How often do you procrastinate? If you’re like how I was in the past, the answer is probably something like “all the time.”
Truth be told, not procrastinating is hard. No one likes to do hard work. Sure, we’ve all got long-term goals. But in the present, it’s far more enjoyable to seek immediate pleasures. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that Netflix looks way more appealing than writing a Medium article after work at 9 PM.
So how do we get past this? We see that our alternative to work, i.e procrastination, is far more appealing than doing the work we ought to be doing. At the same time, we’ve got these big, long-term goals that we want to achieve. We want to do the work to achieve our goals, but the alternative is just so much more pleasurable.
To beat procrastination, we will need a new strategy. We somehow must make procrastination easier to avoid. At the same time, we want to make doing the work we ought to be doing more pleasurable.
A Procrastination Strategy
At the beginning of every work session, you’re full of energy! You’re thinking to yourself, “I’m about to get so much work done!” The first 10 minutes are great, maybe even the first 20.
But that’s as far as it goes. It’s hard to keep grinding after that initial burst of energy. Our willpower just fades away.
The problem here is that the goal is too big.
Often, when we sit down to grind out our work, we’ve got a big goal in mind. Something like “finish writing an entire article” or “complete 50% of this project.” But with such big, intensive goals, there’s a higher probability of failure. There are more things that can go wrong. When you’re working for so long, there are many more opportunities to procrastinate. It’s a lot easier to get bored or complacent when doing a 3-hour work session than it is when you do a 10 minute one.
To make things easier, and more successful, we need to make things smaller. The work sessions, the tasks, the goal itself, should all be smaller.
- Instead of trying to write a full article in one sitting, aim to write for 10 minutes straight
- Instead of trying to work out for 60 minutes, aim to do 5 sets with 30 seconds of rest between each set
- Instead of trying to read 1 book a week, aim for 2 pages per day
When you make your work sessions smaller, you’re also making them easier to execute. Looking ahead at your work and seeing that you need to write for 10 minutes straight seems doable. In fact, it might even seem easy. And that’s entirely the point! You’ve put the work into a small enough chunk that it’s super easy to do. It looks appealing, perhaps even more appealing than procrastination. The big goal we had before was the exact opposite — overwhelming and looking really annoying.
You’ll also be activating your reward system in a more effective way when you make your goals small. Reading 2 pages per day is easy. Once you accomplish the goal, it feels good. So the next week you decide to go for 4 pages per day; then 8. Eventually, you may even get to a book a week. You’ve built up the positive momentum.
This is a bullet-proof strategy because it makes procrastination nearly impossible. When I look back on all the times I procrastinated, I can see that the reason it happened was always that the goal seemed so far away. It looked like too much work. But when things are broken down into small, easy pieces, it becomes more natural to work through them.
Our goal isn’t only to get started — it’s to keep going, to go further. We don’t want to beat procrastination just a few times, or just complete a few tasks quickly. We want our new strategy to help us establish new habits, complete major projects, and move us forward in life.
Let’s start with a simple extension.
A big project will just be made up of many small bursts of work. Instead of writing a full article in one sitting, we can do it in eight 15-minute sessions, maybe with a couple of breaks in between. Basically, we’re stacking our small bursts of work to accomplish a bigger goal. Each of the sessions is very easy to complete, so we won’t have any problems with procrastination.
Now we can take things a step further.
If we were able to extend our strategy to complete big projects, can’t we also extend it to build lifelong habits, in the exact same way?
Of course, we can!
We know it’s damn hard to form good habits. Forming a habit of meditating every single day for 20 minutes is hard because the goal is too big. But we can break it down, similar to how we did before in previous examples. Start with just 60 seconds a day. Then two minutes the next week. Then three, then four, and so on, until you reach your target goal. The bursts are easy, but they add up to huge accomplishments over time.
Going from 0 to 20 minutes would have been pretty difficult. There’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot of skills to develop to reach that level of skill in meditation. But by breaking things down, we make the goal more manageable, both mentally and in terms of the actual work to be done.
Start small. Stack your bursts and habits and top of each other to form a life of success.
- Avoiding procrastination is hard because not doing work is far more pleasurable than doing the work.
- We can make the work seem more pleasurable by making it easier. Break your work up into small bursts and your goals into smaller targets. This makes them easier to achieve and motivates you as you see your progress much earlier in the process.
- With this technique, you can form incredible lifelong habits by stacking your mini wins together. Keep extending them from each other and eventually, they’ll add up to something extraordinary.