On procrastination, or why too good can be bad

Illustration: a plastic gun and letters that say "bang"

I’m a terrible procrastinator. A couple of years ago, I installed RescueTime to fight this procrastination. The idea behind RescueTime is simple — it tracks the sites you visit and the application you use and classifies them according to how productive you are. Using this information, RescueTime provides a regular report of your productivity. You can also trigger the productivity mode, in which RescueTime will block all the distractive sites such as Facebook, Twitter, news sites, etc. You can also configure RescueTime to trigger this mode according to different settings. This sounded like a killer feature for me and was the main reason behind my decision to purchase a RescueTime subscription. Yesterday, I realized how wrong I was.

RescueTime logo

When I installed RescueTime, I was full of good intentions. That is why I configured it to block all the distractive sites for one hour every time I accumulate more than 10 minutes of surfing such sites. However, from time to time, I managed to find a good excuse to procrastinate. Although RescueTime allows you to open a “bad” site after a certain delay, I found this delay annoying and ended up killing the RescueTime process (killing a process is faster than temporary disabling a filter). As a result, most of my workday stayed untracked, unmonitored, and unfiltered.

So, I decided to end this absurd situation. As of today, RescueTime will never block any sites. Instead of blocking, I configured it to show a reminder and to open my RescueTime dashboard, as a reminder to behave myself. I don’t know whether this non-intrusive reminder will be effective or not but at least I will have correct information about my day.

The best productivity system I know

I am an awful procrastinator. I realized that, many years ago. Once I did, I started searching for productivity tips and systems. Of course, most of these searches are another form of procrastination. After all, it’s much more fun to read about productivity than writing that boring report. In 2012, I discovered a TiddlyWiki that implements AutoFocus — a system developed by Mark Forster (AutoFocus instructions: link, TiddlyWiki page link)

I loved the simplicity of that system and used it for a while. I also started following Mark Forster’s blog. Pretty soon after that, Mark published another, even simpler version of that system, which he called “The Final Version.” I loved it even better and readily adopted it. For many reasons, I moved from TiddlyWiki to Trello and made several personal adjustments to the system.

At some point, I read “59 seconds”  in which the psychologist Richard Wiseman summarizes many psychological studies in the field of happiness, productivity, decision making, etc. From that book, I learned about the power of writing things down. It turns out, that when you write things down, your brain gets a better chance to analyze your thoughts and to make better decisions. I also learned from other sources about the importance to disconnect from the Internet several times a day. So, on November 2016, I made a transition from electronic productivity system to an old school notebook. In the beginning, I decided to keep that notebook as a month-long experiment, but I loved that very much. Since then, I have always had my analog productivity system and an introspection device with me. Today, I started my sixth notebook. I love my system so much, I actually consider writing a book about it.

Blank notebook page with #1 in the page corner
The first page of my new notebook. The notebook is left-to-right since I write in Hebrew

I should read more about procrastination. Maybe tomorrow.

Screenshot of "The Nature of Procrastination" paper

You’ve been there: you need to complete a project, submit a report, or document your code. You know how important all these tasks are, but you can’t find the power to do so. Instead, you’re researching those nice pictures the Opportunity rover sent to the Earth, type random letters in Google to see where they will lead you to, tidy up your desk, or make another cup of coffee. You are procrastinating.

Because I procrastinate a lot, and because I have several important tasks to complete, I decided to read more about the psychological background of procrastination. I went to Google Scholar and typed “procrastination.” One of the first results was a paper with a promising title. “The Nature of Procrastination: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review of Quintessential Self-Regulatory Failure” by Piers Steel. Why was I intrigued by this paper? First of all, it’s a meta-analysis, meaning that it reviews many previous quantitative studies. Secondly, it promises a theoretical review, which is also a good thing. So, I decided to read it. I started from the abstract, and here’s what I see:

Strong and consistent predictors of procrastination were task aversiveness, task delay, selfefficacy, and impulsiveness, as well as conscientiousness and its facets of self-control, distractibility, organization, and achievement motivation.

Hmmm, isn’t this the very definition of procrastination? Isn’t this sentence similar to “A strong predictor of obesity is a high ratio between person’s weight to their height?”. Now, I’m really intrigued. I am sure that reading this paper will shed some light, not only on the procrastination itself but also on the self-assuring sentence. I definitely need to read this paper. Maybe tomorrow.

 

PS. After writing this post, I discovered that the paper author, Piers Steel, has a blog dedicated to “procrastination and science” https://procrastinus.com/. I will read that blog too. But not today

On procrastination

Cork Board with multiple post-it notes saying "Do it!"

I don’t know anyone, except my wife, who doesn’t consider themselves procrastinator. I procrastinate a lot. Sometimes, when procrastinating,  I read about procrastination. Here’s a list of several recent blog posts about this topic. Read these posts if you have something more important to do*.

procrastination_quote

 An Ode to the Deadlines competes with An Ode to Procrastination.

I’ll Think of a Title Tomorrow Talks about procrastination from a designer’s point of view. Although it is full of known truths, such as “stop thinking, start doing”, “fear is the mind killer”, and others, it is nevertheless a refreshing reading.

The entire blog called Unblock Results is written by Nancy Linnerooth who seems to position herself as a productivity coach. I liked her last post The Done ListThe Done List that talks about a nice psychological trick of running Done lists instead of Todo lists. This trick plays well with the productivity system that I use in my everyday life. One day, I might describe my system in this blog.

We all know that reading can sometimes be hard. Thus, let me suggest a TED talk titled Inside the mind of a master procrastinator. You’ll be able to enjoy it with a minimal mental effort.


*The pun is intended
Featured image is by Flickr user Vic under CC-by-2.0 (cropped)
The graffiti image is by Flickr user katphotos under CC-by-nc-nd