Do you ever have that thing where you have too many good ideas? Or at least, a lot of ideas that seem good, if only you could do them all. If only I did not have to go to my job, or see my friends ever, or take my cat to the vet, I would be able to write all these stories and make all these YouTube videos and post all these blogs. My studies would be going so much faster, and I could write that program that would do that thing.
Why can’t I just be unemployed and unloved? It would be perfect!
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was Mara talking right there.
Okay, not exactly Mara, but maybe you know what I mean. That’s the path away from reality and into a cyclical self-created drama that only exists in my head.
The thing is, time is finite. When I leave this world, whenever that is, there will be a lot of things that I won’t have done that I would like to. That happens to everyone.
And then I got this stupid cold, and I feel like such a slacker because I slept and read books instead of studying and writing. I need to stop that. That’s ridiculous. I’m human. And right here, right now, I’m a sick human, and that means I have to slow down and take care of myself.
I don’t know why I drive myself so hard sometimes, but I do know that it’s counterproductive. Sometimes the reason why I don’t do things is because I’m so stymied by the feeling that I need to be creating things and doing useful things at all times. I get so attached to that idea that it stops me in my tracks and I don’t do anything. It’s part of my procrastination problem. I want to do everything, and make everything, but I can’t, so I don’t even get started, and I don’t even try. And then I feel guilty, which leads me right back to the beginning, and where I’m doing nothing but staring at Facebook for hours and feeling bad at myself.
But Facebook isn’t really the thing. I mean, it’s distracting, and it’s designed to be distracting, but the distraction isn’t the problem. The problem is being too much of a damn perfectionist, and expecting too much of myself and believing somehow that I’m not doing enough or being enough. I am enough. I am doing enough. The words I write today are enough. The code I figure out is enough. The chords I learn are enough.
And just sitting here coughing and reading books is enough.
I am already who I’m supposed to be, and I don’t have to do anything more than what I do.
So, that’s my brain dump for the day. It’s a mess, and it probably doesn’t make any sense, and it’s brilliant, and perfect, and exactly right.
I have to say that in the weeks since I decided that I really wanted to do something about this problem, I have gotten a lot more done. I’ve been more consistent in studying my programming, and in writing. I started that YouTube channel, which I think falls under the category of writing. I feel more productive, and I think that is having a positive effect on my mood in general. I’ve also become very protective of my time.
When I set out to do research on beating procrastination, I discovered that there are a lot of tools that are available to help a person be more productive and manage their time. I want to share some with you, because some of them have changed my life. Since I am a Mac computer user, a lot of the computer apps are geared towards Apple. That being said, I don’t own an iPhone, so I’m not completely biased.
Notes and Lists and Things
The first thing I found that has really been helping me out is Evernote. They have a desktop app, a website, a tablet, and a phone app. (Yep, even for Android.) The thing that is so great about Evernote is its versatility. You can make into almost anything you need it to be. It can be your calendar, your contacts, a notebook for saving ideas, and probably a dozen other things that I haven’t even thought of yet. It even has the ability in the phone app to do voice notes, if you can’t stop to type it in. It has a structure where you create notes, which can be saved under notebooks, and those notebooks can be stacked. There’s a ton of tutorials on YouTube for the different ways that people use it. I may do one of my own.
I have mine set up in two basic ways. First there’s the to-do lists. I’ve always been against the idea of a to-do list, but somehow being able to set it up my own way in Evernote has really made it more bearable. There are four of them, Today, Tomorrow, This Week, and This Year. Every day, I write a list of the things I want to get done. For today, I had blog, laundry, and study. (Blog…check.) It even lets you format with little check boxes, so you can check things off when you’ve completed them.
Then I also make a list for what I think I want to work on tomorrow. And then that all sort of rolls up into a weekly to-do list, that looks like this:
So, if I know that I want to study twice per week, then I know I have to put it on this list for today and for tomorrow. I also like to keep in mind any events or plans I have. If I’m going on vacation, I’ll put less on the list, and not over commit.
The other section I set up in Evernote is basically just a bunch of organized notes. It’s my repository for ideas and things I want to remember. When I’m at work, I log into their website to take notes in meetings, and write to-do lists. I have one long ongoing list of notes from every meeting I have with my boss. I have a list of blogs that I want to read later, ideas for future blogs I want to write, ideas for future YouTube videos, short story ideas, novel ideas, study notes, awesome sentences I thought of or overheard that might make be a great first sentence of a story, a list of websites for things I might want to do on my next vacation, so many tiny houses, and for some reason, a single note with a url for this.
