Newbie (and I come bearing tips)
Hello all - I'm delighted to find this site and look forward to getting to know you all. Hoping to make it to the online meeting tonight, though I'm not sure yet.
I'm definitely an addictive type, have had other problems of that sort (minor eating disorders, major codependency, a few random ones like handwashing and hairpulling, and general obsessiveness) and am kicking myself that I hadn't realised procrastination was an addiction. This makes so much sense and I have to thank Pro again for putting it out there and creating this site.
I've been wishing for a while that I had other people with serious procrastination problems to talk to. It's just hard for someone who doesn't have the problem to give helpful advice. And it's hard to ask someone who doesn't have the problem for the kind of moment-by-moment hand-holding we can need sometimes. Or to expect them to listen to our endless tales of tasks done and not done.
I'd also really like to help other people with this. It sounds daft but I'd eventually like to be able to say that I'm glad I had this problem because I've made something good come out of it, and the only way I can think of to do that is to help other people in the same boat. Procrastination makes it annoyingly hard to be helpful in a lot of ways, but it also means I'm lucky enough to be able to help in situations where a perfect person would be useless.
On that note, here's a massive pile of anti-procrastination tips I posted on my LJ about a year ago. I feel I've backslidden a lot since I wrote this, though I've also become slightly more chilled about it all, and some of what I wrote now strikes me as a bit OTT. You be the judge...
I don't find I need to use all these techniques all the time, and I don't always use them when I do need to, but these all work for me and hopefully some of them will for someone else.
* The most important working condition is the condition of your body. When you're deep in procrastination hell, everything's a huge effort and there's never enough time, it's very easy to neglect yourself physically. DON'T. If you can possibly force yourself, it's always worth eating, drinking, washing, and sleeping properly, at proper hours. It increases your chance of getting stuff done by about 10 times, partly because you need the energy and partly because it gives you a bit of self-respect.
A bath or shower can 'reset' your mind almost as effectively as a night's sleep (some people say water cleanses your aura) and leave you feeling capable of work when you didn't before. It's also just easier to believe in your own competence when you're not a dishevelled, smelly mess. Keeping some kind of tidiness in your surroundings works the same way, even if you only have the time/energy to shove all the crap out of sight. A messy environment screams 'FAIL!' before you even start. :)
* Doors open, windows open, curtains open, all help for some reason. It seems to blow away the cobwebs and make you feel more aware of your surroundings and less isolated. You need to avoid the feeling of hiding from the world in your own little hole. Working out of doors is the ultimate version of this.
* Music, singing to yourself, or just playing music in your head also helps. You want music that fills you with energy and makes you feel good and bouncy. Something with lyrics or associations that inspire you can be good, but I personally find it's better to steer clear of 'heroic struggle' themes. I used to use a lot of epic film soundtracks until I realised that really, I wasn't trying to blow up the Death Star or cast the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom here. You don't want to see your everyday tasks as an epic heroic struggle, you want to see them as easy and fun. So choose something that doesn't allow you to take yourself too seriously.
Singing or whistling as you go about a practical task is really good to keep yourself going. Again, it just keeps you connected with the world, gives you energy and stops you spacing out somehow.
* Do allow yourself intentional breaks and fun. Your mind will force you to take them anyway and if you do it deliberately, you'll find it much more relaxing and feel more capable, and hence get more done. But be careful of doing anything on your break that you find it hard to stop doing.
* If you have pets, make sure to spend time with them and cuddle them every day for your own mental health as well as theirs.
* Human contact is incredibly helpful. Have someone keep you company while you do a difficult task, or phone someone for a chat and do the task with the phone to your ear :) Have a bit of social interaction even if you find it difficult to squeeze it into your gruelling procrastination schedule. Again, it resets the brain and keeps you in contact with the world, and it also helps with the self-esteem.
WHEN YOU'RE FEELING REALLY PATHETIC
This is stuff for when you feel like you can't do anything or it's all excruciatingly difficult. You probably won't need and shouldn't rely on these ones all the time.
*Breath control. There are two versions of this. Version 1 - Breathe in, hold your breath, and say to yourself, 'I won't breathe until I move and get on with it.' Surprisingly, it works most of the time.
Version 2 - I've been using this since junior school for short, routine tasks that can easily turn into long dawdle-fests, such as washing, dressing, making a quick dash into a room full of interesting books (and that can indeed include the loo!) and so on... :) Give yourself a certain number of breaths in which to complete the task, and see how fast you can do it. Needless to say, don't try this one when you have a cough :) and don't push yourself until your body screams for air - this is supposed to be an enjoyable game, not an endurance test.
