You Can Slowly Win the War Against Procrastination
Here’s how you can do it.
Procrastination is a war against your time.
I’ve suffered from procrastination a lot. I’ve given many of my best writing hours to the enemy of procrastination. Learning about procrastination and why you do it can help you overcome it. You’re not lazy. You’re not stupid. You procrastinate when you’re looking for the perfect time to work.
There is no such thing as the perfect time. Took me years to learn that.
This Technique Is Effective and Stupidly Simple
Break your work down into tiny parts.
Fiona, The Millennial Money Woman, says to keep breaking down your work until procrastination passes.
When your work feels too enormous to do, you put off starting it. When your work feels smaller it’s easier to start it.
Practically, here’s how I do it as a writer. I start with a plan to write 4-5 blog posts in one 8-hour stretch on either a Thursday or a Saturday. Over the last week, if I find I’m procrastinating, then I commit to write one blog post. If that doesn’t work, then I commit to write a headline and an intro.
If that doesn’t work I commit to write the headline only. If that still doesn’t work, then I commit to write the first sentence of the story only. Usually that works because the first sentence is simply introducing a topic. I can do that with my eyes closed.
When you keep breaking your work down into tiny parts, you eventually find the tiniest part to start with. Then you choose the next tiniest part. Before you know it you’ve strung together a bunch of tiny parts and have momentum. Momentum can drive you towards the bigger and harder tasks you seek to accomplish.
Starting with big tasks is overwhelming. Start with tiny tasks.
Cut Your Work Schedule in Half
I normally write for 8 hours. If I’m honest with myself, this can cause me to be exhausted by the end.
The last few things I write at the end of an 8-hour session typically aren’t great. When I look at my least read stories they are typically written at the end of the day. My first story of the day isn’t great either.
My best stories are typically written during the middle of an 8-hour session — this is when I’m warmed up, my worst work is behind me, I’m in a deep flow state and my energy is peaking from the thrill of the work and the energy amplification effect of coffee.
One experiment I’ve been conducting is to cut my productive work hours in half. Instead of writing for eight hours straight, I’m going to write for four hours straight. So far, halving the number of hours I work from 8 to 4 seems to mean I’m not so burned out at the end.
Maybe a 4-hour workday is the most productive after all.
Realization: Tired work is boring work. Boring work is low-quality work.
Start with One Low-Quality Piece of Work
Thinking about starting work creates resistance. What you’re really doing is preparing yourself to meet a standard, not start work. When your quality standards for your work are too high, you take longer to start work.
Low-quality work is simple to start.
High-quality work feels like preparing for a two-day marathon.
I wrote about this procrastination fighting strategy a few weeks ago. It still stands true. Lower your standards so you don’t overthink the work you’re about to start. Huge expectations you have in life will often fall short. Make your expectations so small that any tiny task will feel like a win.
Putting off an easy thing makes it hard. Putting off a hard thing makes it impossible.— George Claude Lorimer
Distractions Are the Enemy of Deep Work
Once I get distracted I tend to go back into procrastination mode, doing anything I can to avoid doing work again.
The worst distractions are multiple browser tabs, emails, and social media notifications. I’ve recently become a Twitter addict too. You can tweet and get a response in 60 seconds. For writers, this instantaneous feedback on an idea is addictive. Data-backed ideas help validate assumptions, and make an idea worthy of writing about.
Here’s how to experiment with less distractions:
- Phone on do not disturb stored in another room. To see the phone is to be distracted.
- Email app closed while working. Blogging ideas are stored in my Apple Notes app rather than my email inbox. This stops me being triggered by a stray email from a time thief.
- Office door closed.
- Music played through noise-canceling headphones. But instead of the usual movie soundtracks, I’m using Youtube techno playlists. Techno lifts the energy of my writing. A techno beat drowns out distractions.
A distraction is a temptation. Temptations become addictions. And addictions, like drug habits, can obviously ruin your life.
Nuke Procrastination Like This
What gets measured gets managed — Peter Drucker
Measure your procrastination (roughly).When you measure your procrastination levels roughly you start to see the problem. Once you can see the time you’re losing you have intrinsic motivation to help you defeat procrastination.
Seeing myself waste 3 hours between 7 am and 10 am every Saturday became huge motivation to solve my procrastination problem. Documenting my procrastination problem (like I’m doing now) helped me see the depth of the problem from a different angle.
Half the problem with procrastination is you don’t know you’re doing it.
See the time you’re losing to procrastination, to slowly win the war against yourself. Procrastination dominates your life and diminishes slowly when you start to focus on it.