Evernote is great, because you can bend it to your will. But if your problem is willpower, then these next two apps could be helpful, Freedom and Self-Control. Freedom is an app that makes it impossible for your computer to login to the internet for a set amount of time. I hear that Michael Chabon uses it when he’s writing. This is great for me if I’m working on just writing a story, but not so great if I’m doing my online Python class, which of course requires me to be on the internet. That’s where Self-Control comes in handy. It’s very similar to Freedom, in that it limits your internet and has a timer, but it works with a blacklist. You basically add the sites that you find yourself being distracted by, like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, but you can still get to the rest of the internet. I like to break my work periods up into 45 minute chunks. I mentioned the Pomodoro Technique last time, and yes, there’s an app for that, too. Although I haven’t tried it.
There’s also another app that I haven’t tried, which I may. It’s called Habit RPG. It basically turns your daily tasks and productivity into a video game. You get points for checking things off of your to-do list, and achieving goals. I read about it in this article on Lifehacker, which was all about how to “gamify” your productivity. Gamification is huge right now.
Those are all some really great positive reinforcements, but like I’ve mentioned, I’m pretty highly motivated by negative reinforcement, mostly by way of fear of public embarrassment. This is where the website stickK comes into play. stickK is a website where you can set a goal, make a commitment to follow through with that goal, and if you don’t, there’s a consequence. There’s a lot of options on the site for what the consequence might be, and they’re optional. However, one of the more popular features of the site is that you can set as your consequence that a certain amount of money will be donated to an anti-charity of your choice, should you not meet your commitment.
This is where it gets good, and you get to cheer me on or root against me!
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)
Some time ago, it occurred to me that there were some things that I would like to do in life. These things were for me, and no one else. They weren’t things I planned to do to help me make more money or get a better job. They were just things I wanted to accomplish. And that was when I came up with my list of four Big Life Goals, and they are, sort of in this order:
Write a novel
Learn to code
Learn to play guitar
Become fluent in French
Those are some pretty decent goals. It’d be nice if I could get them done, in my limited time here on this rock hurling around the sun. But, like I said, I’ve had this list for awhile. And to be bluntly honest, I haven’t made a lot of progress on any of them. Which is not to say that I haven’t done any work on them. I’ve got about 27,000 words written of a rough draft of a novel. I’ve got a couple other ideas for other novels, too. I have picked up a bit here and a bit there of computer programming, especially in my job. Every once in awhile, I pick the guitar that’s been laying about my house for the last 4 years, and I learn a simple tune. And I became good enough at French to be able to find bathrooms before visiting Paris.
But a couple of weeks ago, while I was supposed to be studying for this online course I’m taking on Python (a computer programming language), I caught myself procrastinating by reading this article about procrastination. I got there because I was on Facebook, and a friend of mine sent me a link to one of their other articles. And thus the spiral began. I’ve been down this road before. One YouTube video leads to another. Just one more tiny home. Or one documentary on Netflix about Mortified leads to three more, and then it’s one o’clock in the morning, and I have to get up for work the next day, and I haven’t read a single paragraph of my text book, or learned any new code.
I procrastinate big time. I always have. And for most of my life, it hasn’t really been that big of a problem. I got very good grades all through school by writing papers the day that they were due, usually starting them at six in the morning. The pressure combined with caffeine and sugar helped me turn out some really smart, well supported theses with many typos. I wrote them so last minute that I never had time to proofread them. And like I said, I got very good grades. So, I was never really motivated to do anything any differently. It just kept paying off.
And it wasn’t just in school. I played in bands where I learned my parts only when we had a gig coming up, and I had the fear of public embarrassment to motivate me. At work, I always start things in the hours before they’re due. I have a really hard time starting something ahead of time, and if I have a couple of weeks, there’s no way I’m starting it today.
It occurred to me, therefore, that on my list of Big Life Goals, getting this procrastinating thing under control ought to be number one, because those other goals aren’t the kind of thing that I can start at six a.m., and have possibly have finished by two in the afternoon. If I’m going to write a novel, it’s going to take weeks, if not years. I’m going to have to start working on it sooner, rather than later. There is no way that it’ll get done if I keep putting it off every day to watch the latest upload to the Last Week Tonight feed on YouTube.
So my list Big Life Goals, as they stand right now, sort of in order, and subject to change whenever I see fit, without notice is:
Learn to stop procrastinating
Write a novel
Learn to code
Learn to play guitar
Become fluent in French
Stay tuned for further updates on my progress on tackling challenges, staying motivated, and achieving my goals.