Monday, September 13, 2010


I bet that procrastination is the most common way people hold themselves back. The word comes from the Latin roots for toward tomorrow. The problem is that when we procrastinate, tomorrow leads to the next day, which leads to the next day. Days become weeks and before you know it, life passes you by. 

Procrastination means: To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness. Put simply, procrastination is a choice

A Chinese proverb says, The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now. It may be an old Chinese saying, but it still works for today. A new American saying could be, The best time to buy milk is before you need it. Not as classy but accurate. So, the next time you’re feeling pressure over your stuff ask yourself, “Wouldn’t it have felt good to have had this stuff done yesterday?”

Over the years I have asked lots of people about their procrastination. What I learned is that most people put off stuff they don’t like. Wow! We don’t want to start what we don’t like. Yep. We avoid discomfort. This was discussed earlier when I advocated for you to leave your comfort zone to create the life you want. You have to confront little discomforts to defeat procrastination. 

I have a few suggestions about how to kick procrastination’s ass. First, recognize it. You have to be aware of your tendency towards procrastination to realize that it is controlling you. Once you notice procrastination’s retched breath, you will find the following head games helpful:
Do the worst first: When you have tasks that you must do but don’t want to, do the worst task first. This makes the process feel easier. It’s very hard to keep going if the job gets even worse. It is easier to stay motivated if the job gets a little better. Remember, your perception counts.
Make a game out of it: Find a way to put some fun into the crappy job. Set up a way to play with yourself (hey, clean your mind up and stick with me here!). Time yourself, attack the job sideways, add music. Be creative. Laugh in the face of despair. Joke with the toilet as you clean it. Humor helps us to get through many a shitty task.
For a lot of people, setting a deadline for themselves is a game that brings rewards. “I’ll get this done by 4:15 if it kills me!” It is self-talk that is motivating. 
Add a reward: Pat yourself on the back for your hard work. If it’s a beautiful day and you can’t stand that you’re stuck inside, reward yourself with a walk around the block after you get half your work done. I know a business tycoon who rewards himself with five minutes of shooting hoops after he completes an undesirable task. Keep the reward simple and low calorie. If you get a candy bar after each undesirable task, you will be five hundred pounds in no time. I find that physical activity works well for most people. Walk, hoops, or juggle to help relieve life’s tensions. Again, be creative. 
Start: Lots of people spend so much time getting ready to start that the project doubles. If Stephen King can make millions of dollars writing in his laundry room, you should be able to kick ass with your cool stuff. I once watched my sister prepare all afternoon for a date that took two and a half hours. Four hours of prep for two and a half hours of date. Life’s too short. It’s like taking off a band-aid, just rip the damn thing off, feel the pain for a moment, then go on with your life. Slowly peeling a band-aid off lets you feel it for minutes versus seconds. As the sneaker ads tell ya: Just Do It!
You can never finish a task if you don’t ever start. Life rewards action. You have to complete a task to reap rewards. 

Total Void: There are areas in our daily lives where we can become totally void of thought. In these Total Void zones we will find ourselves staring off into the ether with little sign of life registering on our faces. When this occurs it is easy to have thirty minutes quickly turn into three hours. In Total Void our mind is being occupied by random thoughts of nothing. Like a black hole in outer space, the Total Void takes thought into it and never lets it escape. It warps time and space while sucking the life out of its victims. No light can escape a black hole, and no time can be retrieved from a Total Void. 

There are many types of Total Voids in the known universe. The most common is the TV. I once played with the knob on the side marked brightness but the programming didn’t get any smarter. For lots of people the TV is the kiss of death for creativity and the fertilizer in the garden of procrastination. My advice is to be fearful of the TV. It can suck the life out of you. But, at the same time, I like TV. What a conundrum. My advice—plan your viewing. Turn on the TV just before the show you want to watch starts and (this part is hard) turn the dumb thing off the instant the show ends. Karl Marx said, “Religion ... is the opium of the people.” To which I say, “TV is the marijuana.” You should even beware of “educational” television. Do you really need to watch a show about the mating rituals of the fruit fly at 2:00 AM? Not if you will be tired tomorrow and frustrated that you are behind in something significantly more important to your real life than fly humping (unless you’re a horny fruit fly, that is. If so watch on!).

The second Total Void is drugs, with alcohol and pot being the most common avoidance tools. Most people find that drugs and task completion don’t go together. I’m told regularly something like, “I work better a little buzzed.” My observations of life, along with all the brain research I have studied, disagree with that contention.

A third Total Void is small talk. Lots of people use small talk and gossip to fill their lives versus improving their lives with accomplishments. When I worked at County Mental Health earlier in my career, I was amazed how many people showed up to work at 8:00 AM to visit, drink coffee, fix their makeup, eat a donut, complain about their weight, and gossip about others who were not present. Then around 9:15 they started work. These same individuals were quick to bitch about their hefty work load at every opportunity. I have heard similar stories from numerous types of businesses across America. I would guess that there are billions of dollars in lost productivity in our nation’s workplaces because of small talk and coffee.

In the area of Total Void, everyone has to decide for themselves what is more important to them—life accomplishments or avoiding life. I’m very liberal minded, it’s your life ... what ya gonna do?

Excerpted from my book: Life's Laws for New Adults

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