Why do we need a new year resolution? Because we have put off some desired behaviour for so long that we need a trigger to finally act. However, if you kick the habit of procrastination and start taking action without waiting for the right time, you won’t need to wait till the end of the year for more changes. Yup, stopping procrastination is the only new year resolution you need.
Just to clarify, we aren’t talking about the odd task that you push till later. That doesn’t make you a procrastinator. If you procrastinate often, in all areas of your life, then that is what makes you a procrastinator. Procrastination is a “maladaptive lifestyle”, not just a time management issue, says Dr. Joseph Ferrari, one of the leading researchers on the subject and the author of Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide To Getting Things Done.
Some of us reckon procrastination can’t be cured by task management apps. Dr. Ferrari has a different opinion, as he tells the American Psychological Association:
Today’s technology can help us not procrastinate if we use it wisely. We don’t have to surf the Web for hours on irrelevant tasks. We can get systems that time us out after 10 minutes. We don’t have to have a Blackberry with us at all times. Use technology as a tool, not as a means of delay.
Helpful words, but how do you actually put this advice into action?
Keep A Journal Of Your Feelings Towards A Task
In his book, Dr. Ferrari says that we usually avoid a task because of how we feel about it or about the outcome of that task. It’s healthy to maintain a journal of your thoughts and feelings, strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen if I finish this task?”
Similarly, Entrepreneur magazine recommends writing down the negative side effects of procrastination every day: how it impacts you, your family and friends, your work and your stress levels. This daily reality check can force a change in behaviour.
You can start a digital journaling habit in 30 days, so there is little excuse not to get on this bandwagon. Depending on your desired platform and whether you want to pay or not, try apps like Day One (Mac, iOS/Paid), Journey (Chrome, Android/Free) or Dairo (Web, iOS, Android/Free).
Stop Tasks Midway To Make It Easy To Start
If it’s good enough for Ernest Hemingway, it’s good enough for you. Lifehacker wrote that stopping mid-sentence wards off writer’s block, because you know where to pick up from when you want to resume. Your mind already has the sentence — probably the next few — in place, so you aren’t really “starting” a new task as much as “resuming” one midway.
The same philosophy can be applied to any task. For example, before finishing the day, I start a new document, write the headline of the article I need to finish the next day, and write the first few thoughts as bullet points. The next day, I know my work has already begun, so the barrier of entry is lowered. Similarly, I stop 5 minutes short of my regular workout and pause the song — the next day, I play the song and complete those five minutes, starting off the next workout. It sounds stupid, but our brains are stupid enough for this to actually work.
Start A Love-Hate Task Chain
This idea is a modification of James Clear’s 2-minute rule and the philosophy of “eat the live frog first”. With any job, you have some tasks you enjoy and some that you don’t. List all those enjoyable tasks (make sure you choose the right to-do list app).
When you are procrastinating, start doing one of these enjoyable tasks and finish it. As soon as you’re done, start a difficult task immediately — no break in between, that’s critical. A break will get you out of “work mode” and we want to avoid that. If you want to leave the hard task midway to take a break, that’s fine, but you have to start it and accomplish a bit.
This love-hate task chain will ensure you get into work mode, and carry that momentum into finishing a task you would normally procrastinate. It’s a form of productive procrastination, but perhaps easier than most others.
Keep A Procrastination Pad
Does your mind wander while working? It’s okay, everyone’s does. So grab a simple, cross-platform note-taking app and start a new note called “Procrastination Pad”. Every time your mind wanders, open this note, write down your thoughts, close it. That alone feels cathartic enough to dump the distraction from your brain and get back to your task. It works wonders.
Un-Schedule Your Work
Perhaps the most-cited book on the subject, The Now Habit by Dr. Neil Fiore introduced the world to the idea of “Un-Scheduling” your life. Fiore believes that procrastination is an effect of being told all our lives that playing is bad, working is good. That’s why we don’t make enough time for play, and our mind is unable to cope with that lack of play time so it procrastinates during our productive time. To deal with this, Fiore introduced a time-management technique called “Un-Scheduling.”
To Un-Schedule your calendar, wipe it clean. No work tasks at all. Use something like Google Calendar so it’s synced everywhere. Here are the non-work activities and things you can list on your calendar:
- Previously committed time such as meals, sleep, meetings
- Free time, recreation, leisure reading
- Socializing, lunches, and dinners with friends
- Health activities like going to the gym
- Routine events such as commuting, classes, appointments
Once you have filled this bit out, step back and take a look at your life away from work. In fact, you are never going to plan a work activity with this calendar. The only time a work activity goes on this calendar is after you finish it. The thing is, procrastinators are notoriously inept at estimating time availability for tasks, says Fiore. Not time required, mind you, but the time available to do the task. So when you have spent 30 minutes or more on a task, you can add it to your Un-Schedule calendar. In a way, this is a done list to achieve your goals, but one with better time management built into it.
It’s pretty easy to figure out, honestly, but you can check out Dr. Fiore’s examples of an Un-Scheduled Calendar to help get started.
Your Worst Procrastination Story
Procrastinating about going to a doctor actually resulted in a serious back injury for me, and to this day, I have to be careful about how long I sit in one place, my posture, and about lifting heavy weights. It sucks. What’s the worst thing that has happened to you because of procrastinating?