Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How To Not Procrastinate

(This is a cross-post from Facebook)

I am no stranger to procrastination. Luckily, in spite of my laziness and general irresponsibility, I do have a few tricks for getting things done. Let's suppose I need to get a 4,000 word paper done, but I just want to watch YouTube videos (this is based on real-life experiences). I haven't done any work yet, so it would help if I could just get started.

(1) Consider what's stopping me from getting started. In the case of my 4,000 word paper, I had to write it using a program called LaTeX. As silly as it sounds, the act of starting up a program can be a tedious experience, particularly if it takes a long time to load. Then I need to get my research notes out of my binder, and that could mean *gasp* walking all the way across the room. Once I've identified what's stopping me, I make a deal with myself: if I open LaTeX, and get my notes out of my binder and within reach of my computer, I'll allow myself to watch YouTube videos guilt-free for half an hour afterwards (consider using an actual, physical timer).

(2) Identify the smallest bit of work you could do that would still count as progress. In the case of my 4,000 word paper, writing one sentence technically counts as progress. If that seems too intimidating, consider writing one word, or one letter. My next deal with myself goes as follows: if I write one sentence/word/letter in my paper, then I'll allow myself to watch YouTube videos guilt-free for half an hour afterwards.

The great thing about this step is that it uses your flaws to your advantage. If you're like me, then sometimes you finish watching one YouTube video, tell yourself the next one will be the last, but then trick yourself into watching another one anyway. The same principle works with writing the paper. I find myself saying "I'll just write ONE sentence, and then it's back to YouTube." But once I've finished that sentence, I start thinking "Well, I might as well write the NEXT sentence, since it's pretty much continuing the same idea..."

(3) Take a step back and consider what you're actually doing when you procrastinate. Changes are you're not just sitting still doing nothing. You're still doing something, it's just not what you're "supposed" to be doing. If you take time away from your work to do something you enjoy, try to make it something productive, or something that challenges you or makes you a better person somehow. This brings me to my third deal with myself: I decide in advance some alternate productive task (for example, cleaning my desk) and give myself a choice: at any moment, I may work on my 4,000 word paper, or I may clean my desk. Once I get bored of one task, I switch back to the other. In effect, I'm pitting my procrastination instincts against each other and hacking myself into being more productive.

These have worked for me in the past. However, I take no responsibility for any damage caused by anyone else trying these techniques for themselves.

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It Seemed Funny at the Time by Ben Buckley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.