I recently stumbled across a little anti-procrastination trick that has been working surprisingly well for me.
To briefly set the stage, I occasionally find myself procrastinating on some major projects that require constant effort to keep moving forward. They aren't the type of project that can be knocked off with a long weekend of work and some reason I keep finding myself unable to work on them. It's not a problem of motivation -- these projects are something I care deeply about. It's not a problem of not knowing what to do next -- I'm pretty neurtoic about making sure my to-do list is filled with truly concrete next action steps. I couldn't figure it out.
I carry a hard cover medium-sized notebook with me everywhere I go. I decided that instead of bashing my head against the procrastination wall every time I struggled to work on something, I'd write in my journal instead. I think my brain immediately latched onto the idea because it gave me a seemingly productive task to do ("Procrastinating? What?! I'm writing! Look at my hand go!") even though it wasn't what I was supposed to be doing.
What I quickly discovered, though, was two things. First, writing in my journal while I was procrastinating often uncovered interesting data on myself about what triggers my procrastination. I've come to a couple realizations about my work, ranging from understanding my next action weren't quite right, that I needed to delegate a task to someone else, or I actually needed more information before I could move on. Instead of sitting at my desk feeling badly about how little work I was doing (and not really knowing why), writing in my journal helped me better understand where my procrastination was coming from.
The other benefit to writing in my journal each time I found myself procrastinating was the fact that very often I jolted myself out of my procrastination just by writing about it. I'd find myself writing about the project I couldn't get going on and excuses would start flowing out of my pen. Very quickly I'd realize that those excuses were terrible and that procrastinating on a project you truly care about just because it's hard or big is one of the most immature things you can do. I think I essentially shamed myself out of procrastinating more than half of the times I started writing in my journal.
The way I see it, it's a win-win situation. If you don't outright break through the procrastination just in the act of writing out your thoughts about why you're procrastinating, you've at least gathered valuable data on yourself. Over time you'll collect more data and specific patterns may emerge. Once you've identified a pattern then you can take steps to change your work habits, projects, -- whatever it is your pattern of data suggests -- to break your procrastination.
It's a simple idea, but the next time you find yourself procrastinating just start stream-of-consciousness writing about it. You might be surprised how so simple an activity can have huge results.
Photo by [E]mmanuel17