All through high school and college, I was notoriously bad when it came to time management. I’m still bad at it, although I can at least recognize it as a valuable skill I need to develop if I want to be a high functioning adult.
One of the biggest detriments for people who “can’t seem to find the time” for things is procrastination. Even back in high school, we were told procrastination was something inherently bad, but if you’re anything like me, you didn’t give a shit about anything adults had to say back then.
And throughout the years, we’ve also heard the argument that procrastination can actually be helpful to enhance the quality and novelty of ideas. That’s true, but it’s not because you get your best ideas the night before something’s due. You get your best ideas when you step away from work for a while.
A Russian psychologist by the name of Bluma Zeigarnik published research in 1927 demonstrating that memories are more easily retained when one is working on a task with interruption. So if someone is studying for an exam, every time they step away from studying to make themselves food or go for a walk, their retention of studied material will improve.
But while there’s evidence that mild procrastination can be beneficial, too much of it is obviously an issue. Waiting until the last minute will always compromise the quality of your work, no matter how brilliant you think you are under pressure.
So how do you stop it before it gets out of hand? Look up, “How to Stop Procrastinating” on Google and you’ll probably find thousands of different mental hacks to get you into the flow of your work. The truth is, the right method depends as much on you knowing yourself as anything else.
For me, the most valuable and consistently effective method of driving away procrastination is simple:
Neutralize every potential distraction imaginable.
This sounds trivial, but think about what you do when you procrastinate. You’re probably on your phone, watching TV, or gambling away next week’s grocery money online. All of these things are tempting distractions because they’re so easily accessible to you.
Instead of thinking in terms of trying to get work done, go after each one of these distractions and eliminate them. Put the phone somewhere far away, turn the TV off and go into another room. Close your laptop and accept that you’re not winning back that $100 this week.
Notice how I didn’t say you had to do any work yet, just keep neutralizing distractions. That roommate? Stop talking to him. Mom’s calling you? Sorry Mom. Don’t go anywhere. Don’t do anything.
Eventually, you’ll become so bored with doing absolutely nothing that you’ll have no choice but to do the thing you were avoiding, or go insane. I can’t understate the impact this strategy has. When it suddenly it becomes easier to get to work than to avoid it, procrastination just goes away. It really is that simple.
The beauty of this is that you don’t have to do anything drastic to begin. You can put your phone on airplane mode, place it across the room and agree to lock yourself in your workspace completely free of distraction for 20 minutes. You don’t have to tell yourself anything else! The work will just happen, provided you don’t break your own rules.
This practice of making yourself so bored that you have no choice but to be productive was a breakthrough for me. No longer do I get lost in my phone for hours and later hate myself for not checking off my to-dos. I just say to myself: “Hey, let’s not do anything that’s unproductive and see if that leads to something good”.