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How to Procrastinate

How to Procrastinate

How to Procrastinate

    In December 2005, Paul Graham published an excellent essay entitled “Good and Bad Procrastination.”  It is an essay that is worth revisiting from time to time.  In it, he argued that at all times we can work on one of three things: a) nothing, b) things that are less important, and c) things that are important.  He refers to these as type A, type B, and type C procrastination.  Type B procrastination is destructive while Type C procrastination is actually quite productive.

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    Graham’s essay applies the important principle that there is no free lunch.  By its nature, the act of doing something means sacrificing the opportunity to do something else.  To the extent that we are giving up the opportunity to work on important things in order to work on unimportant things, we are wasting our time.  To the extent that we are giving up the opportunity to work on unimportant things in order to work on important things, we are making good use of our time.  This can be distilled into a few points.

    1.  “Good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work.”  Graham defines “errands” as minor tasks that have no chance of being remembered.  In the pre-digital world, Errands 1.0 included things like answering mail, housekeeping, picking up friends at the airport, and mowing grass.  Checking email is probably the best example of Errands 2.0, and to add insult to injury most of Errands 1.0 haven’t gone away.  Productivity comes not from making lists and checking them twice, but from eliminating less-important activities in order to work on those that are important.

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    2.  “Clean up in a dull moment.”  This is one of my favorite quotes from economic historian Deirdre McCloskey.  Large blocks of otherwise uncommitted time will tend to get consumed by housework and other little tasks, each of which provides a psychologically comforting feeling of accomplishment and completion but which stands in the way of a larger, more important project (like your dissertation, if you’re a graduate student, or that paper you’re working on if you’re a junior faculty member).  But dull moments will come.  Since you can’t work at a high level nonstop, McCloskey advises waiting for lulls in creative energy and enthusiasm before cleaning the house or cleaning the office or what have you.

    3.  Don’t allow yourself to be driven by interruptions.  Graham notes that Type-B procrastinators are “interrupt-driven.”  Don’t allow yourself to be driven by interruptions, and do what you can to avoid helping people who are driven by interruptions encroach upon your time and attention.  This is really, really, really hard, especially for people who are especially social.  Fundamentally (and fortunately), the degree to which you allow yourself to be interrupted is your choice and yours alone.  Choose not to subject yourself to an unending stream of interruptions.

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    4.  Identify and eliminate clutter.  Here’s an interesting thought experiment inspired by Graham’s essay.  Imagine your goal were to reach your deathbed without writing The Great American Novel.  What, specifically, would you do to prevent yourself from writing it?  Be specific.  As Graham writes, people don’t fail to write by sitting and staring at a blank page all day.  They don’t write because they let their time get eaten up by other commitments.

    4a.  Ask “If this were burned, would I miss it?”  In a 1982 essay for the journal Reviews in American History, economic historian Gavin Wright made mention of a fire at the University of Michigan that had consumed some of his notes for that essay.  As I wade through the accumulated dross of this past semester during a protracted dull moment, I’m coming to the realization that my life would be no worse if it were burned.  Assorted piles of books I’ve ordered, papers I’ve printed, and notebooks I’ve filled could disappear overnight and I, my teaching, and my research would be no worse for it.  If anything, they might improve.

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    5.  Answer this question: “What’s the best thing you could be working on, and why aren’t you?”  This is Graham’s generalization of some questions originally asked by noted scientist Richard Hamming in his famous lecture “You and Your Research.”  This is a hard question to answer because for most of us, it involves some serious soul-searching and some serious reckoning with the decisions we have made.  Here I’m speaking of an all-too-human tendency to want to blame circumstances.  It is easy to blame other people, the weather, traffic, and everything else under the sun for everything that goes wrong, and it is easier (and perhaps, self-delusionally romantic) to assume the role of the tortured martyr whose genius is squelched by external forces.  This, though, denies that we have choices.  Our choices are constrained by the incentives we face, but for those of us who are fortunate enough to be in the idea industry, we should be able to re-arrange our commitments in such a way as to allow us to work on the things that are really important.

