Stop Procrastinating

Some people never procrastinate. I am not one of them, and I don’t understand them.

Instead, I struggle every day against the tendency to sit around, waste time on the internet, and generally sabatoge the opportunities that I work hard to expose myself to.

I have a wide assortment of tactics which I’ve pulled from a variety of sources. The best way I’ve fount for beating procrastination is to alternate between these approaches. They all achieve the same end, but they attack the problem from different angles. I’ll work with one concept, study it, write reminders, and try to keep it at the top of my head for as long as possible.

But no matter how hard I try, it’s effectiveness inevitably fades.

As Emerson says, “each will bear an emphasis of attention once, which it cannot retain, though we fain would continue to be pleased in that manner.”

When it happens I move on to a new approach.

Here are a handful of anti-procratstination tactics. I’m sure the list will grow as I get older, but I hope it’s of some use to others who read it today.

  1. Wage war. Inspired by the word of Steven Pressfield, namely the War of Art. Imagine yourself entrenched in a violent battle with Resistance, the malicious force that keeps you distracted and complacent. Now respect yourself like the warrior you are and go beat it into submission.
  2. Have fun. The opposite of #1, but equally effective. Remind yourself that you’re doing this because you enjoy it. (If that isn’t true deep down, then you have other issues you need to address.) Treat the task like a game. Use humor. Try to introduce an element of lightness to it, and the hardness will dissolve away.
  3. Personify it. Tim Urban of Wait But Why created the concept of the Instant Gratification Monkey and his counterpart, the Panic Monster, as a way to understand the forces at play in your head when you’re engaged in your work, distracted, or anywhere in between. If you can name your emotions, then all of a sudden you’re not having an inner struggle of willpower anymore. You can be objective and strategic in your efforts to get shit done.
  4. Be an artist. Become the artistic director of your life. This is related to #2. Realize that your life is one big art project. Your job is to make it a masterpiece. Read biographies and obituaries for inspiration and see how masterfully others have pulled it off.
  5. Put your back against the wall. People fight harder when they’re backed into a corner. Harness this power by finding something that stresses you out enough to buckle down and get to work. Imagine your future children– how are you going to feed them? Or your own retirement– have you even begun to prepare? If you don’t have a compelling stressor, invent one. Drop out. Quit the job. Pledge to make a donation that you can’t afford. Make it public so you won’t back down. Now get to work.
  6. Anticipate death. Robert Greene’s advice is to remind yourself this 10 times every hour. You will find yourself wasting less time. People have been doing this for centuries, in fact. And it works. If you feel death hanging over you every day, you want to make it count.
  7. Sweat it out. Go for a run. Lift. Box. Swim. Anything to get your body moving. This gives you a little win which you can use to boost your confidence. When I run 5 miles first thing in the day, I feel like I’ve already won. Now I can start working on whatever task comes up, because if I make any progress it’s like extra credit.
  8. Small steps. Break it down until it’s managemable.
  9. Think of how far you’ve come.
  10. Remember all the people who are counting on you. Don’t let them down.

There are a million and one productivity tips and life hacks out there, but sometimes it feels like they’re treating a symptom of a much deeper affliction. If you don’t understand and address the core of why you’re procrastinating– maybe unhappiness with your life, low confidence, fear, or poor health– then all the life hacks in the world aren’t going to help you.

What’s worked for me, and what I suggest to others: Stop looking for hacks. There is no magic bullet.

Ask yourself what you really want. Don’t stop asking until you know. It doesn’t have to be ultra-specific, but it probably needs to be more specific than it is right now.

In the mean time, accept that procrastination is not something you beat all at once, like a lightbulb going off. There will be no epiphany here. Instead, try to fight procrastination 1% better every day. You will make progress.