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« Predicting your day | Main | It’s Like Walking Across a Muddy Field: how to get rid of backlogs »
Thursday
Jul312008

"I'll Just Get the File Out”: Conquer Procrastination for Ever

I am re-issuing some old articles as blog entries partly in order to get a new audience for them, and partly in order to get all my articles in one place. This is the second.

I’d be willing to bet that you, along with every other person reading this article, has at least one important project that would make an enormous difference to your life — if only you could get round to doing it!

In fact if you are procrastinating over only one important project you are a quite exceptional person. Most of us could produce a whole list of things we are procrastinating about. Not only do we procrastinate about things we’d really much prefer not to have to do at all (such as getting our tax returns in on time), but we even manage to procrastinate about things we are fully committed to and enjoy doing. Most authors love writing or they wouldn’t be authors, but “writer’s block” is so common that the phrase has become proverbial.

Strangely enough, for all the havoc that it wreaks in people’s lives, procrastination is extremely easy to overcome. All you have to do is to use the “I’ll just get the file out” technique and you will find that it will vanish out of your life.

Here’s how it works. When the inner voice of conscience tells you that you really must get moving on that important report, if you are like most people your usual reaction will be to find something else to do (such as tidying your pencils, making a cup of coffee, going and chatting to your friends, etc. etc.).

Instead say “I’ll just get the file out”. Once you’ve got the file out you have a choice: you can either put the file away again, or you can do some work on the report. It’s up to you. Nine times out of ten you will probably do at least some work on the report. And if you do the same thing the following day and then the following, the report will be completed before you know it.

This technique can be applied to virtually anything that you find yourself resisting. Yesterday afternoon (a Sunday) I felt that all I wanted to do was to veg out in front of the TV. But I had a whole load of tasks which I’d promised myself I’d do that afternoon, which included washing the dishes, mowing the lawn, going for a walk and writing some more of my book. I got myself moving by saying “I’ll just fill the washing up bowl with hot water”. Magically I found the washing up was done. Then I said “I’ll just get the lawnmower out of the shed”. Again magically I found the lawn had been mown. Then I said “I’ll just walk to the end of the front drive”. Fifty minutes later I got back from a long, fast walk through the woods and fields. And finally I said “I’ll just open the Word file for my book”. A thousand words later I felt very virtuous indeed!

There will be days when I say “I’ll just open the Word file for my book” and that will be all I do. But that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that I did something. And that will keep the project alive and developing.

Hey, how did this article get written? All I said was “I’ll just write the headline for the next article”!

Reader Comments (2)

I'm an expert procrastinator, so this article's headline caught my eye. But I thought it meant something else.

You see, the biggest cause of procrastination for me is all the "little things" that get in the way. I go through my days thinking, "I'll just get these few little things taken care of, then I"ll get to the important stuff (MITs, Big Rocks, or whatever)". So to me, the headline implied a solution to *not* "getting the file out". That is, a way to STOP doing all the tiny crap and focus on what really needs to get done.

The sad thing is that I know *why* I do the little things and put off doing the important stuff. It's the rush of a sense of accomplishment. If I can clear my e-mail inbox (and I mean really clear, not just file things away), wow, I feel like I've really done something. Or if I can knock out a bunch of web site updates, it's more stuff I can cross off my list. Get my RSS feeds to zero? Ding! (Of course, there will be 1,000 new feeds in there by bedtime!) So by the end of the day, I have "done" a lot, but have I really *accomplished* anything?

I've been monitoring my own thoughts and behavior carefully for the past 4 weeks. I've been meaning to reprioritize my big list of to-do's, identify the Big Rocks, actually block out time on my calendar to work on them, and truly accomplish things. Have I done it? Nope. Been too busy on the little stuff. So even though I know I'm "watching myself" (and I'm my most harsh critic), I still can't bring myself to do what I know I must do.

Mark's true meaning of "I'll just get the file out" may work for me - I'll try it and see. But I've heard of a technique that might be more effective. Instead of just getting the file out, commit to working on it for just 10 minutes. Set a timer and tell yourself you can stop when it goes off. For me, just getting my brain in gear long enough can sometimes make me want to keep resetting that 10 minute timer, and I'll end up working on the project for an hour or more.

I'm interested, however, in hearing other people's thoughts on how to "delay gratification" on getting LITTLE things done so you can truly accomplish the BIG things.
August 1, 2008 at 15:05 | Unregistered CommenterWebWiz
WebWiz:

<<But I've heard of a technique that might be more effective. Instead of just getting the file out, commit to working on it for just 10 minutes. Set a timer and tell yourself you can stop when it goes off>>

See my article "My Favourite Time Management Tool" at http://www.markforster.net/blog/2006/9/17/my-favourite-time-management-tool.html

My book "Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play" describes how to use the technique to maximum effect.
August 1, 2008 at 15:50 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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