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Procrastination, Shmastination. 3 Power Tools to Get Things Done

Procrastination, Shmastination. 3 Power Tools to Get Things Done

My entire life can be divided into 3 phases.

Phase 1:  Blissful Avoidance

I am at school. I am good at maths. I just get maths. I avoid languages, I avoid arts, I focus on maths and physics and computers. I get by without doing any work. This phase lasted until age 21, the final year of university.

Phase 2:  Lucky, and Avoiding Responsibility

I am at university, I am in my early years of management consulting work. My university had just gotten all excited about 2 things: team work and oral presentations. I knew how to get the good students to work with me. The deal was that I would do the end of project presentation and some of the easy writing, they did the hard work.

I didn’t know I was procrastinating. I didn’t see myself as avoiding work. My own vision of myself was blind to the fact that I consistently let others step in to finish the work. I use the word blind deliberately. I must have been very frustrating to work with because I was beautifully deluded.

Phase 3:  Realisation

The third phase began when I started my first company as an entrepreneur. I thought I could sell but was the corporate logo that sold. I thought I was productive but it was the others who produced. I didn’t get things done.

I was good at making a good first impression. I was good at thinking fast and helping others get excited about possibilities.

Finally I realised: I was a walking bundle of excuses. My name was Procrastinator.

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The Procrastinator

The origin of the word is in two latin notions:

  1. Pro means forward
  2. Crastinus means of tomorrow

It is the art of moving anything really important off to tomorrow and replacing that activity with unimportant activity of all types.

What is unimportant?

Here’s the definition of procrastination activity. For a behaviour to be considered procrastination, I believe it should meet the following 3 criteria:

  1. counterproductive
  2. needless and
  3. delaying.

By the way…  Doctor Freud would suggest that blogging a definition of procrastination is clearly an act of procrastination.

Getting Serious about Personal Productivity

There is a fourth phase to my life.  It starts when I started writing. There is no more brutal indicator of procrastination than the total number of words written per day.

I blog, I write articles, I write chapters for a future book. I use Scrivener to do my writing.  It tracks words. It tracks how many words I need to do to finish, how many words I should write today.  Have a look at an overall project statistics from Scrivener.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 23.45.30
    The Writer’s Scoreboard

    Stephen King says “A writer is a producer of words.”  It is simple:

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    • If you produce words, you are a writer;
    • If you don’t produce words, you are not a writer.

    There is nowhere to hide. If I have watched 6 TED videos, my morning statistic says 0 words produced. If I go out for 4 coffees, my morning statistic says 0 words produced.

    I know what an unproductive day looks like. I can recognise the features of a zero day.

    What’s the opposite? What is a productive day? What’s in a ‘Get Things Done’ day?

    My 3 Power Tools of Get Things Done

    1. The Nike method (Pomodoro technique)
    2. Forgive yourself by re-labelling “Creative idleness”
    3. Do Absolutely Nothing for 10 full minutes

    The Nike method (Pomodoro technique)

    Nike’s slogan is “Just do it”. I often use a slightly more aggressive form of this slogan: Get started.

    Do the first minute. If I start writing, I will not stop until I have hit 500 on the word count. I won’t edit, I won’t stop. I will keep the keys moving. Sometimes I will write “I will keep writing, I will keep writing” because there is no intelligent idea ready. What always happens is that the resistance inside me (Steven Pressfield is the master on Resistance) fights the start, but once I show that I am going to stay at the keyboard, it relents and allows some ideas to form and to flow onto the page.

    The Pomodoro technique is the best how-to guide to how to implement “just do it” into your life.

    Forgive yourself by re-labelling “Creative idleness”

    Guilt about wasted mornings will kill afternoons. I fail often. My days are littered with grand plans that ended up as candy crush saga and clash of clans on my iphone.

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    One powerful way to ruin the afternoon is to know that you should have done better in the morning. The powerful way to ruin the morning is to know that you should have done better yesterday. Guilt is a killer. It is an invisible shackle that holds us stuck fast.

    I forgive myself. I call my morning a “creative idleness” session. I call yesterday a “creative idleness” session. I may not have produced words, but I did give myself some experience that might serve.

    As I entrepreneur, I learnt to tell myself “4 years ago I took the best decision the ‘Me’ of 4 years ago could have taken”. I cannot change the past, I have learnt from it.

    Tom Peters says, “The only source of good knowledge is bad experience.”

    Do Absolutely Nothing for 10 full minutes

    This is brutal for me. This is the nuclear tool. If I have really not been able to get some discipline in my day with tools 1 & 2, I go for the nuclear option.

    Do absolutely nothing.

    Set a timer. 10 minutes. Do absolutely nothing. Watch your urges and impulses, accept them… but do not act upon them. Sit still. Watch the struggle in your mind. Your inner voice will get very angry and passionate that you must, must do something. Don’t. Wait. Hold.

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    This energy of desire to do something… allow it to build and build. When the timer signals 10 minutes, then release this energy of desire to take action upon the important task, the phone call you have been avoiding, the conversation with your loved one that you meant to have yesterday.

    This are 3 Power tools. How are you going to use them?

    Procrastination is Perfectionism in other Clothes

    Procrastination is a cunning version of Perfectionism. Human beings are not perfect, yet our inner voice wants us to be. If we can’t be perfect, why start? Well, we are human beings – we are not here to be perfect, we are here for the journey. The journey begins with steps. Steps off the sofa, into the world. Into the world selling, writing, speaking.

    (and here are 1113 words for me!)

    Ha! (here are 1114!)

    Featured photo credit: Deadoll via flickr.com

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    Conor Neill

    Professor of Leadership, President Vistage Spain

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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