Procrastination, Part 2 – One Simple Method Every Procrastinator Should Try

Published October 10, 2009 in Psychology and Mind Hacks - 4 Comments

Procrastination Part 2

In my previous post on the subject of procrastination, I presented a brief definition of “problematic procrastination” and offered one unconventional reframe that can help you beat this bad habit. In this post, I will take it one step further and show you how you can combine this reframe with a simple method to improve your productivity some more. If you haven’t read my previous post, I suggest you do that first by following this link. If you’re already familiar with my previous post, please read on.

I hope you have applied or at least tried to apply the reframe I presented in my previous post. The goal of said reframe is to allow you to become more aware, more conscious of how and when you are putting things off but also to learn to accept your current situation. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s actually much easier to do something about a bad habit when you aren’t constantly feeling guilty about it.

The Next Step

Now that you have learnt to commit to what you are doing in the present, regardless of whether it’s productive or not, we can take it one step further. Instead of just committing to what you are doing right now, try to decide beforehand how much time you want to spend doing whatever it is you are about to do. I’ll explain a very simple method for doing this right away, but first, let me clarify something: Yes, I’m suggesting a time-management method here. I realize that time-management methods and chronic procrastinators all but physically repel each other. What I’m suggesting is different, though. First of all, it’s not complicated. Secondly, it’s not about organizing, planning and timing your “important tasks” and all the stuff you should be doing. In fact, you don’t need to focus on any productive tasks at all, if you don’t want to.

Here’s a practical example: Before, you probably used to switch on the TV occasionally and just start watching whatever took your fancy. You would probably feel slightly guilty about “wasting your time” and maybe there would even be some mental chatter going on, with you bargaining with yourself to watch just a few more minutes, or just to the end of this show.
In my first post about procrastination, I encouraged you to commit to watching TV while watching TV. No negotiating, no guilt, just watching TV (it’s a bit Zen, now that I think about it).
As a next step, think about how much time you want to spend watching TV before you switch it on. Again, this should be an honest, guilt-free process. Don’t decide on a time that you “should” watch TV (30 minutes or one hour, for example). Set the amount of time that you typically would spend doing this activity anyway (perhaps several hours). Decide on the amount of time and set a countdown timer. Your mobile phone probably has one, or you could use this extremely straight-forward online timer.

Now, start watching TV and after a while, an alarm-tone of some kind will notify you of the end of your chosen amount of time. Next, just take a second for some introspection. Do you feel, right now, like you have watched enough TV for today? Are you still “hungry” for more or are you actually past the point where you’ve had your fill? Could you get up and do something else, right now? It doesn’t have to be any of those things you’ve been avoiding all the time, it can be some other activity that you like to do.

After this bit of introspection (this only needs to take a few seconds), set the timer for whatever you want to do next and take it from there.

The Point

So, what’s the point of all this? I’m giving pretty vague advice here, I know. That’s because the point is awareness. Just awareness, nothing further. It’s likely that if you try this method, you will be a little more productive than usual. But maybe you won’t be. Whichever is the case, committing to what you are doing and timing it will give you a completely new awareness of your habits. It’s like having a veil lifted from your eyes.

You see, a big part of procrastination is denial. When you are putting things off, you’re telling yourself lies, to diminish the guilt. You tell yourself you’ll get to this later, you’ll tell yourself you can’t do a certain thing right now because [insert excuse here]. What I’m suggesting you do is look straight at the reality of your situation and accept it for what it is. This will not only ease a whole lot of psychological tension, it will also make it easier to change your habits.

More to Come

Now, I’m guilty of one thing in these two first posts on procrastination: I am simply giving you my own advice, based on my own experience. This is also known as “made up” advice. Luckily, quite a bit of good, scientific research has been done on the subject of procrastination and how to beat it. Since I’m a big fan of evidence-based advice, I have been reading up on this research and my next post on the subject will contain a summary of what science has to say about putting things off. And as always, I will be trying the suggested methods myself and reporting on how it goes for me.

If you have any suggestions on the topic of procrastination, please let me know in the comments-section below.

This post is part of the procrastination-series:
Part 1: Procrastinate Much? Maybe you should read this later…
Part 2: One Simple Method Every Procrastinator Should Try (currently viewing)
Part 3: Beat It! (With Science)

  • I like your “commitment” approach to procrastination. People tend to hide the fact that they are doing detrimental things. It is definitely better to acknowledge and accept our weaknesses. Only then will we be able to control them.

    My procrastination often stems from the perceived difficulty of the task. There are some things that I know (or think I know) will take a long, long time so I don’t even want to start. However, setting aside a specific amount of time to at least start those tasks will probably help a great deal. Action has a way of fixing all kinds of problems.

    • Hi John, thanks for stopping by!
      I experience a similar kind of thing as well: Putting things off that seem too difficult or too big to handle. Often enough, once I get started, it’s not that big a deal or even quite enjoyable, but just getting started can be a tremendous effort!

  • My best method to avoid procrastination on large tasks is to set a date far enough into the future for me not to worry about it, and then publicly commit to it. That way I have to do it or respond shamefully to all those people that ask me how I got on.

    • Interesting. I’ve never heard of such an approach before, but I can imagine that it could work. As long as the people who you are publicly commiting to are progressive and not the type to just shrug it off if you don’t follow through, then I’m sure such support is very useful. 🙂