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.