Every creative person knows what this is. Being stuck. Having a writer’s block. Feeling burnt out. The more a creative (and a perfectionist) you are, the bigger the problem.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is, in essence, fear. When you set the bar just a little too high, you feel confident in the moment. But the next day (and the day after that, and the following day) you just keep staring at your Trello board and simply being afraid. The task seems so big and daunting, like the Trump Tower looking from the bottom up. You can’t start doing it, because you don’t know where to start. So you decide just to leave it here, for the time being and come back to it.
Until you don’t. The daunting task keeps being replaced by less important items on the list (sometimes urgent, sometimes not) because you want to feel productive. Of course you don’t get the same level of satisfaction as you would have gotten if you completed the daunting task, but it’s better than something.
And then guilt comes in. You become guilty that the task was not completed, even started upon, actually. So you start blaming yourself.
When does it happen?
Procrastination happens when you set your expectations too high. Not for somebody, but for yourself. You are both your best friend and your worst enemy. This is especially the case with hyper-ego, A-type personalities (like me). We just need to win and win it BIG. We are always very confident in our speeches and in making decisions. But execution is what separates winners from losers — and ego doesn’t really help here.
How do you tackle it?
I figured out that the best way to tackle procrastination is, like Vladimir Putin says: ‘step by step’. You take the daunting task and brake it into 8–10 bite-size pieces. And then you ask yourself: ‘What’s the minimum viable action I can take to get the momentum going?’ — it has to be something very simple.
For example, if you are procrastinating with jogging, you would just tell yourself: ‘simply get out of bed, tie my shoes and I am done for the day’ — almost certainly you wouldn’t be and you would go jogging.
If you are procrastinating on writing an article, tell yourself: ‘ok, I’ll just write 5 sentences to start this thing and done for the day’.
If it is reading a tough book, it would be reading 5–10 pages. You get the point.
The goal of MVA (minimum viable action) is to get the momentum going. Procrastinating humans are like old Russian cars during the winter. You need to slowly start the engine and wait for it to heat up. Only then you can go full-speed.
Go too fast and you’ll end up destroying the engine. So keep it slow, gentle. Be kind with yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
But it may actually be good…
Nassim Taleb argues that procrastination is a useful indicator that:
a) You don’t want (or need) to do this task
b) You are not ready to do the task, so go do something else
And there is some truth to that. I don’t believe in self-punishment or pushing yourself to the limits, so if it doesn’t go — then fuck it. Really. There is no use in killing yourself over some task. The first rule of work: there is almost more work to be done. So relax.
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