Six Tips to Get Yourself Going
by John Perry
Procrastinators get a bad rap. Go through world history. Take away all the essays, works of art, inventions, and the like that people came up with while they were supposed to be doing something else. Wouldn’t be much left, I predict. We procrastinators are the engines of progress, the founts of creativity, who have made human culture possible, So there.
Still, that’s precious little comfort when you are procrastinating some mundane task — addressing the Christmas cards, or paying the bills, or doing the five push ups and five knee-touches that constitute your daily exercise, say. Because, most likely, you are not writing an opera or a sonnet or discovering gravity, but watching something dumb on TV, or surfing the web, or seeing if any birds will come to your bird feeder, even though you haven’t gotten around to filling it. So here are six tips for such situations.
First, think of something even more important you could be doing. You really should be changing the oil on your car, or calling your mother, or cleaning out the attic. Focus on that for a few minutes, and you will find yourself addressing those cards or trying to touch your knees, or even your toes, as a way of not changing the oil or calling your mother.
Second, use natural events to call a halt to your dilly-dallying. Don’t sit down at your computer unless you already need to go to the bathroom. Then you’ll have to stop after a while, the spell will be broken, and you may find yourself doing something useful before you return to the web.
But really, if you are a procrastinator, it’s best to plan ahead. So,
Third, use self-manipulation. Think of yourself as you would an undisciplined teen-age child in your charge. You need to give her rewards for doing what you want, and kicks in the butt — figuratively speaking of course — for not doing so. Your problem is you can’t get yourself to do what you should be doing right at the moment you should be doing it. But you can set up a reward and punishment structure ahead of time. You will find that you don’t have any more sympathy for your future self than you do for a lazy teen-ager. That’s how alarm clocks work. The adult-you sets them before going to bed, to wake up the morning-you, who otherwise wouldn’t get out of bed. Program your computer to nag you. Put post-its on the refrigerator the night before to nag yourself the next day. Pile the Christmas Cards on top of your computer the night before. Be imaginative. If you can raise a teen-ager, you can figure out how to motivate the future you.
Fourth, use music. Tune your clock-radio to something peppy. Even if you don’t like peppy music. When you wake up you are probably in the mood for a funeral march, or Johnny’s Cash’s song “Hurt”, about how he has to hurt himself to make sure he still cares. You don’t want to hear “76 trombones” from The Music Man. Nevertheless, if you hear that in the morning, it will get you moving.
Fifth, make To Do Lists that break up your tasks into smaller ones, so you can get the thrill of checking them off. Don’t put “Address The Christmas Cards” on your list. Put “1. Find the Christmas Cards”. “2. Find a pen 3. Find a flat surface not already occupied 4. Address one Christmas Card. 5. Have another cup of coffee…. IN almost no time you will have gotten through 5 tasks, had the thrill of checking them off, and you will feel so successful and like such a go-getter that you will doubtless finish the whole stack.
Sixth, if all else fails, and even if it doesn’t, go online and order my book The Art of Procrastination. It will change your life. Well, maybe not. but it’s a fun read and not very expensive.