Procrastination is a concept we are all intimately familiar with. Sometimes, it feels as if the only thing holding us back from reaching our potential is our inability to begin a task. The single biggest mistake the majority of people make when attempting to deal with this issue, is the tendency to look only to short term solutions. What exactly does this mean?
Short Term Solutions DO NOT Work
Short term solutions. The "New Years resolution" phenomenon. Let's look at a common scenario, one that might occur amongst the one demographic that is arguably the most susceptible to procrastination, a twenty-something college student.
Bob is a student of liberal arts, majoring in the study of history. Bob has had a thoroughly underwhelming first year of college, academically speaking. He is barely passing his classes, and its not because of excessive partying or his crippling video game addiction. The reason Bob's grades are so horrendously average is simple: he is literally incapable of writing more than two sentences in a row without alt-tabbing to Youtube and spending 2 hours clicking on related videos while his brain slowly rots.
But that was first year! He has a plan now, one that is sure to result in perfect grades. Every work-day from the beginning of the semester, Bob will wake up nice and early at 7am, attend all his classes and tutorials, and do a solid 3 hours of independent study every day from 4pm to 7pm. Now, this plan is good in theory. The first week may go perfectly, Bob attends all his classes and does his readings. The second Monday of semester rolls around. Bob's alarm goes off at 7am, he wakes up a little hungover. Considering how well the first week went, and how ahead of his classes he is at this point, Bob figures that a little sleep in won't hurt. A day off won't affect anything, especially this early in the semester. He can sleep in, skip a few lectures, and just catch up tomorrow!
By week 3, Bob's sitting in his dorm room in his underwear at 3pm. He hasn't gone to class in 3 days, and is on his 15th episode in a row of Parks and Recreation.
Momentum: The Single Most Important Tool for Success
We all understand momentum in the context of physics. If something is moving, it wants to keep moving. However, for momentum to be built up, inertia needs to be overcome. Newton's law of motion states "an object at rest wants to stay at rest". These most basic laws of physics are extremely relevant to human psychology, in the sense that your brain HATES change! If you've been sitting on the couch watching tv and eating pizzas for two months, you're all but guaranteed to fail extravagantly if you decide that all that is going to change in the blink of an eye.
Here's how you build momentum.
First of all, your goals must be clearly defined. You need to have a strong vision of what it is that you want to achieve. Academic prestige, exceptional physical fitness, learning a language, learning an instrument, anything of value that comes to mind.
Breaking Up Goals into Short Term Achievements
Let's go back to our liberal arts history major from before, Bob. Bob happened to read a very insightful article on productivity, and has come up with an extremely solid plan for conquering this year of college (of course, the best plan would be to quit his current degree as spending tens of thousands of dollars to learn history, something the public library could teach him for free, is borderline idiotic).
Bob's goals for the academic year are thus: To get exceptionally good grades, and to also achieve a high level of physical fitness. The key to building momentum is ADD ONE DAILY TASK AT A TIME!!
Here is a sample plan:
For one week, go for a run every day. Extremely simple. Seven days, seven runs. The length of the run doesn't matter, what is important is that Bob laces up his running shoes, gets out the door, and gets his brain accustomed to the fact that he is going to run every day without exception. Some days he may not feel like it at all, and will only run for 5 minutes. Of course, a 5 minute run is almost completely useless from a physical fitness standpoint, however the psychological effect is enormous. Or rather, the psychological effect of MISSING a run is enormous.
After his week of running every day, Bob adds another task to his list. He will read (relevant course material) for at least 30 minutes a day. Some days he will be inspired, he will push himself to a personal best in his run and he will sit down and read his textbook for 2 hours. The next day, he might be a little worn out, he might run a bare minimum and read a bare minimum. However, he never fails to skip a day, and slowly the momentum builds.
At this point, he might simply stick with these two tasks, perhaps for a month or two before adding another. However, the momentum will build and build, until he reaches the point where motivation and willpower are no longer an issue. It would literally be more difficult for him to NOT go for a run in a day.
The Satisfaction of Small Victories
The most crucial aspect of this plan is allowing yourself to feel a deep sense of satisfaction and achievement every time a daily goal is achieved. This means at the start, when it is only one task a day, enjoy the rest of the day in the after-glow of completing that task, knowing that it will ultimately bring you very far along your path. There is no need to rush.