What is procrastination?
Procrastination is putting off a decision or action for the future. It is equivalent to hitting the snooze button on your life instead of jumping out of bed. Besides the wonderfulness of your cozy sheets, why do we procrastinate, what is the science behind it, and how can we avoid it?
When we are considering a decision whether or not to do something, what we are really doing is hosting a debate between the brain's limbic system and our prefrontal cortex. Put simply, the limbic system is your pleasure center and the prefrontal cortex is for high-level rational thought.
I recently worked with Clement DeHoe on a project for Planet Rocket's Collaboration Station where I help our members with their dream projects. Clement had always wanted to make an animation film, so we made one on procrastination. Here it is, enjoy!
Dr. Applesmith is your prefrontal cortex and Tom the Procrastination Monster is your limbic system. These internal debates take time and energy, the two things we never have enough of.
What is happening is called decision fatigue.
We can think of decision fatigue like going to the gym, but for your brain. If you are to work out your muscles, they get sore. Just like our bodies, our brain's have limited energy, so the more internal debates we have, the more fatigue our brain feels.
High-performing people automate simple decisions to avoid decision fatigue, so they can use their brain's energy on their most important decisions.That is why Steve Jobs wore turtle necks everyday (and because turtle necks are sweet).
Decision fatigue and procrastination are like cousins (shout out to my cousin Sam). Procrastination is the internal debate on whether or not we should do something, then deciding to post-pone the decision or action.
Setting up your (turtle neck) systems
You have to make a decision that makes decisions for you. Here's how.
To set up a habitual system you need a trigger, an easy action (momentum builder), then the execution of the system.
Here is a sample of how I set up a system to be more productive in my life.
1. Every time I wake up (trigger), I will go to the kitchen and feed my cat (easy action).
2. Then I will make tea (another easy action) and take a cold shower (not very easy but effective).
3. Then I will sit in front of my laptop and begin working from the top of my to-do list (full execution). This is how I start work between 3 - 5 AM 4+ times a week and finish my workday by noon.
This is what that conversation of getting up looks like in my head.
The key is I don't go straight to the challenging items of sitting in front of my laptop or go straight to a cold shower. First I do something that helps someone else, my cat Pancho, then I do something I enjoy, making tea.
If you notice, one of the paths is if I am in a good mood, and the other a bad mood. I have to plan for both and make sure that even in the worst of my moods, I still get my butt where it needs to be.
If you have no system to get it done, then you will have that debate between your limbic system and prefrontal cortex until your deadline arrives. It makes the task much more difficult to do if you have to think about it all week versus getting it done first thing on Monday.
On the days where I cave in and don't get up, I have to work so much harder later in the day, I won't want to take the cold shower, I don't enjoy the tea, and I am far less productive. I have to work much harder! That is why my mantra is...
Be lazy, get stuff done.
The key takeaways on how to be productive.
1. Listen to your prefrontal cortex (Dr. Applesmith), not your limbic system (Tom the Procrastination Monster).
2. Procrastination is for ambitious people who like to spend a lot of energy debating with themselves, lazy people handle their stuff right away so they can get back to relaxing.
3. Set up a system where all of your decisions lead towards your desired actions, whether or not you feel like doing something.
So that leaves us with one final question, what is a system you can use to get the most important things in your life done? Or perhaps an even more important question, what have you been putting off for years, that you could start working on today?