Procrastinators constantly vow that they’ll change. They love making promises even though they never keep them.
I will start working on the assignment tomorrow. I’ll get serious about dieting next week. I’ll start saving more money after the next check. I’ll start looking for a new job after I get my bonus.
Procrastinators also love planning and creating to-do lists. To a procrastinator, creating a to-do list is an intellectual orgasm. Writing down the things they intend to do is pure bliss.
Next week they’re gonna eat healthy, find a new job, hang out with new friends, reorganize the house, learn to code, and read a book.
Such an exciting plan! So much productivity up ahead!
All the procrastinator has to do is start. But they never do. Maybe tomorrow, but definitely not right now. There’s just not enough time! Of course, there’s plenty of time. Lack of time isn’t why a procrastinator is a procrastinator.
So what causes someone to procrastinate? Fear. Specifically, debilitating low self-esteem and confidence.
That’s why you’re reading this. You were most likely scrolling through Facebook (even though you have something important you should be doing), saw a catchy headline and thought you’d give it a read before getting back to work.
So, if you’re reading this article because you don’t want to work on what you should be working on, allow me to show you exactly how to kick procrastination’s giant fat ass.
How procrastination works
Procrastination itself is a basic human impulse like eating or humping. You can cure procrastination like you can cure your urge to bang — not at all. Curing procrastination can’t be done. But you can use your urge for procrastination to be extremely productive.
Paul Graham, arguably Silicon Valley’s most successful investor, once said that the most impressive people he knows are all terrible procrastinators.
How’s that possible? Well, according to Graham, it’s because there are three types of procrastination.
- Doing nothing
- Doing something less important than what you should be doing
- Doing something more important than what you should be doing
The good news for you is that there’s a solution for solving all three types of procrastination.
This one is easy.
Starting is the most difficult part of any task. There are a couple reasons why you never start big projects.
The first is because it’s not the right time.
Before writing a paper you tell yourself that you can’t start because you need to be in a creative mood, you work best at night, or that you have writer’s block.
Other times, like when you see photos of your successful friend on Facebook, you say to yourself that it’s too late to start learning a new skill and become great at something. Funny enough, after six months you also say to yourself “I wish I would have started back then.”
This is why it’s safe to say that there’s never a great time to start. Things can always be better or worse. Plus, the excuses that you use to get out of starting something are used by not only by literally every procrastinator, but every human. And they are rarely, if ever, true.
You have these excuses because you’re feeling weak and afraid. You’re afraid of the pain you’ll go through to accomplish the goal, or you have a feeling of inadequacy that makes you feel that you just aren’t skilled enough to get it done. The second reason is most likely what you’re afraid of.
To overcome this, it’s imperative that you realize that these feelings are completely natural.
Everyone has these feelings. Everyone. Even the people you admire most — artists, CEOs, musicians, writers — they all have the exact same fear of inadequacy that you have when starting a project.
In fact, the feeling that you’re not good enough or won’t succeed is a well-documented phenomenon called “Imposter Syndrome.” Imposter Syndrome is not only common among “successful” people, but virtually every “successful” person has it. This urge drives people to be great.
Oprah has imposter syndrome. So does Sheryl Sandberg. 70% of Harvard Business School students raised their hand when asked “How many of you in here feel that you are the one mistake that the admissions committee made?” Everyone feels inadequate.
To overcome this fear and get started, you must accept that the feelings you have are entirely normal.
The second reason why you don’t start something is because a big project can feel overwhelming. Creating the next Uber is daunting. Becoming an $80-billion company in your freetime doesn’t seem possible. So why start?
But what about earning just $1? Does that sound easier?
The only way to overcome this feeling is to focus on starting small. Very small.
The first step is to make a list with specific action items for each task along with due dates. So if you want to start a business, instead of putting “research how to start a business” on your list, put “email six people who have started companies and ask them three questions about how they got started. Do this by Monday.”
When you start, you should focus on things that you control. Notice how I didn’t say, “talk to six people,” or “wait for six people to speak with me.” Otherwise, this list is useless and will only hurt you.
