Why We Procrastinate

I gotta confess: I procrastinate, a lot.

Sometimes, I’ll let a whole weekend go by and wonder where all the time went. Or I’ll set the alarm to go run in the morning, only to snooze it endlessly and sleep even longer than usual.

Sound familiar? Do you also Netflix-binge to avoid washing dishes? Or worse: wash dishes to avoid working? 🙂

If you’re like me, then you might wonder if your parents dropped you when you were a baby. Or better yet, maybe the ones who were dropped were those who actually follow through on stuff. Damn overachievers.

But the difference between procrastinating and following through is quite simple actually, and has nothing to do with childhood accidents. You and I aren’t broken in any way. All humans are broken.

It’s just, some people have learned to control it. And learned is the key word hereBecause becoming someone who follows through is completely, 100% learnable.

And the most important step in learning to beat procrastination is to understand why it happens. It changes the way you see everything.

Then, armed with that knowledge, you can practice some simple tricks to get rid of it.

So, lets talk about the most important part: the why.

YOU’RE IN CONTROL ONLY 10% OF THE TIME

You know those moments of clarity? Those rare moments you decide to stop eating junk food or start running in the mornings.

You’re the CEO of your life in those moments. You’ve got the long term in view and a grasp on your real priorities.

Your life’s like a family business, let’s say a shop owned by an old woman on a wheelchair. She’s not your typical CEO I know, but she technically is “the CEO”. She keeps track of finances and always knows what needs to be done or changed at the shop. She sometimes rolls in on her wheelchair to check up on business, but she’s mostly away sick.

The store is run by her teenage grandson, working through the summer and earning pennies. He’s unenthusiastic, rebellious, and only interested in avoiding boredom before 5pm.

In those moments of clarity, your CEO has rolled in for a visit.

It’s clear what you need to do and why. You’re almost lunged forward by your determination. You stick your chest out, slam your fist on the table and yell out to the universe: “I will start running every morning ’till I’m in shape!” You set your alarm to an epic tune in your head and go to bed with a proud smirk.

But when the alarm goes off in the dark, who wakes up? The CEO is gone and you’re the teenager now. That determination from last night is replaced by… comfort? The only thing that matters now is the warmth of your bed. Forget health. Or wanting to look better naked. Waaaarmth. Yum.

As you can see here, you are not the same person. Almost literally. Your brain chemistry is completely different.

Your CEO decided what should be done but your teenager refused to follow orders, as he always does.

And the catch is, it’s always the teenager who has to do the heavy lifting. Nothing gets done by the CEO – she’s on a wheel chair, remember?

WHEN DOES YOUR CEO ROLL IN FOR A VISIT?

Do you see this applied to your life?

Everyone’s different, but my CEO rolls in about 10% of the time, on special occasions (listed below). Check if any of these apply to you as well.

  • The night before something is due
  • After exercising or accomplishing something for yourself
  • After facing the consequences of your actions
    • like…
      • getting bad grades or negative feedback at work
      • realizing you’ve hurt a loved one
      • getting a medical report with bad news
  • After mediation, yoga, or a spiritual experience
  • When challenged to prove yourself

When was the last time you felt determined to change something? Think about it for a sec… we’re all different.

And so the key to all of this is: you and I procrastinate because the CEO never sticks around long enough to make any changes. Once she’s gone, the teenager stops working and finds the next mindless distraction or pleasure.

And making changes requires effort over time. We need the teenager on our side because he’s in control 90% of the time.

Good news is there are proven ways to get the teenager in line. And anyone can learn these with some practice.

Let’s talk about the ones that work best.

HOW TO ACTUALLY FOLLOW THROUGH

The teenager is very rebellious, he will fight back. Be warned.

Once you recognize this alter-ego, you’ll be blown away by the stubbornness of your teenager.

So the question is: how do you control him? Imagine CEO trying to force her grandson into submission. What would she do? Roll over his toes until he taps out?

But the teenager isn’t the brightest bulb in the tanning bed. He’s easy to trick. And you can play mind games on him to get him to work.

