Sunday, January 17, 2010

Recreate, Don't Procrastinate! (Or: How to Get Shit Done so You Can Enjoy Your Effin Life)

Click to enlarge this pretty amazing flow-chart on internet procrastination. So fresh, so apt, so true.

Procrastinating: it's what I'm doing right now. I've got a really intense project looming over my head (gosh, when don't I..), but there's something about a four-day weekend that screams, "Take a day for yourself!" So here I am, sipping strawberry chocolate smoothies, having a Robert Downey Jr marathon (one of my New Year's resolutions is to watch his complete filmography), and telling you how I'm going to rectify this once I'm smoothie-d out. Because, ordinarily, I'm pretty good at getting things done once I've resolved to do them. If you want to stop procrastinating, all you need is a game plan.

If you're going to do something, you need to know exactly what you're doing. So for example, if you wanted to bake a cake, you'd need a certain amount of time, certain ingredients, certain cooking utensils - a working oven, even. So before you could even think about the actual cake, maybe you'd need to clear an afternoon, go grocery shopping, run the dishwasher, and pay your gas bill so they'll turn the electricity back on. Baking a cake can be so much more than simply baking a cake because even simple tasks can (and often do) have sub-tasks. Figure out your sub-tasks, how you're going to complete them, and the time necessary for each one - because doing this is like making an activity-specific recipe for success. And if you've got a recipe, you can save a lot of time and frustration in you're life's "kitchen."

Nothing gives you a quick kick in the ass quite like a deadline, and there's a very obvious reason for this: deadlines make time finite. Even if we're apt to put things off until the very last minute, deadlines ensure that there is a last minute; so rather than being some ambiguous goal bobbing in the currents of our subconscious, deadlines push tasks right into the forefront of our thoughts and timetables. They make our goals real and thus more manageable, which makes them easier to accomplish. Deadlines also create some sort of consequence (even if it's just a matter of letting ourselves down) if we don't do things when we say we're going to.

Maybe you have a to-do list a mile long. Speaking from my own experience, the longer my to-do lists become, the more daunting they seem, so that's why I get the most important things done first. Obstacles can creep up from the most unlikely places and we can lose our steam halfway through our list. With the most important things done and out of the way, you guarantee that something gets done (which is satisfying), and you alleviate the stress of Really Important Tasks looming over you. Plus, if something's really time sensitive and you tackle it as soon as possible, you leave room for those unexpected delays that could have really messed things up.

If the reason you're not getting something done is that you have too many distractions, get rid of them. It's just that simple. Set up a separate account on your computer where you can't get online. Block your time-wasting websites. Get out of the house to a quiet spot. Turn on music so it's not too quite. Whatever you need to avoid, figure out a way to avoid it because willpower isn't always enough. Basically, you're shooting yourself in the foot just letting those distractions dangle like carrots, so throw them away and get on with your life.

What happens if you don't get certain things done? Some things come with their own obvious consequences: if you don't pay rent on time, you get a fine. If you don't turn in an assignment on time, you get points taken off. If you don't meet your friends on time, you lose their confidence. But some consequences aren't as obvious. Maybe there's something you really want to do, but it's much easier to talk about than to pursue. But hey, who's it really hurting besides you? Well, "you" should be enough.

Chronic procrastinators get stuck in chronically letting themselves down. Instead of living in the now (working towards goals, celebrating accomplishments), chronic procrastinators wind up spending a lot of time in the past and the future, lamenting all the things they haven't done, idly planning more things they won't do. Another frequent and unintended consequence of abandoning personal goals is having only boring shit to talk about - because all you did instead of what you said you were going to do, was boring shit. Personally, I'd rather talk about a totally rad zine I wrote or some cool band I put together (chya, like I have any musical talent...) than the video games I played or movies I watched instead. So reminding ourselves why we do things - and what happens if we don't - can be a very helpful tool in motivating us to get them done.

There's nothing quite as satisfying as having something I really, really, REALLY didn't want to do, done and over with. The sooner an unpleasant task is behind me, the sooner I can look forward to, you know, pleasant things. Procrastinating always seems kind of fun when I'm doing it because anything is better than that unpleasant activity I'm avoiding, but here's the catch: whatever I'm doing instead of what I need to do is never as satisfying as it could be because I'm being nagged by that other thing. Even fun things get easier when I think of that feeling of accomplishment I get finishing them because accomplishment in and of itself is a useful motivation.

... so with the whole "getting unpleasant things behind me" thing in mind, I'm now going to check on the pasta I have drying for the pasta sculpture I'm shooting for a C on! (Me? A C-student? That's exactly what this project means to me...)

What do you do when procrastination starts getting the best of you?


  1. Those are all good ideas. I wish I had something to add. I am so bad when it comes to procrastinating.

  2. LOL, I love that procrastination chart!

    great tips - I'm definitely a deadline setter, it helps a lot!