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I procrastinate because I care


Posted in Goals, Personal, Posts by

In my continual quest for self-improvement, I’m currently wrestling with procrastination and cultivating a habit of getting things done now. In my discussions with non-procrastinators, I’ve often heard the advice that procrastination reflects a lack of care about the task in question, and the antidote for procrastination is to only do things that you’re passionate about.

Perhaps I’m just not in tune with the universe enough, but I don’t live in the kind of world where I can only do things that I want to do. Nor do I subscribe to the view that I should just wander aimlessly and follow my bliss. Don’t misunderstand; it’s terribly important to have dreams and work hard to reach them, but a lot of the journey will be just that: work. Hard work, and lots of it. And if it’s not, maybe I’m not really pushing myself like I could/should be.

But all that aside, I’m skeptical that procrastination is a symptom of not caring enough. In fact, just about the opposite seems true for some people. One of the things I’ve discovered about myself is that my procrastination is closely linked with my perfectionism. The things I really care about are things that I want to be perfect, so I put off doing them. Example, let’s say I want to redesign my blog. I start off with a couple simple improvements in my mind. However, I really want this redesign to be perfect. Pretty soon, I’ve turned a small, simple task into a huge project and the burden of accomplishing it is just too large, so I put it off. Do I really care about this redesign? Yeah, I care way too much about it. If I didn’t care, I’d just knock it out in a few minutes.

Here’s a few of the tips I’ve collected to help me overcome the curse of procrastinating on the things I care about most:

Get rid of distractions

Sometimes procrastination strikes as an overwhelming desire to do something easier or more pleasant than what I’m doing now, like check my email, browse Facebook, see what’s new on Hacker News, etc. The simple antidote for me has been to block these distractions as much as possible. Sometimes that means working from a coffee shop that doesn’t have internet. Sometimes it means use a program like RescueTime to block distracting sites. Whatever the method, it doesn’t have to be locked down like Fort Knox, just enough to remind me that I should be working.

Cultivate strong habits and build a routine

This doesn’t work with everything, but I’ve had huge results with using habits and routine to conquer recurring tasks that I’m prone to put off. Thanks to lots of bloggers and authors, I’ve put together a method of devising and tracking a daily habit routine that I do every single day, no matter what. Sebastian Marshall just had a good blog post on this, and my tracking spreadsheet looks similar to his. It really helps move the decision from my conscious mind to my subconscious, where it’s not really a choice, but just something I do.

Timeboxing with Pomodoro technique

For non-recurring tasks, nothing helps like the Pomodoro technique. The full technique is a little complex for me, and I generally just use the timer method as a way to kickstart tasks. Starting a task or a project is generally the hardest part, and once I get some momentum, I’m usually fine. So if I find myself putting off something, I reach for the kitchen timer on my desk, spin it to 25 mins, and just start working. Who can’t stand to just do 25 mins of work? And if I’m still hating it at the end of that time, I stop working on it. That almost never happens, though; I almost always just keep right on working because now I’m in the zone.

Count it a win if anything is improved, no matter how small

Most of all, I’ve learned that I have to force myself to accept the “good enough” solution (for now, anyway), to work in iterations, and to realize that any improvement, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. The end goal is to just get started on something, without worrying too much about the big picture. It really does come down to just mental discipline, to recognizing when you’re putting something off (which itself can be difficult to a life-long procrastinator) and forcing yourself to just do it now. Sadly, like a recovering drug addict, I’m afraid it’s something I’ll always have to fight against, but it feels good to make some progress, no matter how small.

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13 Responses to “I procrastinate because I care”

  1. Scott Burson says:

    Perfectionism is evil; much more evil than mere procrastination. I mean "evil" in the sense that a bad enough case of it will keep you from ever reaching your goals. Procrastination can be a problem, but perfectionism is much more serious. Let it go!

  2. For bigger, important tasks. Give your friends or family some money and tell them not to give it back unless you finish the task in time. The key is to make the amount of money significant enough to warrant not procrastinating.

  3. piotao says:

    Hey, I found this page by an accident, looking for some ajax web tools… dunno why I’ve got here, but thank you for your text! I found it useful and will try some advices found here. Keep up the good work, maybe someday I also make my own blog :) LOL.

  4. Procrastination is not bad per se, but it may be a symptom of not caring. But a little procrastination is good for your mental sanity, and good for you in the long run, even. I find that my procrastinating times can be really useful in the long run (you can read a guest post I wrote: Luck Favours the Procrastinator), because what you do when you procrastinate can be extremely useful a few years later (my main example is a tutorial on PostScript programming I wrote as a blog post).

    But when I really need to get sh*t done, I turn to timeboxing. I also started with The Pomodoro Technique, but saw a framework that worked best, I wrote another post about it (you can read it here: Timeboxing: you will work like never before). I saw I worked best under pressure and when challenged, thus for each task I alloted less time than the expected time: I was pressured to do the task, and challenged to do it in the time I got.

    But of course, this technique only works if you are like this :)

    Ruben

  5. I do the same thing with projects I care too much about. It's terrible and I wish I would just force myself to start, since that's really the worst part. Once I'm on a roll and feel comfortable with my starting progress I can generally keep trucking for a few hours straight

  6. [...] Write comment In my discussions with non-procrastinators, I’ve often heard the advice that procrastination r… [...]

  7. Anil Prasad says:

    I procrastinate getting up………..you think I am trying to perfect my dreams[yes. I do see dreams in play-replay mode,with changes!!!heck.....I even have episodes that run over weeks, of what I remember]

    When finally awake there is the internet[and search feature]: it is reported that jumping from one text to another floods parts of the brain with dopamine. (link here: http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/video?id=7397649)

    for a moment there I didn't want to post this because it isn't perfect: it even has no obvious logical flow to the main topic

  8. [...] written previously about how I procrastinate because I’m a perfectionist. The article got picked up by Lifehacker, and a bunch of people commented that I was just making [...]

  9. [...] Most of all, I’ve learned that I have to force myself to accept the “good enough” solution (for now, anyway), to work in iterations, and to realize that any improvement, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. The end goal is to just get started on something, without worrying too much about the big picture. It really does come down to just mental discipline, to recognizing when you’re putting something off (which itself can be difficult to a life-long procrastinator) and forcing yourself to just do it now. Sadly, like a recovering drug addict, I’m afraid it’s something I’ll always have to fight against, but it feels good to make some progress, no matter how small. Republished with permission from Ryan Waggoner [...]

  10. [...] my brother’s thoughts and suggestions concerning procrastination check out his blog at http://ryanwaggoner.com/2010/09/i-procrastinate-because-i-care/ Tweet [...]

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