If that all seems too screwy or too much, just concentrating on your breathing can help - I guess again because it keeps you aware of yourself, your surroundings and what you're doing.
* The 'I'm not really going to' trick - Tell yourself 'I'm not really going to do (x), I'll just do (smallest possible element of x)', e.g. 'I'm not really going to do the washing up, I'll just walk to the sink'. Or even just 'I'm not really going to do (x)'. Somehow, reassuring yourself that you're not going to do it switches off resistance and enables you to do it. You can drive yourself through an entire task by saying you're 'not going to do' each element...
* Books, TV, internet etc. are to be feared when you're in this state. It's not safe to pick up a book or go online 'for a minute' - just don't start, don't touch, don't pick it up, unless you're intentionally taking a break and happy to spend the next while engrossed in it. If you're working on a computer and don't need the internet to do your work, try that little 'work offline' function. If you can't stop yourself messing about online, try leaving your laptop unplugged so the battery conks out after a while. Or set a 'stop' alarm
- in another room, so you have to move to switch it off.
* Have some food. Sometimes all you need to do to shut up your whining inner child is give it a lollipop. :) Obviously, have a care for what and how much you eat. Sugarfree gum can work, and a cup of tea or even a glass of water can help as well - partly just because you have to move to get it.
* Move around aimlessly, just change position, anything rather than staying still. Movement can 'reset' your mind slightly and get you out of a procrastination-trance.
* Go for a walk. Combine the above two points and pop to the shop for some food. Massive brain reset.
* If you've been wallowing in procrastination bleh in one room, taking your work to a different room can sometimes fix it, or even moving to a different chair.
* Once you're moving and working - keep the momentum going. The weight-loss mantra 'Never lie when you can sit, never sit when you can stand, never stand when you can walk, never walk when you can run' has some relevance here (though it probably shouldn't be taken literally...) Resist the temptation to stop and do nothing 'just for a moment' or to sit/lie down 'for a quick rest'. If you're alone and you want to get going on something directly after a meal, eat standing. If you need to pause for thought, wander around the room while thinking. I saved myself hours of procrastination when I stopped sitting down to take my boots off when I came in the door. I was sitting down and not getting up again. By just standing and bending over to take them off, I felt able to keep moving.
* When you do take a break, to avoid getting stuck on the break that never ends, pause in the middle of a task rather than between one task and the next. That way, at the end of the break you have the tempting prospect of finishing something instead of the daunting prospect of starting something. The more 'in the middle' you are, the more momentum you'll conserve. Try taking a break from writing in the middle of a sentence and you'll probably find you're itching to get back to it.
* Try doing tasks in the order of 'easiest first'. I know this goes against conventional wisdom, but I find starting with the easiest possible thing enables me to *get* started, and by the time I get to the harder things I have enough momentum to tackle them. If every task you have to do seems too difficult, start with one or two things that are not really tasks, like 'make coffee'. Works even better if you make a tasklist starting with these and mark them complete (or you can use the 'Get Back to Work' page below.)
* If you're feeling limp and halfhearted about a task, doing it *as if* you have lots of energy and enthusiasm can actually create some. Don't do it halfheartedly, really go at it, move fast and cheerfully. This surprisingly often results in finding the fabled fun.
* If you can't find the fun that way, you can put some in there. Music, singing, and eating on the job have already been mentioned. Anything that makes a task more enjoyable without detracting from your ability to do it is good. (For this reason, drinking alcohol on the job is not so good, at least not beyond the point of very, very slightly tiddly.) Give yourself little rewards. Make a game out of it. Race yourself. Pretend you're doing something much more exciting than you are and for much higher stakes (as a child, I used to get myself dressed at record speed by pretending *puppies would die if I didn't* !)
* No self-punishment. Self-reward is great, putting off pleasurable activities until necessary ones are finished is great if you can manage it, but in my opinion, self-punishment is totally counterproductive. That includes small stuff like snapping a rubber band on your wrist (a suggestion I've seen in many places), detracting 'points' from yourself or making big red crosses or black marks in your diary when you've failed at something. Procrastination is very closely linked to low self-esteem and fear of adult responsibility, so making yourself feel like a badly behaved child is stupid. You don't want to underline your failures, you want to forget about them and get on with it.
