If you remember from last time, here were my stated big life goals:
- Learn to stop procrastinating
- Write a novel
- Learn to code
- Learn to play guitar
- Become fluent in French
And I put stop procrastinating at the top of the list, because until I concur that one, the others are going to be much more difficult to pull off.
I began doing some more research on procrastination, looking for advice, research, and tools that would help me curb the habit. It turns out, not surprisingly, that the internet has a lot to say about this. I’ve had a lot to read, and some YouTube videos to watch, and this is what I’ve found to be most relevant and helpful to me. It may not be what’s best for you. Also, if you’re reading this, and you have a technique that you want to share, there’s a comment section for that, and I hope you’ll use it. I want to help as many of you out there as possible.
But first, a little humor from The Onion about what I’m trying to do here with this whole ‘Big Life Goals’ project:
“Just find the thing you enjoy doing more than anything else, your one true passion, and do it for the rest of your life on nights and weekends when you’re exhausted and cranky and just want to go to bed.”
It’s easy to get discouraged; I’ve spent long periods of time feeling like I don’t have the emotional energy to work on my own stuff after putting in 40+ hours a week doing someone else’s stuff for the paycheck that pays for my life, because my stuff isn’t making me a dime. Writing is something I truly love to do, and it’s not physically tasking, but it’s still exhausting. So my first piece of anti-procrastinating advice is this:
Take a nap
I didn’t read this one on the internet anywhere; I came up with it all on my own. (Which is of course, not to say that no one else said it on the internet, for the internet is vast, and I have not read all of it…yet.) If you feel like you should or want to do something, but you’re lagging and drowsy, and you just can’t get yourself motivated, do what the college kids do, and take a snooze break. It’s important, however, that you time yourself. If you sleep too long, you won’t go to bed at night, and you’ll spend the rest of the day, at work or school or wherever you spend your days, feeling all cracked out and tense, and then the cycle just repeats itself. You’ll come home in the evening, and you’ll just be too tired to sit down and write, or program, or practice French. Whatever it is that you’ve decided you’d like to do with yourself in your lifetime.
Have a snack
This goes along with the nap. If you want your brain to work, you need to give it fuel. If you give yourself a little bit of a snack, your brain will be ready to focus, and a grumbling stomach will be one less distraction. I’m typing this with an ice cream sandwich in my hand.
Turn off Facebook
Or Tumblr, or Twitter, or YouTube, or whatever your go to time suck is. I am not proud of myself, but I am fairly addicted to Facebook. I want to go on there and be the first person to post the most witty reply to everything my friends post. It’s silly. It’s not making the world a better place. And to top it off, studies show that spending time on Facebook actually makes you lonely. If you’re like me, and you almost can’t help yourself from opening the page, there are apps for that, and I’ll go over them in my next installment, where I’ll talk about all the tools that can help you procrastinate less and be more productive.
Break it Up
This came up in the comments of the last post, and it’s the most frequent advice you’ll see anywhere when you start researching procrastination. It’s highly unlikely that you can write a novel, learn an entire coding language, or master an instrument in a single sitting, as I said before. So the thing to do is to break your goals into a series of smaller goals. Study one chapter in a Python book. Have one conversation in French with your cat. (Je parle francais a mon chat.) Write 300 words of your novel. Even this blog post is a good example of this. I was originally going to write one single post about all this Life Goals and Procrastination stuff, but it proved to be just too much for me to take on all at once, so I kept not doing it. Once I decided to break it up, it became a lot easier. Writing a whole novel is such a huge project that it seems almost impossible to even conceive. Writing 300 words? I can do that while standing on my head.
Write a List
I have always been, deep in my soul, anti-to-do-list. To-do lists, I’ve always thought, took the spontaneity and fun out of life. And who ever actually pays any attention to them once they’ve written them? You put all this stuff on the list, and then you do everything that’s not on it. What I’ve started doing is keeping four to-do lists. One for today, one for tomorrow, one for the week, and one for the year. I decide what’s possible to get done today, and anything and everything I want to do today is on it. If I think of something throughout the day that needs doing, I’ll add it to the list, or if I can’t do it today, I’ll put it on tomorrow’s. That way there’s no stress about forgetting it, and it’s not distracting me. I also try to predict what I’ll have time to do tomorrow. I keep my eye on my calendar, so that if I know I have social engagements or what have you, I put less stuff on my list for that day. The week list has everything I hope to get done by the end of the week. If I want to write three times this week, I’ll put it on the list three times. Then when I’m making out my today and tomorrow lists, I try to make sure I keep track of how many of each of those I do. The year list is things that I may not be able to do this week, but I want to keep track of down the line.
Here’s a cool YouTube video about lists:
Have a Notebook
Whether it’s online, or in an app, or physically a pen and paper old-school notebook, you should have a place to put down your random ideas, questions, and thoughts. You want to deposit them somewhere so that you know you can come back to them later, and that you won’t forget. If you are in the middle of learning a new song on guitar, and suddenly the question “how do armadillos breed?” pops into your head, what you don’t want to do is open up Google right then and there, because the next thing you know, you’ll be down the rabbit hole, clicking from link to link, and deeper and deeper into the internet.
I see a lot of suggestions out there about charts or calendars. Mark off or add a gold star each day that you do some work toward your goal or project. If you see the stars adding up for days in a row, it’ll motivate you to keep doing it. You won’t want to break the chain, and end the good vibes of self-esteem you’re getting for accomplishing it. For some people, promising themselves gifts when they reach certain benchmarks could also be motivational. “Once I’ve finished the first half of my novel, I’ll buy myself a shiny new soap dish!”
I believe I’ve said before that the fear of public embarrassment is highly motivating for me. I would finally sit down to write my paper on the day it was due, because I couldn’t face what the teacher might say if I didn’t turn it in, let alone what anyone else would say when they saw my poor grades. I learned musical parts right before shows, because I didn’t want to get up in front of an audience and make a huge mistake. So some sort of negative consequence could be helpful to keep you on track. It’s probably best to combine this with a positive reinforcement.
Prioritize Goofing Off
It’s not really feasible to be a 24/7 productivity machine. Or even if it is, it doesn’t sound like much fun. I know that I do a much better job of getting things done, if I know that there will be a chance to do something less taxing later. So, on my daily to-do list, I may have “study Python for 45 minutes” but I also have, “watch Monty Python”. There’s also techniques, like the Pomodoro Technique where you break up tasks into 25 minute chunks with 5 minute breaks in-between to goof off.
This, of course, is not the end of this series, but it’s a good place to stop for today, while I go accomplish something else on my to-do list. Stay tuned for Part 3, where I think I’ll go over some of the tools I’ve been using to help curb my procrastination. And here’s some links for more reading:
Links to More Ideas About Beating Procrastination (Not Comprehensive)
And, seriously, if you have any suggestions about procrastination beating tips and tricks, post below. I love comments!