Strategies on Combating Procrastination

The following Tim Ferriss video has some excellent points on combating procrastination. My notes can be found below:

  • Even the people you see on magazine covers have things that they put off (“except for some mutants”).
  • Some tactics:
    • Break it down into the smallest action conceivable.
      1. Get hyper-specific in your goal setting.
        • Macro goal of “Double the number of podcast episodes available” becomes “Double the number of podcast downloads per episode by week 6 after publication and I want to accomplish that by 6 months”.
      2. Borrow by David Allen and ask, “What are some of the pre-requisites — the component pieces of doing that?” (e.g. content, paid acquisition, …)
      3. From there, look at “Next physical actions” (directly from GTD) and apply that to any number of these 10 buckets.
    • When procrastinating because of indecision (a particular breed of procrastination) — because there are 10 particular projects that you can do — what do do about that?
      • Ask yourself: “Which one of these, if done, will make the rest irrelevant or easier?”
    • Make it as easy as possible. BJ Fogg recommends doing the smallest thing possible and develop it as part of your routine and do it consistently. Make it as easy as possible, and in the beginning, do less than you think that you’re capable of. (This is good when the thing is too big or onerous in the beginning.)
      • e.g. Just flossing the gap between your two teeth. Maybe even using one of those flossing picks.
      • Similarly, give yourself tiny homework assignments. “Can you get me 1 word or 1 line that you like for this song, for tomorrow?”
      • “Lower your standards.” – Neil Strauss (doesn’t believe in writer’s block).
      • Another writer commits to “two crappy pages per day”.
      • If your standards are too high, you’re making performance anxiety for yourself.
        • Make the success threshold really really low. Otherwise, if you fall short of your big goal, you’ll get demoralized, then you’ll get intimidated by the task, and then you’ll start procrastinating.
      • e.g. If you want to start an exercise habit, do 5-10 minutes, 3 times a week, at the gym. That is plenty.
        • In all of those cases, you will feel successful because you’ve checked the box, and then you will do more for extra credit.
        • This prevents you from feeling like a failure, which is what de-rails a lot of people.
    • Use “The Pomodoro Technique” — sprints of 20-23-25 minutes where you’re going to make some progress knowing you won’t get it done, then take a 5-minute break.
      • The magic of those time constraints is Parkinson’s Law — that the complexity of a task swells in relation to the positive constraints.
    • Being able to do anything you want all the time is a recipe for disaster and paralysis and procrastination.
    • EmailGA.ME — allows you to avoid the inbox view and deal with it sequentially.
    • Building in incentives and consequences. Make yourself socially accountable. A site like stik.com or coach.me — even a small amount of money like $1 can have an impact. Or it can be a betting pool with $500.
      • People will work a lot harder to avoid losing money than to win money.
    • From Mike Birbiglia: When he was procrastinating working on his latest screenplay, he noticed that when he was accountable to someone else (a meeting) he was always late. And when he was accountable to himself, he was always on-time. He would put a post-it next to his bed saying, “Mike! You have a meeting with yourself at Café XYZ at 7am to work on your screenplay!”

Keep it small, keep it defined, rig it so that you can win, and when in doubt, figure out a way to make a loss or a shame if you don’t tackle your task or achieve a certain goal by a certain point in time.