I needed to figure out why I can jump on some tasks and others make me do just about anything to put them off.
The worst part was I felt like the projects I was procrastinating on were the ones that if completed could potentially change my life in tremendous ways.
Writing a book, starting that online business, doing some type of daily exercise.
I couldn’t keep going through the stress, anxiety and disappointment of putting off stuff I knew I needed to do.
I’ve tried different ways to combat procrastination in the past, but nothing stuck.
I knew this time had to be different.
Instead of just researching and reading and feeling like I was getting something done (probably another form of procrastination), I tried a different tactic on my quest to get this help.
I would still do my research on procrastination help. I love doing any kind of research. Must be my introvert side.
This time though I would take 30 days and conduct an experiment on my life and see where I ended up.
The 30-Day Procrastination Challenge
This is the first in a series of posts on what I learned, what I did, where I failed and what system I put together to finally begin to stop procrastinating.
Full disclosure, I didn’t fix my procrastination habit in a month, but I am off to a great start.
I know that what I learned in those 30 days will help me manage my procrastination in a more effective manner. You can expect updated posts as I go along and continue to build out my procrastination system.
Please join me. I hope you take what might work for you from what I write and do your own experiment. Let me how it worked out and how your battle against procrastination is going.
First I needed to reassure myself that I wasn’t the only one going through this procrastination hell.
I started with a simple Google search on “procrastination stats” and I came across a nice infographic called 17 Lazy Procrastination Statistics that I was able to use as a starting point for further research.
I pulled four key takeaways from the infographic:
- Procrastination affects over 20% of the population
- Some researchers show that procrastination has quadrupled over the past 30 years
- One online study found that 18% of respondents said procrastination had an extreme negative effect on their happiness
- Dryden and Gordon (1993) point to three main causes of procrastination:
- Low frustration levels
- Tolerance and rebellion
Causes of Procrastination
It was the fourth takeaway on causes that caught my eye and began my process of looking at why I procrastinate.
We’ve all felt the anxiety of putting something off we know we should be doing.
As for frustration, that describes perfectly how it feels to have days, weeks or even months to get something done and to only wait until crunch time to even start.
Tolerance and rebellion struck me as odd, but rebelling against being told to do something or made to do it made some sense.
In my next post I’m going to spend more time analyzing causes because it deserves more attention. However, in the beginning I wanted to quickly experience some small wins to start building some momentum.
Quick View of Procrastination
If anxiety, low frustration levels and tolerance and rebellion are potential causes of procrastination what could I do about it?
In order to go wide and get a better feel for the psychology of why we procrastinate I jumped on YouTube. Again, I was just starting out. I planned on digging into the science behind procrastination later. Think of this as my 30,000 foot view of the subject.
We all have our individual learning styles. Mine is definitely verbal (linguistic). I love to read everything about a topic, as you’ll find out below.
However, when I want a big picture understanding of a topic I’ll search YouTube to find anything that can help me begin to get my head around the topic.
There is just something about a short, well made video (<10 minutes) that helps me begin to pull all the loose threads together.
I recommend you try something similar, especially when it comes to tackling a new topic. Just using a different learning delivery system may make some connections that you hadn’t thought of before.
My Favorite Procrastination Video
This video was perfect in helping me start putting my procrastination system together.
The video covered a lot of ground. Temporal discounting, present bias, hyperbolic discounting, and the effects of dopamine on the brain were just a few of concepts reviewed.
What stuck with me was the fact that procrastination was a symptom and not a cause of why we put things off.
This was the beginning of me changing my view on procrastination.
It turns out procrastination is not typically a function of laziness, apathy or work ethic as it is often regarded to be. It’s a neurotic self-defense behavior that develops to protect a person’s sense of self-worth.
Once I started thinking of procrastination as tied to my brain’s normal operating function (more on this later) and a coping mechanism to protect my self-worth, I started to understand how I might turn the tide against it.
First, I had to talk to some people way smarter than me.
Procrastination Brain Trust
In order to continue my procrastination deep dive I turned to my brain trust.
Farnam Street is a blog that I’ve followed for years. It calls itself an “intellectual hub.” Shane Parish, the founder of Farnam Street, says he reads a lot to “make friends with the eminent dead.”
He assumes that people smarter than him have already figured out most of the issues we face today, so why not turn to them to help us.
It is quite brilliant.
All three sites write in clear, understandable language and break down complex topics in a way that is easy to understand and act on.
The way I used each site was to do a Google search on each using this format:
I read each article that came up (max 10 per site) to get a flavor of their thinking on procrastination.
The Power of Temptation Bundling
One article by James Clear stood out, Procrastination: A Scientific Guide on How to Stop Procrastinating.
