How I Completely Defeated Procrastination to Achieve My Goals
What do high school students, and experienced professionals have in common? We all unwisely put off our most important work.
To be a bit more accurate, I overcame procrastination today. I was putting off writing this article, and found it challenging to get started. The fact this article exists proves that I did indeed “defeat” procrastination, and achieved my goals. Ergo, my article title is acceptable.
While I used the word defeat (because it feels like a nice word to use in a headline), I'm not 100% confident it's an accurate word to use. You defeat enemies. Procrastination is more like having a limp. You injure your knee, and you limp for a bit. It's your body's way of dealing with the pain in your knee. You don't defeat your limp. You address your knee pain, and the limp goes away. Procrastination is your mind's way of saying, “I need some relief!”, because your mind is feeling pain. You shouldn't defeat procrastination. You need to deal with your mind's pain.
I've had my share of procrastination experience. I've spent days at work where I accomplished nothing other than attending meetings. My exercise plans have been put off until tomorrow, for months at a time.
This morning, after our morning routine with the kids, I came up to my office/bedroom to write today's article. I spent the first two hours in here accomplishing absolutely nothing. I looked at the empty compose window, and then went to YouTube. A bit later, I flipped back, and stared at the empty window for a while. Then I found myself on Reddit. By my fourth or fifth trip to Reddit, I had to scroll pretty far down my homepage to find something I hadn't already looked at.
This was not a robust, productive morning.
What is procrastination?
There's a nice long research paper that suggests it's about short term mood repair.
You're not necessarily avoiding a task. You're avoiding the negative emotions related to a task. Those emotions could include boredom, frustration, a lack of meaning in the work, a lack of structure for how to accomplish the work, fear of the future, fear of people's reactions, and so on.
When we procrastinate, we're choosing to feel better now in return for feeling worse in the future. We're applying a band-aid to our current emotions, although we logically know that we'll regret it later.
I sat down to write today, but I didn't have a topic picked. I have an internal high bar for myself, and I am often challenged to pick a good enough topic. Starting articles is hard, because I reject dozens of ideas before I pick one.
I felt frustration that I couldn't find the right topic for today. I had planned to exercise before writing, and I was annoyed that I had lazily suggested I'd exercise afterwards. Since my writing is public, I feel general stress that the article won't land well, and I'll get negative feedback.
As I focus on those negative feelings and thoughts, I can't productively brainstorm for topics. Instead, I think for a few moments, and then find myself on Reddit yet again.
What makes procrastination worse?
Feeling bad makes procrastination worse. You need more emotional repair if you're feeling poorly. What causes you to feel poor? Procrastination.
I think for many of us, that cycle feels familiar. We put something off. We feel bad about it. We put it off further, because we now have negative emotions around that task. That brief feeling of relief when I pop open a YouTube video about making guitars reinforces my bad habit of surfing the web when I hit an emotional stumble.
However, I had intended to write my article by 11am today. I wanted to get it posted, and get to my daily exercise. It's almost noon, and I have very little written. I now feel much worse than when I sat down at my desk. This isn't motivating. My mood is worse. I am more likely to procrastinate than when I started, because my mood needs repair.
Procrastination is a form of self-harm. It's causing damage to yourself in the long run, in exchange for feeling better right now.