Occasional Posts

The Procrastinator’s Craft

Before we begin, I have some disclaimers to make:

  • I’m not a professional. I am just a guy who got over procrastination.
  • Something that works for me, or someone else, does not mean that it’ll work for you; it doesn’t have to. We are unique after all.
  • This post has been inspired by this TED talk by Tim Urban.
  • This is going to be a long post.

Now then, Behold.

Of course this is from google. I haven’t owned a physical dictionary since 2008.

Look at that. Are they trying to be funny?

This doesn’t work though. Every procrastinator knows it. It’s like telling an alcoholic to just stop drinking, or a compulsive gambler to just stop betting on stuff, or telling roadkill to just stop running in front of cars.

It doesn’t make sense.

These things can be cured, but it’s not an instant release from the clutches of whatever we’re addicted to. The alcoholic is addicted to alcohol. The compulsive gambler is addicted to risks. The roadkill is addicted to living life on the edge. And I believe (from personal experience of struggling with procrastination) procrastinators are addicted to instant gratification.

It’s why we put off stuff for later. In the mind of the procrastinator, you’re not getting any reward for any of the work you do right now. So why do it now then? Why not do something fun now, and then do all that important work some other time? This happens to be the driving logic behind everything a procrastinator does. Why not instead, go and play a fun game that’s going to reward you for blowing stuff up?

civilization vi
I’m more of a strategy gamer myself

A normal person, would make decisions that make sense. Things that would affect him in the long run. Things like ‘oh, if i work on this super important presentation now, I won’t have to deal with stress later.’ or ‘I’ll do this important piece of work now so that I have time to edit it and make it better.’

The procrastinator is exactly the same as the person above. Only as Tim Urban puts it, ‘He lives with an instant gratification monkey in his mind’.

Note: I’m going to start calling the procrastinator Eric, because it makes my life easier that way. Thanks!

In essence, Eric is a well adjusted individual. He wants to get things done. He wants to leave enough time after projects so that he won’t have to deal with stress. Only, whenever he thinks about doing these things, some hidden corner of his brain goes:

‘Yes, good job Eric, you’ve figured out what you have to do. Now let’s go watch some videos on youtube about how to make presentations. Then there’s that video about Selena Gomez you have to see don’t you? Of course you won’t be able to start without first looking up the size to weight ratio of a siberian tiger next. Oh look! your friend sent you a cat GIF, you have to find more now!’

Cat typing quick quick
In all fairness, that cat is being more productive than Eric.

So Eric spends his time watching videos on youtube, going through a wikipedia search expedition, and looking at entertaining, but ultimately pointless GIFs. Of course, certain people experience it worse, and others way, way less.

Clearly something needs to change.

It’s Eric, obviously.

I know how he feels. That pang of regret and guilt at having wasted so much time, when you could have been more productive. So how does one get over it?


I realize the title needs work.

Again disclaimer: This is what helps me. I suspect Eric may have to modify things a bit.

  1. Create a to-do list

No no, stay with me. I know you must have seen this a thousand times already. But just do this, trust me.

Don’t use an app or a piece of software. Go old school and write down on paper a list of things you want to get accomplished within a particular time frame; say half a day. write down everything. Everything.

These guys. You can use a pencil if you want to though.

You want to do laundry, clean the house, and cook some panacottas? Write that down. You want to complete the powerpoint presentation on penguins for class? Write that down. You want to play the new Legend of Zelda game? Write that down. You want to go window shopping for those new boots you want to get but can’t afford? Write that down!

That should have been easy.

The instant gratification centers are happy because they feel like they got work done, when in reality, nothing has happened. Eric is happy because he didn’t lose focus and made a pretty big list.

And it should be a pretty big list, with everything you want to get done. Sadly though, it’s obvious no one could do all of the things on the list reasonably well, in a limited time allocated. (In our case – half a day)

That’s where the next step comes in.

  1. Prioritize

You take your list. You look at it. And you throw it out the window.
No, I’m just kidding, don’t do that. Or you’ll have to make another one.

Look at the list you’ve made. Break it down to things you actually need to get done. You know which ones those are. You know you don’t need to go window shopping for those boots since you don’t have that much time anyway. And the Legend of Zelda can be played if you are left with time after everything else. So you decide to clean your house, and do the laundry and finish the presentation.

Now you have a smaller list. But it’s still not good enough. You have to select the task that you need to get done.
Eric chooses to do the laundry. But it’s so daunting, he’s never done laundry before, and where does one even start?

  1. Break it down

Yes, it is daunting. But so what? It’s not impossible to get done. So you create a new table to help you with the laundry. You break the task down into smaller bite sized goals. Eric does something like this:

First, buy some detergent, and fabric softener. Take the dirty clothes and go to the laundromat (Eric does not own a washing machine, and he does not want to hand wash). Don’t forget to take enough coins or change. Ask someone for directions with the machine. Profit.

That doesn’t have to be yours. No one writes profit at the end anyway, unless it’s somebody from 4chan. Again, so far, no problems should have arisen. It’s all smooth sailing. And the instant gratification centers haven’t flared up yet because they don’t think Eric will go through with it.

And maybe he won’t go through with. Unless he just starts…

  1. Doing it

No amount of rigorous planning helps if you don’t do anything about it. Do you want to write a novel? Pick a word processor and start writing. Do you want to cook the most amazing calzone? Actually walk into the kitchen and start cooking. You want to get rock hard abs? Get a gym membership, and start going. Do you want to do your laundry, Eric? Get up, and go to the nearest laundromat you bum.

Basically, in the words of the all powerful Nike,

Just do it.

That’s it.

I am open to a sponsorship deal.

When Eric starts his work, his instant gratification centers are going to be all ugh, this is sooo boring, and let’s go look at videos of people falling down stairs instead. And while those thoughts are fun, those thoughts exist to prevent Eric seeing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

He needs to realize that nothing worthwhile is ever easy when you first start. It’ll take time, and effort. Halfway through Eric will feel like he’s done enough, and maybe he might get sucked away from doing his work.

But if he powers through and crosses the halfway line, then something amazing happens.

He sees the pot of gold.

Those hidden corners of his brain flare up again. But this time, they work for him. They say oh, look. You’re so close to getting all your work done. We’re so close to all that gold. Let’s work harder, better and do this right. He sees the reward and so does the gratification centers. He’ll get his work done.

Quite literally all there is to it.

Thanks for reading.

For anyone looking for a more detailed article on this, Tim Urban has a great one here.

your first tip is to avoid procrastination. your second is to read this post.