He talked about one way to overcome procrastination called temptation bundling that resonated with me. You take something you don’t want to do and combine it with something you love to do.
A perfect example of temptation bundling is in this video by Dan Ariely and how he kept himself from procrastinating while getting treated for a medical condition.
The treatment had painful side-effects, but to keep himself on it he found a way to bundle it with something he loved. After the treatment was over his doctor told him he was one of the few patients to see the course of treatment all the way through.
Check out the video below to see how he did it.
Clear also offered three other frameworks to help anyone stop procrastinating immediately.
- Making consequences more immediate (see stickK below)
- Design your future actions (removing social media apps from your smartphone for example)
- Making a task more achievable (working on something for 2 minutes just to get started – more on this later).
I’ll examine each of these in more detail in upcoming posts, but for now I focused on temptation bundling and 2-minute tasks because those were the ones that appealed to me the most.
Procrastination Help Apps
There are many forms of procrastination help. One that I was excited to explore was procrastination help apps.
Talking to other people, getting face to face dialogue and support from friends and family and even strangers would probably help with anyone’s procrastination problems.
Realistically though we don’t all have the time, money or drive to attend local procrastination support groups or seek out other real life options.
Sad, but true.
A cheaper and easier option are procrastination help apps.
I researched these for two reasons.
Two, technology needs to be more than just food porn and cat gifs. It needs to solve problems as well. I reckoned that if technology is a cause of so much procrastination maybe somewhere there was an app that could help fight it.
In my research I read about 7 clever mobile apps to beat procrastination.
I followed that up with an article that argued procrastination can’t be cured by task management apps.
Like most internet research you can find any resource to prove or disprove your point.
So what to do?
After looking through way too many apps I realized the answer was already in front of me. I looked at what was already working for me and committed to taking those apps to the next level.
If you haven’t heard of RescueTime, this is how they describe it:
Find your ideal work‑life balance.
With so many distractions and possibilities in your digital life, it’s easy to get scattered.
RescueTime helps you understand your daily habits so you can focus and be more productive.
I love that this app works in the background and tracks where I’m spending my time online. I do most of my work on my laptop so getting the weekly email from RescueTime that breaks down my week by percentages is a lifesaver.
Below is my last report. By the way, the app is free. Score!
iPhone Clock App
Sure you can pay a buck or two to get a Pomodoro app, by when you are bootstrapping like me every cent counts.
Pomodoro is a technique to get you focused and working on tasks in a consistent manner.
Watch the video below to get a basic understanding of the process (and how to potentially customize it for your own use).
I can do any Pomodoro setup I want using my phone. I’ll cover this more in a later post.
OK, I wasn’t using stickK, but the thought of losing money if I didn’t keep up my end of the bargain appealed to me. It is something I’ve tried in the past with good results, but I had never used an app to streamline the process.
stickK helps you put your money where your mouth is (or procrastination is, anyway).
Here is how stickK works:
Yet, most of us struggle to achieve our goals. That’s because there’s a big difference between having a goal and achieving a goal—stickK works by helping people eliminate this gap by using, what we call, a Commitment Contract.
A Commitment Contract is a binding agreement you sign with yourself to ensure that you follow through with your intentions—and it does this by utilizing the psychological power of loss aversion and accountability to drive behavior change.
By asking our users to sign Commitment Contracts, stickK helps users define their goal (whatever it may be), acknowledge what it’ll take to accomplish it, and leverage the power of putting money on the line to turn that goal into a reality.
You set up Commitment Contracts that are tied to a goal you want to accomplish. Then you dedicate a dollar amount to be donated to a cause you despise. If you don’t complete your goal the money gets sent to your mortal enemy charity.
You can choose different options, but the fear of loss will always win out over the fear of gain.
Between getting a weekly snapshot of where I was spending my time, using the Pomodoro technique to do work “sprints” and putting some skin the game when it came to bigger projects using stickK, I started to feel a plan coming together. And like Hannibal from the A-Team…
Procrastination Help Books
I read over 100 nonfiction books a year. I’ve already read plenty of procrastination books over the past few years. The problem hasn’t been knowledge. The problem, like many people, is action.
Reading about a great tactic to overcome procrastination and not doing anything with it is the same as never having heard of the tactic in the first place.
These 30 days had to be different.
One thing I committed to was reviewing all the books I had read and reading new ones if I had to and compiling their insights into some type of master document.
Then I would pick and choose what I thought could work for me.
In the beginning, three books stood out in my research on procrastination.
Steel’s name kept coming up in my research so I figured I would go to the source.
Scott’s books on productivity, organization and habits are full of detailed tips and tactics to solving problems. I expected the same with his book on procrastination.
This book appealed to me because Perry takes a different approach on procrastination and argues for the benefits of “structured procrastination”.