After creating specific tasks and deadlines, focus on your momentum and move to the next step. While it may not seem significant, a 10% improvement each week translates to 1,420% growth in one year.
And as we’ve proven, even the most impressive feats started out small.
Doing something less important than what you should be doing
This is the most dangerous type of procrastination.
Doing less important things gives you a false sense of achievement. These tasks can also be called “busy work” or errands. Browsing Facebook, checking email, and 95% of meetings fall into this category.
What’s scary is that unproductive people spend most of their day in this state but confuse it with real work. Even though they feel like they spent the day doing important work, they didn’t accomplished anything. Because of that they’ll spend the next day doing exactly the same thing.
This type of procrastination ruins people. It’s deadly. Luckily, there’s an easy way to fix this. If you ever think that you’re doing this type of procrastination, ask yourself this: Will the task that I’m working on right now be mentioned in my obituary?
If the answer is no, then you’re procrastinating.
This a good question because obituaries only mention the most important things in one’s life: family, your life’s work, how you treated others, your personality.
Admittedly, it’s tough to decide which tasks will be talked about after you die. However, it’s easy to figure out what won’t be mentioned: browsing Reddit, watching Netflix, and (ahemm) masturbating. But blowing off one of these tasks in favor of something bigger will actually be a win in the end.
Sure, a few people will be angry in the short term, but achieving your bigger mission is far more important. You will feel guilty about not doing errands, but if that means you can focus on your big goal then it’s worth it.
If you want to be productive, you shouldn’t just not do those tasks… you should avoid them like spoiled milk. These tasks are seductive and will steal time and happiness from you. Of course, not procrastinating doesn’t mean working all the time, it means doing what you really want to be doing.
So if you really want to watch Netflix, then do it. However, if you want to read a book, build a table, or start a company then you must purposefully stay away from anything that won’t be talked about after you’re dead.
Doing something more important than what you should be doing
The good kind of procrastination.
This type of procrastination is actually good. These are the procrastinators Graham was referring to when he said most of the successful people he knows are procrastinators.
According to Graham, this type of procrastination is what the absent-minded professor who forgets to shave does. It’s good because instead of shaving he focuses on big, important work.
Of course, the people who need you to take out the trash or call them back will be upset, but not running an errand won’t be the end of the world.
The average person rarely does this type of procrastination. But if you want to be productive and achieve big goals, this is where you need to be most of the time.
There’s a reason why Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, and Elizabeth Holmes wear the same outfit every single day. They’re not procrastinating about choosing what to wear. Instead of spending time shopping and deciding what shirt looks good with what pants, they pick something they like to wear, and wear it everyday. There’s no decision-making process involved.
To make this type of procrastination useful, you first need to pick a big goal — one that you enjoy working on. If you have one without the other then you’re screwed.
As Graham explains, the goal needs to be large enough that it’s almost painful to face. “It’s like having a vacuum cleaner hooked up to your imagination,” he explained. “All your initial ideas get sucked out immediately, and you don’t have any more, and yet the vacuum cleaner is still sucking.”
Big ideas typically come with lots of failure early on, which can be confusing when you start working on them. Big goals will always be daunting, so to start you must focus on something that excites you. Otherwise you’ll burn out and use excuses like, “If it’s meant to be then it’ll happen.” That phrase is just one of many used by people as an excuse for not working on big ideas. That’s people being weak.
Another reason people rarely work on big ideas is because they work on goals that don’t excite them. They dismiss exciting ideas because they’re not important, can’t turn into something big, or won’t make enough money.
However, in almost every industry or project there are examples disproving this thought. Weird Al, Cirque du Soleil, and professional video gamers are perfect examples.
Even Airbnb, a $10B company, was dismissed in the beginning by top investors because they thought it was too small of an idea and market.
So here we are — 1,700 words later. While anything is possible, and “Loved reading The Hustle” has a small chance of appearing in your obituary, chances are that it won’t.
You’ve now got a choice. Do you continue with the first type of procrastination and keep doing what you’re doing… or do you start focusing on the good type of procrastination?
The choice is yours.