Reality of productivity as a procrastinator
You may have listened to a Jordan Peterson clip on youtube and now you are ready to make a change. So taking his advice you make a schedule for the upcoming week of things you want to accomplish and things you want to do to develop yourself.
Feeling good about making the first step, you go to sleep ready to become a changed person. But as soon as you sit down at desk with the project in front, you feel that familiar feeling taking over you. It is like a icy villain’s beam that freezes your hand from working and that uncomfortable tightness wraps your heart. You can’t seem to start that first key stroke, or that first pencil stroke. The physical debilitation is followed by the wave of negative feelings; “I don’t want to do it”, “I can’t do it”, “I am useless”. It pushes you away from the work space like a tsunami back to your sofa. To forget the pain you felt you lose yourself in playing games and youtube clips. By the time you snap out of the mindless haze you have wasted a whole day. This then becomes a negative feedback loop and any progress in productivity you made is now lost. You feel hopeless and rage against your own weakness.
For years this has been my cycle of self-development. My procrastination was deeply rooted into my identity. I have changed, slowly mind you, but I can proudly say that I have become more productive that an average person. I have self-taught myself how to code and now working on my own startup idea, I am freelancing for a friends startup as a website developer and a online marketer, I am writing this blog, while being a full-time university finance student.
The journey to productivity was a slow process. I can say that I took me 2 years of rehabilitation using trial and error of various productivity techniques. Many did not work, however, the experience gave me insight to the technique that I employ which I want to share with you today. This is not a cure for universal procrastination, like a certain diet it may be life changing for some, and may not work for others.
I believe that productivity is like a muscle, and thankfully for us procrastinators is a muscles can be trained. But the reason it goes wrong most of the time is when we try to immediately jump into task that requires maximal effort. Imagine going to the gym and the first thing you do is put 3 plates on the bench press bar and start pressing. Most likely outcome is you will be injured or not be able to complete a rep. The muscle is simply not prepared to take on this amount of physical effort. To prevent that, we warm up, gradually working up in weight.
This is a parallel to productivity. Procrastinators are like new gym members trying to ego press the most amount of weight right away, leading us to get injured and never get any gains. What requires from being able to complete high effort task is a warm up tasks that prepared us for the most important tasks. The following passage will take you through the step-by-step method to utilise task programming.
Step 1: Setting daily tasks prioritisation
|Daily Priority||Daily Tasks||
Effort Required (%)
|1||Working on coding||100|
|2||Writing content on blog||70|
|3||Cleaning my window||50|
|4||Washing my dishes||30|
|5||Making my bed||10|
First it is crucial to write down your tasks either on paper or using apps. This creates a commitment to the tasks and also structure your priorities. Also, you will estimate the effort that will be required to complete each task. The amount of effort required will be subjective but use the amount of focus required and the time required to complete it as a guideline in calculating the requirements.
For me, my most important task is to work on my startup idea and it requires the highest effort as coding requires entirety of my focus. While lowest priorities are making my bed which requires low effort and time. I also included cleaning my window as I recognised that my window was dirty but have been putting it off for few days.
Step 2: Task Programming – Warm up tasks
Next I will start my day from my lowest priority tasks. This is my warm up task which requires the lowest effort. As I am not a morning person hopping into the maximal effort tasks like coding first thing has never worked for me. After completing my lowest priority task, I will move on to my second lowest priority tasks, in this case is washing my dishes from last night. Because I have already completed the first low effort task, I have warmed up and will have slight momentum which makes easily ignored tasks like the doing the dishes easier to start.
Step 3: Task Programming – Working Tasks
After this point I am feeling good so I attempt to start on my highest priority task. This is what I call the attempt threshold is extremely flexible and it depends on the effort required of the task, how you feel at the moment, how much sleep you got last night and so on. It is important to gage this yourself and try to keep your threshold lower than your expectation. Through many cycle fo this program I have set my threshold at 20%. I advise for starters to begin with a attempt threshold of 50%. As I have crossed my threshold I sat in front of the computer and started coding, but I started feeling that procrastination feeling grabbing me. I recognised it immediately because I have felt it so many times.
If that happens you will leave your high priority tasks and move back to the remaining lowest priority task, in this case was cleaning my room’s window. There is two distinct benefit of doing this; First is that you prevent from losing momentum you built up with the low priority tasks. Second is because you attempted a high effort task, lower effort task feels easier. It is like when you try to press a heavy weight, then you immediately lowering the weight and it feels lighter. Thus, a task like cleaning the window which normally a procrastination inducing tasks will be completed.
Step 4: Task Programming – Reattempt of high priority task
Once completing the lower priority task, you will attempt that high priority task again. But today, I am especially unmotivated. So I will repeat Step 3, and now I am writing this blog content because my failed attempt to code twice today. But I have now sat in my chair for 2 hours and almost completed a entire blog post in one sitting. And I attribute to the attempt I made to the high effort task. Once completing this content, I am going to attempt working my start up once again. (I will write my results for today after the fact at the end of blog).
Step 5: Task Programming – Evaluation
Once going through the incremental efforts, it is most likely that you are well warmed up to take on the maximal effort task now. And majority of the time it will work. I attribute to my success in “getting shit done” to this method. But there are days that you will not complete the maximal effort task. This is life as a procrastinator. But when you look back you will see all the task you completed. My bed is made, the dishes cleaned, the window is cleaned (I never know how blue the sky was until I cleaned it) and I have written this blog content. I now feel feel motivated and this momentum will push you through the threshold tomorrow.
Conclusion: Importance of long-term development
By completing hundreds of low level task will will train your productivity muscle which will lead you to complete higher effort tasks or endure high effort tasks longer. Before you realise it you will be heading to the right direction. If you feel it is not working, try moving up your attempt threshold. Do this gradually until you start completing the tasks. Do not forget to push your threshold down if it is working for you. Lowering the attempt thresholds will ensure your highest priority task are completed daily.
As a precaution, having a clear long-term goal will be important in setting the daily tasks prioritisation. If you have not clear goals yet, try googling goal setting techniques. I might write up my version of goal setting in the future, but at the moment I do not have a real comprehensive method yet.
Hopefully you will find this technique useful and start becoming productive. I am rooting for you my friends.