Monday, December 17, 2012

Is Procrastination Your Problem?

Here's how to beat it.

Tools required:

1 Kitchen timer
1 Planner

Why procrastination?

I want to start you off where I started. With putting things off.

I had the problem in the beginning of college. I really put things off. I started drawings at three in the morning before they were due. I woke up at six before class and finished them--barely. I dreaded studio. I skipped class. I missed deadlines and had to beg my instructor to give me extensions, citing "bad breakups" and relationship problems as my excuse. I felt like a failure.

A straight-A student in high school, I was now getting C's. And it was a downward spiral. The worse I did, the worse I felt, the less I tried, and the more I put off.

I went to see a counselor, who recommended a book called, The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore. I won't be cliche and say this book changed my life. I will say it started a spark that has turned into an inferno. At the suggestion of this book, I changed one little habit, and it showed me that I could change any habit.

I'm not trying to advertise the book, so I will give you the secret--don't worry, it's not so much of a secret that I'm risking copyright violation by telling you.

The Secret to Beating Procrastination

Schedule the fun

Schedule the things you do for fun, not the work. Don't put "file taxes" or "finish term paper" in your planner. Instead, write in "hang out with friends," "go to the beach," or "read a book." Write in everything you want to do. Be good to yourself. Procrastination comes from feeling like work is eating away at our lives. Never let work eat away at your life. So schedule the fun part of your life, not the dreaded part.

Here's what will happen.

After you schedule in the fun, you will realize just how much of your day is taken up by the good stuff. And you'll be like, "oh, crap, if I want to go to the beach with my boyfriend on Thursday, read a book on Wednesday, visit my little sister tomorrow, and take two hours just to write in my journal tonight, then I don't have time tonight, tomorrow, Wednesday, or Thursday to write my term paper."

"Hmm. We'll I'm not doing anything right now..."

Okay, so maybe it's not that easy. But it's almost that easy. Once you guarantee that you're getting all the time you want for yourself, your relaxation, your friends and loved ones, your health, and your well being, you'll "hate" your work a lot less because it won't be competing with these things. In fact, you might even start to think it's fun. But there's still one more step.

Limit the work

"What? This is crazy! It's counter-intuitive! You're telling me I'll get more work done by scheduling fun things and limiting work?" Yep. I am.

But it has to be done intelligently. Procrastination is the fear of starting, wouldn't you agree? In order to completely obliterate that fear, we have to make starting really easy.

Here's what you're probably thinking: "As soon as I sit down at that desk, eight to twelve hours will be forcibly ripped from the fabric of my life, taking with it whole chunks of my soul. I will not enjoy a millisecond of it. In fact, those eight to twelve hours--possibly more--will be exactly equal to a hundred billion years in purgatory. Hell, I'd rather do the time in purgatory."

Am I right?

No wonder you're putting off siting at that desk. So here's what you do. Get out that kitchen timer and set it for fifteen minutes. Fifteen. That's all you have. Wow, you might not even be able to turn on the computer and open the word document in that much time. Or how about those taxes? It'll take thirty minutes just to track down all those envelopes and loose forms.

See what's happening? Now you're aware of all the hurdles. All that time, you had been trying to start your taxes, when in reality, you should have been just trying to track down the forms. When you have such a short time, you start thinking about things in smaller chunks. There's an old saying: how do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time, baby!

So you do whatever you can in fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes! That's shorter than your average shower. You can definitely do fifteen minutes. But--as soon as that timer goes off, you stop. STOP! Do not write another word. Put the pencil down and step away from the desk.

Now go reward yourself. Watch a TV show or eat a candy bar. Or jog if that's your thing. Call up a friend. Pat yourself on the back. You've just started.

Be really good to yourself in the beginning. You'll work up to thirty minutes on the timer, less rewards, and eventually you might stop using the timer altogether. I still use my kitchen timer, although I just enter in the amount of time I've allotted to work. Like right now, I have twelve minutes left (out of two hours) to finish this blog post.

Another great thing to do is keep track of all the time chunks you've worked. Make a chart, and give yourself rewards when you reach thirty minutes, or two hours. You'll start wanting to put in the next fifteen minutes, rather than dreading putting in the full ten hours.

That's how you beat procrastination. Take back what it's been stealing from you, then cut it into little pieces.

Thanks for reading,
Dan Rix, author of Entanglement


  1. This is legit advice, Dan. I need to try it. I procrastinate so much. I blame my high school for that because everyone in our batch is a procrastinator. I guess we were "raised" to be this way by the high-pressure environment. :)

    1. Thanks, Dianne! Yeah, us too:) I remember in high school my friends and I would actually brag about how late we had started a project the night before. And once a habit starts, it tends to continue unless you work to reverse it. But it's amazing how just working on something for five minutes can take all the stress away--as long as you don't slack on the rewards:D