- 3am, and you’ve just written the first word of a 15 page essay thats due in 8 hours.
- ”Fuuuuuuck”, you think, glancing at the clock for the trillionth time.
- Why did you wait so long to start?
- Why do some people always seem to get things done with plenty of time to spare?
- Why aren’t you one of those people?
- Procrastination is a hard habit to break, but hopefully these tips will help you stop sabotaging yourself and start taking action.
1. Lower the time
You wouldn’t walk into the gym and, having never done a bicep curl before, pick up the 100 pound barbells and try to curl them. You would only injure your pride and your biceps. Instead, you would choose a weight that was appropriate for your level of strength.
The same principle is true for accomplishing anything. Lets say you need to write an essay, but don’t know where to start. If you try to tackle the entire thing in one 8 hour essay-writing marathon, you’ll fail. Just like the spindly nerd can’t even lift the 100 lb barbell off the rack, you can’t reasonably expect yourself to write for long periods of time at first.
Its just too far beyond your skill level. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t be procrastinating.
So, lower the time. Start off working on your essay in 10 minute chunks, or even 5 minute chunks. Just like a 5 lb barbell won’t get you insane results in the gym, 5 minutes won’t get you huge results on your essay. But thats irrelevant. The purpose of lifting 5 lbs is to familiarize yourself with the exercise and learn proper form. 5 minutes will help familiarize you with the process of starting to write, of opening the word processor and just getting your fingers moving. We aren’t looking for results yet. We just want to get started.
With 10 minute chunks, you can start free-writing a general idea for what you want your essay to be. With 15 minute chunks, you can start creating an actual structured outline.
Once you’ve worked your way up to an hour, you’re starting to generate real content.
Whether you are writing an essay, learning to play the violin, or curing cancer, it is important that you start small. Start with 5 minutes.
2. Lower the Difficulty and Create Structure
Another major cause of procrastination is a lack of clarity about what you should be doing and when. Most people approach their objective haphazardly, without any real plan of attack, and quickly become discouraged and overwhelmed by how much work they have to do. To make things more manageable, you need to break the task down into parts, and then start with the easiest and least intimidating.
A good example of this process in action would be The Dan Plan .
Dan is an average guy who decided he wanted to be a pro golfer at age 30, having had no prior golf experience. To train him, he gathered a team of golf specialists, and their first assignment for Dan was that he learn to putt. Rather than tackling the entire game at once, his trainer decided he should gradually work his way further and further out from the hole. No driving, no chipping, nothing long distance, until he had mastered putting.
“Learn to play golf” is too vague and intimidating an objective, and Dan might have wasted his time jumping from one part of the game to another, trying to learn them all at once. Working outwards from the hole kept the more intimidating, long range aspects of the game out of Dan’s practice until he was ready.
This is how you should approach any task you work on. Break it down into its component parts, and work your way through them one by one, starting with what seems to be the most fundamental, simple, and unintimidating.
3. Lower Your Expectations
Most people will tell you that procrastinators are lazy, or that they have no work ethic, but I disagree. I think procrastinators wait till the last minute because they have unrealistic expectations for themselves. Society and the world have taught you never to compromise, never accept second best, and always get an A. While these ideas may be effective in improving work quality in the short term, they can also be paralyzing.
I believe a person’s only criteria for success in the moment should be whether they TAKE ACTION or not.
In the moment and in the immediate future, you have very little control over the quality of your work or your capacity to do that work. But you do have control over whether you take action. If you consistently take action, the quality of your work improves AUTOMATICALLY over time. Put another way, there is no guarantee that you will get an A on the essay you are avoiding, but thats ok. Have faith that if you keep taking action and keep working, your essay writing will get better. Its inevitable.
Just use the tips I provided above. Lower the time commitment and the level of difficulty until you can take action, and then lower your expectations for the outcome of your actions. The only criteria for success you have should be whether you took action. If you just worry about that, everything else tends to take care of itself.