Below are the best-known mind tricks. Each one of these is an article on its own, but we’ll go over the basics here:

  • Habits, habits, habits
    • The teenager will do anything he’s used to doing already. But how do you get him to start? Luckily, there are well-known tricks to beat his initial resistance.
  • Change the surroundings
    • Teenager does as teenager sees. Change the surroundings while your CEO is visiting and the teenager will change his behaviour (and won’t even know why 😉 )
  • Call your CEO in for a visit
    • Do you know what gets you into CEO-mood? Then do that more often! If proper breathing brings your CEO in, then do it when you feel your teenager resisting. Or go running, and as soon as you get back dump all the junk food before you lose your CEO clarity.

Finally, though it’s not strictly a trick, managing stress levels can help you stop procrastinating.

Stress keeps your CEO away. Things like meditation, yoga or exercise, and proper breathing will make your CEO stronger (wheelchair upgrade?) and your teenager tamer.

Each article above has a set of simple steps, plus references to studies and stories of famous people who’ve used them to get big things done.

And with a bit of practice, you’ll soon start following through more often than not.

CHANGE HOW YOU SEE YOURSELF TO CHANGE HOW YOU ACT

Knowing the why is the real key.

When you start seeing yourself differently, the rest falls into place with a bit of practice.

For example, what do you usually tell yourself when you don’t follow through?

  • “I’m such a slacker! Always wasting time…”
  • “I’m a bum good for nothing…” 🙁
  • “I’m destined to stay fat/lonely/dumb/poor forever…” :'(

Which one?

Whether you’re harsh on yourself or not, we all hear poisonous voices in moments of disappointment. It’s part of being human.

But now you know: it’s not you who “failed”. It’s your teenager. And that’s an important distinction.

Start looking for your CEO and teenager in your daily life, and a new voice will start becoming louder:

“My teenager’s acting up! Of course he is, that bum… I’ll trick him next time!”

Slacking is completely normal. Even expected. So when it happens, just step-up your mind games.

Check out the linked articles to learn and practice the best tricks. And once you’ve mastered them, the only thing you’ve gotta ask yourself is:

“What will I change the next time my CEO visits?”

Grasp This Absurd Fact About Time To Find More In Your Day

Can you juggle?

How many things can you keep from crashing to the floor? Two? Three? Or just one like me?

More importantly, how many things can you juggle in your week? After work it’s tough to squeeze in even the basics like eating, cleaning, and staying up to date with news and social media.

So apart from, you know, surviving and keeping your place pest free, are you finding time to do what you want?

Look at the top google searches for “how to find time to …”:

  • Read
  • Exercise
  • Write
  • Study

What would you search for? Everyone’s got something they’d like to do, but no time for it.

Time is the only scarce resource in our proud modern society.

But you know, I’ve discovered something that can help. I’ve discovered that it’s possible to create more time, to literally add hours to your day like stacking pancakes on a plate.

With a simple technique, I’ve been able to add about 6 extra hours to my day. And it has completely changed my life. Imagine having 30-hour days. What would you do with all that time?

Best of all, I no longer feel like I’m drowning in a sea of stuff I need to do.

Wanna know how? It all sprouts from a simple idea.

Creating Time is Like Growing Beans

Did you plant beans in high school?

We did for biology class. They’re among the fastest-growing plants on the planet. After just one month, you can collect your first beans.

This (obviously) means that if you have a bean in your pocket, you can use it one of two ways: you can devour it (although I don’t recommend eating the one in your pocket). Or you can bury it, invest it, to create more beans.

Interestingly, it’s exactly the same with time: you can invest it to create more.

Sounds a bit weird, I know. But you intuitively already know this. We’re just not used to putting that way.

Let’s look at an example.

You’re usually just using up time, devouring it, because everything takes time. Wake, shower, breakfast, commute, emails, work, scroll facebook, cat videos, emails again. Having time for these is what makes them happen. Everything eats up time.

However, if you freeze your routine for a bit, and instead spend time improving one of the above activities, you’ll finish that sooner tomorrow.

Said another way: spending time making daily things better and faster will save you time in the future. And you can use that time for something else.

See what I mean?

Imagine you type a lot. Emails, reports, presentations, code, whatever. To invest time, you could practice your typing skills for an hour, so tomorrow you can be faster.

