“I’ll get to that later.”
“I’m not feeling it right now.”
“I have to find an angle.”
“It will be there tomorrow.”
Any of those sound familiar? I know they do for me. That’s because procrastination is the beast that lives inside all of us. Slumbering until a time when it awakes and persuades us to just put things off until later. Can’t hurt, right?
The human brain is an amazing thing. It is the single largest consumer of nutrients and oxygen in the human body. It’s the reason why human babies are born practically helpless due to the size in relation to the rest of an infant. It’s the reason why we can make tools, ponder the existence of life in the universe, and write kick-ass rock and roll music.
But the human brain is lazy. It doesn’t like thinking. It prefers simple patterns and easy work. Given a choice, the human brain would rather do some kind of mindless repetitive task ad naseum instead of creating. When you think about it that makes a lot of sense from a biological perspective. Tasks that are easy don’t engage many resources. Which means the brain doesn’t have to operate as much and can conserve energy.
But we don’t want our brains to be lazy. We want to create and learn and do amazing things with our thoughts. Which means we have to overcome the inertia of procrastination. We have to force ourselves to move past the proclivity to be lazy in our thoughts. It is said that the hardest part of running isn’t the mileage but is instead getting up in the morning and putting on your shoes. Likewise, the hardest part of being creative isn’t the actual thinking but is instead starting the process of it in the first place.
Strategies for Anti-Procrastination
I have some methods I use to fight my tendency to procrastinate. I can’t promise they’ll work for you but the idea is that you base your strategies around the ideas and go from there.
- Make Yourself Uncomfortable – I’m not talking about laying on a bed or nails or working in the freezing cold. What I mean is take yourself out of you comfort zone. Instead of sitting in my office when I need to write a few things, I intentionally go somewhere in public, like a coffee shop. Why? Because putting myself in a place with noice and uncomfortable chairs makes me focus on what I’m supposed to be doing. My brain can’t get lazy when it’s being stimulated from all sides. I have to apply some effort to drown out the conversation and that extra effort pushes me into action.
- Set a Small Goal to Relax – This one works wonders for your brain. If it thinks there’s even a remote possibility in the near future that it can relax it’s going to race to that finish line as fast as possible. If you’re familiar with the Pomodoro Technique that’s basically what’s going on. Your brain sees the opportunity to be lazy five minutes out of every 30 so it pushes to get there. Except you’re tricking it by forcing it to do work to get there. You become more productive because you’re thinking you get to relax in ten or fifteen minutes when in fact you’re much more productive because you’ve secretly been focused the whole time.
- Create a Zone For Yourself – This is kind of the opposite of the first point above but it works just as well. Your brain likes to do mindless repetitive tasks because they require very little energy. So why not use that against your lazy brain and trick it into thinking whatever you’re doing is actually “easy”? There’s a ton of ways to do this. My two favorites involve aural stimulation. There are a lot of folks that have a Coding Playlist or a Writing Setlist that they use to zone out and accomplish tasks that require some focus but are mindless in nature. Likewise, I often use noise generators to do the same thing. My current favorite is A Soft Murmur because it allows me to customize the noise that I want to help me shut off the distractions and focus on what I’m doing. I’ll often pair it with a sprint from the second point above to help me really dial in what I’m trying to work on.
Your mileage may very greatly on the items above. Your brain doesn’t work like mine. You know how you think and what it takes to motivate you. Maybe it’s massive amounts of coffee or a TV playing in the background. But knowing that your mind wants to shut off active processing and do repetitive things over and over again does wonders to help figure out how best to engage it and work smarter. You can’t always stop procrastination. But, with a little planning, you can put it off until tomorrow.