Procrastination is the bane of most of our existences. It’s not just about putting of the book we’ve been meaning to write or letting dishes pile up in the sink.
Procrastination has material costs on our finances (I haven’t had time to set up that savings account), our health (I’ll go to the doctor about that Mike next week), and even our happiness (I’m waiting for the right moment to ask out the love of my life).
Art of Manliness brings us a deep dive on procrastination. How to combat it, what it costs is, and, of course, what makes it so tempting in the first place:
Why do we humans almost universally experience a mighty struggle with procrastination? It’s because we’re seemingly hardwired to favor short-term pleasure over short-term annoyance/effort, even if the latter leads to greater long-term gains. We like to do whatever feels good in the moment.
Why does work make us stressed? Think about it. Most of the work we need to do is well within our capabilities, we usually have enough time to do it (even if we do procrastinate until the last minute), doing the work will lead us to something we want.
Work stresses us out because we are overwhelmed, not by the work that’s in front of us, but by all the other things that are piling up around us. Stress is more often a problem of focus than a problem of ethnic work itself.
Henrik Edberg at Positivity Blog offers this list of simple tips for being more productive whilst also staying sane in the process, starting with this very Zen approach to focus:
1. Do just one thing at a time.
It will help you to get your task all the way to done, to feel less stressed and confused and you’ll do a better job compared to if you multi-task things.
And if you feel stressed and overwhelmed during your day then you can tell yourself this simple thing to regain focus and inner clarity again.
"What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly."
This dip is something everyone faces when changing habits: we lose motivation, we get discouraged, we encounter difficulty, we lose focus because other things get in the way, we get sidetracked by life.
This is something I’ve found to be a challenge not just in building new habits, but in in creative and business ventures too. At some point your initial momentum starts to fade, the project still doesn’t have enough momentum to move under its own weight yet, and the temptation to stop pushing, or at least to stop pushing as hard, becomes increasingly difficult to resist.
As Leo points out, this is is also an important opportunity for learning and growth. Ultimately, dips are inevitable in life, no matter what we’re doing. Each time we face one, we teach ourselves to get better at overcoming them, or we each ourselves that giving up is the best option.
When things are going well, everything seems easy, and you just have to keep doing the same thing. There isn’t a lot of learning there.
But when things are hard, you have to face the difficulty if you want to keep going, if you want to avoid going to your usual pattern of discouraging yourself or quitting.
The dip is where the most learning can be found.
That’s not to say that we should never give up, but to say that the temptation to do so should be treated with suspicion. Sometimes the dip truly is because what we’re doing isn’t working, but sometimes, it’s a sign that another peak is just around the bend.
When we set goals there’s a tendency to adopt a “Go big or go home” mindset. Goals should be difficult, lofty, ambitious.
Setting goals like this can certainly help us to achieve great things, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to be successful. Here, Stephen Guise argues that big goals can be counterproductive to reaching our full potential.
Because of the psychology of smaller goals, you are more likely to adopt a limitless mindset. Not only are you accustomed to overachieving your initial aim (the fundamental idea behind limitlessness), but you lack that upper limit goal that tells you when to stop.
Large goals are an end. Small goals are a beginning.
With my 50 words a day mini habit, I’ve written more than 5,000 words in a single day. (If you knew how lazy I am, you’d find that more impressive.) But I would never had done that much with a larger goal of say, 2,000 words a day. Once I hit that magic number, I would feel immense satisfaction and stop for the day.
I’ve always found that small “hyper-achievable” goals work better for me than larger, more demanding ones. When the goal is so easy that I have no excuse not to do it, I’ll do it, and then I’ll do more. There’s never a time when I’m tempted to make an excuse because the effort required not to fail is so low that’s easy to get started. Then, once I’ve started, it’s easier to keep going.
Success is often about overcoming that initial inertia and small goals are super effective at doing that. String enough of them together, and the sky tis truly the limit.
Before we get started, can we just appreciate the honesty of this video’s intro?
Let’s be honest, you’re probably procrastinating while watching this video. And because of this, I’m going to keep this as practical and concise as possible.
Procrastination is the greatest scourge on our civilisation. Without it we’d already have solved world hunger, cured all disease, and built the flying cars that we’ve been promised for so long.
