I have recently discovered some very illuminating ideas on procrastination and how to get out of it. I was excited and tested out some of the theories myself, which leads me to writing this post because I have got some very positive results.
I really hope that by sharing with you my findings, I can help spread the word and let more people know about these brilliant minds who created these theories.
Being a heavy procrastinator myself, I understand how you feel when you are disappointed each time for not having finished what you started. Or getting struck by awesome ideas, only to never be able to start the project at all. You are always distracted by something, blocked by some external force or internal fear, and at the end of the day you don’t get the job done. Even if you do get it done, it was at the expense of pulling several all-nighters to rush in before the deadline. You are tired of doing that every single time.
I feel you, I am a member of the club.
Sometimes I come across articles that “Stop Procrastination” or “Get You Motivated”. They are written with the best intention, I am sure, but most of the ideas are quite banal like “put your phone on airplane mode” or “make a strategic planning”. I have never had the “ah-ha” moment when reading these tips.
So I decided to create my own list and fill it with ideas that illuminate me. I call them the non-bullshit ways to get you moving and get the job done, I hope they can give you your “ah-ha” moment, too.
Non-BS Way No.1: Summon The Panic Monster
Let me introduce you to the master of procrastination: Tim Urban.
This title is actually given by himself, because he is someone who understands clearly who he is (a procrastinator) and studied it. He is the author behind waitbutwhy.com, and through his funny stick-figure drawings and auto-derision style of writing and speaking, he lightens the atmosphere up about procrastination and made the subject less shameful and more empathic. I feel a lot better about myself after I hear him give his Ted Talk.
In short, he says that in a procrastinator’s brain, there are the “Instant Gratification Monkey” and the “Rational Decision-Maker”. The Monkey is always taking control over the Decision-Maker and all it ever wants to do is play.
The only thing that scares the Monkey is the “Panic Monster”. So each time a deadline gets too close, the Panic Monster is summoned, scaring the monkey up the tree, leaving the Decision-Maker to take control again and get the job done just in time.
It is such a simple theory yet it hit me hard when I first heard of it. I was so relieved that my procrastination can actually be explained.
All my life I have been living with the Instant Gratification Monkey and my accomplishments were the results of the duels between the Monkey and the Panic Monster.
Since I started this blog, it was getting worse because I am the only person responsible for this project and no one else. I have not much of a deadline, except for having to write something 2 or 3 times per month. There is no real danger from unaccomplished work, nothing out there is big enough to scare me into summoning the Panic Monster.
Even though Tim doesn’t really think that being afraid of the Panic Monster is the best way to achieve results, I can’t help but wonder if I should, perhaps, push myself to a corner so as to awaken the Panic Monster to give myself a kick in the butt.
Non-BS Way No.2: Discover Your Tendency
Don’t you just feel so good after watching Tim’s Ted Talk? Did you have a good laugh?
Just when I thought I found the solution to my procrastination with my missing panic monster, I discovered another brilliant mind who came up with another brilliant theory that dive deeper into the subject of procrastination.
Gretchen Rubin, author of the renown The Happiness Project, has written a new book last year: “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives”.
At the first glance, the subject of the book seem to be focusing on habits and not procrastination. But a few pages into the introduction has told me that both subjects are actually very similar, they have more or less a “cause and effect” relationship that should be addressed by the same manner.
In the first chapter, Gretchen started off by explaining the importance of Self-Knowledge. Only by identifying how our natures affect our habits can we better manage ourselves.
“The same habit strategies don’t work for everyone. If we know ourselves, we’re able to manage ourselves better, and if we’re trying to work with others, it helps to understand them. ” Gretchen Rubin
She developed the “Four Tendencies” framework that help us better understand different people’s respond to expectations.
There are two kinds of expectations: outer expectations (work deadlines) and inner expectations (keeping new year’s resolution). She found that our reactions to these 2 types of expectations group us into the following tendencies:
Upholder – responds readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
Questioner – questions all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified.
Obliger – responds readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
Rebel – resists all expectations, outer and inner alike.
I took the test and found out that I have the Obliger tendency. That is both good news and bad news.
The good news is that most people are either Questioners or Obligers, so I am not alone. The bad news is that Obligers are the only ones who tend to hate to be an Obliger, unlike the other 3 groups. I have to admit, being an Obliger doesn’t sound too cool.
Ok, so I am an Obliger, now what?
Now is the time for us to digest the fact that an Obliger needs “outer accountability” so get work done. Outer accountability, aka Panic Monster. So Gretchen is basically confirming the theory of Tim Urban, only she says it in a more academic way.
On top of that, she also got into more details into the other types of people in this world who are non-Obligers, the rarer groups of people who don’t need the Panic Monster to succeed. There are different solutions for different people, but first you have to find out which group you belong to.
(If you are into podcast, you can listen to this one to know more about her book.)
Non-BS Way No.3: The 5 Second Rule
You begin to grasp the major insight on procrastination after understanding the principles of the panic monster and discovering your tendency. But what if it’s not enough?
Sometimes, we fail to summon our panic monster. Or worse, the panic monster is here, but we are scared out of our minds to take the first step.
The world can be a very scary place, there can be too much at risk. Sometimes it’s easier to just coward back down and stay in our comfort zone.
There is one trick I’ve discovered that may help in situations like this. It is called “The 5 Second Rule” by Mel Robbins:
I discovered Mel Robbins through this podcast that talks about the rule she invented while watching a rocket-ship launch on a TV commercial. The screen went “5,4,3,2,1, blast off!” and the rocket launched into the sky. She was at a low point in her life and couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning, but that commercial triggered something off in her.
The following morning, when the alarm went off, she felt the same wave of reluctance wash over her and yet, the image of the rocket launch reappeared in her head. She absent-mindedly started to count “5,4,3,2,1” and boom! She got right up on her feet, went into the shower, and started off her day.
And day after day this little trick worked and she continued using it whenever she felt stuck. She was so amazed that later on, after her life went back on track, she continued her research with experts to uncover the scientific reasons behind it.
Turns out, there is a five-second window from the moment you feel your instinct to move. If you don’t, your brain is designed to kill it. That is the moment of hesitation we all have to protect us from important decision-makings in our lives, like getting a tattoo or buying a house.
She also says that procrastination is a stress-reliever. It is the way your brain deal with stress. When you’re stressed out but you got work you know you need to do, your natural reaction is denial. Instead of doing the work, you avoid it by going online or spending an hour on Facebook. Those are activities that make you feel good for a minute. But the more you delay your work, the more stressful you will get when reality comes back knocking.
We make decisions with our feelings, so the more stressful we feel, the more we are inclined to back down. And that is where the 5 Second Rule comes in.
Just count down 5,4,3,2,1 and up, action.
There are surely many other tricks about procrastination that I don’t know about, so please share them if you see fit.
But for me, these are 3 little guidelines have truly worked. I have learnt to embrace my panic monster, to accept that I am an Obliger, and to count down 5 seconds whenever I need a boost to blast me off into action. I hope they will be useful to you too one way or another.
à la vie aujourd’hui,