It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m playing Plants vs. Zombies 2.
I’m playing because I’m avoiding a boring task I absolutely have to finish today.
I’m in the middle of shooting ten holes through a bunch of zombies when this idea comes knocking on my brain:
I’m procrastinating because I’m attaching a certain emotion to the dreaded task. What emotion am I feeling right now? Would the task scare me less if I detached the emotion itself from the task? If yes, how exactly does one detach emotions from stuff?
I immediately quit the game to further explore these questions and see myself develop them into answers. I wanted to see how the story ends.
I couldn’t pinpoint the exact emotion. It was that general “I don’t feel like doing it” feeling. It wasn’t much, but it was just enough.
Feel. Hmmm. Such a simple yet telling word. Could it hold the secret to beating procrastination?
A question popped in my head, the question that immediately solved my Sunday riddle:
Do I need to feel like writing in order to start writing?
No I don’t. It’s an illusion coming from my false belief that writers only write when they’re inspired to write.
“Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. ‘I write only when inspiration strikes,’ he replied. ‘Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.'” - Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
So that’s where the source of my procrastination lies: in a feeling that I need to feel a certain way in order to work on a task.
To stop procrastinating, therefore, I need to go through the following routine every time I want to motivate myself.
Procrastination Be Gone: My Six Steps to a Task Resolved
- I need to let go of the expectation that I need to feel like doing the task in order to actually start working on the task. I do that by accepting how I’m feeling right now and saying this to myself: “I don’t feel like working on that task and that’s ok. The ‘right’ feeling is not a prerequisite."
- I need to take out my laptop, place it in my lap or on my desk, open the lid and log in. That puts me in a position where I stare at a blank screen and that is good. Alternatively, if I’m already on my laptop performing my usual distracting activities (mostly surfing Google+), I must close all open browser tabs and all open applications.
- I must open the software tool with which I will be working on the task. In 90% of the time that’s my editor for writing. Nothing but my editor should remain open.
- (the following one is crucial) I must assume the working position. Specifically, this means that I must place my palms above the keyboard.
- I must write one true sentence - the truest one I know. It could be a trivial statement which has nothing to do with the task itself, such as this: “It’s a beautiful day outside and I’m stuck here writing that thing I don’t feel like writing." Anything that gets me going is good. I’ll arrive at where I need to be eventually.
- Then I must write the second truest sentence I know.
Notice how I’m micromanaging myself? “Open the laptop lid. Log in. Place your palms above the keyboard.” Micromanagement is important here and I thread lightly through these micro-steps because it’s the start of the activity that’s scaring me, not the activity itself. I’m afraid that this feeling I’m feeling right now would be with me the whole time while I work on the task. I dread feeling badly for an extended period of time, although I know this simply does not happen. As soon as I start working, the feeling is gone and I feel excited about my progress and the final result I’m about to produce.
If it doesn’t work for me immediately, I talk myself into spending not more than a minute on the task. I say these sentences to myself:
I’m just going to take out my laptop and open it, that’s all.
I’m just going to open my editor and write one sentence I feel like writing right now.
99% of the time when I do that, I am successful in finishing whatever I start, and it takes me less than a minute to get me going. The problem I’ve been having, though, is that I was distracting myself with false beliefs about the way I should be feeling about working on the task.
I still have that writing task to complete on a Sunday afternoon, so it will be a good practicing opportunity for me.
Go ahead, try it for yourself and let me know on Google+ what you think about my approach.