January 17, 2016

The serious art of procrastination

Got some serious long-term project to do? One that is giving you a nagging thought that you should be making some progress towards it?

Well, clear that nagging thought – banish troubling thoughts from your mind. Instead, learn the art of procrastination.

If you join the wily team of good procrastinators you will never have to complete a tricky project ever again. Read on to find out how.

Focus on excuses, not benefits

One of the best places to start is always to find reasons for not doing a task, rather than wasting time focusing on any benefits of completing the project. 

Focusing on all the possible obstacles you can think of is much more the procrastinator’s friend than thinking positively about how it might make you or others feel if you have completed it.

A completed project is a project open to criticism

The trouble with completed projects (and probably what is causing that nagging doubt in the first place?) is:

  1.  A completed project is a project you are then able to be judged by. While you are still in the middle of the project (or before you have even started it), it might be a masterpiece. Once it’s completed, there is a chance that not everyone will immediately recognise your genius. You might be judged.
  2. A completed project sets a benchmark for your next project. People will expect you to actually improve, learn, take constructive feedback and they may point out that your project is less than perfect. All this will only increase the Nagging Doubt that you have been trying to avoid.
  3. A completed project is seldom ever that. It usually simply leads on to another project.
One of the biggest enemies of seriously good procrastination is any sort of real commitment to getting the job done.

If you never make a start you will never complete a project

One of the traps that might lead to making any progress on a project (or even to realise it might not be as bad as you realised) it to stop thinking about it and planning it and actually do it. Never be lured into thinking it might not be so bad if you just do a quick ten minutes on that project right now – committing to just ten minutes every day is worse than never actually starting – because you might discover you are actually making progress.

Avoid any commitment to ever completing or any sort of deadline

One of the huge enemies of successful procrastination is any sort of deadline.

If you aren’t given a deadline, then the serious procrastinator will never set any sort of self-imposed deadlines. Or – if a deadline absolutely can’t be avoided, the procrastinator knows that a really big, far away, long deadline means a much lower chance of ever getting to the end of the task.

For example, a deadline of having submitted to 20 agents by the end of the summer is a much better goal than one this Wednesday. Having got your novel completed and ready to submit by Christmas, is much more the procrastinator’s friend than committing to write for ten-minutes a day.

Doing ten minutes a day seems absurdly achievable, and before you know it, you will be well on your way to being held up for criticism and failure (see points one and two above). The bigger the goal the better. Small goals often not only lead to achievement - but getting more done than you planned for!

In particular, never involve any other people in pre-commitment goals. This can really sharpen any cost of not getting a job done and can lead to procrastination meltdown.

Resist setting any short-term rewards for goals achieved

The procrastinator simply must avoid any sort of tricks or reward associated with the completing of any task – any stage, however small, or any sort of encouragement towards progress. These are the enemy of the procrastinator.

Don’t want to write that tricky email? Setting yourself a time goal, followed by an associated short term treat (cup of tea, walk in the sunshine, chocolate biscuit, new pair of slippers), is far more likely to get the job done rather than trying to put it right out of your mind.

·         Never set time goals.
·         Never write down a goal.
·         Never find a way to reward yourself for a job completed.
·         Put the effort into working hard on forgetting all about it (you will get better at this).

First steps are particularly damaging and to be avoided. Never ever tie-in taking the first step to rewarding yourself with a treat.

Never prioritise

If you’ve not yet discovered the art of list making, you can turn this into a brilliant tool.

The big key to lists (apart from the amount of time you can devote to making them in the first place) is to shun any attempt to prioritise. Particularly to be avoided are organised lists that highlight either important tasks or urgent tasks.

A list for a typical working morning might look like this:

·         Making a cup of tea
·         Paying the gas bill
·         Checking email
·         Writing the next 1000 words of my novel
·         Researching a finer point of detail
·         Composing a tricky email following up with a contact about a potential bit of work that sounds like it might be a lot of bother, but might potentially lead to more work in and more income
·         Completing a small task with no urgency, eg unloading the dishwasher or photocopying an unimportant document
·         Updating Facebook with cute picture of cat

Clearly, the experienced procrastinator would have no difficulty in tackling these in the order that is likely to get the least amount done towards any serious project – and still feel good at so many ticks next to the list. But those new to procrastination can learn.

Never ask yourself why a job is not getting done

It is not even just simple progress that needs to be avoided. Steer clear of any sort of self-criticism, honest self-examination or any commitment to improving. But even the task itself should never be prodded to examine why that particular task is always lurking at the bottom of your to-do list and never actually gets done.

If it’s happy lurking. Leave it to lurk.

And go and make yourself a nice cup of tea.

Tips for improving your procrastination

Checking email is always a brilliant way to start the day (or perhaps a cup of tea first). Email is almost guaranteed to mean at least one additional distraction will have arrived in your inbox and save you. 

Doing any actual work can be delayed by at least an hour if you allow yourself to get sucked into any non-important, non-urgent tasks that come in via email.

Why set yourself a self-imposed deadline of not opening email before, say, 11am? Think of all that actual progress on any big or important tasks that you are avoiding.

Even the amateur procrastinator will have discovered wonderful time-sucking devices such as Facebook and Twitter. The trick to really making best use of these is to convince yourself you are networking and doing research and promotion, whereas what you are really doing is procrastinating. Well done. Give yourself a pat on the back. 

One of the enemies of procrastination is any sort of self-limiting device, such as only having the Wifi active at particular times of the day, or actually making note of the time spent on social media.

You may ask yourself “What if I’m not a natural procrastinator?”. Perhaps you tend to get through your highly prioritised to-do list regularly, and have a disciplined approach to writing. 

Habits can be changed

Perhaps you have worked hard to get into the habit of writing little and often, or a mindset of ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint’ has grown an unhealthy philosophy of steady, measured progress within a wider life of steady achievement. You may, over a number of years, have sadly become a very organised person.

Don’t worry. 

Procrastination is simply a matter of taking the foot off the accelerator and letting things drift on a regular basis. The really great thing about procrastination? If you want to get better at it, you don’t need to work at it at all.