Vogue Italia/Mario Sorrenti
I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done.
— Susan Orlean
The very fact that you clicked on this article tells me you fall into one of two categories:
1) You’re committed to figuring out how to get yourself to do the things you want or need to do to live the life you want.
2) This seemed like the perfect distraction from the things you want or need to do to live the life you want.
So whether you consciously realize it or not, you could use a few tricks to help kick procrastination to the curb. Boy, have you come to the right person. I’ve spent most of my adult life wondering where I was the day they taught everyone else how to be a productive member of society in school. While Nike’s famous slogan is “Just do it,” my life slogan was “Just do it later.”
I used to think this was just an “Erika” problem. But when I read the following section of Alie Brosh’s graphic novel Hyperbole And A Half I realized there were plenty of me’s out there. She details her non-attempt at returning a video to Blockbuster. (Hey, remember Blockbuster?)
Brosh writes, “Every day, I saw it sitting there on the arm of my couch. And every day, I thought, I should really do something about that… and then I just didn’t. After a week, I started to worry that it wasn’t going to happen but I thought, ‘Surely I have more control over my life than this. Surely I wouldn’t allow myself to NEVER return the movie.’ But that’s exactly what happened. After 35 days, I decided to just never go back to Blockbuster again.”
If that sounds like you as well, here’s some good news: It’s not because you’re lazy. (You may now breathe a sigh of relief.)
In Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit, he explains that procrastination is actually a symptom for another underlying problem. It often stems from perfection, and a fear of failure or not doing it right. So if you’re sick of late fees, angry emails from your boss, missed deadlines, a messy apartment, a drawer of gym clothes you’ve never actually worn to the gym, here’s some more good news: I’m going to share some “cheat codes” I’ve developed up over the years that allow me switch from Just Do It Later, to Just Do It. No matter how many times I play these tricks on my brain, my brain always falls for it. Every. Single. Time.
Before we dive in, it’s important to remember Newton’s First Law Of Motion also known as Inertia: An object at rest, will stay stay at rest and an object in motion will stay in motion. Here’s how to turn yourself go from an object at rest to an object in motion.
1. Beat the clock
When faced with “inertia,” you need to lie to your brain. Don’t feel too bad about it because your brain is currently lying to you when it says “Not the dishes. Yuck. I’m tired it’s going to take too long” or “Expense reports? Blech, that’s boring and takes HOURS.”
You, in turn, say to your brain, “You’re right. It will take too long. So you just need to do it for (insert incredibly low amount of time).” Depending on the task I go between two to three minutes. To your brain this number is so slow it will take the bait.
For emails and work tasks, try ten minutes. Then set a timer. I like using my oven timer for kitchen tasks and I have a fun hourglass that sits on my desk that I like to ceremoniously turn over when timing myself to start a task. You can use your phone or use an egg timer. Or pick your favorite song to do the task to for the length of that song. Whatever makes you feel more like doing it.
The way you get your brain to take the bait is by promising it that once the timer goes off you can stop — even if you’re nowhere near finished.
Here’s where it gets good. Inertia also works in your favor since an object in motion stays in motion. Once you’re two minutes into washing dishes and the timer goes off, you will either a) be done with a task you once thought would take forever or b) be so close to finishing you will go, “Eh might as well do this last dish.” And even if you don’t, you’ll be that much closer to your goal than you were two minutes ago. Except now you’re choosing to do the thing you want to do.
Once you master this, you can move onto the Pomodoro Technique which uses 25-minute chunks of uninterrupted work followed by five-minute breaks with a 15-30 minute break after every hour of work.
- Baby steps
“Replace “This project is so big and important” with “I can take one small step.” — Neil Fiore
Got a pile of clothes on the floor with a higher elevation than Mt. Everest? Does the task at hand it feel overwhelming and insurmountable or maybe you can’t remember where you put your timer? To get that inertia working for you again you need to lie to your brain — again.
But instead of making it about a ridiculously small amount of time, make the first step you need to take seem almost too simple not to do. Tell your brain it only needs to pick up seven items around the house. That’s it. Just seven. After that you can flop back on the couch. Or you only need to write two sentences of that email that’s stressing you out. You only need to read one paragraph of your textbook and then you can walk away.
Guess what your brain will do when it reaches seven things, two sentences, one paragraph? The momentum will have already built because you’ll see that little bit has already made a dent in what you need to do. And even if it hasn’t you’ve already made more progress than you were before you started. It just becomes cumulative.
- Do a half-assed job
Now I’m not recommending you turn in a half-assed job, but giving yourself permission to phone it in is what you need to get over the fear of not doing it right. Sometimes what I like to do is give myself permission to do the WORST possible job. Aim to be the laziest person in your spin class who isn’t going to do an ounce of work. Guess what happens when you lie to your brain? Once you have permission to suck, the skills you have to be great kick in and go, “Oh okay I know what to do now that I’m not overwhelmed.”
- Coddle yourself
I’m big on rewards. The morning after Election Day I couldn’t get out of bed. After two hours, I finally told myself I would get myself a donut if I got dressed and made it to work on time. You should have seen how fast I moved. I promise to buy myself a fancy iced latte on the days when I really don’t feel like running errands.
As they say on Arrested Development “Pop-Pop gets a treat” and I am the Pop-Pop in my life. I also like to be as cozy and comfortable as possible at work when doing something stressful. The carrot and the stick approach to motivation sometimes needs to be all carrot.
Now comes the fun part! You get to try out these tricks on your brain. You don’t have to wait to do have a pile of dishes or a big work project. You can start right now with whatever task you were avoiding when you first started this article — bet you thought I forgot about that didn’t you?
What is the tried-and-true tip you use to keep yourself from procrastinating?