If you're the type who has struggled to meet deadlines and get started on projects for as long as you can remember, there's no shortage of advice out there for you. From the scientifically validated to the downright odd, there are a million and one articles offering you tips on how to beat your chronic procrastination.
But according to one fellow sufferer, it's time to give up the fight. Recently, on The Pastry Box Project, Erin McKean urged procrastinators like her to stop trying to cure their condition and to manage it instead.
Once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator.
It's a position that's born out of too many miracle solutions that didn't live up to the hype. "Unfortunately, none of the fancy lists, schedules, notebooks, time-trackers, prioritization aids, pomodoros, or other tools I've tried have done anything but provide temporary respite from my procrastinatory habits," she confesses. "Chastened by my experiences, now I treat my procrastination as a chronic condition to be managed, rather than a disease to be cured."
What does that mean in practice? In a fascinating tweak to the old "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" advice, McKean suggests those who can't ever seem to get started on the work they should be doing, just start doing something else instead. "The trick to managing your procrastination is to always have a completely unrelated useful and high-value task to turn to. (I know, obvious, right?)," she writes. But while this solution might sound obvious, procrastination anxiety often blinds people to it.
"So often when you're procrastinating, you think 'Oh, if I can't make progress on INSERT NAME OF BIG ANXIETY-PRODUCING PROJECT HERE, I might as well binge-watch this ten-year-old television show/read all of Twitter/look for second-grade classmates on Facebook/research a disease I think this historical figure had ...'" she says.
Work away your anxiety.
Sound familiar? If so, try to refocus on a valuable task besides that terrifying project rather than another kitten video. "The goal is to have an easily-accessible never-ending list of no-deadline side projects to act as pressure-overflow outlets for procrastinatory behaviors," McKean explains. She offers a list, including:
- A blog
- A writing project (e.g., a novel, a tutorial)
- A personal website
- A code library (but not one for work)
- Writing your congressperson about a cause you believe in
- A short session of stretching or yoga
Each person can decide what sort of useful-but-distracting task is right for them, but the ideal "strategic procrastination outlet should be a quick distraction from the thing that is driving you to procrastinate, should have tasks that can be fit into half an hour or so (the ideal length of a procrastination session), and should be something that you want to accomplish anyhow, and that makes you feel good when it’s done."
Just beware of tasks in which you are likely to lose yourself (and the entire afternoon), such as tidying up a very messy room. The idea is a short, productive break that makes you feel like you've accomplished something and helps you build a bridge across the anxiety that's keeping you from starting that important project.
Could it work for you too?