I’ve been reasonably busy the last 6 months and I’ve been telling myself this is the reason I’ve not posted much over this period. However rethinking this the other day I came to the conclusion my lack of productivity was mainly procrastination.
At the same time (serendipity) I came across a very succinct and helpful summary of the key points on procrastination from a company called Amazing Marvin. They offer software to help this ‘affliction’ and provide a free pdf (How To Beat Procrastination) as a taster. It’s an easy and attractive read with some very handy tips and suggestions. There are of course many books and articles on procrastination as it’s a very common problem but I found this particular booklet to the point and really helpful.
Here are the some of the points that strongly resonated with me.
They define procrastination as ‘the irrational avoidance of a task or activity’. The adjective irrational gives it away as there are (in a simple model) two parts of the brain competing with each other. The ancient part saying ‘let it go, isn’t there something easier to do?’ (perhaps prompted by a negative feeling associated with the task) and the rational (pre-frontal cortex) part trying to get something done (because it makes sense).
Once you give in to procrastination, it’s easy to do it again and the process then becomes self-perpetuating. In addition, short term, everything seems fine but longer term the task or activity is still there, waiting. It’s true that sometimes tasks naturally disappear and you can tell yourself you were clever in not doing them (another way of rewarding procrastination) but the majority of times this doesn’t apply.
They make the interesting point of raising self-awareness and realising when these two parts of the brain are competing. Then you can step in before battle commences (ie do something versus do nothing).
A related situation is when an emergency arises and it’s easy to focus as putting things off would be totally counterproductive.
Also, in my experience, when there is structure and organisation (say working in an organisation or having deadlines), you’re much less likely to procrastinate (although it’s still possible to leave things to the last minute). The most productive people I know seem to be those that introduce quite a lot of self-imposed discipline into their lives. It may be that some personalities find this easier than others or this could be just another procrastinating excuse once again!
One of the best tips they give is just to start doing the task or activity as it’s nearly always easier than you imagine and afterwards you’ll be bemused what the big deal was. This has happened to me countless times. You can even limit yourself to just 10 minutes on a task, you’ll often find that as the momentum increases it becomes easier and easier to avoid distractions.
Another interesting tip is to schedule a set period for ‘time wasting’ into your day so you don’t think you’re missing out on fun phone calls or social media. I’ve never tried this, I expect I wouldn’t like it and would want to do something more productive, perhaps that’s the point. They suggest quite big periods, say 2 hrs.
In addition to these and other techniques, they also talk about mindsets (fixed or growth). Fixed means you consider you have what you were born with and your early start in life and that’s that, no further significant progress possible. The growth mindset says you can always change, at any stage of your life. For example, you can acquire new habits and skills, become more open minded etc. The fixed mindset is certainly conducive to procrastination as it says ‘don’t bother there’s nothing you can do about it’ whereas the growth mindset is open to doing new things (and is ok with not being perfect and having the occasional failure).
The booklet goes on to consider a range of other aspects such as brain training, good mental and physical health habits etc.
You can register to get their free article (an impressive 73 pages) at Amazing Marvin (a pop-up appears from the left, you may have to click on a section to prompt this).
By the way, I have no relationship to the company whatsoever (this post is not a disguised advert).
In summary, I reproduce the key takeaways (extracted from their pdf):
- Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem
- Figure out what you procrastinate on and why (raise awareness)
- Learn to minimize and tolerate negative emotions through mindset shifts, methods and practice
- A procrastination supporting productivity system can reduce procrastination
- Prevent negative spirals, focus on creating positive spirals
- Use a custom mix of procrastination tools and strategies to take action on tasks
- A training program is key to fixing the problem long-term
- Mindset shifts help to minimize negative emotions
- A strong brain can overcome procrastination more easily, learn how to take care of your brain