It or Nothing

Right now I’m writing every single day, averaging around 4000 words. I have a big batch of writing I want to do, and I’ve broken it up over 10 days. This sounds like a daunting task, but I find it dead simple to complete, primarily due to one tactic that I often use.

I call it Do it or Nothing. The way it works is that you choose a task that you are supposed to do, and you give yourself two options. You can do the task, or you can stare at the task and do nothing. Very simple.

When you tell yourself that you have to do a task, every single option in the world is available for procrastination. There’s no release valve. On a good day this doesn’t matter because you just hunker down and get the work done, but on a bad day you’re likely to hop around through whatever your favorite procrastination vices are.

Doing nothing creates an alternative, but a very boring one that has no stimulation, so you will only resort to it if you really need to. My options are to write or to stare at a blank text editor. That’s it.

I often assign this task in various forms to new coaching clients, especially those with a history of procrastination. Write for an hour or stare at your book. Work for an hour or stare at your blank computer screen. Make your phone calls or stare at your phone.

There’s a very common progression that people often follow. The first few days they don’t actually do much. Nothing doesn’t sound so bad, so they do nothing. But how many days of nothing can you really do? Everyone always gets annoyed and ends up just doing the work. One coaching client finished his book in just a few months that he had been putting off for years.

The larger principle here is making the thing that you ought to be doing the most stimulating thing that you can do. Rather than fight your upstream, you can just reverse the flow of the stream and make it easy to do what you’re supposed to do.

Give it a try. Set aside a certain amount of time each day, choose a really important task, and then dedicate that time to doing the task or doing nothing. If you end up doing nothing, don’t feel bad. After all, it’s one of the permitted activities. Even if you spend a whole month doing nothing, that’s fine. I doubt it will happen, though. In every case I’ve seen people end up doing more work than they would have otherwise, even if they do have a few days of nothing.

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Photo is a sunset in Hilo, Hawaii. It’s on the east side of the island so the sunsets aren’t usually as good as the west side, but we get some decent ones.

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