Beat Procrastination with Science

Another day and another poor soul on Hacker News grieving about losing the day to procrastination. I’ve been there, done that. Too many times to count. And I’ve heard the story retold in many variations. But the one thing that struck me about this particular story was that the author says, “I’ve still no clue why humans procastrinate (sic).”

Now that strikes me as strange because it’s not like procrastination is some deep mystery of the universe. There are people who actually study procrastination and why humans do it (and by extension, how to fight it). They’re called scientists, more accurately, neuroscientists and psychologists. What’s even better is that someone else has gone and done the work of curating much of the available research in the area and tried to offer a coherent, scientific strategy for beating procrastination. That article (and the references) are a veritable treasure trove of information, but here’s the quick start version to get you up and fighting procrastination right now.

Essentially beating procrastination comes down to three steps:

1. Increase your expectancy of success

Do this by starting properly on small tasks that you can finish easily. This helps to build success spirals where one victory gives you the mental boost to make it to the next. Join groups (like Toastmasters) and create situations that will improve your chance of success. Visualize your goals but be honest about your current situation so that you can plan a realistic strategy to what you want.

2. Increase value

Engage in tasks that are meaningful to you and provide you with ample opportunities for entering a state of flow. Reduce errands and other short, distracting tasks so that you can focus on the things that really matter to you.

3. Control impulsiveness

Set clear and frequent goals. Measure repeatedly and correct course accordingly. Acknowledge that humans are creatures of habits and set ones that are biased towards putting you in a favorable position to get work done.

In conclusion

The breadth and depth of human knowledge can be very surprising, especially when it comes to knowledge about yourselves. If you ever catching yourself saying “I don’t know why I do this” consider the possibility that someone else does know (and has published about it). Science and rationalities can be powerful allies when we are our own worst enemies.

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