If you keep practicing, you’ll eventually type much faster, and finish reports earlier.

And puff! With that time investment, you’ve created new time. You see? That’s time you didn’t have before.

Ever thought of it that way?

This (obviously) means that for every hour you have, you can use it one of two ways: you can devour it, or you can invest it to create more time.

Just like beans.

How to Add Up Your Time Gains

Typing faster clearly won’t change your life.

But doing a bunch of little improvements like it, will.

If you do this over and over, consistently, time will add up to hours before you know it.

But do you think time created will add up just one at a time? Is it like stacking fresh warm pancakes on a plate one by one?

Interestingly, it’s not. Time created adds up much faster than that.

It’s more like each pancake that lands on your plate is larger than the last. That might create a pancake dome, I guess, with the ones up top drooping down the sides. I’d love to jump on that fluffy thing if I saw one.

This each-larger-than-the-last phenomenon is called compounding.

And “compounding” should ring a bell. It’s how investors make their money.

And it’s how you’ll make your time.

The Only Math Concept You Need to Grasp

When you invest time in improving, what you’re really doing is increasing the output of your work by a percentage.

For example, let’s say after an hour of improving your typing skills, you’ll be 1% faster. You’ll type 101 words in a minute instead of 100. So your output has increased by 1 per minute.

Next time you do that, though, you’ll add more than just 1 word per minute, because it’s a percentage over a bigger number.

This continuous increase by percentages is the well-known compounding formula.

And let me tell you, it’s the most useful math concept you’ll ever learn. This stuff is gold.

How small steps, made consistently over time, add up

Because of compounding, if you bump your work skills by 1%, 90 times, you’ll be able to finish all of your work’s load – your 8 hours’ worth – in just 3 hours, 16 minutes.

That’s it. You could go home before lunch every day.

Or stay and get a promotion.

I calculated this using the continuous compounding formula (check my math at the bottom). But you don’t have to know the math. You just need to remember this:

Improving little by little, continuously over time, adds up like a mother f*****. Waaay more than you think.

That’s the official description of this formula. Check your math book.

Many Are Already Doing This, Are You?

So I hear you.

This sounds too hand-wavy. Too theoretical. Where’s the real proof?

Let’s get to the meat of it then: real life examples.

First, I see this with my own eyes at work all the time. Making software at Amazon, I interact daily with some of the top brains in Europe. I get a glimpse at the habits and tricks of the hyper-productive, and everyone in this competitive environment is constantly improving.

These folks always make time to invest in themselves, not just produce code.

And it’s what I do too. It’s the only way to stay in the race.

But my example pales in comparison to the absurd story of someone you may even know: Sir Dave Brailsford, coach of the British cycling team.

Sir Dave looked for 1% improvements in everything his cyclists did. From the weight of their bikes to their physical training to the food they ate. He made every single thing just a tad better.

And with this strategy, in just a few years, his team went from decades of winning nothing (except for the hearts of their own mothers), to winning basically everything.

They brought home the Olympic gold. Twice in a row: 08 and 2012. Then went on to winning 3 of the last 4 Tour de France. Moms almost fainted.

Now they’re the best team in the world.

All with pathetically modest gains, repeated over and over, without fail, through years.

I told you this was gold.

Invest Time And Fly; Or Don’t, And You’ll Flop

Remember the graph showing compounding?

With the flat red line at the bottom and the blue one rising skywards?

Scroll back to it for a second. It’s an important mental image you should carry.

The blue line is the time you’ll have if you invest in yourself regularly, for months. Like Sir Dave.

The red line shows what happens when you don’t. When you just do what life throws at you.

Now you know, you don’t need big jumps. No need to change everything at once. No one can do that.

Tiny, almost invisible, little steps are all you need.

These steps will sure feel invisible, insignificant even, but trust that you’re riding that blue line to the clouds.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how you answer one simple question:

“How will I use the next hour?”

You’ve got two options.

 

 

 

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Thanks for reading! I hope it was worth your scarce time.

See, I’m taking my first awkward little steps as a writer, and I’d be deeply thankful for your feedback in this quick 2-minute survey.

Thank you!