If you’re reading this, chances are that you are dodging some sort of deadline. However, unlike other distractions, the five minutes it takes you to read this post could be time well spent. As a writer, I’m often faced with a date circled in red, the ticking of the clock. And whether you are an employee with a proposal due or a student with a final looming, we all are often on some sort of countdown. Here are some strategies to help get the job done.
Adopt a Mantra
I have my dad to thank for the fact that I can recite the first line of “The Cask of Amontillado” and “Casey at the Bat” (two party tricks that I haven’t quite figured out how to work into this millennium’s conversations). They’re etched in my brain, just like this short poem on procrastination he often quoted:
“Tomorrow, tomorrow,” the lazy man cried,
“I’ll take up my work with a vim.”
Time stole his tomorrows—the lazy man died,
And his work is still waiting for him.
Bleak? Yes. But its cadence of Shakespeare plus heavy dose of Aesop make it hard to forget, and it replays every time I entertain the thought of putting off work. There’s a reason why goal setters from politicians to Fortune 500 CEOs employ key phrases to keep their eyes on the prize. Find one that motivates you (feel free to borrow mine) and don’t look back.
Visualize Yourself in Action
If a manta isn’t enough to rev your engine, then use a technique from the playbooks of Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali, and countless Olympians: Picture yourself doing the task in as much detail and with as much excellence as possible. Studies have shown that this practice of visualization is enough to increase your motivation.
Shake It Off
Our time’s great sage Taylor Swift knows all about this technique. Researchers have proven that shaking off doubt can be as simple as shaking your head. Doubting your doubt, they say, can actually make you more confident. Try it next time a negative, productive-squashing thought pops in your head.
Start Anywhere on Anything
Science has shown that it’s human nature to want to finish incomplete tasks. (Lay’s Potato Chips come to mind—try to eat just one.) It’s called the Zeigarnik Effect. I use this trick a lot: Often when I’m having trouble getting started on a freelance article, I just write the lede and then come back and finish the piece the next day. It’s not as intimidating to complete a project that you’ve already started. Added bonus: I’ve found that giving myself some distance after beginning allows my thoughts time to gel. I can tackle the work quicker and with more clarity when I return.
Welcome (Initial) Imperfection
Often we’re so focused on producing the perfect initial draft or proposal that we’re paralyzed before we begin. Expanding on the Zeigarnik Effect, whatever you start on, give the green light to bad structure, concepts, and phrases. Just focus on putting ideas and information in one location and edit later. For example, countless novels have been written thanks to National Novel Writing Month, an annual November movement that encourages participants to crank out their life’s work in just 30 days. That timeframe allows for quantity but not necessarily quality; however, many writers claim they never would have started if they weren’t given permission to just put their thoughts on paper without second guesing. Diamonds have to be polished, gold has to be refined, and your next best work has the potential to be just as brilliant—but by no means does it need to be perfect from the start.
Have you tried any of these ideas before? What works for you to beat procrastination?