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Developing Productive Habits Requires Productive Action — How to Defeat the Cycle

Developing Productive Habits Requires Productive Action — How to Defeat the Cycle

    Have you ever known someone who consistently fails to complete things? Have you ever known someone who always gets the job done on time? I’m sure you have. In fact, I’m sure most people you know fall into one camp or the other. Which one of these two types of people are you?

    There’s a reason that 99.9% of people fall into one of these two camps, but not somewhere in between. How many people have you known that are just as likely to get things done as they are to let things slide? Come to think of it, I’ve never met a person like this in my life. It’s because the trend to complete or to procrastinate are not mere fluctuations in our mood or our environment, but habits in and of themselves.

    The key to getting things done is to consistently get things done. It is about building a new habit and making it so much a part of you that you don’t have to think about how you’re going to get it done and what you’re going to do to psych yourself up for it; you just sit down and complete it.

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    Motivation is important, but I’d contend that it’s not a big part of how much you complete. It can certainly affect you on an off day, but if your problem is repeated, regular procrastination, your problem isn’t motivation. It’s bad habits. In my opinion, this is the most fundamental piece of knowledge to changing your productivity patterns.

    It’s not about systems. It’s not about hacks. It’s not about the way you feel.

    It’s about the way you consciously and subconsciously approach taking action in general. If you’ve got a procrastination problem, you’ve most likely got one that affects getting around to changing a lightbulb at home just as much as tasks at work.

    The problem with is getting out of the loop; to form a new habit, you have to consistently complete tasks until it just becomes a part of your personality and attitude. And consistently completing tasks is the problem you’re having in the first place, so how the heck do you get out of the cycle?

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    Reminds me of the dilemma I face each morning: in order to drink my coffee and become alert, I’ve got to make the coffee, which is fiddly and requires alertness.

    (I’m not quitting coffee. Don’t even say it.)

    Start Small

    Discipline, which is at the core of building new habits until the associated actions don’t require discipline in order to be executed, is like a muscle. That’s nothing new. I’m sure you’ve heard this said many times before.

    What do you do when you’re out of shape and you want to get back in shape? To do this successfully, you start small. Of course, the temptation many people fall for is going for strenuous runs and workouts straight away, but what always happens, happens: they fail and give up.

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    To build any new habit, you must take small steps and increase the size of these steps only once you have no difficulty with the one you’re on. If you’re doing fifty push-ups in your workout and this becomes easy and unchallenging, you up the number. It’s the same with general personal productivity. You start by assigning yourself small tasks and once you fly through the little, easy items on the list, you step it up a notch and tackle something a bit larger.

    Be Consistent

    Whether you start small or you start big, you’ve got to be consistent. Doing push-ups each day for a week as you try and get back in shape, then forgetting for two weeks and doing it for one more week before you forget again, is not likely to help you out all too much. The progress you’ve made on developing new habits, and improving your fitness, will quickly disappear. Again, it’s the same in the case of learning this “completion attitude” — if you give your productivity muscles a work out infrequently, the time in between will murder any progress you have made.

    Fortunately, to assist our lazy and undisciplined minds, we have alarms which you can set on your phone, in iCal or Outlook, or whatever it is you use. Of course, the only problem then is obeying the reminder!

    Don’t Be Complacent

    The first and most obvious piece of advice that falls under this heading is: start small, but don’t stay small. It’s easy to get comfortable with your progress and not push yourself further. Remember to consistently increase the level of challenge or difficulty, no matter what it is you’re trying to master.

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    The second, less obvious, but perhaps more important thing is: don’t have an end goal. And by that I don’t mean you shouldn’t set goals and milestones, but don’t have a place where you’ll just stop trying and plateau. Life’s not meant to be lived that way. You can always improve, no matter what it is you are doing. The ability to fly through work so you can get on with life is no different. You can always build and reinforce the good habits that allow you to tackle consecutively larger and larger projects with increasing ease.

    If you stay on this road, there will come a day when you’ll want to tackle a project that everyone around you says is too big for you to realistically handle — and you’ll handle it with ease.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization The Importance of Scheduling Downtime How to Make Decisions Under Pressure 11 Free Mind Mapping Applications & Web Services How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Your Advantage

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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