Question from a reader -
How can I truly combat procrastination and develop self discipline to get things done? Usually this is stuff taught or otherwise developed at a very young age and I have parents who have only ever been able to barely survive and are pessimistic people who tried to hammer their illogical beliefs into me by force. Not very good.
[...story about successful experience where it was effortless...]
Ive never been able to recapture that original magic where I just naturally got things done for the sake of it. I need it back. It would be very helpful now!
So I just read this great quote in The New Yorker about procrastination -
The philosopher Mark Kingwell puts it in existential terms: “Procrastination most often arises from a sense that there is too much to do, and hence no single aspect of the to-do worth doing. . . . Underneath this rather antic form of action-as-inaction is the much more unsettling question whether anything is worth doing at all.” In that sense, it might be useful to think about two kinds of procrastination: the kind that is genuinely akratic and the kind that’s telling you that what you’re supposed to be doing has, deep down, no real point. The procrastinator’s challenge, and perhaps the philosopher’s, too, is to figure out which is which.
Hmm, okay, that's a little bit too word-dense out of context, but there's a couple points there worth getting at:
First, is what you're doing really worth doing? It's quite hard to do things that are basically absurd and stupid to you, that you're doing for whatever reason where you feel required to.
Second, have you broken things down into manageable, doable blocks? Have you gotten everything you need to get done down on paper, figured out how long it will roughly take, and prioritized them while willingly cutting things from the back of the list or putting them off intelligently?
If you're trying to "just do everything," you're in trouble. But if you wrote out everything you needed to do, crossed off the things that are fundamentally stupid that you never really found meaningful or important, and then picked the top 3 things - you'd be in pretty good shape.
A final thought - I heard a great breakdown in Dalio's Principles about "Comfort zone / Stretch zone / Panic zone" - there is such a thing as shooting for too much, too fast. If it leads to insanely high levels of neurosis where you can't function, then scale back some until you're just in your stretch zone.
The stretch zone still sucks to some extent and is scary, but you can function in it. So if you're in panic zone, scale down the objective a little bit to something that's a stretch instead of generating full-blown panic.
1. Cut things that are fundamentally stupid that you don't think are meaningful in any way, that somehow wound up on your plate for no good reason.
2. Figure out everything you've got to do, write it down, estimate times, prioritize it, and cut things off the back of the list that are low priority. The hour or two doing this will pay for itself.
3. If you're top tasks put you in panic mode, try scaling them back a little so it's just a stretch instead of full-blown panic. Then accomplish some more and your capabilities will grow.