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.
I think that there are two main flavors of procrastination: "how" procrastination and "why" procrastination.
Right now I work on SETT seven days a week. Some days I churn through fourteen hours without even looking at the clock. Other days it seems like I write one line of code and then I find my mouse pointer drifting towards the new tab button on Chrome, probably hoping that it will make its way to Facebook.
The difference between these days is the clarity I have on what to do next. I've noticed that fourteen hour straight days tend to be when I'm building or overhauling a big system. With that sort of work, there's never uncertainty on what needs to be coded next. The days when I'm spinning my wheels are the days when I have no defined goal other than "work on SETT".
This is "how" procrastination, because I don't know how to do the work. The solution for this variety of procrastination in to stop working for a few minutes and plan out what needs to be done next. I try to make the first step as tiny and easy as possible, so that my brain can't possibly argue that it can't handle it. I talked about this sort of planning before in this post.
A good example of the other type of procrastination might be getting your car registered and inspected. I used to put that off not by a day or week or month, but by years. Multiple years. I bought a car in California that I never actually registered or inspected, even though I had it for three years.
This type of procrastination is called "why" procrastination, because your brain doesn't understand why it has to get done NOW. If you haven't registered your car for a year, there's really no downside to waiting "just one more day" to register it. To combat this type of procrastination, I think of all the possible benefits of completing the task, and purposefully avoid thinking about how annoying it will be waiting in the DMV line. I remind myself that it WILL get done eventually, and I will be the one doing it, so I may as well do it now so that I don't have to worry about it. For small things, the "I won't have to worry about it" benefit is the biggest component of the "why" that actually gets me moving.
Recognizing the type of procrastination you're dealing with makes it a lot easier to overcome it properly. After a short amount of time using these techniques, your subconscious learns how to handle it on its own and you just stop procrastinating altogether. Now my worst bouts of procrastination are putting things off by minutes or hours, not months or years.
Photo might be a new low in terms of relevance to the post.
This is the checklist I use before I start studying to make sure that I don't procrastinate for any "how" reasons:
I decided to check out your blog after seeing your excellent <a href="http://zenhabits.net/tynans-rules/">guest post</a> on Zen Habits.
Hmmm... looks like my link above is going to look ugly. :) No matter!
To the point, I had a friend once call me the "king procrastinator of the universe." I could see the point.
But I have learned ONE trick, and that is "Don't think. Act."
By that, I mean if I get started before I have a chance to think about it, I'll have the momentum and interest to finish. But If I think about it, I'll tend not to get started because, as my friend pointed out, I can be pretty clever about why I can do it later.
This has been a constant in my life, often to the point of missing out on opportunities that would have been very beneficial to me. I think mine stems from not being ready for success or having the confidence to admit that I am worthy of the success.
I couldn't have said it any better. All my life I have thought like this. Yet I can't say that I received c's (hope this doesn't offend) I was actually accredited a's or b's. I do agree with the over-thinking. I will screw up a project if I have time and then I will waist more time. However if I have less time I make sure not to. I am a seamstress by the way. But it funny like you said you will make up excuses and I think being a procrastinator makes a good liar out of yourself. Survival! Even if you get a 'c'! Survival! Unless I truly have a dead line in my line of work the others will be the last ones who ill get back too. I don't think it's a flaw to procrastinate only if you get I trouble or ruin your rep. Nock on wood. In times it's my best friend. There are people out there that spend a life time dwelling over a project and way over thinking like you think procrastinators do that do more damage than good. So I say use it if it works and the times you know it should be best use your best judgment and start early. Not why pro or how pro. How about what are your qualities? Sometimes and I mean sometimes being a procrastinator has its qualities. So when and where should be question. If we dismiss a skill ,yes it could be used as a skill, then we give a part of ourselves away. A quality that could be used as an advantage. However if you are going to do it as a necessity (juggling other jobs etc)... Don't half ass being a procrastinator. Sometimes procrastination leads to brainstorming during crunch time and sometimes an epiphany happens. Ps use your time wisely. ;)
i'm seeing broken images here
A friend (and extremely experienced programmer) wrote a blog post that reminded me of this, breaks it down in a different set of ways that I think are pretty compatible. A good read.
Excellent breakdown of the procrastination problem. This will help me a lot. Another good analysis comes from Peter Bregman in his post blog entry titled "Your Problem Isn't Motivation". I recommend it, and I add all disclaimers for associations with the author!
Hey, just read the Game i am probably the millionth person to give you a shoutout but when i found you are in Austin, thought perhaps i should say hi, shoot the breeze at a coffee shop and talk hip hop and not procrastinate about it! lol...5123510751 -Trevor
I so identify! I didn't re-register my French car for the first 4 years after moving to Scotland. When I eventually did, it felt so good: I was finally able to drive by police cars without worrying about being asked to show my registration. The reason why it took me 4 years is that I hadn't registered a car in Scotland before, so I didn't know where to start.
In addition to the "how" and "why", I believe procrastination has nothing to do with laziness, and everything to do with fear of not being able to do something well enough.
Last night, I watched the movie "Apollo 13", about the lunar expedition that went wrong after an explosion caused extensive damage to the spaceship. At one point the CO2 goes up to near fatal levels in the capsule. The support team in Houston gathers all sorts of items they know can be found in the spaceship, and devises a way to build an improvised CO2 filter. They radio the recipe to the astronauts and save their lives. One problem solving session after another leads to Apollo 13 making it back safely to Earth.
With a team of procrastinators in Houston, those poor astronauts might still be floating in space. They wouldn't even know whether they are capable of helping or not, because they would have frozen in fear of doing it wrong, with all the consequences. So to tackle procrastination is to tackle fear of failure.
I have a big project I'm working on (secret for now, haven't decided if I should write about it yet or not), and I've been seriously procrastinating.
It's not that I don't want to do it. It's something I arrived at myself, is very inline with my Life Nomadic goals, and will be very exciting to complete. It's my perfect project.
I'd been working on it for a week, though, and had been getting very little work done. To use a rough estimate, I had done maybe 5% of the work in a week. Twenty weeks until completion is way too long.
(Please pardon me if this one isn't entirely clear, for reasons that will be evident in a moment.)
I've been diligently practicing meditation recently. Where I would have missed days previously, lately I've meditated without fail before sleeping if I hadn't done it earlier. I do my end-of-day cooldown every day, even if I feel rather exhausted.
This end-of-day meditating is interesting, because it has me meditating in modes I previously wouldn't. I would've said, before, "I'm too tired right now..." -- maybe not consciously, but that would have been the subtext.
So tonight I'm having a very-tired-meditation.
And I noticed, sometimes thoughts spin up in entire chains linked together.