    Every decision involves a cost, and organizational methods should recognize that for some people, there are some things that just aren’t worth doing.  With the right focus we can, to quote Graham, get the right things done and “leave the right things undone.”

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    Art Carden

    Art Carden is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

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    Last Updated on July 3, 2020

    6 Things To Do Every Day To Ensure You Stick To Your Goals

    6 Things To Do Every Day To Ensure You Stick To Your Goals

    Sticking to your goals can sometimes be challenging. We all want better health, better careers, and better jobs, and we want to cast an impression on everyone that we are living fulfilled lives.

    Yet to reach our goals and make every minute of our time count requires commitment, consistency, and hard work. Setting goals is one thing, but sticking to them is another. We have to observe certain daily practices if we want to get the best out of ourselves.

    Here are 6 things that you have to ensure daily to reach your goals.

    1. Involve Others

    You have to be accountable for the actions you are committing yourself to. Involve everyone around you, get them engaged, and talk to them on how they can help you accomplish your goals.

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    When you involve others you feel, you have a responsibility towards them as well as yourself. Every day, make sure you are accountable for sticking to your goals. By joining groups or engaging others, you have more motivation to reach your goals.

    For example, if you want to read more, try joining a book club. If you want to be a better entrepreneur, join an entrepreneurial organization.

    2. Visualize the Rewards

    Reaching a goal can be challenging and sometimes, it can be overwhelming. When the journey becomes tough and difficult, try to stick to visualizing your successes every day.

    Wake up to visualize what rewards you will get from sticking to meeting your goals. If you want to lose some pounds, visualize yourself already underweight and benefiting from being underweight. The mind has a way of channeling your body and intentions to sticking to your goals and reaching them.

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    3. Break Down Your Goals

    Try to break down your goals into tiny chunks. The smaller the size of the goals, the more willing and prepared you are to meet them.

    For example, if you find it difficult to get out of the house and take a workout at the gym, why not try to break the goal into making sure you are always dressed for the gym daily? By doing this, you demonstrate that you are moving in the right direction, and you can keep this momentum so you can meet the larger goal.

    4. Reward Yourself

    For every progress you make daily towards reaching your goals, try to vindicate and reward yourself. By doing this you appreciate yourself and the hard work you have put in for the day.

    When you reward yourself, you program yourself to benefit from a larger reward in the future. You also propel yourself to gain daily rewards, which can be enticing and motivating. Rewarding yourself serves as a form of positive reinforcement that reinforces your mind and behavior to stick to your goals and stay motivated.

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    5. Measure Your Progress

    It is easy to become frustrated when you are not getting instant results. Change can be slow and rewards are not always immediate. Still, progress can be measured even in tiny bits, so take time to look back at where you are coming from.

    You don’t have to feel depressed about not making that major progress in an instant. But when you journal or snap pictures to document your progress, no matter how small, you will feel grateful and elated to see what difference you have made from where you are coming from up until now.

    6. Believe in the Possibilities

    If you don’t even believe in the possibility of reaching your goals, how can you expect yourself to stick to your goals in the first place?

    By believing in the possibilities of accomplishing a goal or task, you increase your chance of reaching it and eradicating whatever roadblocks or challenges you may face. Believe in what you can achieve.

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    What self-belief has over self-control is that while self-control can be depleted but self-belief cannot. We all have an enormous reservoir of how much we can believe in ourselves.

    With believing in ourselves comes perseverance, determination, and desire to reaching our goals. Every day, understand that what you need to keep going is your belief toward achieving your goals. Your goals are reachable if you think you can reach them!

    Final Words

    Due to circumstances in life, people tend to abandon some of their goals in life. You may also feel this way sometimes. In that case, just come back to this article and remember the 6 ways you can help yourself stick to your goals.

    People don’t always reach their goals, but you will never know if you can reach them if you don’t stick to them in the first place. As long as you stick to your goals, there will always be the possibility of you achieving them!

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    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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