When was the last time you procrastinated on a project? Just about everyone I know has vented about the frustrations of procrastination.
In my last article I explored why this common problem exists. The brain has a tendency to envision the worst part of a project, which makes us feel overwhelmed and then procrastinate on our project. The best way to fight this is to make a move and start anywhere. Once our brain starts a task, then it will likely want to finish.
In researching procrastination further, I came across this article by Paul Graham, entrepreneur and venture capitalist (of start-ups like Dropbox), who writes that the most impressive people he knew were terrible procrastinators.
So why is it that these phenomenally creative people who seemed to achieve a great deal could be terrible procrastinators?
His premise is that procrastination isn’t curable, but it might not always be a bad thing either. The trick is to learn how to procrastinate well.
So what is good procrastination?
Graham believes there are three variants operating when you procrastinate (which is essentially to do anything other than the task at hand).
When you procrastinate, which of the three options are you most likely to do?
1. Work on nothing
2. Work on something less important – i.e. the to-do list of errands
3. Work on something more important.
If you choose #3, you are choosing “good” procrastination.
The most impressive people he knows choose #3, they choose to work on the big stuff rather than the small stuff.
They also have the ability to say no to the people who are asking them. Even the most mild mannered people he knows have the ability to sort of protect their time and don’t get sucked into doing the small tasks.
He defines the small stuff as: “the stuff that has a zero chance of being mentioned in your obituary.”
It is hard to know what is the important stuff, but you can pretty safely rule out anything that might be called an errand such as shaving, doing your laundry, writing thank you notes, answering e-mail. Some errands do need addressing and can get worse if ignored, such as doing taxes, paying bills and mowing the lawn. They might need to get done, but most likely can still wait a few more days.
The most tricky kind of procrastination is the second type that makes you feel like you are accomplishing something. Don’t be fooled by crossing tasks off check lists. The mind will fool you to believe you are accomplishing something but, in relationship to the task you know you need to start working on, it is a diversion.
These highly successful people realized that two ingredients were needed to get the big stuff done: big chunks of time and the right mood.
Studies have shown that the brain hates to be interrupted and has a hard time starting and stopping a task because it is wired to complete things. Interrupting the mood and discouraging the brain makes it harder to get going again.You have to do only a few of these in a day, and discouragement sets in and you have lost the inspiration for days or even years.
So blow off everything you were supposed to do for a few days and work on the bigger project that inspires you, and you will not only be surprised at how much you have accomplished, but how much energy you have. Inspiration fuels more inspiration and our soul feels exhilarated when given permission to work, create, invent, imagine, the unique thing that is ours to do.
We won’t always win. Some days we may get real work done. Other days might get eaten up by errands. But we have the choice to let errands eat up our day or not.
According to Graham, “the way to ‘solve’ the problem of procrastination is to let delight pull you instead of making a to-do list push you. Work on an ambitious project you really enjoy, and sail as close to the wind as you can, and you’ll leave the right things undone.”
Do you have an inspiring project you need to work on? What keeps you from getting it done?
Excerpts taken from Paul Gram’s essays. Find out more at www.paulgraham.com