“Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried”
I doubt there is anything as dangerous as procrastination. Nothing seems to cause so much damage, yet so little day-to-day pain. The best definition I have heard of achieving successes is simply; making small, good decisions, day after day. On the other side of that equation, failure must then be; failing to make those small decisions, day after day.
However, if procrastination is so deadly, why do we all fall into its trap? Here is my conclusion: because procrastination doesn’t seem like a big deal at the time. Most activities we engage in don’t have a definitive timeline, especially the important ones. Perhaps you have been talking to yourself about learning a new language – but nothing will happen to you if it doesn’t happen their year – you can always do it next year. That’s the problem with procrastination; at the end of the day, month, or year, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to have let a few things slip.
So, it’s obvious that procrastination is a dangerous condition to find oneself suffering from, but what can you do about it? I have a couple ideas that I have picked up from various books, articles and people:
- Momentum fuels motivation – getting things done gives you motivation to get more done, it’s a feedback loop (just like getting stuck on one thing, or not even being able to start, can kill your motivation). Break activities down into bite size chunks. If you have to write a paper, break it down into sections, pages, or quarters. Sitting down and planning to write the introduction is much more actionable then planning to write the entire paper.
- Set a small goal – I read about someone whose job is similar to hoarders, in that she helps people get their homes cleaned up. The problem with something like cleaning is that it can seem daunting at first; the whole scope of the job would take hours. That can result in paralysis, and nothing being done. What this particular lady does in this situation is urge her clients to set a five minute timer – clean until the timer runs out. Five minutes is much more bearable then the whole job – and what do you know, it’s actually much easier to keep going once you’ve been doing it for five minutes.
- Shape the path – humans get easily distracted, and habits are hard to form. The best thing to do is to make it easier for you to follow the habits you commit to. That is why ATM’s make you take your card back before you get your cash – too many people were forgetting their cards. Similarly, grocery stores put the dairy fridge at the back of the store, so customers have to walk all the way through the store – understand your path, and shape it accordingly.
- Get into flow – I personally have tried to limit interruptions in my work process. There is nothing like an email or a text to take you off track and totally interrupt a strong work session. There is also no need for you to respond to these things right away, so here is my advice: close your email, put your phone on silent, turn off the music (unless it has no lyrics) and work for an hour. You will get into a state of flow (concentration) and will get more done than you can believe. Then take 10 minutes to answer emails, respond to inquiries, etc., then rinse and repeat.
- Get inspired – get a motivational quote, song or picture. Get a picture of the yacht you want to one day own, or the mansion in the Hamptons that you will one day have. Keep these things close by – it is hard to stimulate the mind without something visual. Look to the great business minds of our time for quotes, and get music that pumps you up for those breaks – never underestimate the rejuvenating effect of loud music.
- Begin with the end in mind – this is from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; essentially you want to create your own Eulogy for your funeral (I know it sounds morose, but bear with me). While doing this, think of what you want people to remember you for – your values, what you did, your contributions to society, your family life, etc. Then, whenever you are doing something, use it as an acid test against your current activity – is watching TV helping you achieve the kind of life you want to be remembered for? If not, move on to something that will!
I hope this article has given you some ideas on how to deal with your own procrastination (in whatever area of your life it is) and to close, I will share with you one of my own favourite passages, that has helped inspire me:
“The heights by great men reached and kept, were not obtained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow