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Basics for overcoming procrastination
Am not going to toxic-positivity bro you, but this one isn't that hard to fix
Today’s post is sharing nothing all that new. Some of this is from my very old, now deprecated blog: but the ideas are still relevant. Anyway, if you’re a productive person who has life figured out you can skip this. But we’ll do a very basic 101 and reminder for those who need a refresher on core life concepts, because that’s fun sometimes too.
Procrastination is something many suffer from daily. You’ll notice it’s procrastination. Because there are no amateur crastinators (I think that’s a word). Humans are quite good at it. Fortunately, it’s also something that is mostly mind over matter paired with better habits to overcome.
Typical procrastination excuses we tell ourselves
I’ll do this tomorrow, there’s not enough time to do this today.
I work better under pressure, I’ll wait until it’s almost due and then the work will be even better.
This is such a huge project, I don’t even want to think about it yet, I’ll put it off for one more day.
I don’t really need to do this yet; it can wait until sometime in the future.
Unfortunately all of these lead to the inevitable day when you must actually complete the task. And while most people actually do get it done under that time pressure, working that way does not always produce the best results, and allows less time to proof and make it perfect.
The causes of procrastination:
Perhaps procrastination is a part of the human condition, having an extended period of time to accomplish something makes us put it off into the future, even if we can begin it now. Perhaps it is society, which often times seems to focus on immediate and instant results, rather than something carefully crafted and refined over a longer period of time.
The modern world for most of us also involves a constant connectivity. Cell phones, email, Slack, etc. are constantly ringing, buzzing and
updating interrupting us with communications. Our friends, parents, co-workers, bosses, managers, etc. all are vying for our attention for sometimes trivial and sometimes important messages.
While these are all part of life, and we have learned to function efficiently with them, they can be a hindrance when in the midst of a project which requires complete focus. There is absolutely nothing wrong with staying in touch and being friendly/social with your peers, co-workers and friends, and giving proper attention to your loved ones – in fact I encourage all of those things. But there is a time and a place, and unfortunately being distracted can sometimes make you lose focus and motivation with the task at hand.
Some ideas here for all of us to do better:
To be most successful and happy at whatever it is you do in life, especially if you are producing intellectual products; you need to have a distraction-free environment. This will at least setup the potential conditions your mind is focused on the task at hand and you’ll get the best results you are humanly capable of on a given day. Remote work is great here for many as physical offices are frequently distraction-filled zones. Take advantage of this. Block off your calendar and turn off Slack etc. Getting your deep work done first thing in the morning means the rest of your day always flows after this and you’ll feel more motivated. No matter what else happens, you got a big thing you had to done. You’re basically unstoppable now.
Start projects immediately if you have idle time. Once you actually start something and get into the flow of it, you’d be surprised how easy it is to at least get it to a respectable draft. The first step is for sure the most difficult. Don’t think about starting something, act. You can always tweak the project and make changes as you go along. Try things like having coffee after you’re already moving if you can as a reward, humans function better with carrots than sticks.
Remove all distractions from your environment. Anything that will make you lose focus is something that will potentially set you up for procrastination and destroy your motivation. Your cell phones being somewhere else is a good idea. I don’t even bring mine in my office some days.
Eat well, sleep well and get exercise. From personal experience, a healthy mind and body is far less likely to procrastinate. You’ll feel better, you’ll be more upbeat and active, and more optimistic about accomplishing your goals sooner rather than later. If you’re tired or hungover, you’ll be less productive and more likely to procrastinate a task until the next day. I am on around day 200 no alcohol here and can confirm this helps a lot, you’d be surprised how much simply being clear and present sets you up for a W.
Mix up your projects and assignments so you’re not simply doing the same exact thing every day. If you keep things fresh they will be more interesting and compelling for you to work on, and you’ll be less likely to procrastinate them. If you are a knowledge worker, you control your schedule here.
Not to go all toxic positivity bro on you, but it’s true if you keep your thoughts positive, and recognize when you’re entering a cycle of procrastination, you might be able to mitigate it. Here is where you will need to address mind over matter. Start by just getting into it and doing step one of whatever your task is and go from there. Sit down and break the project up into consumable parts that are less daunting. Also if you do end up procrastinating, don’t feel bad about it and let negative vibes compound.
Realize you are a human being: sometimes, you’re just not going to be able to knock something out, especially if it’s a big lift on the creative side. No one is a robot here. Perhaps AI tools can help get you unstuck, but also sometimes it is time to take a break. I think many of us in modernity just pretend like that’s not allowed. Completely untrue. Take time off and refresh your mind (not partying, somewhere in nature).
Again, above ideas shared are not new or novel. But you don’t need a fancy new playbook here, you just need to do some basic tasks to set up your life for success. Mostly around habituation and mental wellness. If nothing else let today’s post serve as a reminder. And if you work for people or in a place where this is not considered, it’s time to find a new path. Don’t be afraid here: that’s okay, too.
If you need more here, I previously wrote a post on how audio production taught me self-discipline with some more tangible stories.