Libraries could be filled to overflowing with books filled on procrastination. Through my life and career I have gone through self help books that attempt to explain why people procrastinate along with supplying strategies to help curb procrastination. And as great as all of those books are, no one has been able to describe the true problem with procrastination better in my mind than Steven Pressfield in his book The War of Art.
In his book Pressfield compares procrastination with being an alcoholic. If you’re like me when I first heard this comparison I was skeptical. I had a hard time connecting myself pushing off writing a blog post until tomorrow with an alcoholic passed out on the sidewalk in front of a bar.
However, I chose to continue reading on. Pressfield gave procrastination a name, calling it the resistance. And that was something I could relate to. Whenever I come across a challenging task it’s as if there is a constant voice in my head saying,
“Wouldn’t this feel great to push to tomorrow? You’ll be excited to do it tomorrow.”
And when I give into the voice, it’s as if I took a shot of happy pills. I instantly feels as through a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I feel happy. However when tomorrow rolls around I’ve discovered something… the voice comes right back and it’s still encouraging me to push the task off again.
After going through this cycle of procrastination for years I finally did recognize the pattern. And Pressfield was right, procrastinating on tasks has the same root cause as being an alcoholic.
Alcoholics are willing to trade long term joy for short term happiness. By this I mean that an alcoholic will risk their: health, career, and family, all for the sake of the feeling that a drink will give them at that moment.
This pattern is played out in the mind of all of us when we procrastinate. When we continually put off tasks for tomorrow we are trading long term success for short term convenience.
I’ve already walked through my system for hacking procrastination. So I won’t reiterate all of those concepts. However I don’t like writing any guides that simply describe a problem without giving a solution. Therefore I will conclude by saying that the best way I’ve discovered to fight procrastination is by taking baby steps.
In his book Mini Habits, Stephen Guise made the concept of performing one push up a day famous. Guise was a self proclaimed procrastinator who despised going to the gym or working out. However one day he decided he was going to create the mini goal for himself to perform a single push up every single day. By following this approach he realized that the idea of working out was no longer a scary concept. And therefore wasn’t something to procrastinate.
Of course doing one push up a day would have limited health benefits. But what Guise discovered was that after performing the push up he was usually in the mood for doing more push ups. And eventually his daily habit morphed into a full daily fitness regime.
I’ve discovered the same approach works with learning and development. When there is a task that I feel like pushing off, I tell myself that I only have to work on it for thirty minutes. By giving myself a doable goal, the task is far less intimidating and therefore I don’t feel the same resistance and desire to push it off. And typically I’ll discover that I want to work longer than 30 minutes on the task. The end result being that I get much more done and I no longer fear my daily todo list.