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5 Times Procrastinating Can Make You More Productive

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5 Times Procrastinating Can Make You More Productive

Procrastination. From the moment we hear that five-syllable word, we learn it’s a bad thing. (This is possibly because the first time we hear it, it’s been levelled at us by a frustrated-yet-well-meaning parent or teacher seeking only to help us achieve our “full potential”). Procrastinating, we learn, is a guilty habit we all hope to break ourselves of – it’s something lazy people do and high achievers don’t. There is a ton of advice on how we can stop procrastinating.

But it’s hard to kick the habit when there seem to be endless incidents of procrastination waiting to happen: in school or work (why do they give 4 weeks for a project I can get done in a night if they don’t expect me to do it the night before?!) and life (doing my taxes early is really just a waste of time). So, we procrastinate doing out taxes and that big project. And then we chastise ourselves for lack of discipline. But wait – is this bad reputation really deserved? Is it true you’ll never be super productive (and reach your full potential!) until we fix this?

Procrastination ain’t so bad.

First, take some small comfort in the fact that human beings are hardwired to procrastinate. In part it’s because we have a tough time reconciling immediate wants with long-term shoulds. So we discount the future, big time – we overestimate how good it will feel to play video games and sit on the couch now, and underestimate how bad it will feel to put a rush order on that project 2 days from now.

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But it turns out there are some times procrastination can actually be an important signal – or a good strategy in itself.

So what should you do when thinking about starting a task incites an internal chorus of “I don’t wannaaaaa’s!!!” your three year old niece would be proud of? Or makes that garage you’ve been meaning to clean out look like a shiny nugget of opportunity by comparison?

1. Tune into your inner wisdom when you feel yourself procrastinate.

Is there are reason you’re putting off this task? Are you not sure it’s a good idea, like taking a big holiday with a new sig other, or starting a project you’re uncomfortable with? Sometimes this can be a signal. Listen to your gut. Start by going over why you thought the holiday was a good idea, or reviewing the plan for the project in detail. Make sure there aren’t any gaps that could be setting off your alarm bells.

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2. Are you procrastinating when making a big decision?

Research shows we make better decisions when we take the max time to make them. (Check out the popular book Wait for lots more good stuff on this topic). Stop. Process. Time and pain down the road can often be saved by investing more time upfront when making a decision.

3. Figure out how much time the task actually needs, sans procrastinating.

Work expands to fit the time you give it. Procrastination can keep tasks from taking more time they need. Some things may require creativity and artistry, while others just need to get done to a satisfactory level. Never start a task without giving yourself a time limit – even something you’ve never done before. Apps like Time 50 Best’s the Email Game are built entirely on this principle. Procrastinating can ‘help’ by resulting in a binding deadline which forcibly prevents you from wallowing on a particular item. It’s astounding how quickly your taxes get done at 11:45 pm on the last day…

So that’s great, but what does it mean for your procrastinating self? When is it safe – or even good – to put things off?

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Here are five times you can procrastinate and still come out on top.

1. When there are few variables.

Such as when there aren’t other people or missing information that might derail your ability to do things later under a time crunch. If the task just relies on you, and it’s something you’ve done before or know how long it will take, you’re probably good to go.

2. When you aren’t letting others down by being last minute.

Procrastinating can be destructive when it means you’re hurting your personal or professional reputation by causing others inconvenience, or worse. Throwing a wrench in other peoples’ plans is not good for your relationships. So going to the gym in the evening vs the morning because you didn’t feel like getting up early enough – not a big deal. Putting off revising a draft that the marketing team is waiting for – not a good idea.

3. When there’s a clear “good enough” hurdle.

Lots of tasks need to just get done with competence, rather than brilliance. Your taxes aren’t a work of great literary fiction (or they shouldn’t be!). Sometimes ‘just good enough’ really is good enough.

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4. When it’s a signal that something isn’t right.

Sometimes we postpone because we sense our plan isn’t the greatest, or we really haven’t bought into the outcome. Putting off training for a half-marathon is a lot harder if you’re truly excited about the idea of it, and it’s meaningful to you. If you really don’t like running and only signed up because friends did, then maybe it’s not a great use of (many, many, many!) hours of your time.

5. When you have the time.

If you’re stuck getting started, a creative solution will be right around the corner. Assuming you don’t need to finish the task immediately, let things percolate for a few hours or days. Better yet, do something that will help move your brain in the right direction – like listening to great music, or reading something inspiring.

All of these are legitimate times to procrastinate. But…the key to procrastinating productively: use the time to do something BETTER. Catching up on Game of Thrones will not improve your personal or professional life substantively (I hear you protesting. I’m right on this one, trust me.). Please, PLEASE use your putting off time for good. Like spending with your family or friends. Or working out. Or enhancing your skills. Super productive Stanford prof John Perry credits his success to ‘active procrastination’ – doing other important things you’d need to do anyway while putting off one particular task.

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With that, happy procrastinating. (But if what you’re stalling is important, and you have clear direction, and will hurt you later if you don’t do it now? Then suck it up, grab a coffee and get started already!)

Featured photo credit: Sarangib via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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