Thoughts and experiences on various topics: puzzles, games, AI, collaboration, music, politics, and whatever else is on my mind

Notes on Procrastination

Wow – 2 months (to the day) since my first post.  So far, all promise and no substance, despite my “good intentions”.  So I thought I’d try to remedy things, and decided to get  started by examining  procrastination.

So what causes procrastination?

It is natural to postpone doing things that are unpleasant, frustration-prone, unrewarding, difficult, intimidating, and so on.  In addition,  having other tasks with deadlines or higher priorities can cause things to be put off.

So what can be done to overcome  procrastination?

Here are some things I’ve tried, with some success (they seem to work for me):

1.  Simplify (break tasks into smaller units)

When a task seems overwhelming, simplify it (radically!) until the first step is almost trivial (eg. get a pencil, open blog page, or something that only takes a minute or less).  Getting started on even the smallest piece of the task can generate momentum and help me get “unblocked”.

2.  Combine an unpleasant task with a more rewarding task

This provides motivation, and  reduces the overall unpleasantness.

3.  Schedule and commit to a regular time

This helps make ongoing tasks into a routine (habit).  A related idea is to schedule a block of time, not a fixed part of the task – i.e. see how much you can accomplish on a task in 1 hour (or whatever block of time seems reasonable), and then schedule a continuation block of time for later if there is more to do.

4. Commit and share intention with a friend

Knowing that your friend will be expecting you to do something can provide extra motivation (leverages the inherent desire to keep one’s word).

5. Avoid perfectionism (do a rough-draft or first-pass)

Aim to do a rough draft, or “quick and dirty” version of the task, when appropriate.  Then iterate to improve!  Too often, striving to “get it completely right” on the first attempt is a serious obstacle to getting started.

Examples:

I don’t like exercising, but I need to do it.  So I’ve recently tried combining my morning stretching and exercise routine with watching TV (DVR recordings).  Catching up on recorded shows is more pleasant and something I like to do, so I combine this with the exercise routine, and so far it’s working.  I also try to swim a mile 3 times each week.  My default schedule is to swim for an hour sometime between noon and 2pm Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Of course, it is sometimes necessary to modify or deviate from the schedule (e.g. Monday Holidays when pool is closed, or when other activities or appointments get scheduled in conflict).  Still I find it helpful to have the target schedule – when possible I schedule other things around it.

I also don’t like writing, but my son encouraged me to write this blog to share my experiences, thoughts, and ideas.  I also know and believe (at an abstract level) that writing is a powerful tool for clarifying one’s own thinking.  I made a commitment to my son to write a blog.  Still,  it took me many months before I even created the blog page, with the 2 short posts (introductory and promissory notes).  Then I got bogged down over how to write my set of “bio” posts.  So I decided to “simplify” by writing this 1  (intended to be short)  post on procrastination. I’m also making a commitment to write at least 1 blog post every Sunday morning.  I love listening to music, and every Sunday morning I listen to Carter Alan’s “Sunday Morning Blues” on WZLX (100.7 FM Boston).  So I’m combining my blog writing with this very pleasant (and already routine) activity.  Seems to be working for today – we’ll see how it continues to work for me in subsequent weeks.

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Comments on: "Notes on Procrastination" (2)

  1. Carl Iba said:

    Good for you, Glenn! I hope to derive some inspiration from your blog. I started by reading your post right away! Instead of “I’ll get to that later”. 🙂 No really new ideas to me – but really good, solid ones that I have tried to use throughout my life – sighhh….maybe I can apply some of them more successfully than in the past. 🙂 Good luck on the “brief” life history! LOL Luv n Hugs, Carl

  2. Great thoughts. One of the more advanced techniques for procrastination involves responding to thought-provoking articles and posts.

    All seriousness aside, I think your ‘simplification’ suggestion is especially powerful because it can be helpful when you’re facing a task that is enjoyable but overwhelming.

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