The De-Procrastination Experiment

I’m a procrastinator. Big time. If I don’t have a specific deadline for something, there’s a good chance it won’t get done today. Or tomorrow. In the past I’ve been able to get by, because I lived a life crammed full of deadlines set by other people. But, in the past few years I’ve simplified things. A lot. I’ve opened up my time and created a lot more space. It’s been fantastic and has helped immensely with my well-being and general sanity level. But it’s been terrible for my procrastination habit.

I have long to-do lists hidden in several notebooks throughout the house, but my to-do lists can have the opposite effect than intended.

Here is how I usually operate:

  • I sit down and write up my to-do list, with everything that I want to get done. A few tasks turn into a LOT of tasks.
  • The list becomes overwhelming. Too many things, too many options, too much to do.
  • I end up finding something else to do and sometimes ignore the list altogether.

So, naturally, I’ve been procrastinating on my to-do list by trying to find a cure for my procrastination. I’ve been experimenting, and a few weeks into my latest experiment, I think I may have found something that helps.  I’m feeling cautiously optimistic, so I thought I’d share my experiment with you.

The Experiment. In Two Parts.

Part One: Choosing “Most Important Tasks” (MITs) for the Day.

This isn’t a new concept by any means, but it’s something I’ve only recently come across.  I choose one or two very specific things that I want to accomplish that day. Although other things will probably get done throughout the day, I make my MITs a priority, and focus on those tasks.

It has worked amazingly well! Instead of having a huge list of things to get done (I still have the list, but it’s more of a background level guide now), I have one or two things to focus on. When I first started, I was trying to push it with three or four things, but it really works best if I can whittle it down to one or two. My day is more focused and I can get those things accomplished without the pressure of the rest of the list weighing down on me.

Part Two: Developing New Habits. One at a Time.

Being a serial procrastinator means that sometimes dishes build up in the sink, or the mail pile starts covering the table. I often walk past something that will take me 10 seconds to put away and think “I’ll do it later.” But, when my living space is cluttered, my brain feels cluttered, too. It’s not a good combination.

So, I’m changing my habits. The difference between this attempt and previous attempts is that I’m focusing on changing only one thing at a time. The plan is to focus on one habit for a month or two and wait until it really sticks before adding one more.

Habit number one has been keeping the kitchen sink clean. At the end of each day I make sure that all of the dishes are done and the sink and counters are wiped down. The next day begins with a clean kitchen and a fresh slate. When I first started, it was a challenge, but it helped that I had only one, very specific habit to focus on, instead of trying to change a bunch of things at once. I think this has been the key to its success. I’m a month in and keeping the kitchen clean is starting to come more naturally. It’s a great change!

I have a little red notebook. When I wake up, I make my coffee and take a minute to write down the habit I’ll be focusing on that day, as well as one or two MITs. At the end of the day, or the next day, I take a look back and see how I did. It’s been a great tool for keeping me focused.

I’m only a month in, but compared to my anti-procrastination attempts in the past, this has been wildly successful.  The key seems to be focusing on just a few very specific things. Let the experiment continue!

Thanks to Leo at zenhabits.net for the inspiration.

3 thoughts on “The De-Procrastination Experiment

  1. Katie

    I love love love the idea of listing “habits” on a list instead of to-do’s! Of course, keeping the kitchen sink clean is something you’d add to your list every day, but making it a habit sounds so much less stressful than a growing to-do list. The distinction is subtle, but important. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Elizabeth Post author

      Thanks, Katie. I’ve been thinking about habits quite a bit lately. It’s true that I usually end up with the same one or two habits on my list for a month or two at a time, but it’s a good reminder for me as well, that that is something to focus on each day. I am astounded at how well this works for me. After many years of failed to-do lists and procrastination, the answer was to stop focusing on so many things at once.

  2. Pingback: Simplify | Eliz Rocks

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