Common reasons we procrastinate are that our goals aren’t meaningful enough to us, we don’t have a clear enough plan for how to achieve them, or both.
If the goal isn’t important, we’re obviously not motivated to start, especially when there are more entertaining options available. If we don’t know how to achieve our goal, we’re overwhelmed by the size of our task and find something easier to do instead.
But the most important reason, the reason the video zeros in on, is what the goal is, and why it’s been chosen. The ideal goal is one that benefits you and simultaneously benefits those around you.
You are motivated to achieve your goals because you will gain personally, and your social environment supports you because they will benefit too.
There are many goals which fit these parameters, and best of all, the other two obstacles to procrastination are also alleviated because the people around you will help you fill in the gaps.
Sometimes you procrastinate because you’re feeling lazy, or because there’s something more exciting on offer. But if you find yourself procrastinating too often, try asking yourself who is benefiting from your goal.
Procrastination is almost synonymous with a feeling of being overwhelmed. Because there’s too much to do, we lapse into a kind of paralysis and end up not doing any of it.
The Ivy Lee method is an effective way of overcoming this problem: You list the most important tasks for the day, start with the most important, and don’t move onto the next until you’ve finished it. It sounds simple, because it is, but this method has been used by countless businesses and entrepreneurs to boost productivity.
In fact, the Ivy-Lee method is perhaps most famous for helping the president of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Charles Schwab, turn his failing business into the second largest steel producer in America.
Instead of charging an up-front fee, Ivy-Lee told Schwab to try his method for three months, and then pay whatever he thought the productivity gains were worth. Schwab paid $25,000, which was a lot of money in the early 1900s, but given that Schwab himself amassed a personal fortune of over $200,000,000, Ivy-Lee should probably have asked for a percentage…
Life is made up of choices.In the moment they seem small, but if we repeat them enough, the effects of these tiny decisions can be massive.
This beautiful little video, without a single word and set to the strains of “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”, follows the life of an ordinary man as he chooses between working hard or slacking off, going to the gym or sitting on the sofa, eating potato chips and coke, or salad and water for breakfast…ok, both of those are weird choices.
The final message of the video is simple.
Small choices become actions.
Actions become habits.
And habits become our way of life.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to put this one on every time I’m tempted to procrastinate by watching YouTube vide…dammit!
The most important questions you can ask yourself when it comes to being productive are:
1) Am I working on the right things?
2) Am I being unrealistic about how much I can get done?
If you’re failing to achieve our goals, the problem usually lies in one of these two places.
This is the question which the 3 Box Method sets out to help you answer. You write a list of 3-5 priorities for the day, start with number 1, and don’t move on from it until it’s finished. If you aren’t getting through your list, you have to either remove the last item, or re-evaluate the other items on the list.
The beauty of this method is in its simplicity. There are no complex spreadsheets or accountability meetings to worry about. If you can’t complete the items which you have freely defined as priorities, then clearly something has gone wrong. I’ve been using a version of this method for many years now and can honestly say it’s an excellent tool for setting goals and getting them done.
It’s easy to think that to make a change in your life you need to make huge sweeping changes to your routine. If you want to lose weight you need to eat nothing but salads. If you want to be more spiritual you need to meditate for an hour every day. If you want to get fit you need to spend even spare moment in the gym.
More often than not, these impossible standards end up becoming reasons to give up on your goals. More importantly, they’re not necessary. Stephen Guise talks here about the power of small changes to have a big impact on our lives. And the fact that this effect works in both directions:
When you’re frustrated with an aspect of your life, your mind will probably jump to big, sweeping changes you could make to improve it. But I encourage you to look at small changes instead. They are easier to make, more likely to stick, and have a large ripple effect that can bring about the bigger change you hope for.
Procrastination is a funny thing. We all do it, we all know when we’re doing it, and we all know that we shouldn’t. But we carry on anyway. Procrastination is the ultimate act of self-defiance, like your inner child rebelling against your inner adult.
As painful as it is to admit though, “adult you” has a point. January Nelson at Thought Catalog lays it out with 6 ways procrastination is ruining your life. Check it out, even if you’re just looking for something to read while you procrastinate