Procrastination is a one of the most odious behaviors simply because we watch ourselves do it. Like a bad dream, we watch ourselves piddle at something that is at best marginally useful even as something we know is useful (Covey’s Type II tasks) languishes. And the oddest thing is that we tend to procrastinate most about the things most important to us.
In fact, think about the activity that you most procrastinate about. Often times, that is the very thing you most want to do, that you know will help you achieve a major life goal.
How crazy is that?
Everybody procrastinates. But the most productive of the creative types learn to manage it. Here’s how.
Understand the psychology of procrastination.
Procrastination is bound up in some of our most negative emotions.
- Perfectionism. Academics want to do well in the eyes of their peers. And making a mistake in a manuscript, or in front of a group of people, especially when it is pointed out by a peer, can be almost physically painful. But if you are productive, no matter how careful you are, mistakes are going to creep into your work. It’s inevitable. Perfectionism is even more pernicious if it creeps into our conceptual work. If we chose projects that are guaranteed with success, we will do very…normal…science.
- Anger. If you have an unresolved issue with a prickly colleague or committee member, it feels natural to put off dealing with it. But would you rather get it over with, or feel that regular pang of guilt/remorse?
- Frustration. Good science is hard work, and, if you’re doing it right, will frequently lead down dark alleys, some of which are dead ends. If you really loathe being frustrated, perhaps research science isn’t your bag. Remember, almost any truly creative endeavor is like washing that roasting pan that gave you that holiday turkey (hhmmmm…..turkey…….). That pan is going to look a lot worse before it looks better.
- Self-loathing. There is a common script among creative people that turns every success into an opportunity to beat yourself up. It’s the “OK, I’ve fooled them this far, but the next project, well, they’ll figure out what a fraud I am.” This must, IMO, be limbically hard-wired so that our ancestors never rested on their laurels, always strived to crank out one….more….offspring. Regardless, it’s out there.
Well, this has gotten a bit morose for the holidays, hasn’t it? Luckily, there is hope for the procrastinator in all of us.
5 ways to break the procrastination habit
1) Make a list
and keep it in a text file on your desktop. Open and modify when necessary.
“I’m delaying on ___________ because
Reasons for Reasons this silly
Just the act of writing this out can give you the courage to get on the horse and ride.
2 Break it down.
A big part of GTD is the “next smallest action”. Every project is just a bunch of small actions strung together. What is the next, smallest thing you can do to achieve your biggest life goal?
3) The five-minute procastination dash.
This is a beauty from Kirk at 43 folders.
“By making even the most modest bit of progress on your hated task, you’ve done what once seemed impossible: you got started. When you realize how much of the anxiety you’d experienced was created in your head, you’ll experience huge relief and give yourself the jolt needed to get back on track.You can do a dash any time and for virtually any kind of project. The task has not been conceived that cannot be made smaller and more dash-able.”
4) Advertise and share the pain.
Sometimes its peer pressure that can work for you. Want to run more? Get a running buddy. Want to write more? Arrange for a writing colloquium with you and your officemates: 10:30-12:00, every Thursday meet to write our papers, then go to lunch.
5) Plan for it.
If it’s not on your To do list, its not likely to get done. Make sure at least one Quadrant II activity is on your list every day.