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.
Procrastination is fed by action other than what you want to be doing. If you keep your attention on the action to be taken without moving from it, it's hard to procrastinate.
But why, then, do we move our attention away?
I think it's when looking at what needs to be done causes suffering. Observe:
What procrastination looks like -
I want to finish up some writing I'm doing. I reckon it'll take me 180 minutes.
180 minutes? That's a pretty precise figure, eh?
Well, that's one of the nice benefits about tracking my time every single day. Periodically through the day, I write down what I was just doing. This lets me
(1) figure out where my time goes, and,
(2) constantly improves my ability to estimate how long things take to get done.
So yeah, I had about three hours of writing I wanted to get done. Instead, this is what my yesterday looked like -
(Considering day started 6AM)
6:30AM: (20 maintenance, 10 daydreaming)
6:45AM: (15 minutes surfing)
7:45AM: (30 general-life, 20 maintenance, 10 semi-productive)
12:55PM: (120 semi-productive, 10 writing, 30 maintenance, 120 reading, 30 surfing)
1:30PM: (25 writing, 10 maintenance)
2:05PM: (35 relaxing)
2:20PM: Taking a sleep. (15 surfing)
[10:30PM: 8 hours sleep]
11:50PM: (60 surfing, 20 A-task)
1:20AM: (30 general-life, 60 reading)
1:40AM: (10 A-task, 10 surfing)
5:30AM: (210 reading, 20 surfing)
6:30AM: (20 writing, 20 semi-productive, 20 surfing)
--> Subtotal Excellent: 105
--> Subtotal Good: 445
--> Subtotal Okay: 220
Surfing/wasting time: 170
Transit/dead time: 0
--> Subtotal Bad: 170
A lot of the stuff in there is good stuff. The reading, good. The general maintenance type stuff, good. The "A-task" stuff is some phonecalls that had to be made, and I re-did the stocks in my IRA for the first time since the crash. (I decided to just not look at it for a couple years after the crash, so as not to do anything stupid)
Funny enough, I'm very sensitive to surfing the internet as a way to procrastinate - and even then, that "surfing" time is mostly pretty good stuff. Reading on marketing, looking at financial statements (but for curiosity's sake, not practical action-taking sake), fooling myself into thinking I'm doing research, things like that.
No, I became well-aware of my internet surfing time a while back, and I've gotten that number way down. But reading is still a way to procrastinate, as is making phonecalls and doing small amounts of work.
After finishing the day and tallying the numbers up, it was fascinating to look at. It would've been a good day by most standards, except I'd put off that 3 hours of writing I'd meant to do.
And then the idea crystallizes - Procrastination is fed by action to alleviate suffering.
Looking at the blank page was quite unenjoyable, caused bad feelings. Thus, oh, I need to make a call. Oh, answer some emails. Ah, I'll read a little for some inspiration. And so on.
That's what procrastination looks like. Things are unenjoyable, so diving into alternative things to get away from that.
Now, umm, I'm off to go buy some breakfast, because y'know, you can't write on an empty stomach...
I love this post! I laughed all the way through it because it's so true. "Procrastination is fed by action other than what you want to be doing. If you keep your attention on the action to be taken without moving from it, it’s hard to procrastinate."
I had never thought of that before. So the question now is, do I have the self-discipline to just sit in front of the activity that I am procrastinating about until I either do it or make a conscious decision to not do it.
My work is about helping people learn to lead consciously, so I am on red alert when I am making a default decision rather than a conscious decision.
Normally, as you are implying, I make a default decision -- Oh, I'll do it in just a minute after I throw in a load of wash and check on twitter. Sitting in front of the dreaded task requires a conscious decision -- I'm sitting here until the spirit moves me to action or I decide that I really won't do it this day.
Thanks for the insight and my best laugh of the day.
I like that a lot. Well written, entertaining, and exactly how well it can be leveraged. And the name is pretty cool too.
Thanks for the link!
Great insight. I think for me, the vision of perfection is what really causes procrastination. I have a lot of projects I want to work on but I'd like them to come to their full and complete potential. If I feel too tired or if I'm lacking creative thought at a particular time, I won't work on these projects, because it means that I wouldn't put in as much as I could at my best. Why settle for a half-assed version when you can wait another day and put in 100%? It's really about timing for me.
It's easy to work on things you don't really care about. It's a lot more difficult to gather up the energy required to strive for perfection.
