One of my podcast listeners asked how to stop procrastinating. This question has been addressed from many angles by many people. Today I want to offer my opinion, even though it looks slightly unpopular. The solution is simple but very effective.
My history with procrastination.
Listen, procrastination is not new to me. I definitely experienced it in the past. I experienced it the most during my university years. It seems high school and university students are still facing this challenge the most. When I go to forums such as Reddit, it’s astonishing how severe this problem is for many of them.
Looking back to my university years, I can understand what was going on and why procrastination was such a big problem for me.
I simply had too much time to get my tasks done. Yeap. You heard it. I had too much time to complete my homework or to prepare for my exams. I had the luxury of time. And I could afford to spend time on procrastination. But of course, back then I thought that I was busy. I worked part-time since the second year of university. I always had a side job. I thought I was busy with school and with work. But in reality, I was not. I gave myself too much time to get things done.
I realized I only had a problem of procrastination when I was doing homework. Guess what, I had zero procrastination during the exam time. You remember what I’m talking about. You walk into this huge auditorium; they sit you down and give you an exam booklet. Then they start the countdown. Sometimes it’s a big clock. Sometimes they write it on board. But you see that you only have 2 or 3 hours to get this exam work done. And never in my life did I see a student who struggled with procrastination during an exam. Everyone starts writing the moment they say “go”. These are the exact same students who’ve been suffering from procrastination for the entire semester. And then they walk into this room and wow, their procrastination disease is cured. Why is that? Because they only have 2 hours to get this exam done. And they have no time to waste.
This is also the reason why Agile and SCRUM became so popular in the tech world. The team only has a short amount of time (called a sprint) to get major improvements done. In contrast, big corporations loooove long-term planning and long-term projects. They give themselves years to get stuff done. No wonder, they never meet the deadlines.
When you give yourself too much time, you have time to procrastinate. You have a lot of time to create a lot of drama about your work. All that overthinking, over-analyzing, over-researching. And the funny thing is even if we give ourselves a lot of time, we end up doing the task at the very end, in a very short period of time. The rest of the time is spent on drama.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Parkinson’s Law. Work expands to fill the time allotted. If you think you can do a task in a week, you are right. If you think you can do this task in a day, you are also right.
The State of Flow
About two years ago, everyone wanted to reach the state of flow. This idea was first proposed in a book called “Flow” by the author with the last name no one can pronounce. Well, only the lazy one wasn’t talking about this book in their book reviews videos.
And people tried to find different complicated ways to get to this magic state of flow.
But you know what I’ve found? It is very easy to be in the state of flow when you give yourself little time to get your tasks done. It works like crazy! All the inner chatter is gone the moment you realize that you only have an hour to write that blog post or to prepare that report. Try it for yourself! It’s free! And it’s very effective.
You Can Enjoy Your Life
Another amazing thing about giving yourself tight timelines is that you can actually enjoy your life. You have time available for leisure. For fun. For family and friends. And you don’t need to think about all the tasks you should be doing because you got them done in the scheduled time block. Or you know that they are on your schedule and you will get them done tomorrow. I talked more about showing up for your schedule in my previous podcast episodes.
- “How to create and follow your schedule” (episode #8)
- “Why you don’t need another productivity app” (episode #7)
I recommend scheduling your tasks in 30-minute increments. Some tasks might take longer. I wouldn’t recommend anything longer than 90 minutes. Plan for the results, not the activities. Instead of working on the blogpost, put “publish a blogpost”.
Reducing the amount of time you give yourself to complete a task helps with perfectionism. If you know that you only have an hour to write and publish your blog post, you don’t waste an hour on choosing the perfect cover image.
I also like that I don’t have to keep thinking about them. I know it’s in my schedule, so I don’t need to have all the drama in my head of how I’m not good enough because I haven’t completed these tasks yet. I know that they will get done when it’s time to get them done. Why bother worrying about them now?
How to Start
If you are new to time blocking and scheduling, I recommend using the concept of anchoring up. It means you need to have an external commitment to getting your work done by a specific time. It’s like having a deadline for your assignment back in university days. A professor always gives a specific time you should submit your assignment by.
If you are a student, find a buddy. Let’s say you have a term paper to write. Agree that by Monday lunch you will email each other your outlines. By Wednesday lunch, you will email each other the literature review section. By Friday noon, you will write your introduction and conclusion. You get the idea. Break the major project down to the tasks that can be done in a few hours and create a deadline for those. I recommend having a deadline at 12 pm. You can get your most important task done in the morning and then enjoy the rest of your day guilt-free. Otherwise, you will spend an entire day anticipating this task and it’s just not fun.
I’ve used this approach in my grad school. And I was able to finish my program semester earlier. And I never did any school work past 4-5 pm. So this stuff does work.
Of course, this idea applies to everyone, not just students. Create not only a date deadline, create a time deadline for your task. “I will create and submit my quarterly report to my manager by 3 pm on Thursday.” And don’t give yourself the luxury of time. Time is only useful when you are resting and recharging. Giving yourself too much time on work or school stuff is never a good idea, in my experience. It only leads to procrastination, useless perfectionism, drama, and confusion.
If you procrastinate doing something, it’s probably because you gave yourself too much time. Or too much ambiguity. Break your tasks down into 30 to 60-minute increments. Put them on your schedule. Plan for the results you will produce in that 30- or 60-minute interval. And be done with these tasks when the time is up. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be done.
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