1. Causes and Cures
--1.1 Satisfaction vs distance
--1.2 Fear of success & fear of change
--1.3 Fear of failure
--1.4 Wasting time and the procrastination cycle
--1.5 Self-discipline and attention problems
----1.5.1 How to train your attention/concentration
--1.7 Lack of motivation
--1.8 Negative thoughts
--1.9 E-mail/browsing addiction
2. Time management
--2.1 Start strong
--2.2 Set mail time, browsing time
--2.4 Periodic alarms
--2.5 Can't avoid enjoyment?
--2.6 Don't stop me now
3. What has worked best (for me) so far
Causes and cures
Satisfaction vs distanceFor what I've seen, and felt, the first and foremost cause for procrastination is a search for immediate satisfaction. Our sense of satisfaction is more or less like our vision... The Empire State Building from 1 kilometer looks as big as a mobile phone from 1 meter, but obviously the former is a lot bigger than the latter. Surfing the web is a little satisfying, but can be done NOW, but finishing your work (thesis, in my case) is a lot of satisfaction in a few years.
Fear of success & fear of changeI think I hear you muttering "Don't you mean fear of failure?". No, I don't mean fear of failure, but later I will have something to say about it. Fear of success happens, and is usually what hides is being afraid of change. Success brings change: more responsibility, a new job, a different job, a new place, new colleagues.
Fear of failure
A possible solution is... well, failing. Do some things in your life expecting to fail, and keep doing it until you don't feel like you are being judged but what you are not able to do. Or try something new, something you know you can't do. It may be hard to do so, but hard problems have no easy solutions.
Wasting time and the procrastination cycleWake up, shower, turn on computer, take some coffee, read your mail, your news feed... you start to feel dizzy, with a fog-like feeling in your brain...start browsing... Damn, dinner time? Where has my morning gone? Have you ever felt like this? This keeps happening day after day, getting you in a downward spiral where you procrastinate, realize you haven't done anything useful, get depressed, and procrastinate again.
Self-discipline and attention problems
How to train your attention/concentration?Training your attention is easy, but requires quite a lot of work. Here are some of the most standard exercises:
- Mentally count words in a book. Start with something easy like a paragraph and check, then make it harder counting a whole page, chapter...
- Count backwards in your head (if you find it too easy, count backwards in 3's or 4's, or whatever).
- Practice some form of meditation.
- Pick something you do quite often (maybe writing by hand, or with a computer) and try to be as attentive as possible of what you are doing. Try to make your writing clearer and cleaner, or type as swiftly and consciously as you can.
PerfectionismBeing a perfectionist may be a good thing... but can lead to elaborate and perfect solutions which never get done. "Too difficult. Why bother? I have found a solution". And then the deadline arrives and you carry just a small part of your perfect plan. Acknowledging this problem is the first step... the next is choosing which way to take. A perfect and beautiful solution, or looking for a not so perfect but also not so difficult solution? My best bet would be to just take the hard but good solution and stick with it. The results will then come.
Lack of motivationA great deal has been written about motivation (external, internal, boosting... what not!) and how to motivate yourself. Switching your job for one you like more, fighting your task as if it was your worst enemy and should be defeated, overcoming our limitations, looking at the task from the best and worst outcomes, etc. In short, you should seek your own motivation, or what motivates you. And when you find it, stick with it. More about this in a post to come.
Negative thoughtsOvercoming negative attitudes will help with our overall habits. It is essential to break the cycle procrastination-depression. And to break it, you should start doing some work. We may also change our thoughts, and words which link us
- Change "I have to" with "I would like to".
- Change "Finish something" with "Start something".
E-mail/browsing addictionThese are usually the results of procrastinating, not the causes. By avoiding them you will be almost forced to do some work. The easiest way to avoid them is just being completely centered in your objectives, but at first this isn't enough. You need some kind of time management that allows you to do work and avoid work, although it may sound silly.
Start strongStart your day (either at home or at the office) doing some work for at least half an hour straight. This is by far what has helped me the most. Don't read your mail, or idle browse the net until at least one hour of work. I will talk more about this later, as it has been the best for me.
Set mail time, browsing timeSet a minimum work time before checking e-mail. I work for an hour before opening my mail account (unless I am waiting for some urgent thing, I just open, look for answer and read NO mail unrelated to it) in the morning and in the afternoon. Also try to avoid idle-browsing but you can set some week time for it. I use to do it at night before going to sleep.
(10+2)·5Our goal is to work exclusively and with our full attention on one of the items of our today list, for 10 minutes, and then do whatever you want for 2 minutes. Now repeat, taking the next item in your list. When we are starting it is better not to skip breaks, but soon you will be so immersed in your work that you won't be able to stop.
Found in 43Folders.
Periodic alarmsSet a periodic alarm (a bell, or something not really disturbing) to start after 15 or 20 minutes. Each time it sounds we must consider what we are doing (is it work? is it wasting time?) and then center ourselves in work. I don't really recommend this, as can be disturbing when you are "flowing" with what you are doing.
Can't avoid enjoyment?If we need so much enjoyment and playing, one solution may be to make a weekly schedule (Sunday afternoon is a good moment) and set time for every pleasing, playful and enjoyable thing you can do. Set also time for doing "nothing". After one day, or maybe less we will feel like we don't have time to work, and strangely enough, we will be craving for work.
Don't stop me nowThe best, but hardest way to be the most productive, without paying attention to what you want to do is "never stop". Be prepared with a heavy to-do list, with a lot of things to be done. To get this list, break big projects into small projects, and small into tiny. And at the start of what you consider your work day, just keep doing things in that list (lunch time is not considered work time). At the end of the day you will feel exhausted, but also will have the feeling of a really successful day.
This solution, as good as it is has some drawbacks. Doing this is very tiresome, and getting a really big to-do list is hard. One way to solve this is keep always a notebook (small one) with you, with different pages, corresponding to different times. As an example, the 10 minute page,
the 30 minute page. In each one you write down the tasks you seriously think you can accomplish in this amount of time. Now, every time you run out of work, consider what amount of time do you have, take the corresponding (or closest) page and do one thing from the list. Just
never, ever stop. Clean the room, organize your mail, do phone calls. Anything.
What has worked best (for me) so farTo start strong in the morning at home, plan what you will be doing today. Take a piece of paper, your agenda, your PDA and write everything work-related and leisure related. You may write "Correct pages 1 and 2 of X" and "Play one game of Y". It is better to write clearly what you will do, do not write "Correct some pages of X", be precise of what your aim is. Do not under or over estimate what you can do in a day. Also, keep time for mail and browsing, but keep them from eating your day.
Also, setting one don't stop me day, helps when you seem to be unable to start. Make a huge list and the next available day crush it.
Meditating is a great help... athough it doesn't seem so while you are doing it. Meditating every day helps to be focused all day long, keeping your mind centered in what you want to do.
SoftwareA few programs have helped me (at least a little) to just work. I list the two I use most, but will add more later.
- Think (Mac only): Just keep your eyes in your work. As a side note, Cmd-Alt-D hides the dock.
- 3-2-1 (Mac widget): A simple timer for Mac's.
Feel free to comment, and I'll try to add any feedback to the corresponding sections. If you have read this far, thank you.