Interesting thoughts. I think this is pretty accurate.
It does come down to not wanting to do something. The work may not be interesting. Or is overwhelming or exhausting. Or involves some kind of fear. I guess these feelings all do equate to a small form of mental suffering. That could very well be the common denominator.
Maybe it's not all bad though.
In college, I'd usually push off long, tedious homework assignments. I'd ignore it until I couldn't afford to wait any longer. It'd be 11pm and I'd say, ah crap I should probably start that thing.
But while I was procrastinating, I actually got a lot of other tasks done. Things that just weren't important enough to me yet to address before. Like washing dishes, answering old emails, touching up certain projects. I never did these things when there was nothing to do. Compared to the homework assignment, doing these felt like nothing though. Funny how the brain contrasts things so subjectively.
I try not to do it this way anymore and just do the things I need to do. But it does sort of trick your mind into getting smaller tasks done without much additional suffering.
What do you think about leveraging procrastination?
Sometimes it helps to live in an illusion that you really enjoy so that you think it would be enjoyable to get things done. Music, singing when you work, think on positive things and remember things that makes you laugh. The ideal thing is to do the right things and say the right things at the right time. But sometimes it doesn't work that way because routine can be boring. Then you need some variation and change. Thinking in different ways might be of use and you may develope new ways to work on. But you can make everything possible if you got passion for it.
Perhaps having a blank piece of paper with the things that yiu have to do during the day would help to gain focus.
This sounds very similar to what I'm currently reading: The Now Habit by Neil Fiore. I'm getting a lot out of it. I'm also enjoying your blog. Now, back to work for me.
I've gotten a lot of emails lately, which has been fantastic. My email volume keeps going up.
There's one question I've gotten a few times, in a few different forms. "How do you do so much [thing]?" Reading is a common one, since I read a lot of books. Or balancing projects with working, traveling, tourism, connecting with people.
First off, I don't think I'm so good at getting stuff done. I see there's a lot more I could do. There's probably a lot better role models than me - if you can find someone who works a stimulating high powered job, competes athletically, parents, and does some philanthropy or art, that person is way ahead of me and you ought to look them up and ask them for their thoughts next time you see them.
I used to be insanely busy like that, with 3-5 things that should be a full time effort on the go at the same time. That's probably part of the secret to it right there - if you overload yourself without getting to breaking point, you'll be amazed at what you can do.
There's ripple effects when you're extremely busy. You stop screwing off and wasting time, because you can't. And other people start respecting your time more, too. If your entire calendar is open, people are flaky and whimsical and ambiguous with plans. But when you say, "My only time free for the next three weeks is this Saturday, at 8AM" - guess what? People come meet you at 8AM Saturday. Now, it'd be absurd to ask someone to commute into the city to meet you at 8AM on Saturday if you weren't busy, but if you are busy, you do it because you have to. And people respect your time.
All right people, I’ve got a confession to make…..I’ve been having a little problem with procrastination lately. In fact, you’re lucky to be reading this Zen Wednesday post at all, as the idea didn’t come to me until Tuesday night and I almost didn’t crack open the lap top to make it happen. But then I did. And the reason I was able to get this task done, even though my motivation has been lagging of late, is because I have spent the past few days looking for little Jedi mind tricks I could use to boost my productivity during those times when I am feeling pretty “meh”.
Self-discipline is being able to get yourself to take action regardless of your emotional state. Since my recent emotional state has been something like “fluffy-pajama-lay-on-the couch-while-eating carbs”, I am not above using whatever techniques, tricks, or mind-hacks I can find that work to get me out of the bathrobe and back in the game. Below are a couple of my favorites, some old some new, that I’ve been using to help get me unstuck and start making progress on my goals again. I find it’s a good idea to have a couple of tricks ready to go in your back pocket that you can pull out and use during moments of indecision, overwhelm, lack of creativity or energy. Sometimes a little boost is all you need to get your momentum going again. I am hoping that by this time tomorrow, I will be back to crossing off important items on my to-do list. Maybe you will too.
Tricks to beating procrastination:
Kill it. When the to-do list gets overwhelming, sometimes the best thing you can do is decide what really doesn’t NEED to get done. And let it go.
Delegate it. Are you holding on to a task that someone else can do for you? A task that someone else can learn from or earn from? Why? Assign it out.