A Useful Strategy: Time Logging
Small Action, Big Pay-Off
For some people, procrastination is a moderate or passing problem that they can get under control with a little effort. For others, it's a life-destroying problem that feels impossible to solve. What represents "progress" depends upon where you are.
If you are in a desperate situation, then setting up a boot-camp-style schedule for yourself probably will not accomplish much. You'll spent a lot of time creating the schedule - in itself, a procrastination - and then you will ignore it. A much more effective strategy is to attempt progress, not perfection. If you do a little better today than you did yesterday, you are doing well!
One strategy that can be very useful for anyone, and is do-able for even the most low-bottom procrastinator, is time logging. You can do this with a notebook and a countdown timer (like on your stove, or you can get one for $10 from Radio Shack). Since I work at the computer a lot, I use a nifty little utility called Visual Stopwatch.
I set it to go off every 15 minutes. My "alarm" is my own recorded voice telling me it's time to check in. I click the "log out" button in Visual Stopwatch and record what I've been doing for the last 15 minutes. No matter how desperately useless I feel, I can always do that much!
The best way to use this strategy is to commit to something you are going to do in the next 15 minutes, and then try to do ONLY THAT ONE THING for the entire time - follow through on your commitment. No matter how many other things to do pop into your head, stick to your original commitment for 15 minutes. Write down the other things in a notebook for later.
Benefits of Time Logging
Even if you don't keep your 15 minute commitment at first, logging your time can bring many benefits.
1. When you try to do one thing for 15 minutes, you become more aware of the distractions around you. This exercise is how I learned that I needed to not let my email program check for new messages automatically all day long. If a message that interested me came in, I'd stop whatever I was doing. So I disable email checking while I'm working.
2. A 15 minute commitment is very modest. No matter how odious the task, you can do it for 15 minutes. You can do anything for just 15 minutes. And for procrastinators, getting started is the hard part. If you commit to only 15 minutes (and mean it), you are much more likely to get started, and once you get started you will probably want to continue. Maybe not, but probably! And even if you don't, you have worked 15 minutes, and 15 minutes is much better than 0 minutes. You can write a doctoral dissertation in 15 minutes a day - just ask Dr. Robert Brice!
3. It keeps you mindful - prevents you from zoning out - which is the essence of why chronic procrastinators procrastinate. Compulsive procrastination is an escapist activity - people narrow their focus to the alternate activity and shove awareness of everything else from their minds. Procrastinators zone out in just the same way a drug addict or alcoholic zones out. Recording what you're doing every 15 minutes - even if what you're doing is fooling around - is a powerful way to counteract this.
4. It makes you aware of the passing of time, and gives you a way to learn how long different tasks really take.
So give this a try, and let me know how it turns out!