going, to keep hold of this amazing feeling of self-worth? So many people stop before they’ve even begun simply because they don’t think they’re good enough to succeed.
I myself, while researching this article, came across a series of similar ones that seemed so far beyond what my talents are that I nearly threw the idea away and focused on something else. But that was just procrastination again, the ultimate kind, the kind that ends a war in one fell swoop. The mutually assured destruction of your hopes and your fears. A person with no confidence in themselves won’t push it, they’re afraid they’ll suck at it and so, they put off doing their work until the last minute, or give up on it all together, and thus end up fulfilling their own prophecy and sucking.
So remember, you are good enough, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. It’s a long road uphill to gain some confidence in yourself, but the view from the top; it’s worth it.
Overcoming the addiction
Unfortunately, this can’t last forever, eventually, doubt and fear slip their way back in and you don’t know if you can go on. It’s almost like an addiction, you repeat your own lack of self-worth over and over, it’s the crutch that helps you stop what you’re doing, and open your browser. So what do you do then? Well, you do what any addict does, get a sponsor.
Now, excuse my terminology, I don’t mean a person you can call who can talk you through a particularly bad patch, though that would help too. I mean someone you’re accountable to. Preferably someone you respect, or love, or even just want to impress. Let me give you an example.
My fiancé works in the city, he works extremely long hours with a really annoying commute. With me working from home I have plenty of opportunities in my day to play video games, read books or do nothing at all. But, I make myself accountable to him, at least in my own head.
I think to myself, he’s been working so hard, he’ll be happy if he gets home and find I’ve been working too. If I can show him what I’ve done with all my time, he’ll be impressed with me. “well-done babe.” or “wow, you really worked hard” it seems silly, but when you respect someone enough the smallest bit of praise is like a gold medal. Except it’s not gold, or even tangible really, it’s up to you to make it so. And if thinking about pleasing that person doesn’t do it for you, think about how DISAPPOINTED they’ll be instead.
Fear and hope; the two greatest motivators mankind has ever found, make them work for you.
Bringing the fight to the monkey
Now, we all know that procrastination has one arch-nemesis, the guy that shows up on the battlefield and sends those demons flying out of rank scared witless. I’m talking of course about the deadline. That magic time, on a magic day, when all your work MUST be completed.
Most procrastinators say they “need the pressure” to work effectively. And that is probably true in many ways. But what if there is no deadline? What if you’re doing this all by yourself, for yourself, because you want to be better. What then? The pressure’s gone, you’ve no one to impress, all the confidence in the world isn’t going to convince you that writing this blog post now is just as important as beating Sephiroth.
What do you do? You create your own deadline of course, but one that has to be adhered to.
If you want to become a better musician, book a gig. If you’re writing a novel, arrange a reading; go to a creative writing class, or even set up a Facebook event in your own home. Create an audience for yourself, and a date you’re going to be in front of them. Are You feeling the pressure yet? You’ll find that not wanting to be made a fool of can be extremely good motivation. Of course, you’ll have to cling onto to that confidence we were talking about earlier, otherwise, this could backfire, but it’s okay, you’re awesome at this remember, otherwise why would you bother?
And that’s the most important thing, am I bothered? Is procrastination my mind’s way of telling me I don’t want this? Let’s find out.
WANT TO versus HAVE TO
There are two types of activity in life, things you WANT to do, and things you HAVE to do. Now sometimes they correlate together in an awesome life-affirming package but oft times they will not. So, make a list. Divide all your tasks/goals into a Venn diagram and have a look at it.
Most of you will notice that their “want to” pile is much bigger that their “have to” pile. And they think, damn these have tos, if it wasn’t for them I could do anything I wanted. WRONG. Because of them you can do everything you want. Your have to pile is tiny compared to it. It’s easy, and once you’ve got this small list out of the way, BANG there’s all this time for the good list; the want list.
But what about those with a bigger “have to” pile? Well their lives are even better! They are wanting for so little that their responsibilities are actually greater, think about it. Responsibilities tend to have a clock in and clock out time. Your wants? They’re for your time, and if it’s only a short list, then you can achieve everything you want in a short time, why are you even reading this article, you’re so close? Go on, go!
Finding / tricking your inner strength
Now we come to the final and most important part, WILLPOWER. All the deadlines and confidence In the world won’t save you unless you can control this, and this can be impossible for some people. (I won’t tell you how times I’ve tried to give up smoking) so what to do if the internet is just a little bit more interesting that an essay on postmodernism? You take control of the internet.
A quick Google search will bring you to hundred of programs/add-ons for your browser that allow you to control what you can see and when you see it. I suppose this isn’t so much taking control as giving control over to your computer, but still, a blocked facebook is a blocked facebook, am I right?
Procrastination is all about control, and I’m not just talking about beating it. Procrastinating is a form of control itself. When we find ourselves pressured into acting, when were stuck with a difficult task we don’t WANT to do, we procrastinate because at the end of the day we’re the ones in control, and if I don’t want to something then hell, I’m not going to do it.
But remember, that control is yours. It’s up to you to decide how you use. What do you really want? If you know, make sure you’re not the only thing stopping you from getting it. Because when all is said and done, you’ll be the only person you're accountable to and if you can’t get out of your own way, then how will rest of the world follow suit?
If you want to procrastinate more, or if you still have some of the fight to go be sure to check out waitbutwhy.com Tim will fill in any of blanks that I might have left.