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The Surprisingly Simple Way to Obliterate Procrastination

Be honest – there are important things you (and I) ought to be doing right now…

But we’re not doing them.

Maybe it’s setting up a marketing campaign for your newest product, or connecting with the lead editor to read, review or plug your work, or finishing up your last few songs so you can finally complete your album.

But instead of doing any of these things, you do what we all do – procrastinate.

Before you start feeling guilty or upset, know this: none of us are immune:

  • About 80% of college students procrastinate on a regular basis.
  • 20% of adults are chronic procrastinators.
  • Procrastination is one of the top reasons Ph.D candidates fail to complete their dissertations.

Our entire society is suffering from the disease of procrastination.

Instead of starting, finishing and shipping, the majority of people are in a “hold” pattern, waiting for someone else to take the initiative.

The end result?

Missed opportunities.  Unrealized dreams.  Regret.

Excusing Ourselves

We all procrastinate.

Sometimes it’s not a big deal – we wait until the day before to write a 2 page paper for class.  The paper should take a couple hours, so it’s likely we’ll complete the assignment. But even if we completely bomb it, we can still pass the class no problem.

Small work, small consequences.

But procrastination hits hardest (and is most devastating) when we’re working on something important.

For some, it’s right after we start something great – we come up with a paradigm-changing idea, but then…

“Enough with the daydreaming, I need to go back to work on focus on the real work…”

For others, it’s when we’re in the thick of creating, half way to finishing, but then…

“Look at what these other guys are doing!  I should create something like that!”

And for a few, it’s after we’ve spent years grinding it out and the final product is sitting on our desk…

“But it’s not good enough.  It was good training, but that’s about it…”

In every case, procrastination causes us to shelve the thing we once cared about – the thing we, at one point, found so important we couldn’t not do it.

Procrastination is pernicious – it destroys even the best intentions.

But there is a way to beat it, believe it or not, and it’s actually very simple.

But to beat it, we need to understand what it is and why we procrastinate.

A Vicious Circle

So what is procrastination?

At the neural level, it’s essentially the result of our fight or flight response.  Any time we’re confronted with uncertainty (and the possibility of danger), the hypothalamus kicks into gear, raising blood pressure, releasing adrenaline, etc.

Naturally, the body isn’t particularly fond of this high-alert, high-intensity reaction – over time, stress hormones damage brain structures.  The more damaged they become, the less we’re able to repair and stimulate neural growth (and neural growth is essential for the proper functioning of the brain).

Stress is magnified when we procrastinate.  We anticipate being criticized not only for our work but for turning it in late; we tempt fate by pushing limits; we expect the worst to be waiting right around the corner; we feel guilty for disappointing, inconveniencing, or irritating others.  It’s a vicious circle: procrastination produces stress, and stress can produce procrastination.

Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About IT NOW

At the end of the day, all this worry, guilt, and fear depletes us of the creative energy we could otherwise put toward our important project – the one we continue to put off until tomorrow…

And so the vicious cycle continues…

The Deception

All war is based on deception

– Sun Tzu

Procrastination is the key component of the Enemy’s principle strategy of “deception.”

What is Deception?

Military deception (MILDEC), conducted at strategic, operational, and tactical levels, is defined as being those actions executed to deliberately mislead adversary decision makers as to friendly military capabilities, intentions, and operations, thereby causing the adversary to take specific actions (or inactions) that will contribute to the accomplishment of the friendly mission.

– Joint Publication 3-13.4; July 2006

Replace ‘friendly’ with ‘the Enemy’ and you get the idea.

The Enemy uses procrastination to distract us from the important work in our life by keeping us occupied with the inconsequential things – lists, plans, tweets, etc…

Deception is all about subtlety: the moment we sit down to do creative work we remember something we “need” to do today…

Pretty soon, we’re so wrapped up cleaning the house, sending texts, and writing down lists and plans we’ve forgotten why we sat down to work in the first place.  And at the end of a long, productive day (we’ve checked off so many things on our to-do list!), we’re tired and need a break.  The moment we sit down to rest, we remember our project.  Instead of getting up at that moment and doing the work, we decide it can wait until tomorrow.  After all, we need to recharge…

The Enemy wins.

And the Enemy will probably win again tomorrow…

Fighting Back

Of course, there is a way to fight back.

The method is simple, but be careful – the moment you put it to work, everything will change.

The inconsequential things will fall to the wayside.

You’ll share, and like, and tweet less.

People will wonder why it takes you so long to respond on email and why you don’t pick up your phone.

The flip side is you complete your important project, you build something worthwhile, and you begin doing great work.

Ready?

The Blitzkrieg Method

Blitzkrieg means “lightning war” in English – a term used to describe the devastating massed-offensives of the Germans during World War II.

The goal of Blitzkrieg: to break through the enemy line quickly and swiftly in order to dislocate and encircle the enemy’s unprepared rear forces, forcing them to surrender (or destroying them).

Photo credit: wintersixfour from morguefile.com
You can do the same thing with procrastination.

The moment you notice yourself procrastinating (scanning emails, texting, organizing, excessive planning – anything that doesn’t involve you doing the work), declare Blitzkrieg.

Begin at once to work on your project.  Focus on just the important project at hand.  Put all your effort into 30 seconds of work.

That’s it.

That’s all it takes to break through the Enemy’s lines and obliterate procrastination.

Don’t feel like writing?

Declare Blitzkrieg: sit down and, for 30 seconds, focus on writing.  No matter what, write at least one sentence.  Don’t declare writer’s block the winner tonight until you’ve written one sentence.  After the first sentence is complete, then decide how many more you want to write.  Not before then.

Don’t feel like working out?

Declare Blitzkrieg: get outside and, for 30 seconds, focus on running.  No matter what, run at least 100 meters.  Decide after the first 30 seconds of running whether you feel like running any longer.  Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.  Whatever you do, give it at least 30 seconds to decide.

Don’t feel like making a painful sales call?

Declare Blitzkrieg: pick up the phone and, for 30 seconds, make one call.  No matter what, call at least one prospect.  Don’t call it quits until you’ve gotten a real person on the other line.  Once the person says yes or no to your offer, than decide to call it quits – not before.

The Next Step

Seems silly, doesn’t it?

Well, the most effective things usually are.  Need proof that starting with the seemingly insignificant act of 30 seconds can dramatically change habits over time?  Check out this article (for more depth, read the book Nudge).

I use the Blitzkrieg method every day for every project I work on.  I usually don’t feel compelled to write.  But I (literally) declare Blitzkrieg and begin at once to write – at least for 30 seconds, for one sentence, every lunch break and evening.

This method is how I started investing in real estate years ago (I forced myself to stop reading and start practicing), how I created this website (and a half dozen others), wrote a couple books and over 50 articles in the past 6 months, started a podcast (almost to our 10th broadcast!), and it’s even the method I used to start my boutique, creative publishing platform.

Still hesitant?  

Give it a try.

I’m sure there’s an important project in your life right now – it deserves your attention.

Declare Blitzkrieg and get to work.

At least for 30 seconds.

Who knows, it could change everything.

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