I added a little tiny box to my start-of-day routine. It's been miraculous.
I pick, at the start of the day, what's acceptable to procrastinate on.
Then, if I catch myself about to screw off doing something random, I just make sure I'm doing my acceptable procrastination -- reading a book, or science papers, or writing some letters I want to write to old friends, or watching videos on project management, or walking around a cool neighborhood of a city, or whatever else.
When the feeling of aversion strikes us, it hurts us primarily on three levels --
1. We're procrastinating, and thus not getting whatever that important thing is that we're procrastinating on.
2. The general tendency of procrastination is doing worthless things (obsessively compulsively click-click-clicking through Facebook and Twitter, surf the net randomly, play useless not-so-enjoyable games, whatever).
3. And, not least of all, we feel bad.
Well, if you pre-define procrastination, you still have to deal with #1. You're not doing the important work.
But it basically cures #2 and #3.
You probably have a variety of interests that are very life-affirming: maybe you like to rockclimb or scubadive, study history, or learn languages. Sooner or later, you're going to want to go check out new spots for climbing or diving, or get more into a language you're fond of.
This never occurs to us to do in that scared/averse/procrastinating mode. But if you've pre-defined it, you do it.
So I say, "Okay, if I'm procrastinating anyway, I might as well start checking flights and trains for when I'm in China next to see if I want to take rail and stop in the countryside for a few days."
There's probably magazines, journals, books, and papers you want to read sooner or later, or videos and courses to watch. If you're ever going to do it, it's probably good to do it when you'd otherwise be screwing off.
I actually get really jazzed up researching financial statements and stocks. I just really like it. I don't know, maybe it sounds boring to you, but for whatever reason, I can just pour through financial statements and reports about companies and look for stocks that seem to be underpriced under something like Ben Graham's criteria.
Now, this feels all very indulgent to me most of the time. It's not the best use of my time to be researching stocks and financials, not at all. But if I'm screwing off anyways, then, well, hell, what's the Japanese government going to do with their stake in Nippon Telephone and Telegraph, how are the new low prices going to stabilize to net income at NTT DoCoMo, the forward P/E on NTT is 6.1 on Morningstar and with a projected dividend yield of 2.39%... hmm...
I've got better things to do than that, but if I'm struck with writer's block or confusion or whatever at the core thing I'm doing, there's certainly worse ways to spend the time than digging into stocks and financials.
Which brings us to the final point -- when you've consciously chosen your procrastination, yes, you get that boost that you're doing something at least mildly useful. But far more importantly, you don't feel bad.
It's allowable. It's kosher. It's all good.
Perhaps it's melodramatic to say it this way, but I don't think so --
A lot of time procrastination quickly turns from mild anxiety into full-blown self-hate and wondering why we can't get a grip on what we're doing.
But if you're learning a language, researching your next travel, reading about your favorite hobby, sharpening your skills, doing research, or otherwise employing that time productively -- you don't feel so bad.
Actually, you feel pretty good.
Perhaps even -- dare I say it? -- in control of yourself.
And that feels good.
And then, hey, maybe I can start working again. Just a little.
And then we're working.
That's pretty cool.
And that's the paradox of the whole thing.
Defining acceptable procrastination seems to both increase the quality of time spent procrastinating, and decrease the time spent doing it.
Sounds crazy? Try it tomorrow morning. What've you got to lose?
What might be even better is to spend a few minutes relaxing your mind and body, doing nothing... lying on a bed, floor, etc.
I find this makes a huge difference. Lately I've been reading G.K. Chesterton essays from here when I slack off, and it's been so much more constructive than the usual.
A major realization for me -
Procrastination is fed by action to alleviate suffering.
It's very hard to procrastinate by sitting and looking at the work you want to do or are supposed to be doing.
If you're procrastinating on cleaning the mess up in your garage, it's almost impossible to do so by standing in your garage just staring at the mess for long periods of time. No, you have to go back inside your home and do something else.
If you're procrastinating on some work, it's very hard to do it by staring at the work materials and nothing else. No, you'll fire up your web browser or make phonecalls or go do something else.
When I was in high school and I had a week to do a paper, I would put it off. Not until two days before it was due, not until the night before it was due, and not even until the morning it was due. During the period before it was due, I would whip out my tiny Toshiba Libretto laptop and start churning away at it. Teacher's didn't mind, because it looked like I was taking notes for once. I'd be editing and touching it up right until the bell. When I got to my next class, I'd tell the teacher that I wasn't able to print it at home, and ask if I could go print it in the library.
I got a lot of Cs.
I think that being able to get things done under pressure at the last minute is a good skill to have. Putting yourself in the position of HAVING to do that every single day isn't so good, but that's the zone I've lived in for most of my life. Over time I learned that procrastination isn't just a "different way of doing things", but rather a true weakness. It's succumbing to the immediate desire for comfort rather than investing effort for the future. In my life now, it's inexcusable.
The upside of battling procrastinating for so long is that I've developed a pretty good understanding of why it happens and how to combat it. In this post I'll share a few of the most effective lessons I've learned.