How to Beat Procrastination (to some degree) (if you’re identical to me)

So, you pro­cras­ti­nate. A lot. And it’s a re­ally big prob­lem in your life, and so you re­ally want to, y’know, stop pro­cras­ti­nat­ing. But for some rea­son, it’s just not that easy.

So, why do you pro­cras­ti­nate?

It’s prob­a­bly a re­ally hard ques­tion to an­swer. Is it “be­cause I’m lazy”? That’s not a use­ful an­swer, be­cause “stop be­ing lazy” is just as hard to do as “stop pro­cras­ti­nat­ing”. How about “be­cause of akra­sia”? That’s not a real an­swer; that’s just a restate­ment of the ques­tion in more vague terms. Maybe “be­cause of hy­per­bolic dis­count­ing”? Even if that’s true, that’s not re­ally a use­ful an­swer, be­cause there’s no way to turn hy­per­bolic dis­count­ing off. (Or is there? If you know of a way to turn hy­per­bolic dis­count­ing off, please tell us.)

Maybe your pro­cras­ti­na­tion has three parts. First, once you start do­ing some­thing in­ter­est­ing, it’s very hard for you to stop; sec­ond, hav­ing stopped, you don’t usu­ally feel like start­ing to do some­thing use­ful; and third, hav­ing started, you of­ten find your­self los­ing fo­cus and want­ing to do some­thing else.

So let’s look at each of these parts in turn.

Once you start do­ing some­thing in­ter­est­ing, it’s hard for you to stop.

For you, this one’s a pain in the ass. (I know this be­cause for me, it’s a pain in the ass, and since you’re read­ing this ar­ti­cle, you must be iden­ti­cal to me.) You’ve told your­self that once you find your­self do­ing some­thing in­ter­est­ing, you’re just go­ing to stop im­me­di­ately. But that doesn’t work at all. You’ve tried set­ting a timer, and tel­ling your­self that you’ll definitely, ab­solutely stop when the timer goes off. But that doesn’t work, ei­ther; you just ig­nore the timer. What if you set a timer to re­peat­edly and an­noy­ingly beep at you un­til you tell it that you’ve started work­ing? You re­peat­edly ig­nore the timer and quickly be­come an­noyed.

For you, once this prob­lem has started, there just doesn’t seem to be a way to stop it. So the solu­tion is to just not start in the first place. The ideal situ­a­tion is that you’re not do­ing any in­ter­est­ing and fun ac­tivi­ties what­so­ever un­til you’re done work­ing for the day (un­less, of course, one of those ac­tivi­ties is part of the work you’re sup­posed to get done).

You should still take breaks, of course; don’t ex­pect to work for four hours solid with­out stop­ping. Just don’t do any­thing in­ter­est­ing dur­ing your breaks. Listen to mu­sic, or stare out the win­dow or some­thing.

And, of course, this raises the ques­tion: how do I avoid do­ing these in­ter­est­ing ac­tivi­ties? It turns out that, com­pared to the rest of your pro­cras­ti­na­tion, this one is re­ally easy to deal with. Hop­ping on Face­book or what­ever when you’re not sure what to do is a break­able habit. So break it. And how do you do that?

One tech­nique is to neuter the worst culprits. Go into your com­puter’s con­figu­ra­tion and tell it that red­dit doesn’t ex­ist. Then if you ac­ci­den­tally try to ac­cess red­dit, you’ll just get an er­ror mes­sage. Stop mak­ing sta­tus up­dates on Face­book, don’t ac­cept friend re­quests, and block ev­ery­one from show­ing up in your news feed. Dis­able your IRC bouncer and only ac­cess IRC through the server’s crappy web in­ter­face. Avoid­ing temp­ta­tion is eas­ier when you set your­self to be dis­ap­pointed ev­ery time.

Still, there’s a bit of resi­d­ual temp­ta­tion left over. How do you avoid this? Just use plain force of will. Tell your­self, “I need to avoid do­ing this right now.” That ought to work. Hope­fully.

So now that you’ve got that fixed (kind of), you’ve got an­other prob­lem on your hands.

You’re not cur­rently do­ing any­thing ad­dic­tive, but you just don’t feel like work­ing, ei­ther.

The easy an­swer to this ques­tion: just do it any­way. You may feel kinda crappy, but this doesn’t ac­tu­ally have any nega­tive effects.

Or maybe you re­ally, re­ally don’t feel like work­ing. All right. Why not? Is it be­cause there’s a fuck­ton of stuff you have to do, and get­ting it all done is go­ing to suck roy­ally? Well, you can only do one thing at a time, so figure out what the one thing you should do next is, and com­pletely ig­nore ev­ery obli­ga­tion ex­cept for that one. (Figur­ing out which task is the one you should do next should be easy. If it’s not easy, make a to-do list and use it prop­erly.) If that lit­tle piece still seems too ar­du­ous, figure out the next lit­tle piece of that lit­tle piece that you need to do, and ig­nore the rest of it for the time be­ing. Re­peat.

All right, so now you’re work­ing (hope­fully). But it’s not go­ing very well.

You’re work­ing, but you’re not fo­cused on your work at all; you’re just think­ing about other un­re­lated stuff, and about how much you’d like to do some­thing other than work­ing.

Part of the prob­lem here is that you have ADD. (Since you’re read­ing this ar­ti­cle, I’m as­sum­ing you’re iden­ti­cal to me, and so you have ev­ery di­s­or­der I have.) Con­sider med­i­ca­tion and talk to your psy­chi­a­trist. Ther­apy’s prob­a­bly a good idea, too, and it’s eas­ier to get seen by a psy­chol­o­gist or ther­a­pist than by a psy­chi­a­trist.

Re­mem­ber to elimi­nate dis­trac­tions, too. Close un­nec­es­sary browser tabs and ap­pli­ca­tions. Set your IM sta­tus to “do not dis­turb”. Maybe try writ­ing some of your thoughts down.

And once you’ve done that… hell, I have no idea. Good luck.