By taking small steps toward an end goal, you create momentum.
Procrastination is simply an escape from the stress and anxiety involved in completing your work. I have to be honest … if I let myself go, I can majorly procrastinate by checking my email notifications, Facebook notifications, Twitter notifications, LinkedIn notifications, and all the other notifications I get all day long.
As Beth Lofgren pointed out in a great article about distractions, they truly have the power to derail any kind of productivity throughout your day. Unfortunately, if you procrastinate on your work, you are only creating more stress and anxiety.
It's another vicious, endless cycle.
Here’s how it usually goes: stressful work appears, causing you to procrastinate by internally putting off the work that you're needing to do, which causes more anxiety and stress until eventually, the work is due. But what if you could overcome your fear of work by truly enjoying your time and creating guilt-free play?
Neil Fiore, in his book The Now Habit, talks about creating what he calls “the unschedule,” a system that aims to do the laughable—the unthinkable, even—of only committing 30 minutes a day to productive work. But before scheduling your work, he recommends scheduling your play.
Excuses that go through a procrastinator's mind to justify putting things off are excuses like, "I haven't had enough time to play, so I need to watch 10 YouTube videos to feel relief from my stressful job.” Procrastinators use the excuse that play is lacking in their day to justify why they should procrastinate more.
By using the unschedule, you prioritize the thing that you need the most if you feel overwhelming stress from work—guilt-free play, or simply some fun. Fun and creativity are how we make connections in our work that we wouldn't normally make while we are actually at our day jobs. That's why “shower thoughts” exists as a subforum on Reddit.
We can create powerful connections by using play, but unless we prioritize it and make it happen on a daily basis, it won’t happen. Instead, work takes over as the main priority throughout the day. If that's the case, then it's no wonder that we feel overworked.
Following the unschedule means that you need to schedule things such as appointments with friends, hangout time, family time and weekend activities. It means planning out a whole day of rest that involves doing maybe a few minor chores here or there and scheduling a day to truly enjoy life. It means scheduling your breaks every day, if you can get them. It means scheduling things like a lunch break or a meeting with someone in your network.
By following the unschedule and prioritizing play, you create a sense of calmness. And when your playful activity is over or your break is over, you create an urgency within yourself and say, "Okay, now I can work."
B.F. Skinner, one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century, used a timer every day to help him succeed. His timer went on when he sat down in his chair and he would time his work in 30-minute increments. If someone as successful as B.F. Skinner used a timer, we should take note.
Another technique that you can use with the unschedule is called the Pomodoro Technique. With this technique, you work for 20 or 25 solid minutes followed by a 5-minute break. Concentrated work for too long of a period of time creates a space where errors are more likely to occur. Using the Pomodoro Technique allows a procrastinator to get creative.
Make Small Changes
Rather than making this huge adjustment as Neil Fiore recommends, I found that changing your habits can be as easy as making a small, even laughable, changes to your life.
When I tell my friends that my exercise routine involves doing one push-up a day, I usually get some eye rolls or some concerned looks. You see, I learned this technique of making small changes every day from a fellow blogger named Steven Guise. He found that the easiest way for him to change his habits was by making his habit changes so small and so laughable that he just had to complete the task.
Think about it: Who doesn't have the energy or time to do one push-up a day? Everyone does. But not everyone has 30 minutes to go to the gym. By taking small steps toward an end goal, you create momentum.
Darren Hardy, the author of The Compound Effect, calls this concept “synergy.” Taking these small steps helps you to move yourself forward. However, when you stop, you lose any momentum that you already gained. For example, according to a study conducted by the University of Scranton, 25% of people gave up on their New Year’s resolution within one week.
But if people would take something small and insignificant, such as writing one sentence a day for the book that they've been wanting to write, they would find that over time, they would want to write even more. The resistance to writing more becomes so minuscule that they would feel empowered to take more action.
One of the reasons we don't accomplish our goals—or even start a big project—is because the task seems too big and too overwhelming. But by making a small, laughable change, you can make changes over time that will transform you from a procrastinator to a productive doer.
Take time to prioritize play first. Even if it is only scheduling time with your family throughout the day or at the end of the day. Make a commitment that to whatever it is that you're going to do for fun, you'll prioritize that time.
Without taking this first initial step, you will not beat procrastination because procrastination is an addictive habit. As you use the unschedule, you'll figure out how busy you actually are. You may even find that you want to give up certain projects, tasks or things that you do throughout the week to help you focus on the main goal that you should be trying to achieve.
When I first started my procrastination blog series, I realized that I had to give up a podcast that I created a few months ago called Pharmacy Life Radio. I had too many projects going on at once and I wasn't able to fully devote myself to one single project. By focusing in and narrowing my process, I've been able to build up my side business so that I am now able to live off of my side business income. I am able to use the rest of my day job income for things like investment opportunities.
It was only after I used the unschedule that I realized how busy I actually was and how I needed to say “no” to some projects. As you begin to give yourself more time for play, you'll find that you want to wake up even earlier than you normally do to work on the things that really matter to you.