* Avoid too many rules and strictures. People who procrastinate tend to have a sort of 'eating disordered' attitude whereby you're either in a state of grace or a state of damnation - one tiny slip and you've ruined the whole day, so you might as well ruin it spectacularly. Giving yourself rules to break encourages this.
* Most of us have some level of unrequited love for someone, even if it's just a favourite film star who doesn't know you exist. Use that. Instead of sitting around obsessing over them, get off your arse and let them inspire you to work harder - it's a much healthier and more satisfying way of burning off excess sop.
* Self-hypnosis can help. This: http://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Can-Be-Amazing-Transform/dp/1846051975 is a good, if embarrassingly titled, book and comes with a CD. It makes the very good point that you may well need to work on your self-esteem and confidence before tackling the problem itself. More simply, and even more embarrassingly, I've also had fantastic results from recording a three-second audio of myself saying 'I can and I will' and listening to it on endless repeat at random times of the day and while going to sleep at night. This is not for everyone - it's annoying, you wonder if you're insane for trying it, and it takes time to work, but my goodness it works.
* Know your procrastination triggers and work around them. One of mine is PMT, which I've refused to acknowledge until recently. Now I've started to take evening primrose oil and keep track of my cycle (it's in the garage - oh, shut up) and schedule an easy, pleasant week for myself when I expect to have PMT. Another is success - tiny successes motivate me, significant ones make my inner child scream and throw toys out of the pram, so again, I try to schedule myself a few easy days if I've just had a big success. And a third is being alone for long periods. I find the best thing for that is to keep the momentum going - have something nice and mindless to do during breaks and when you don't feel like doing anything else, so you never completely stop.
* The best mindless pleasant task I've found to keep momentum going is knitting! It's slightly meditative, and it's also good if you have trouble making yourself take breaks - you can sit down and chat, watch television, or just space out while knitting, and still feel that you're doing something useful.
* For me at least, procrastination comes with its own set of nameless feelings. You might find there's a 'warning' feeling you get when you're at risk of procrastinating. Ignoring this feeling is doom. Divert yourself onto an easier task or a deliberate, planned break, talk to someone, or move to somewhere you find it easier to work. Then there are those little 'windows of opportunity' - little moments when you feel like you *could* start doing something, and if you miss them, they're gone. Or the 'should stop now' feeling that starts to grow when you've lingered over a break or an enjoyable task long enough. If you ignore it, you start to feel out of control and it gets harder and harder to stop. Weird feelings like this are useful and you can learn to recognise and act on them.
* This doesn't mean you should run away from a task every time you have a negative feeling about it. Sudden feelings of dire awfulness about doing a certain task are often just a sort of smokescreen your mind throws up to stop you doing it. Even when the feelings are quite extreme, I often find that if I manage to face them and get on with the task anyway, it's *embarrassing* how quickly I go through them and come out the other side feeling fine. I've taken to calling this 'going through the waterfall' after a scene in a Tintin book, where our hero was being chased and his only escape was to throw himself into an enormous raging waterfall. He ended up safe and sound in a hidden cave - the waterfall was just a thin curtain of water concealing the entrance. This tends to work very well on
feelings that aren't rational and don't really have a right to be there, but not so well when you're genuinely overworked and ought to take a break.
* Procrastination is not just a problem to be got rid of, it's also a healthy warning sign. If you procrastinate a lot, it probably means you need more rest and fun in your life. The time that you spend procrastinating doesn't count - if anything, it's *more* stressful and exhausting than work. You need to force yourself to do things just for pleasure, and to do nothing sometimes, deliberately, not because you can't face doing anything.
* Know that you won't take this advice all the time and you'll still f*** up sometimes. Getting over procrastination is a slow process and it's like losing weight, the more slowly you do it, the easier it is to maintain. Besides, even the most successful people procrastinate a bit. I gather the CEO of a global investment bank got so addicted to playing
'Brickbreaker' on his BlackBerry that he had to delete the game. :)
BEING YOUR OWN P.A.
If you have trouble doing things for yourself, but enjoy doing things for other people, play 'being your own PA'. Decide which of your daily tasks are part of your 'job'. Write down a job description and person specification. Decide on your working hours and pay. I'd suggest some 'flexi-time' in the working hours - just pick a set number of hours per week and make some sensible restrictions on when you can do them, e.g. no working more than 12 hours in a day, or no working between midnight and 7am. As for pay, you can pay yourself e.g. £1 per hour to be spent on something fun, or if you're broke you can pay yourself in sweets, minutes online, or anything that takes your fancy - the point is to feel you're earning a wage.
