How to Conquer Procrastination

I began my recovery from procrastination in 2011. The book that set me on the right path was The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Dr. Neil Fiore. Before I identified this as a serious issue, I would leave writing until the last minute because I believed that the pressure helped me produce my best and most brilliant work. Instead of working steadily, I would watch TV or play online board games (I got really good at Knights and Cities of Catan in grad school), but I didn't enjoy any of this leisure time. I felt incredible guilt when I wasn't writing or studying, which was most of the time.

At that time, my default setting was stressed out. In my mind I was lazy, but I didn't know how to move past the anxiety, pain, despair I felt in the lead up to getting the writing done. There was also the sick need to leave room to explain away failure: oh well, it's okay, I left it until the last minute so of course things did not turn out well.

The Now Habit freed me from all of this. Lifehacker has a great overview of the book:

Instead of treating procrastination like a lazy man's disease that can be cured by a stiff shot of Puritan Work Ethic, Fiore redefined procrastination and the subsequent treatment:
Procrastination is a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.

One of Fiore's suggestions to is do an Unschedule and block out rest and relaxation time and other commitments. Yes, you put in the time for play like a champion, then you only put writing on the schedule after you've done it. I had a spreadsheet where I recorded every minute of my day when I was recovering. Since I have OCD tendencies I felt very pleased with this routine. It made my sick brain so happy. 

Later I bought Fiore's hypnosis series Productivity Engineering and woke up on day twenty-one of the program feeling happier than I had in years. 

I can now watch Riverdale without feeling any guilt. It's on my mental Unschedule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Number One Secret to Productivity

You're not going to believe this, but the secret to productivity is rest and play.

That's right, I'm telling you to prioritize self care over getting things done. It's counterintuitive, but if you allot time in your schedule to rest and to play, even if you can only manage ten minutes to nap or meditate, you'll be more focused when you're working. This leads to better output. You'll also enjoy your time off more because you'll be present for it instead of thinking you should be doing something else. 

Before I recovered from procrastination, I'd punish myself for taking breaks. But rather than spend quality time on writing, I would binge watch hours of TV and feel bad during every second of this leisure time. This made me hate writing even more. I felt blocked all the time. My days seemed joyless.

Everything changed when I read The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Dr. Neil Fiore. This book taught me how to schedule in meals with family and friends, naps, walks, exercise, films, concerts, therapy, and reading time. Dr. Fiore recommends that we move for at least an hour a day, so sometimes I march in place or dance around while watching Netflix or stretch while listening to a podcast.

For many people, this is a good time of the year to rest and recalibrate. So for this week give this a try: put the fun first. Commit to enjoying that time. Step away from your computer. If it means turning off your phone, do it. If you have to delegate one of your responsibilities to someone else for a week to regain your sanity, figure out a way to do it. I know we all have to hustle so we can survive, but we owe it to ourselves to break the cycle of being exhausted and overwhelmed. No matter how tough our lives may be, we can take ten minutes and choose to rest and be present during this time. We can choose to take ownership of a few minutes of each day to put ourselves first. If we can take this step to bring real joy to our lives, everything else will fall into place.

 

Let's Talk About Exhaustion

A friend posted on Facebook: “Anyone else completely useless on weekends? I know I’ve never really had a proper 9–5 job before but it’s like both my body and mind go into standby mode on Fridays at midnight.”

I feel this so much. I want to write during the weekends, but instead I find myself binge watching TV shows like The Night Of and drinking tall glasses of stevia lemonade to stave off dehydration. Most of my energy goes to laundry (I pretty much have to boil my sheets weekly to lower the chances of an allergy attack) and making large meals to freeze so that I don’t have to cook if I’m ready to pass out at the end of the workday. Being an adult sometimes feels like a long trudge through a blizzard to somewhere I don’t want to be.

A few years ago, when I went to therapy for the first time, I realised that the way I talked to myself contributed to my exhaustion and my aversion to writing. No matter what I did, I never stopped to acknowledge that I was doing a good job of living life. All I saw was the pile of clean clothes I hadn’t had time to put away or the unopened mail or the books I’d bought but hadn’t yet had a chance to read. At work I’d sit at the computer until my forearms burned and my eyes were blurry. Nothing left in reserve. My sense of achievement came from feeling productive and my definition of productivity was shaped by outdated industrial revolution ideas about a set workday and output.

But like any perfectionist, I was all or nothing. Whenever I hit the wall, I had no motivation and I usually caught a cold or developed some kind of debilitating pain that hampered my ability to work until I’d have to quit and cobble together freelance projects until I’d rested long enough to give the office another shot. At most of these jobs where I burned out, if my boss had just stopped to tell me I was doing a good job or that my work was appreciated, I could have lasted longer because who doesn’t feel buoyed up by gratitude?

I was going to have to change if I wanted to be healthy and happy, but the way wellness is sometimes packaged freaked me out, like it was solely the domain of entitled lithe women with trust funds, investment banker husbands, and Instagram accounts where the natural lighting always seems to come from the north. But the thing I’ve discovered the hard way is that you have to take care of yourself before you can contribute in any meaningful way to society. Otherwise you’re just a selfless burden who doesn't understand how to set boundaries. Better to be selfish in the right ways at the right times. This Laurie Penny essay covers all these questions regarding self care: 


The ideology of wellbeing may be exploitative, and the tendency of the left to fetishize despair is understandable, but it is not acceptable—and if we waste energy hating ourselves, nothing’s ever going to change. If hope is too hard to manage, the least we can do is take basic care of ourselves. On my greyest days, I remind myself of the words of the poet and activist Audre Lorde, who knew a thing or two about survival in an inhuman world, and wrote that self care "is not self-indulgence—it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

So what’s the writing take away? In order to love the process again, I started setting a timer for thirty minutes, which I’ve since reduced to twenty-five minutes to follow the Pomodoro technique. During the session, I would do nothing but write. No e-mail, no reading, just writing. At the end of a thirty-minute block, I’d applaud. Yes, I sat in my apartment, alone, madly clapping for myself. I don’t need to do this anymore, but at the time it pulled me out of a spiral and gave me exactly what I needed to complete my short story collection. So go ahead and try it. Be the cheerleader that you need in your life.

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The environment plays a huge role in our well being, so for readers in Canada, I urge you to consider writing a letter of protest against the Kinder Morgan pipeline and oil tanker proposal before September 30. (Click here for a simple form that will direct your letters to the right place.) Don’t let the fact that Justin Trudeau is pretty and awesome at PR lull you into complacency. Just because he surfs, attends pride parades, and is all-around dreamy doesn’t mean he’ll put our First Nations communities or concerned families first without us putting up a fight. In many ways, a politician of this calibre is much more dangerous than someone who is simply odious, so we have to make ourselves heard. We become well by advocating for ourselves and for our communities and this is an opportunity for us to author our fates together.