I often always be intimidated by my to-do list. Usually, I procrastinate, hoping post deferments I will feel better and can finish the task. It is a silly thing to do because deferment will make me feel much more horrible. I know what the issue is and how to work around it. But procrastination is always on the way and is still my default reaction.
Tackling procrastination are obvious yet not so obvious. Enough articles are discussing procrastination. I put my pieces here, which some based on those existing ideas in countless articles and books. So here we go, the steps on how not to procrastinate, so that I can always refer back here if any of my current or future tasks resort to procrastination.
- Eat the elephant, split big tasks into smaller
- Write first awful draft and iterate
- Beat the resistance by just starting out
Eat The Elephant
Eat the elephant is the first step. Many tasks feel big because... it is big. Split it into manageable chunks. As one person working in software industries for more than a decade, this should be natural for me. One starts with writing a story. Then define tasks to accomplish the story. Define subtasks if needed. The intuition is, an elephant is too big. You can't eat it in one swallow. But it will be edible if you eat piece by piece where you can chew it chunk by chunk.
Example: writing a thesis. The one task that I am starting. It is so big—so many tasks. I am beginning frozen. I don't know what to do first. Break the ideas of the tasks as a starter. I am starting again to use mindmap recently, and it is quite helpful in breaking up ideas and actions to take. I use gitmind, the best of a few I have tried. Following is the very first version of my thesis mindmap. It is still big, but I can see the manageable chunks, which I can try to chew bit by bit.
As additional note, in conventional school, an advisor will give you manageable milestones that help you further in eating the elephant.
Write The First Awful First Version Draft
This idea is not always necessary only about writing. I often want to procrastinate because I keep hoping that I will continuously produce an excellent first version. First version awesome blog post. First version great software piece. I wish I can always create something amazing all the time, but I feel that it shouldn't be the case. I believe even some great people wouldn't always produce a masterpiece. That's why they call it a masterpiece. If a masterpiece is all over, we will not call it a masterpiece anymore.
In an article about writing that I don't remember which one is, it tells to aim to write awful writing once a day. Or, in other words, write a daily crappy writing. Accept the fact that your first output will most probably always be awful. However, do iteration based on a feedback loop. See what went well, and keep it up. See what can be improved and make small chunks of improvement. The more you do it, your first draft wouldn't be so awful anymore.
One example is this blog post. This is the first time I am writing directly in the Ghost editor without overthinking how awful my post will be. I just want to write points to clarify my thoughts to refer to again in the future.
Beat The Resistance
“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), "Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?" chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Even after understanding and accepting your first version (be it writing, software, work in progress task) will be awful. You need to start. To start, you need to beat what Steven Pressfield called resistance. How to beat resistance? Just start. Yes, this is cyclic. To break the cycle, you just need to start.
According to many procrastination books (sorry, I can't quote because I don't remember the specific reference), anticipating to start a task often much more difficult than actually starting the task itself.
For example, I have been procrastinating my Machine Learning homework that dues tomorrow because I just feel not good about starting for multiple reasons. I still don't understand most of the concepts in the past three lectures. I wish I can start after I know all of them. This blog post is one way for me to defer myself from doing my homework. I am pretty sure that once I start, it won't be so bad.
Sometime You Just Need to Procrastinate
This statement is based on a conversation with my friend. He has done his PhD and advice on tackling procrastination from PhD is always the best one.
Productivity is a wave! Don't feel guilty when you are in an antinode and take care of your wellbeing when you are in a node!
That's what he said referring to this twitter post.
Productivity as wave. We often think people are doing much better than us. Spoiler alert⚠️: they aren't - their wave is probably out of phase of our own.— Dr Zoë Ayres (@ZJAyres) July 7, 2020
We need to make sure to be kind to ourselves, and not compare ourselves with others.#AcademicMentalHealth #AcademicChatter pic.twitter.com/COgjFlGTOu
So there is a time when one will feel not good to start. Don't feel guilty too much about it. But don't wait for the perfect starting time. Just try to start, even if you feel good a bit. It wouldn't be so bad once you start.
Post image is taken from here.