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How To Trick Procrastination


“Putting things off is the greatest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future.”

— Seneca, On The Shortness Of Life

In the last post of Stoic Answers, I wrote about How To Find Your Passion. The advice of that post, simply put, is to stop spending so much time in your head trying to figure out what you are passionate about, doing absolutely nothing in the meantime, and instead, take the negative approach to it. Which is to get yourself to work on whatever feels even tinily right and from there, figure out what you don’t like so you can figure out what you do like and then get closer to it day by day. This is the process of action, and it is far more efficient in actually living life instead of just thinking about it. With this approach, passion will find you, surely. 

Now, if you think this approach might be a better way to come about what you’re passionate about, you need to put yourself to work. 

Procrastination, at this point, becomes a problem. It becomes a problem because while you need to be taking action so you can live your life, this manipulative bastard (as I like to imagine it) will lure you into thinking that “there’s nothing wrong with looking at my phone just for 5 minutes”, oh but there is. Hardly you look at your phone just for 5 minutes. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tinder, you name it. They are literally designed to hook your attention for as long as they possibly can. 5 minutes then become 10 minutes and then half an hour until you need to do other urgent stuff and there they went, 30 minutes you could’ve spent working on something meaningful to you. Luckily, there’s a way to keep the good things about bought worlds. 

Delayed Gratification 

When I was a young boy, I used to play a game in which I practiced delayed gratification without even noticing. The game consisted of doing stupid challenges before I could eat one dish I loved, like mashed potatoes or pizza. I had to go to the garden and touch the tree, then go to my room and settle the toys I was going to play with later, and then touch something from the living room. When I’d finished my “mission”, I could go and have the first bite, which was glorious. Haha, I did it just for fun, but that my friend was delayed gratification on its full splendor. 

Delayed gratification consists of delaying the price once you’ve done something. We love to play games. Scientists have shown consistently how learning becomes far more efficient when it is gamified. You don’t even notice that you’re learning something while you’re playing, because you’re just having fun. This is the secret sauce of the success Duolingo is currently having, kudos for them. 

You can gamify anything. Do you like Facebook a lot? Maybe it’s not Facebook, but what about 30 minutes on your PlayStation? Or 30 minutes chatting with your best friend? Why don’t you use this as a price? 

Doing this the right way

Everyone’s different, but most people can concentrate on 50-minute time stretches until their heads begin to burst. Knowing this, play your game by doing 50 minute stretches with 5 or 10 or 30 minutes (depending on the activity you’re doing) of price. For example, if you’re learning to program or you’re writing a book, set 50 minutes on your timer and do absolutely nothing but work, once the time is over, you are free to play with your phone or whatever, guilty free, which is infinitely better. What’s great about this is that you’ll come back more efficiently to work because you gave your brain time to rest. You are working intelligently and having fun at the same time. 

So there you have it. To trick procrastination, used delayed gratification. You can only have the price once you’ve done your meaningful work. You’ll have fun and you’ll feel proud of yourself. Ah, that’s better. 

One last thought

I want to finish this post with one of Seth Godin’s quote, for I find it highly relevant for the topic at hand, living your life fully. Here it goes: 

“The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions, meeting spec, and being managed.

Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can.

The job might be difficult, it might require skill, but it’s a job.

Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.

I call the process of doing your art ‘the work.’ It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin.

The job is not the work.”
Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

When I talk about taking action, I do not only talk about working on your job harder. What I’m trying to say is that you need to work on your work, the one that you force yourself to do, typically when you’re tired after having worked on the job that pays the bills, for now. This is the kind of work that matters and that’s so painfully easy to procrastinate in. Nevertheless, this is the most important, this is the kind of work that leaves a footprint, and we need you to do it.

Thanks for reading,

Ricardo Guaderrama

Special thanks to my Patreons:
Edward Hackett
Michael Thelen
Melville Alexander

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