I have many more to cover and will on a separate post dedicated solely to procrastination books.
My Procrastination Help System
Finally, I started to put together a simple system to battle my procrastination.
It has three parts and while still a work in progress at this point, it has helped me overcome some early procrastination hurdles.
When I know I’m procrastinating I immediately snap out of it by dropping what I’m doing and commit to doing what I’m putting off for 2 minutes. No more and no less.
My only goal for that day becomes to do that task for 2 minutes.
At this point even a Pomodoro sprint of 20 minutes can seem like too much, so I start with the path of least resistance.
We can do two minutes of just about anything, right?
Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
I tapped into my inner Abe Lincoln.
One week recently I spent two days coming up with a detailed outline of what I was going to write each day.
Not surprisingly, each day that week I woke up, did my morning routine, fired up the laptop and was off to the races. I can’t remember a more productive week of writing I’ve had in the last year.
The next week I didn’t spend the time to do my detailed outline and I hit my writing goal (500 words/day) only once that week.
Having a clear plan of action to do anything that you might procrastinate on is now a must-have for me.
Temptation Bundling & Office Supplies
I came up with a weird temptation bundling system. That included paper clips. And it is awesome.
First some backstory.
While reading through James Clear’s site I came across a link to an article he wrote called How to Stick With Good Habits Every Day by Using the “Paper Clip Strategy”.
You should read the article.
If not, here’s a two minute summary. It tells the story of Trent Dyrsmid and how he became a hugely successful stock broker.
Every morning he would put a jar of 120 paper clips in front of him. After each phone call he made to potential clients he would move a paper clip to another jar. When he had moved all the paper clips he would stop making calls.
Everyday he did this. For years.
I’m currently running another 30-Day Challenge on Pinterest marketing.
It is a 30-Day Challenge to get on Pinterest and post articles that might help me and anyone else trying to be a stay-at-home parent and build an online business.
Right now the experiment is to pin 10 articles every day. So every day when my boys go down for naps I take a jar of 10 paper clips and start pinning. Once all the paper clips are in the other jar, I’m done.
Tomorrow I’ll be up to 200 pins after these first 20 days.
The amazing thing is I get so much satisfaction from seeing those paper clips move from one jar to the other. Forget the pins, the increase in followers and hopefully the boost in traffic to my site, this is fun!
It is nice to see my Pinterest platform growing because of these efforts (I’ll have a blog post on that soon), but I’m getting more satisfaction from moving those tiny office supplies around.
I can’t wait to try it on something else. It might be 20 or 30 paper clips per day for the next experiment, who knows.
The important thing is the enjoyment I get from this silly little exercise helps me move away from any thoughts of procrastinating.
Here is what I learned in the first few days of my procrastination challenge.
There is so much information out there to help us overcome our procrastination and get the procrastination help we need that delaying finding it can be a legitimate stumbling block.
If you have trusted sources of information on procrastination, habits, productivity or behavior change, start there before trying to swallow everything Google will give you.
I hope to have a more refined process for my future 30-Day Challenges, but as long as the next one is smoother than this one, the lessons learned will have been worth it.
One unexpected barrier has been keeping all this information organized in a way that makes it helpful and not just another headache.
For instance, I was a devout user of Evernote until recently. Now I’m test driving Google Keep.
I read a ton of articles on Feedly and like to do research on sites like reddit, Hacker News, Alltop, Medium, Popurls, Pocket and Product Hunt. That doesn’t include all the notes I highlight on my Kindle.
I suddenly realized it could be real easy to procrastinate on my procrastination research if I let this information supply become overwhelming.
This will have to be something I figure out soon.
The first barrier is having way too much potential information to sort through. The next barrier has been saving so much of it that it still presents a hefty challenge to shape what is left over into something actionable.
I’m hoping switching to Google Keep will help. I’ll let you know. Maybe a 2-Minute Rule and some paper clips will help…
Simplicity from Complexity
Simple is hard. Whatever procrastination system I eventually come up with has to be something that I can take anywhere, use anywhere and is virtually bulletproof.
What I mean is if I have a bad day, get thrown off schedule or life just takes a dump on me, I need to know that my system to beat procrastination will make it through.
I want to share something that has stuck with me since I read it on James Clear’s site.
Here’s the problem: “Everybody already knows that” is very different from “Everybody already does that.”
I can feel the loose ends coming together. It is not there yet, but it is getting closer.
Some of what I’ve learned feels like common sense. Actually doing it day after day is the uncommon part.
I want my procrastination system to fix that.
I’ll be back next week with a another deep dive into my 30-Day Challenge. I’ll share what I did on a day-by-day basis to fight my procrastination.
If you have any questions or need any help please reach out to me. I’d love to help.