Send yourself an email telling yourself you've got the job. Make a timesheet that you can submit to yourself at the end of each week. Turn up for your first day of work and show yourself the ropes. :) Talk to yourself. Be an encouraging and appreciative boss and be sure to give yourself plenty of breaks to maximise your productivity :)
It's a fun game and it's amazing how this works. By splitting yourself into two people, as PA you get the pleasure of 'helping someone' instead of doing things for yourself, and as boss, you feel responsible for taking care of your employee instead of taking care of yourself. If you have low self-esteem this is a great shortcut past it. If you're more professional/competent/productive at work than at home, it enables you to take that home with you. Having a set number of hours to work per week, with an end to them, is much more motivating than a constant vague feeling that you ought to be doing something. You may be
surprised by how many hours' work you've been unconsciously expecting yourself to do. And getting paid is surprisingly motivating even when you're paying yourself. :)
SLAYING THE PAPER MONSTER
This is another great game, especially in combination with 'being your own PA'. If you don't have a hideous disorganised paper monster growing in your cupboard, under your bed, etc, congratulate yourself and skip this section. If you do, it's probably causing a fair bit of your procrastination, both by making it a daunting task to find anything, and by just being a big pile of depressing fail. IT CAN BE SLAIN. If I can do it, anyone can.
Hopefully you only have to play this game once, and it's weirdly enjoyable, probably because you get to cover the *entire* floor in papers. It involves slight money expenditure - I did it for under £20 in the WH Smith's sale - but if you're broke, you can probably scrounge this stuff from your/your friend's workplace, or try mentioning to your mum/dad that you want to create your own personal filing system but can't afford the files :)
To begin, you need major floorspace, a black plastic bag for rubbish, a cardboard box for three-dimensional objects, and if there is perhaps a tiny possibility that you may find dirty clothes in this monster, your laundry bag. :)
Now, tip the WHOLE monster out onto the floor and begin sorting. Put papers that you want to keep in piles divided along broad subject lines ('personal stuff', 'job stuff', 'bank stuff', 'bills'...) This should give you an idea of how many files you need to go and buy.
Now, go and buy files. I recommend WH Smith's 'Home Files' or any other accordion/briefcase hybrid with tabbed pockets you can drop things into, and preferably blank tabs. Lever arch files with dividers are also good (and probably work out cheaper), but less friendly to the
procrastinator because you have to faff with hole punches, plastic envelopes, etc when filing, whereas with the musical briefcase you just drop stuff in. :) Buy a couple of stacking letter trays while you're at it.
Now, take one file and one pile. Break down the pile into mini-piles, whatever categories seem to make sense, and enough to fill the file nicely, perhaps without taking up every single tab. This is where the floor gets covered.
Get the tabs out of the file. Write a title for a mini-pile on a tab. Drop it on top of the pile. Repeat.
Now file. For bonus points, file IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER.
Take another file and another large pile. Repeat until you have an empty floor.
You may now chortle 'oh frabjous day' if you feel so inclined.
Put the files somewhere easy to get at, and near them, stack your letter trays. Top tray = tomorrow, bottom tray = today. Dump incoming papers in the top tray and forget about them till tomorrow. Next day, move them to the 'today' tray and you have a small defined pile of filing and stuff that you can deal with in one go. Even if you don't get around to doing this every day, it still works really well and takes a lot of the horrors out of paperwork.
Which brings us to...
PUTTING STUFF OFF TILL TOMORROW
Yes, this can be a good thing. 'Do It Tomorrow' http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tomorrow-Other-Secrets-Time-Management/dp/0340909129 is probably the most useful of the many self-help books I've read, including the 'prequel' 'Get Everything Done and Still have Time to Play' :D
The idea of a 'will-do list' comes from that book, and it's quite complicated to explain, but less so when you're actually doing it. Remember, *I* can handle doing this - I don't do it perfectly but I do do it, so you certainly can. It's about making yourself feel that you're on top of your work and you have a defined amount to do each day that you can actually finish. This is a really, really good feeling, one of the best motivators there is, and may lead you to take far more pleasure in anal-retentive sortedness than you thought possible.
First, get a task diary. I use a page-a-day diary for home and the Outlook task manager for work.
All the tasks that come in today, unless they * have* to be done today, should be written down in your diary for tomorrow. That includes emails - it's much quicker to whizz through them all in one batch tomorrow. Anything too big can be spread over several days, but don't start it today unless you have to.
