January 28, 2007 at 12:28 AM | categories: python, oldblog | View Comments

I've been doing some reading recently on how to deal with procrastination, in an attempt to deal with my own procrastination better. Along the way I've discovered a few interesting things which I'm finding useful, so I thought its worth blogging about. The post is longer than anticipated so the content is after the fold, if you're willing to spend 5 minutes on it :)

OK, the things I've found out:
  • Firstly, it seems there's a theory that states it's related to the "fight", "flight" and "freeze" strategies that some animals use when faced with a predator. Specifically it's thought that it's related to the "freeze" strategy of when faced with something frightening, some animals just freeze and play dead.

    The thought is specifically when faced with what we percieve as too much to do - either too many options or something too large -that we simply shy away and do something else instead - effectively freeze.

    Clearly not everyone acts that way, and some people thrive on having too much, and perhaps that's an element of a fight response, but what turns that into a freeze? Either way it's a useful idea.

    It suggests that the very act of taking on too much can lead to not being able to function, which is a useful thought. (It certainly rings bells with what you hear about stress). The idea that it can cause you to fall into "bad" behaviours like procrastination though is intriguing.

    After all, it suggests that by taking on less at a time you will actually achieve more.

  • The second thing I picked up was related. How many times have you known what you should do next, but haven't. You've put it off by doing X for 10 minutes, another thing for 1/2 hour, then gone off and helped someone else with their thing for 2 hours, and several hours (let's pick a random number - 6) later you get back to what you should have done originally and realise you haven't even spent 5 minutes on the task?

    What if you recognised in yourself you'd taken on too much, were overloaded, and were likely to do this? What if you said to yourself - "I'll do 5 minutes on it now". There's some consequences about this - you're accepting that you do procrastinate, and that the chances are unless you spend 5 minutes on it now you'll go several hours without doing anything on it, and just feel guilty about it.

    However, if you spend 5 minutes on it now, and still follow through the same behaviour, you'll've done at least 5 minutes on it. And its true, you might still end up spending 5 minutes on that task - but it will be more time than you would have spent anyway.

    Also, it breaks a major problem - getting started. Getting started with a 5 minute task is conceptually easier than a task that mighttake 8 hours. However, there is something we all know - once we get started, often its very easy to keep going. The very act of picking *something* to work on for 5 minutes helps you get started.

  • Finally there's a really nice thing - procrastination can be good. Rather than check your email constantly, or look to check your intray,how about procrastinating that? If you're in the middle of a task and you get the urge to check your email (a typical thing that happens), procrastinating that check can actually be useful.

    After all, if something is urgent, people can always phone you, right? (or instant message you if it really is that urgent)

    Furthermore if you switch of interval mail checking, what do you lose? You can actually use procrastination of email checking to make yourself more productive (and more importantly, I think it reduces stress).

    About 6 months ago I dropped my mail auto check time to once every 2 hours. These days its now back on manual check, and I think it's made a big difference. However if I combine it with this trick, I find I'm much more effective. "No, I'll check it in 5 minutes after I finish this".
All this said, it's also made me wonder about something like climate change. It's a huge problem, probably the largest humanity has every faced - will we procrastinate and find something else to do? Will we bomb our neighbours because it's easier than solving global warming? Will we discuss the ins and outs of celebrity big brother because its easier?
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