You know the word. You’ve heard it before. Perhaps you even used it yourself. You get all jittery when someone whispers it in a dark alley after dusk.
Yeah, quite awful isn’t it? It seems to be a more ubiquitous of an ailment than the common cold. But wait! There are certainly a lot of books on the topic and how to deal with it; how to be productive. I looked it up, Amazon will show you over 7130 results if you type that into the search bar. Seems like a lot to go through, though just the first result reads: Procrastination Cure. Easy enough, let’s just delve into one of these little guides.
But wait, it’s not really working is it? Well there are certainly a lot of tricks and ways to make yourself pick up the habits you really want to have. Yeah well, turns out it’s more complicated than that.
From the medical point of view, procrastination is the very much logical mechanism for jittery cavemen who sought instant gratification, like sex or food. It’s a great way to survive, should you live in the ice age. Though it is most inconvenient nowadays when you just absolutely need to finish that term paper yet the next season of GoT is coming up (it’s the 17th by the way) and you just catch yourself binge watching all the previous seasons.
The main way in which tricks which battle procrastination work (this is important in order to understand, pay close attention) is to provide the brain something else. Our brains, curious little guys, seek instant gratification. Binge eating, show watching, having sex, etc. NOW, the brain wants it NOW. It doesn’t want to wait. Imagine you are having a conversation with your brain.
You: Alright, so can we do the term paper now? I am failing sociology, I need to do this.
Brain: What do I get out of it.
You: Well, we don’t get to fail and stay at uni for a bit more. Also, if we have a good grade, we can get a first. And then, we can get, like a really cool job. And then we’ll have like lots of money so we can be lazy and watch like, films in the bed all the time.
Brain: So, now you want me to toil away and do this incredibly boring… thing, and then in 10 years I get something back?
Brain: Sod off.
It doesn’t sound all that great, if you are the brain, does it? Why would the brain want to do that, it wants something now. It wants to be shown it is a good boy. It wants dopamine and it can’t get it from writing the term paper (except at the end). Let me outline for you an exercise which is rather effective against procrastinating.
Let’s say you need to do a task which involved a lot of smaller tasks. Say, you are a free-lancer and you need to write up 10 blog posts in order to pay the rent. Get two glasses and 10 paper clips. Now, fill one of the glasses with the paper clips and using a dry, erasable marker, let’s call the first glass to-do. Using the same marker, label the empty glass done.
Recap: two glasses, one done the other to-do. The first one is empty and the other one is filled with 10 paper clips.
Now, this is the hard part. Start writing. Sit down and write the first blog post. See, that wasn’t so tough. Here comes the fun part, take one of the paper clips from the to-do glass and place it into the other glass. Now the score is 9 to 1. The next post, another paper clip. You get the idea.
The basic principle behind this is that your brain gets immediate feedback. It sees that it did something. You moved the paper clip into the other glass. Good job, get yourself a pat on the shoulder! (That was a metaphor. Brains don’t have shoulders.)
Quite unfortunately, no one is going to explain to you why those exercises work, so I hope you enjoyed the summary. People do spread these tricks don’t really understand them and people who devised them are way too clever to explain them in laymen terms. Now when you understand it, you can easily come up with your own exercises and modify them. For example, instead of paper clips, you can have biscuits. Reward yourself and the brain will be happy for you to work as long as you want.
You still here? I guess you are really looking for a way to stop procrasting. Alright, let me give you a little guide: head over to Habitica.com and try that our for yourself. I will soon write a short review where I will thoroughly dissect the idea behind the project.