Make a list of projects you keep meaning to get round to. Decide which of them you're actually going to do :) then put those in order and make the first one your 'current initiative'. This is what you do first every day. You can do the tiniest token bit of work on it, as long as you do something, first, every day. (I have one current initiative going at home and one at work.)
Make a list of daily and weekly tasks - either include them in your diary (Outlook makes this very easy) or keep a standing list somewhere. Daily tasks should include 'current initiative', 'email', 'paper', and 'tomorrow's list'.
At the end of today, draw a line under tomorrow's list and you have what's called a 'will-do list' (I love that :)
Tomorrow, if you end up doing stuff that's not on that list, write it down below the line. Try to have as little as possible below the line. (I'll admit I'd completely forgotten the line bit for about the past month...)
Cross things off as you do them. Enjoy that. :)
Try to complete EVERYTHING on your will-do list each day. You will probably find you need to keep making shorter lists in order to achieve this. If you don't complete it three days in a row, stop and ask yourself what's going wrong.
If you've got an evil work backlog that's making it impossible to get each day's work done the next, sweep the backlog into a virtual or actual folder and get it out of sight, and make 'Clear backlog' your current initiative for the next several days. This should put you back on top of your work and able to deal with the tasks that come in today tomorrow. Doesn't work for urgent stuff, but works fantastically for emails. :)
If it's all gone pear-shaped and the system has completely broken down (I love how the book admits that this will happen, especially at first) the most important thing to do is to get your list written for tomorrow. Even if you can't contemplate doing anything today, you can usually contemplate doing something tomorrow - or you can tell yourself, 'I'm not really going to do all this tomorrow, I'm just going to write it down.' This is a great way of stopping a procrastination phase rolling on for days or weeks, or ending it even if it has.
I would add: Don't fret too much if you don't complete everything on the list. Take a step back and look at your day objectively. If you got carried away doing something completely different and had a fantastically productive day, that's still a success. If you did most of the list, that's still a success. If you dropped everything to deal with something more important, or if a friend invited you out, and you thought about it and correctly judged that everything on the list could wait, that's still a success. :) Your subconscious is looking for reasons to scream 'FAIL!' at you - don't give it a reason by getting all hung up on whether or not you crossed everything off a piece of paper. It's a tool, not a rule (hey, that rhymed!)
I'm not going to put a long list of links to anti-procrastination sites because you can all too easily procrastinate by reading them. :) However, here is a useful blog by the author of the above book:
and here are two that have actual tools I've found very helpful:
If you read through this you'll find a link to a nifty online tool for setting yourself deadlines and recording whether or not you met them. It's very motivating, especially if you award yourself a sweet or a grape or something for every task completed, and two if you complete it in time. :) It's also VERY educational - I was shocked by how often I set myself 'sensible' deadlines that turned out to be impossible to meet no matter how hard I worked. I had a completely unrealistic idea of how long things took. If you're doing this, you're setting yourself up for constant failure and discouragement.
Speaking of which, I totally do not approve of the way this tool uses 'failures' to mean 'tasks finished late'. Maybe it's just me, but after I've struggled hard to get something finished at all, I don't find it motivating or helpful to list it as a 'failure'. We beat ourselves up enough without that. I downloaded the code and changed it to read 'Late successes'. :)
A rocking work/break timer:
Try using this with very short work/break times for tasks you're really resisting. Being 'forced' to take frequent breaks is very helpful in breaking down resistance, and can lead to the whole thing getting done faster than if you took no breaks.
Again, I hacked about with this a bit. I didn't like the soundfiles that came with it, which were pretty negative about work - I seem to recall a 'Doh!' sound playing at the end of each break, which is enough to make your heart sink when you're dreading the task already! But you can very easily save your own wav files over them, so instead of 'Doh!' you can hear Mary Poppins saying 'Shall we begin?' or Chii saying 'Hideki! Fight!' :)
I also find it's better to set the 'Repeat' number to 9999 and just pause the program or let it pause itself when you're not using it. Otherwise it can be difficult to get started again after a set of 'repeats' finishes.
Last but not least, here's one created by friends-of-friends - I haven't tested it yet, but this looks absolutely fantastic and so far up my street it's ridiculous:
Turn chores into AN RPG-STYLE HEROIC FANTASY QUEST. WITH MONSTER BATTLES. 'Finally, you can claim experience points for housework.'
You'll probably find that whatever new toy or trick you get works wonderfully well for a while and then its effectiveness wears off somewhat. This is perfectly normal and it just means you have to find a new toy. After a while you can often go back to the original one and it'll work again.