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A Shockingly Simple Way to Stop Procrastinating

I’m all too familiar with procrastination

Once upon a time, I was the reigning champ of procrastination. After decades of practice, I mastered the art of the last-minute panic mode performance. I effortlessly applied procrastination to studying, keeping up with friends, performing routine chores. You name it. I procrastinated on it.  

Instead of accomplishing sundry tasks, I would dither. Tinker.  Settle into useless, unhelpful habits, like aimless surfing the web, scrolling through idevice, updating my CD collection.

In my grand scheme of accomplishing zero goals, I busied myself. How many emails have I gotten in the last 7 minutes? Surely somebody must have liked my Facebook post by now!

Then I stumbled upon a trick. Actually, the trick.

I remember the discovery vividly. I was making photocopies of real, physical journal articles (imagine that!) at the University of Pittsburgh’s psychiatric library.  My boss at the time told me to go there and find all I can about two topics: (1) the “disorders” and “diseases” most likely “comorbid”—i.e., occurring at the same time—with autism; and (2) strategies to change parents’ behavior; specifically, to inspire them to follow through with their goals.

It’s hard to picture this today—and it really wasn’t that long ago—that among the dusty stacks of journals, I found a 1999 issue of the American Psychologist.  Thumbing through the glossy pages, my eye landed on 5 italicized words: strong effects of simple plansThis was the subtitle of an article called “Implementation Intentions.”

Please understand me: this simple, yet magical practice of the mind altered my wayward life. The practice is so simple and so elegant, it would have made Einstein weep.  In short: I learned to play tricks on my mind, tricks that allowed me to accomplish goals.

Procrastinate no more

I know, what a nerdy way to learn about this “life hack.” Today, we can peruse Pinterest or YouTube to discover how to do virtually anything.  So why do we need to play tricks on ourselves? You know why: we’re lazy. We’re busy. We don’t have time for that. 

Making specific plans, or more precisely, developing “implementation intentions” helps us overcome our laziness and tendencies to procrastinate.  Plus, the most awesome thing about implementation intentions is how suitable they are for homespun, homemade, vernacular activity.

So, what are these implementation intentions exactly? They’re detailed plans that describe the when, where, and how of our goals.  You can apply these “when, where, how plans” to any old goal you possess. 

For example, you might have a goal to write more frequently to your friends. Or you may wish to finally finish that dastardly school paper. Similarly, your garden won’t water itself and bread won’t bake itself, so you must somehow remind yourself to water and pick up bread baking ingredients.  

The best part of beating procrastination

But! you may counter, procrastination is so common and it feels good to be lazy from time to time. I agree on both counts.  It’s nice, even healthy to restore your energy and give you a renewed sense of purpose. 

However, let’s face it: the act of doing things we love is simply joyful. And the soulful art of doing is the best part of overcoming procrastination and implementing your intentions.

You get into flow—that delightful state where your skills match the challenge at hand. In flow, time stands still or it flies by.  You cast worries aside.  In the throes of doing you deepen and broaden your skills.  As your skills develop, you build confidence in yourself as an effective, worthwhile person.

Your turn to stop procrastinating 

We all procrastinate, well, at least most of us do—some of us are more conscientious than others, you lucky ducks.  For us less conscientious, we have implementation intentions. We can trick our minds into playing delightful tricks on ourselves.

So let me propose this: give implementation intentions a try for one week.

  1. To begin, think of one small goal you’d really like to accomplish this week. Example: I’d like to make strawberry jam. 
  2. Next, identify a good time to get started on realizing that goal.  Consider where, when, and visualize how you’ll perform the steps toward realizing the goal.
    • Example: Next Tuesday after work, I’ll pick up two quarts of strawberries (alternatively, pick two quarts’ worth of strawberries from my garden), cane sugar, and lemon from the grocery store. I’ll return home, crush the strawberries and slowly heat the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan for about 10 min. I’ll then transfer the jam to a hot, sterile jar, and place the jar in the refrigerator.  Voila! You have a detailed plan for making strawberry jam!
  3. Finally, if you would, let me know how this goes for you.  I’d love to hear how you’re stepping toward realizing that ultimate goal: living life in grand vernacular fashion.
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