How to never procrastinate
In the last year there have been a flurry of ToDo list apps, and solutions that have emerged. This is due (possibly) to a growing population unable to get everything they have to do done. Or (possibly) a lot of people are being told that they're not doing things as efficiently as they should and here are a bunch of apps that can help.
Lets be honest here, how many apps and techniques and things have you tried, downloaded, used for a period of time...and how many were actually successful? If they cured your problem, then it was probably a matter of organisation, but procrastination runs deeper than that. I have tried at least 5, and I asked myself as I looked at the shiny new interface in front of me, what exactly I expected from this piece of software. After some searching it was clear that I wanted it to do everything for me. Not make neat lists of them. In fact making the lists was the most fulfilling part, along with ticking things off.
One thing was clear, it wasn't working and I was miserable.
A guy called Piers Steel (Univ. of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business) has done a bunch of research on the topic and he says that:
- 95% of us procrastinate at times
- 15-20% are chronic offenders
The main reasons for this according to him:
- Lack of confidence
- immediate reward over long-term gain
Milgram says that "technically advanced societies require numerous commitments and deadlines, which gives rise to procrastination." This is not observed in undeveloped agrarian societies. Interesting, it's a good read.
Joseph Ferrari (associate professor of psychology at De Paul University) says "Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up". Ok, so this is indeed a serious problem and my instincts about the ToDo apps is likely to be right.
Personally, I think there's more to it than that. There are several things that I have commonly observed procrastinators do:
- Talk about their tasks all the time, in fact fixate on them
- Lie to themselves ("my time was better spent doing x,y,z")
- Squander their resources (i.e. Blogging instead of writing my thesis)
- Take a lot of interest in helping other people out with their tasks
- Clean things
- Develop a need to use the kettle and make hot drinks all the time
The problem can be easy to spot and have simple solutions:
- You simply have too much on: don't try and get through everything on your list, work on reducing the amount you have to do. Talk to your boss, your advisor, and if it's self-imposed...slow down or burn out.
- The inability to focus on one thing at once: Pick an item off your list and get it done, don't worry about any of the others, in fact for the duration of the task you are working on, none of the others exist.
- You hate your job, your course, your work...Time to be honest with yourself here. A change might be what you need.
- You are tired: take a holiday, have a cup of tea, take the rest of the day off, go for a walk.
- Your tasks are too big: break them down in much much smaller steps. Be Agile.
There are loads of reasons why you might be procrastinating, and figuring out why is far more important than finding an app that will (possibly) get you through. Procrastination (for many of us) is painful, and like all pain, it protects us. It tells us something is wrong and urges us to do something about it. If you observe, listen to yourself and hear what's really going on, you will solve your problem far more effectively than if you download that shiny new ToDo app.
I never said it was going to be easy, but it'll make you happy :)