I’ve always been a huge procrastinator. In college I would time my work to force myself to be up against a deadline. Eight page English lit paper tying together Jamaican poetry and British imperialism due? Get up at 6 AM to do all the research and writing by class at 9 AM.
This works to a point and there’s even some Bill Gates quote about it being a good quality. There’s nothing like the fear of demise to get your ass into gear.
The problem is very few projects can be done reliably and with high quality while you’re rushing to meet a deadline. And if you’re attempting to do some work for yourself (like set up a website and write eBooks) forget it. You’re the only one being let down so you can always do it “tomorrow.”
So without further ado here are the only two techniques I have used that effectively stop my procrastinating.
I’ve attempted daily tracking in the past. Making spreadsheet to record my weight or a word doc full of articles or to-do list items. It never worked. It was always too easy to just ignore the doc and not open it until it had been forsaken for three weeks – massacring the entire point of daily tracking.
When I was a senior in college I was working 30 hours a week at a leasing company, doing Tim Ferris’ slow carb diet, working out every day, attempting to consistently write blog articles for the Motley Fool and take extra classes to finish both degrees on time that April. I was not doing very well.
I found that if I focused my energy I could keep the diet and workout or write a blog article and do some homework. But I could never get myself to do everything I wanted to do each day.
Following my third or fourth time attempting to update my weight spreadsheet by memory and failing terribly, I noticed a whiteboard sitting in a closet unused and decided to make use of it. I made columns for each day of the week and then rows for each daily goal.
Every day before I went to sleep I would go to each row and give myself one, two or zero points and then add up the total for the day. Underneath that I would put my weight from the morning weighing (makes me sound like livestock).
The rows were fairly simple things like: eat, workout, work, school, drink, contacts (these last two probably seem strange I was trying to wean myself off caffeine and create a habit of removing my contacts each night).
Here’s what the board looks like today:
I put the board up right behind my laptop where I could easily guilt trip myself into filling it out each night. As I consistently graded myself each day I found myself naturally avoiding the negative habits and creating the positive habits to the point where it was surprising if I missed one or two points in a day it was truly surprising.
Here’s how I grade myself today:
Work: The number one aspect of work is working on this site. If I improve a web page, write an article or write/edit part of an eBook I get a point. The other point comes from my day job. If I did well getting my tasks done with quality and in a timely matter I get a point
Workout: One point for Basketball or Tabata and one point for Yoga.
Eat: Default to two points, lose a point for overeating yogurt or potatoes or something and lose both points if I eat any kind of grain or refine sugar.
Read: At least one chapter of two books.
Weight: No points awarded here but I generally want to be lower at the end of the week than the start.
Daily tracking is what I use to develop positive habits and destroy negative ones. However, it is not the most effective at motivating me to get a specific task done when I’m in a bored lull.
For this I use anything I’ve found motivational in the past. For me it’s typically business books or podcasts. Atlas Shrugged is great as are the majority of CEO biographies. The Myth of the Robber Barons is probably best at getting me to put my head down and forge ahead. As for podcasts James Altucher’s is really good at opening my mind to new ideas and learning how to develop my own ideas; Porter Stansberry’s now defunct podcast is the best I’ve found at getting me in the mindset that my future in life is totally under my control and getting ahead at my job or with a potential business I own is my own responsibility.
Also, this youtube is great:
The problem with these motivational blips is that they are extremely temporary. There have been at least 17 times where I listen to three Stansberry podcasts while playing basketball on a Saturday morning and then spend the rest of the weekend thinking about how I could structure a website or what articles I could write. All the while no work is getting done and suddenly it’s the week and I don’t have “time” to work on the site.
The key is not getting the blood flowing, once you find your keys this is simple. The key is channeling all that energy into something that is actually productive. Once I figure out a good way to do this I’ll write another article about it.
Bonus Hack: To-Do Post its
In my day job I have 12 or 14 responsibilities and at all times at least three or four of them have some task or long-term project that needs to be done. For the first few months of dealing with this I did OK just remembering what I needed to do or not deleting the emails for task that were incomplete.
This ability ended as I developed a reputation as the spreadsheet jockey and any project that could be done with a spreadsheet was referred to me and at the same time I started working on projects for the executive management team that without fail took 4-37 drafts and each time had notes on new ways to calculate this or analyze that.
So I needed a way to keep track of all the things I was responsible for doing. So I made it a game.
I started writing down everything I was asked to do on post it notes and sticking them to the side my cubicle. The post its would say something like ‘stress test’ or ‘Allen spreads’ or for projects that I took several pages of notes on instructions there would be five or six post its each detailing a section that needed to be updated or created.
I inherently don’t like a whole lot of clutter so I did not want to have an overload of post its glaring at me. So not only did writing down the to-do list somewhere where I had to see it remind me what I needed to do, it motivated me to just knock out all the east 20-minute stuff so I could rip the post it down and chuck it.