Overcoming Procrastination The Easy Way

Overcoming Procrastination The Easy Way

Being reasonably young, my history has been a mix of entrepreneurship, corporate jobs, contract work, and formal education. I've done each of these full-time at one point, but more often it's been a balancing act between multiple big commitments.

People tend to be surprised whenever they learn of my multiple roles, as the traditional view is that university or a full-time job both require devoted attention and that it's not possible to fit much else between them. Contract work is a little more forgiving since to an extent you choose your workload, and unfortunately people commonly view someone starting a business as not having a real job at all. Nevertheless all four are actually major commitments, but they don't have to be tackled in isolation.

The worst leak of perfectly good time occurs through procrastination. We don't like to get started on something when we don't have to, even if the task itself isn't all that bad. It's a habit that tends to be developed in school and the resulting engraved mentality is that "work needs to be put off as long as possible so that play can occur". A corollary of this mindset is "work is bad and should be avoided" (or perhaps this statement comes first). Tackling procrastination in your life will literally buy you more time. More than you'll sometimes know what to do with!

This isn't the first time that you've heard of procrastination being a terrific waste of time. How on earth do you overcome it though? Unfortunately saying "stop procrastinating" is about as effective as recommending exercise, a good diet, and getting 8 hours of sleep for a healthy lifestyle. Human beings tend to have a natural resistance to willingly picking-up these habits. There's a good parallel to the way we behave in the physics of motion and friction. First we have momentum – an object that stays still tends to stay still, and an object that is moving tends to keep moving. Thus once you get yourself moving it's much easier to keep moving. There's more though! An object that is at a standstill encounters greater resistance from friction than when it's already moving (I believe the terms are static and kinetic friction). Once moving friction is still encountered however, and without enough force exerted to keep the object moving it will eventually stop.

I think this explains the general course of taking up good habits pretty well. Some people never get past that initial movement by putting off starting until "tomorrow". Others get started with fantastic intentions but the little pressures and requirements of life start getting in the way bit by bit. This kinetic friction slows the progress of the exercise/diet/basket weaving until eventually the habit stops. Procrastination plays a major role in creating kinetic friction by sucking up just enough time to convienently make it impossible to continue with the new habit. Inevitably the resulting complaint is "I just didn't have enough time".

There are numerous suggested methods for training yourself out of procrastination. Different techniques will work for different people, but here's one that should work for anyone without commitment issues. It may seem like cheating because it's simple and isn't strictly a matter of internal discipline.

Take on Activities to Forcefully Fill Up Your Time

Internal motivation can be a difficult and fuzzy concept. A firm appointment or deadline with someone else expecting you to live up to it is on the other hand a fantastic way of making sure you're done when you need to be. Of course that will only make you do the task at the last possible moment that you have to, but what if you have enough tasks that there is always something to work on? What if you can't afford to space out for an hour or watch TV? Suddenly your mind means business and stuff gets done fast.

I've had a particularly busy schedule for the past two years, and the results have been very interesting. Not only have I been getting things done through the sheer force of having to do so, but overtime I've naturally grown to appreciate time. My instinct to procrastinate is far weaker than before and as I internalize the idea of getting things done instead of procrastinating I am quite capable of making use of my time effectively without the external forces present. This is a key achievement for me in relation to running my own business, as there is rarely anyone outside of the government that forces me to do anything at all in that area.

To make anything work, even a method as simple as this you have to start today. If your schedule prevents you from doing so right away (and getting coffee or watching TV don't count as an appointment), then make sure you pencil in this action sometime today.

Important Sanity Considerations

Before you start signing-up for stuff, we need to do some final reality checking. Let's take my life as an example. I am currently one quarter of the way through a 4 month full-time job contract (my last one ever). I also devote 25-35 hours a week to my website development business and another 6-10 hours to this blog (an addictive and time consuming success). Despite this I have a minimum of 2 hours each night to relax and cook a proper meal. I'm done working by 5 on weekends and spend most of Saturday morning running errands.

That sounds really nice on paper and frankly I've managed to make my life work almost as nicely as the above paragraph describes. However I've also been actively working on my time management skills for years and I've still got a lifetime of improvement ahead of me. Consider the following to help you succeed:

1) You Have to Take Breaks – Make Them Meaningful and Real

It's impossible to work at your best when your constantly working. Having a coffee break is alright, but what's really important is taking time at the end of the day to stop and relax. Ideally you should have defined times when you are working, and when you are not. It's easy to make the mistake of taking a half-break, such as grabbing a snack and then eating it while you continue to work, answering work e-mail in the evening, or even thinking about work when you supposedly resting. The idea is to allow your mind a complete and total rest. No e-mail, no phone calls, no getting that last little thing done. You'll be surprised at how much more restful this is, and ultimately how much time you actually save by not trying to be productive while supposedly at rest.

2) Organization and Efficiency Won't Magically Happen

Realistically you'll find yourself feeling like you're in a tornado whirlwind once you realize how quickly those commitments are shooting at you. You'll also find that while you're now spending more time actually working, your work habits aren't necessarily more efficient. Proper time management and working effectively are detailed disciplines in themselves that need to be aquired over time. They are absolutely key for getting more done without working yourself like a horse.

A book that helped me make leaps and bounds in this area, and which takes an incredibly sane approach to time management is Getting Things Done by David Allen . Allen's approach is great because he spends a great deal of time on actual method instead of simply preaching why you should have a todo list (oh and he also explains why traditional todo lists won't work).

3) Get Started Today

Finally get started today. It's as true as night and day, if you put it off until tomorrow it's simply not going to happen. Best of luck!

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