Hacking Procrastination

Some time ago, I was on a coaching call, and I noticed that they were getting frustrated as they talked more and more about all the work they weren’t getting done. I remarked that they seemed to be frustrated, and they then expressed that they keep putting everything off, and all this procrastination is killing them.

We talked for a while, and I told them a story about a time I had a lot to do, and my urge to procrastinate kicked in. By the end of the conversation, we had talked about how to stop treating procrastination as a problem, but rather let it be as it is and then leverage it.

Brains Are Funny

I’ve noticed a pattern as a “Big” problem confronts my brain. Big, in this sense, is anything that would require significant mental effort to accomplish.

The pattern is that my mind wants to focus on trivial things instead. Let’s say I’m trying to write a book, and I’m struggling to figure out what I should put into it and what I shouldn’t. Well, my mind is going to consider that a big problem and instead wander to smaller things. I’ll notice my desk is dirty, or that there was something I needed to order on Amazon. Anything smaller will become my focus and distraction.

As far as I can tell, our brains have a pretty standard reaction to hard work: Avoid it.

This might mean that procrastination is less about a flaw that we have and more about our brain’s natural desire to stay relaxed and not burn calories.

So Much To Do

If our brains want to avoid hard problems, I can predict when I will feel this urge. It’ll happen any time I try to solve a tricky problem.

Knowing this, I can stack the deck against my brain.

The first thing I need to do is make a list of stuff I keep putting off. I need this list to be visible to me. That is a big part of this. If I know what I’m avoiding, I can play my dirty trick. If I don’t know, then I’m at the whim of my lazy brain’s deceit.

Just Bounce

The moment comes where you realize you’re procrastinating. The brain is looking to do anything else. Physically start one of the other things on the list.

Something funny kind of happens. It is almost like the brain is so interested in avoiding one thing that it doesn’t realize it started another. And once physically started, the mind feels a little relaxed by something else happening. This sensation may not last too long, but it gets something moving again. If the sensation arises again, bounce to something else.

Blocking Time

A lot of people advise that you should block time out in your day to do things. I’ve never found that useful. My brain and body don’t care about my calendar. Instead of using a calendar, I’m more inclined to focus on my energy and attitude.

Some people think this feels chaotic, but all it means is that I could be working on one of a dozen things at any given point. I don’t find it matters that one day I write in the morning versus at night. I use my energy and desire to procrastinate to keep me moving to the things I want to get done.

That Isn’t Efficient

So what? Take the progress for what it is, progress. My coachee called me back a few weeks after, and they had knocked most things out on their list. They just acknowledged the moment they felt like procrastinating and wanting to get busy on something small and shuffled to another thing. It wasn’t painful or awful. He was able to use his desire for distraction to diminish his list of items.

So that’s one of the weird tricks I play on myself. Know the moment I’m procrastinating, and use that desire to do something else and do one of the things I put off some other time. It’s a game of redirection, not force.