“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt” — William Shakespeare
There’s this Dutch survey that says 95% of people are chronic procrastinators. I think the other 5% are liars. EVERYONE procrastinates sometimes. Some people are just better at containing it than others.
“How do I get over my bad habit of procrastination?”
That question–or some variation of it–is one of the most common queries about the topic of productivity. And, it’ll probably stay that way for another thousand years–or until we all become super productive trans-humanist robo-peeps–whichever comes first.
We’ve all got our little reasons for procrastinating:
- “I’ve got this make-it-or-break-it project to work on right now. BUT FIRST, I’ve got to manually create an index in my Moleskine for all my blog post ideas.”
- “My taxes are due tomorrow. BUT FIRST, I should probably clean up the kitchen; it’s a total mess in here.”
- “I’ve gotta write and publish this article. BUT FIRST, let me catch up on some ‘House of Cards’ real quick.”
And it goes on and on. Until you find yourself and consciously decide to stop the train and get off in favor of what needs to get done RIGHT NOW.
Some of us can jump off the procrastination train and get to work immediately. The vast majority, however, end up flying into a shiny but non-essential task like a moth in a bright room. Next thing they know, they’ve totally lost track of what was supposed to have gotten done that day.
Any of the above sound familiar?
If yes, then stay with me because you, my friend, are about to learn some very unconventional (and super powerful) methods for getting over procrastination. Including a particularly interesting method that involves the power of — get ready for it — “positive procrastination.”
But we’ll talk more about that in tip #2. For now, let’s dive into the first method (before you decide to procrastinate on reading this article.)
1. Never Be Prepared
Here’s an example of a reason I always used to come up with to rationalize my procrastination problem: “I’m a perfectionist” or, “it’s gotta be perfect.”
This, of course, was just a pretty way for me to avoid admitting my fear of failure. You and I know it’s never ever the perfect time or place to do something. Want to know how I overcame this problem?
- First, I realized that the biggest thing holding me back from accomplishing the things I wanted most out of life was my obsessive attachment to perfection.
- Next, I realized that the reason I called myself a “perfectionist” was because I was afraid of what might happen if I failed at something (what would they say?)
- Finally, I came to the realization that I can never be fully prepared for anything in life. But I can always be ready.
And that became my motto: “I’m never prepared, but I’m always ready.” Never prepared. Always ready. Same goes for you.
- METHOD #1: NEVER BE PREPARED (Be ready instead.)
The next two tips and “hacks” come from the habits of unintentional efficiency experts of the past.
*QUICK NOTE: Don’t procrastinate on reading this! No, you won’t “read this later.” All of us overestimate our capabilities. We commit to dinners and events three months from now, thinking that we’ll have more free time in March than we did in January. Does that ever happen? Not for me. At least not often enough. If you convince your brain that you’ll read this later, what will happen is this: it’ll just get buried along with that other pile of shit you tell yourself you’ll do later. But this is not shit. This is your life. You’re beautiful, totally awesome and meaningful life. Do not let your dependence on future time derail you from experiencing your life to the max. If nothing else has worked for you so far, this little list of tips will… Believe that and you’ve already won half the battle.
2. The Power of Positive Procrastination
Robert Benchley, a humorist and writer for The New Yorker, once wrote an essay in which he explained how he was able to develop the self-discipline to everything below in one sitting:
- Read a scientific article about tropical fish.
- Build a bookshelf.
- Arrange books on said shelf.
- Respond to a letter from a friend that had been sitting on his desk for 20 years.
According to Benchley, all he had to do was write up a to-do list for the week and put the aforementioned tasks *below* his *top* priority, which was to write an article.
In his words, Benchley wrote:
“The secret of my incredible energy and efficiency in getting work done is a simple one … The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”
Translation: procrastinators tend to avoid doing one task by doing another, and very rarely do they ever sit still.
- METHOD #2: USE THE POWER OF POSITIVE PROCRASTINATION. (Shoot for the moon, land amongst the stars.)
3. The Nothing Alternative
A novelist named Raymond Chandler pioneered “The Nothing Alternative” as a method of defense against procrastinating on his daily prose. Chandler couldn’t commit himself to cranking out 250 words every 15 minutes like writer Anthony Trollope. So he decided to literally wait around for inspiration to strike.
Personally, I find that inspiration never strikes while waiting around. Instead, I’ve found that inspiration strikes when I’ve cultivated a habit of consistency — to work, to write, to record — every single day. In the beginning, the work sucks a lot and often. But the more you do it, the better you become at it.
But this isn’t the kind of “waiting around” Raymond Chandler used to do. His method of “waiting around for inspiration” was to set aside four hours every morning and give himself an ultimatum: Write, or do nothing at all.
In his own words, Chandler said this about writers who suffer from procrastination:
“He [the writer] doesn’t have to write, and if he doesn’t feel like it, he shouldn’t try. He can look out of the window or stand on his head or writhe on the floor, but he is not to do any other positive thing, not read, write letters, glance at magazine, or write checks.”
“Write or nothing. It’s the same principle as keeping order in a school. If you make the pupils behave, they will learn something just to keep from being bored. I find it works. Two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write. b. you can’t do anything else. The rest comes of itself.”
That’s The Nothing Alternative, right there, and you can use it for almost any task to make procrastination a problem of the past.
Your work might not be as simple and clearly defined as Chandler’s, but you can certainly benefit from the clarity that comes from setting aside the time to focus on your ONE most important thing.
To try this out for yourself, figure out your most important goal for tomorrow morning and set aside 90 minutes of totally uninterrupted time to focus on that goal. No email. No smartphone. No nonsense. No Facebook, either. Shut-down your wifi if you need to. This is your time to turn it up to high gear and focus.
- METHOD #3: USE THE NOTHING ALTERNATIVE. (Do or die.)
Recap: 3 Unconventional Methods For Overcoming Procrastination
#1. Never Be Prepared.
(Be ready instead.)
#2. Use The Power of Positive Procrastination.
(Shoot for the moon, land amongst the stars.)
#3. Use The Nothing Alternative.
(Do or die.)
This post was originally published on MeaningFulHQ.
Photo: Flickr/ Jessica Quinn
SOURCES FOR THIS ARTICLE:
- Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney
- Dutch Study: de Ridder, D. T., Lensvelt-Mulders, G., Finkenauer, C., Stok, F. M., & Baumeister, R. F. (2012). Taking stock of self-control A meta-analysis of how trait self-control relates to a wide range of behaviors. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 16(1), 76-9
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