When you complete a subgoal, you chalk up a mental win and enhance your locus of control (the feeling of having control over your life).
You feel more capable.
You get more done without waiting until the last possible moment, and avoid injecting massive chaos into your life.
The projects we dread tend to be assigned a doomsday status in our heads. And as that deadline approaches, you get that “impending doom” feeling that makes you dread it even more. It creates a pain loop that’s hard to escape.
The most successful periods of my life have been when I was busy and had set goals I was actively working towards. I’ve learned to appreciate crushing these tasks and getting things done. It’s rewarding and keeps the fog of dread away.
Eat the frog: learn to embrace doing hard things
Remember, you tend to put off things you find unpleasant. If you put off doing unpleasant things, you savor that unpleasantness. It hangs over your head and becomes a heavy burden that you carry in the back of your mind.
It diminishes your quality of life. That fact—and that fact almost entirely alone—is why I push to get things done as soon as possible.
I have learned to visualize that rewarding feeling of having finished the task. It motivates me. I like the feeling of lightness that comes with proactivity.
A dreaded task is like a bad memory in the future that keeps visiting you at random, making you wince. If you just do the task now, you’re killing that memory from revisiting you.
I remember putting off huge essays in high school and college until the night before. It’s that same old, tired story. I knew about it. I knew I should start soon. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
The end result was me pulling an all-nighter with my eyes hurting by the end of the writing session. It was complete misery and reinforced my hatred for homework assignments.
It all comes down to embracing the art of doing hard things. Make it your religion.
There’s an old Mark Twain quote that I always thought applied to procrastination:
If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.
This is why I try to exercise first thing every day. It’s hard. But I know it’ll make me feel better for the rest of the day, and I won’t have it looming over me like a specter.
Get more done by prioritizing your most important task
I’m not perfect. I recently suffered a bad case of creative block on my first book.
I have such a deep respect for books. I’m terrified of writing something inadequate. I slowly became terrified of my draft screen, like it was my own failure staring at me—from a life I had yet to live.
One day, I noticed I was cleaning the house, organizing drawers, calling my family, going for workouts—doing anything and everything besides working on my book.
There’s a name for this (doing quasi-productive tasks instead of the important one). It’s called Shaving the Yak.
“I will get right on that. First, let me shave this yak.”
Now I keep my radar on, always trying to notice if I’m fooling myself into feeling productive.
At the end of the day, my job comes down to moving my fingers at this keyboard. If you identify the simplest unit of your job and cater to that, you can keep your life simple and avoid dodging your responsibilities.
Use procrastination to your advantage
Let’s say you can’t possibly get things done. The motivation’s just not there.
I’ve had these days. I actually had one recently.
What I did instead was use that time to daydream ideas. I laid on my couch and let my mind wander, and anytime something cool came floating by, I wrote down the idea. I find that the more relaxed I get, the looser and more creative my mind gets.
Turning this moment into something positive and productive helped boost my morale.
The most important thing: don’t let a slip-up alter your identity and make you believe you are a procrastinator. That’s 10x worse than just knowing that you sometimes procrastinate.
Focus on thinking less. Don’t lend weight to the difficulty of the task. If need be, use the countdown method. Count down from 3, and when you get to 0, your brain will trigger you to take action and get off the couch.
Above all, don’t let laziness become the thing that defines you. Laziness is a mirage. It doesn’t exist.