You know what you should do. Whether it be math homework or your literature paper or your doctoral thesis, you know that you will regret it tomorrow if you put it off today. You know what you need to do. You just don’t wanna do it.
Or do you really know what you should be doing?
I recently started writing another book, and the first few days, it was going swimmingly. I was making lots of headway. Yay me!
Then procrastination took over. I wouldn’t have been able to put finger on the why. A couple of weeks passed. (or three weeks. Or four weeks. Or maybe five. Don’t judge me!) And I didn’t do jack.
Then I saw a tip about writing using mind maps and outlines. I had never been one for outlines before. (If you have read my book The Little Guide to Not Being Dumb, you know how much I dislike them.) I found they made my brain stick in funny places. But I figured I’d give the mind maps/outline technique a try.
It has worked like a dream. The mind map allows me to be my messy self first so that I was able to make an outline of the whole book.
After a few days, I noticed a trend.
The longing to do anything but work on the book pulled at me, same as before. But this time, I wouldn’t put it off. What was the one difference?
Then I realized what it was. Before, it wasn’t just the siren call of laziness that kept me back. There was another niggling thought poking at me. I didn’t know exactly what I would do.
Now that I have an outline, that siren call of laziness is still there, but it is dulled by another noise. The noise is the scratchy, annoying voice of my written plan saying, “Chapter 2 is up next! Write it, write it, write it.”
Then I punch it in the nose and get to work.
So the message here isn’t that mind maps and outlines themselves will help you avoid procrastination, although you may certainly find them useful for some projects. My point here is that we are less likely to put stuff off when we know exactly what our specific next step is.
I need to study math – Not specific.
I will work on questions 1 – 15 on page 32 – Specific.
Some of you may be rolling your eyes. Of course knowing exactly what you will do next makes you less likely to put it off. But it’s a bit of a revelation to me. Or maybe I knew it once but procrastinated on remembering it.
But enough about me. Here is your task. Think of one project that you have been putting off. Grab a calendar or paper or whatever and jot down exactly what you will do each day for the next five days.
If it’s a paper or project you have to write, use whatever system works to get an outline or road map or plan down on paper. If there’s a test looming, jot down which topics you will study each day and which resources and pages you will be using. If it’s a bunch of math or science problems, list which ones you will be doing.
I know, I know. You aren’t sure what you will be doing each day. Life is unpredictable. Things might change. Blah, blah, blah. Write out a plan anyway. Tweak it as needed. Even if you end up studying a completely different topic or writing a completely different chapter of your 1.2 million-page dissertation, at least you will get crap done.
And crap that’s done is better than no crap at all.