Dealing with procrastination: use what you already have!
Like any others, I’ve struggled a lot with procrastination at times in my life. Owning my own business and having obtained a master’s degree in French literature while working full-time has solved some of those issues, by pure necessity. Like so many things we wish we could do, when we have to get on with work because we have no time left, we’re suddenly able to. Necessity breeds diligence.
But there’s more to procrastination than that. To anybody struggling with the subject, I wholeheartedly recommend listening to iProcrastinate, an excellent podcast on the topic by Timothy Pychyl, a procrastination researcher. Even this recommendation, however, might be somewhat dangerous, because the tendency to read articles about procrastination is in itself a form of procrastination. There is one quote in his podcast however that I found especially inspiring and great at explaining what procrastination ultimately is: procrastinating means “not getting on with your life”, because those things you should be doing – because your job or studies require it, or because you want to be a writer, painter, runner, thin, whatever – are what you chose for your life. So not getting on with it is useless time wasting.
If you tend to procrastinate, i.e. you delay or simply don’t do things that should be done right now because this is the best moment to do them, then your solution to this issue shouldn’t be mostly research on procrastination. It should be maybe 10% research and 90% actually doing what you want to do. If you have read 3 books about procrastination and / or task management so far, you’ve already done too much research. It’s really no rocket science. Much reading and planning and organising is not a way to better get things done, but a way to feel like you’ve accomplished something without actually getting to the core, to the ‘meat’ of the sandwich.
Step 1: Make up your mind about what’s worth doing
One question is important to answer, and needs regular answering. What is it that you really have to do? If your todo list has 200 items on it, that’s too much. If you have 100 friendships to maintain, that’s also too much. So the first step to solving the issue is finding out what’s truly worth doing. Don’t spread yourself too thin. I’ve consistently seen in my own life that having four different side projects (things like learning to program, language learning, and stuff like that) means I don’t really have enough time to do any of them properly. Make your life simple enough that you don’t need ten different calendars, todo and GTD apps to deal with it.
Step 2: Do that, and look at the rest as a bonus
Once you’ve simplified your life and know what matters, schedule it. Don’t just let the day drift by while you plan each day anew. Find a time and place to do the things that matter. It shouldn’t have to be a new plan each day. So make a plan, and stick to it. A calendar / scheduler is a wonderful tool if you know how to use it. Many people don’t, despite the simplicity of these tools. Like in many other areas, becoming proficient at a skill is first of all about mastering the basics, really mastering them. You don’t need a fancy app for that. Once you’ve got the essentials down, don’t worry about the rest, the unessential things. Do them when you have time, but don’t let them become a source of stress. You also need time to breathe and relax if you don’t want to burn out. While I used to agonise over when to do my workout or go running, I now do both right before dinner in 99% of cases, because this ensures I don’t need to worry about when I do it, and I start the afternoon with a real sense of accomplishment.
Some tools to help
If you have long-term projects to manage, a good way to see if you’re on track is this spreadsheet, which shows you how quickly you should make progress if you want to finish by a certain date, and how fast you’re actually making progress. This helps you a) keep you on track or at least b) realise when a given deadline you’ve set for yourself is unrealistic and needs to be adjusted. Aside from that, check out Habitica if you need some additional motivation.