“My name is Nils, I procrastinate.”
Guess what world? This guy's a procrastinator (I'm talking about me, yes). We've all got our demons to fight, big or small. I do get stuff done, however the number of random allnighters it has taken is undeniable. “Overtime is failure of management,” as decreed in the kung fu of extreme programming (it really is).
This post is inspired by this marvellous chrome app called Stayfocusd, which simply times the pages you set it to time blocking you out when time's up. Especially inspiring is occasional conversational dialogues, like when I wanted to extend the allowance time today. It starts out at five minutes, but I subsequently lowered it to one minute which was much praised by the app. I must've counted ten dialogue boxes imploring me not to go and raise the timer. Even, though I must've hurt the app's feelings I stand firm by my action. Regardless, the point is after telling me off a last time the app directed the browser to go to a web page on procrastination. In short, it was great. The text hit some of the pain points I've been somewhat unable to identify myself.
Four Simple Reasons for Procrastination
- Difficult – the task seems hard to do; we naturally tend to avoid difficult things in favor of those which seem easy to us.
- Time-consuming – the task will take large blocks of time, and large blocks of time are unavailable until the weekend.
- Lack of knowledge or skills – no one wants to make mistakes, so wait until you learn how before you start.
- Fears – everyone will know how you screwed up.
I'm a big fan of mindfullness and meditation, and recently I've started playing Superbetter which is a web site for gamifying all sorts of personal development or personal recovery. My superhero alias on there is “Nils the Bard,” inspired by the D&D concept of the bard roleplaying class. In addition to the nifty alias I configured superbetter for tackling stress, and it's working to some extent. This online game has given me much. Nevertheless, I think its my tendency to procrastinate that causes most of my stress.
Perhaps. At least I think so. :)
I have failed many times at managing my time, and been rewarded with B's and a couple of A's thereby rewarding and reinforcing that behaviour for the future according to that article on procrastination. This insight, well I can agree with it since it's in tune with what many articles on mindfullness state. Our minds don't stop developing in our teens, but continue developing getting better at whatever we tell it to. If we think a lot of negative thoughts, our mind will reinforce the circuitry related to negative thinking.
Personally, I think I've become real good at putting certain tasks of. Tasks that matter to me often force me into thinking that I need to prepare more, learn more or find a better time when I'm in a better mood or something silly like that. (Afterthought edit, I see now that I ended that sentence in an unhealthy freudian slip.)
The article on procrastination (which I urge you to read) finishes with a list of common arguments for putting off work for later, and challenges the reader to counter these arguments. Which I did! I apologize for some of the fancy wording throughout, I just like to write whatever words come to mind, sometimes they're a bit olden.
Arguments for and against procrastination
“I'm more productive when I work under pressure, so I'm postponing all my work until the pressure builds up and then I'll get it done easily.”
You may get a good grade, maybe. What's really happening is that you're depriving the project of its resources. The time spent on the task as well as the time spent relaxing between work cycles matter. In other words, start the task early and the answer will have time to mature.
“I don't know how to do this problem, so I'm waiting until I know how before I do it.”
The chance of you making some fatal error is not high. Regardless, you'll be learning all along. And if you started the task early you'll have time to actually apply that newfound knowledge. Learning by doing, learning by erring.
“This task isn't getting done because I really don't want to do it. And that's the honest truth”
If it needs to get done, it needs to get done. More likely you fear the task because you view it as a chance to fail publicly broadcasting your inadequacy. Which will never happen, even though you've seen such public manhunts on tv in regards to politics.
“Relax. The world isn't going to come to an end if this doesn't get done.”
You're right, the world won't end but that ‘s just expanding an argument until it looks silly. It's merely a rhetorical safehaven, and irrational at the same time. The world won't end, but the task will.
“This job is easier to do when I'm in the mood, and I'm simply not in the mood right now.”
If you're not in the mood for the task now, there won't be a good chance that you'll be in the mood for the task later. Has it ever happened before, that you felt so spontaneously ecstatic that you changed your mind about some task you were putting off for later, grabbed it and started working on it?
“I waited until the last moment before and it worked out okay, so why not this time?”
Firstly, your mind is probably tricking you already having glossed over and sugar coated the excruciating allnighters.
“If I wait until the last minute, I won't spend so much time on it.”
If you do it now you won't spend as much time mulling over whether or not you should commence said task. Thinking about the task is taxing and the weight is self-reinforcing.
“If I do this work right now, I'll miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime social event.”
If you work consistently, putting in consistent amounts of work you'll be better able to gauge your progress and pull out social breaks when needed.
“Circumstances beyond my control prevented me from doing so.”
Remind yourself of what you want to accomplish before asking yourself, “what's the stopping me from starting/completing the task right now?”
“I've worked on this for so long that I have no interest or energy for it.”
More likely you've been thinking about working on that task for too long. Think about the task when you're working on it, not otherwise. When you (most likely) do get ideas while on break from the task write the ideas down ready to be pulled out when you're going to work.
So, did I procrastinate by writing this? Maybe. But at least I spent an hour thinking and writing about overcoming procrastination. Hopefully it'll stick. I'll head out and buy myself a beverage, get back home and start light work on one of those spesky tasks that has been left idling for too long. Now go play in the sun. :)