It is amazing how one can be compelled to clean, cook, get up to date with current affairs or cruise the internet despite having a “to do list” as long as your arm. Procrastination is a very powerful and seductive use of time when you are desperately trying to avoid the monumental task of ticking chores off your actual to-do list. So before you get up to address that load of dirty washing which is calling for your attention have a scroll through this list of “strategies for getting started”. And yes I stumbled across this review whilst procrastinating…..and wrote the post in another period of procrastination!
This is a repost of a post (Original post: Eleven strategies for getting started (http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/eleven-strategies-for-getting-started/story-fnkgbb6w-1227272844970)) which plugs Graham Allcott’s new book How to be a Knowledge Ninja. Reading through, the strategies they are very achievable and realistic and may just help you pry yourself free of the next period of procrastination.
Here are 5 strategies you can use to get started, look out for the second part in coming weeks:
Writing an essay or working on something big can seem frustrating. This is because the brain releases a chemical called dopamine into the brain when we complete things. In fact, dopamine is often known as the reward molecule. Its function in evolutionary terms was to make sure that we found happiness and value in hunting food before we were hungry in case, when we did get hungry, no food was available to kill. And the reason we’ve evolved and survived as a species? Dopamine is highly addictive. A microgoal with a 2,000 word essay might be to do 250 words a day. Guess what? If that’s your microgoal and you hit it, you’ll feel good about having done 250 words and won’t be feeling bad that you haven’t yet done the other 1,750. And if you hit your microgoal every day for a week and a day, you’ve finished your essay without even realising it. Anything you’re working on can be broken down into microgoals.
A recent study found that for every one-minute email interruption, it takes on average fifteen minutes to recover and get back onto the thing you were doing. So all those little tiny distractions add up to a huge inefficiency. Sometimes what you’re doing needs total focus. For these times, go dark. ‘Going dark’ is a phrase that is thought to have originated among software developers in the days before a big deadline. When they’re working away on something that requires total focus, they disappear off the radar. They’re not answering their phones or emails and you don’t know where they are in the office (assuming they’re even in the office at all). I use this tactic regularly, because I think there are certain tasks where I’m very prone to procrastination if I don’t have total focus, but actually once I do focus, it becomes really clear what I need to do and how to get started.
One of the hardest things about getting started is staring at a blank page. So much so that it almost repels you from sitting down to start. We avoid even the thought of staring at the blank page because it feels daunting, and the infinite possibility of it feels somehow threatening. ‘How can I possibly turn this into something valuable?’, we think. Well, you know what? Every book you’ve read started with a blank page. Star Wars was once a blank page. Your favourite album of all time was once a blank page. Everything invented was once a blank page. But you know how each and every one of those things got good? They got good because the first draft was shitty. The ideas evolved, they didn’t just arrive in perfect form. So just write something. Start something. Anything! It doesn’t matter for now what it is, how good it is, whether you end up ditching it or using it. It’s just that sometimes, having something to disagree with is the first step to knowing what you want to do. And seeing some words on the page gives you something to do, rather than staring into the infinite abyss of a page of white nothingness.
The Pomodoro Technique involves breaking down work into 25-minute intervals separated by short breaks. So grab a kitchen timer, or a Pomodoro app on your phone, and just do the first 25 minutes of the thing that’s scaring you. You don’t need to finish it, it’s not important how far you get, but just start it. I often use this technique with things that I find mind-numbingly boring, like filling in excel spreadsheets about finances. What I find is that one Pomodoro is always enough to turn my discomfort with a task into something more comfortable. And the thought of just spending 25 minutes on something rather than feeling trapped and hemmed in by the idea of spending the whole morning on it makes it easier for me to get going. At the end of one Pomodoro, I’m usually happy to carry on until the thing is finished, so it’s a great way of tricking myself into getting going. You don’t even need to do 25 minutes, either. You could use this same tip but just change it to doing ‘the first five’. Often, five minutes and the act of starting will be enough to create some momentum and help you get over your fear.
Generally, overpromising on things is a terrible and destructive habit. But there’s a time when overpromising can actually be one of the greatest productivity weapons you have — and that time is when you’re procrastinating and need the accountability of having something to prove. Saying yes, against your better judgment, throwing down a challenge to yourself to get something done on a ridiculously tight timescale can be thrilling and exciting. The power of the deadline or expectation it creates can get you over the start line and hurtling towards completion with momentum that goes off the usual scale. It forces you to commit, forces you to follow through and in turn, forces you to say no to lots of other things that will come your way, as you manage the monster you have created. This isn’t for the faint of heart and shouldn’t be a trick you practise regularly, but a little bit of exhilaration and the occasional late night are fine; I’d argue that they’re part of life’s rich tapestry of experiences and are to be celebrated. Just be careful not to make this a regular part of your routine.
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