Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Plan. Procrastinate. Sleep. Repeat. (Not.)

After what I call a mild success of this blog last year (read as a decent number of likes for my posts), I set a resolution for myself - to publish at least twenty-four posts this year, ideally two per month. It was a SMART (specific, measured, achievable, relevant and timed) goal, yet as you can clearly see from the archive at the right hand side of this page, I am not even close to my target. For a good month and a half, I attributed this failing streak to having a writer's block. After all, how can I write about just any random thing? Isn't there something called inspiration? On closer inspection, though, I realized that the root cause was procrastination. (I just realized how much of my vocabulary has become corporate style.)

It wasn't that I didn't have topics to write on. In fact, for some of them, I had even thought of openings and closings. But by the time I would get around to actually writing the blog, the issue would become stale. It's not like I didn't try. I carved out a big chunk of time on the weekends for blogging, but then "how was I supposed to know that I'd be sleeping all day long after the "impromptu" party I had the night before, or that it would take that long to find the dress that I was looking for. And to be fair, my goal was 24 posts this year, no matter what intervals they come in." Of course, all these excuses reeked of a bigger problem called procrastination. It wasn't just blogging that was a victim of this inertia to do things. There was exercise, keeping track of my expenses, reading a book. Basically, every resolution I made this year.

As I thought more about it, I noticed that planning and procrastinating form a very tricky and vicious cycle. Take for example my previous post. I had planned to finally publish a post by the date I actually published it on. Having already dilly-dallyed doing so for a month, I was determined to write at least something by the target date, and so I stayed up late to finish the task. This basically meant that I wasn't able to wake up early enough for my morning jog, which was also a big part of my resolutions. If I did so, I would have been tired all day long the next day, making multiple visits to the coffee machine. Of course, I wouldn't have been able to complete my work goals, and would have had to work over-time. Which meant that I would have gotten back late from office and either done half-asleep what I had perhaps too ambitiously planned for the next day (and repeat the cycle), or slept on it and not done it (which is what happened).

One would say that I could have planned more properly. But keeping fewer tasks per week had a greater chance, and supporting data from the past, of not getting anything done at all. All this contemplation was just about to put me in panic mode when I decided to check if something similar was happening to my friends.

Thankfully, almost all of them were going through another version of the same problem. Impromptu dinners, production issues, distance of gym from home were other contributing factors for their inertia. So I decided to find out a solution to this problem, with the help of, you guessed it, Google Baba. 

The wiki-how page instructed to make lists of tasks to be done, and breaking it into smaller pieces of work, and then doing them. Which basically means doing more work to get your task done. In all my struggle as a procrastinator, I have found lists and plans and sub-task division as one of the best ways of actually procrastinating. Some other page advised one to just not procrastinate. Really? The fact that I reached the page means that I know I don't have to. It is like telling an furious person to not be angry. The person is surely not in the frame of mind to make that decision instantly, they have to be taken through small gestures to that state. So, is there no solution to getting around it?

Fortunately, there is. And one that I have tried myself. It is called structured procrastination. It basically goes like this: You know you will buy that book you had an eye on instead of booking your flight tickets till the fares really really shoot up. You also know that you will end up at McDonalds meeting an old friend even though you were going only for grocery shopping. So why not add them to your list of To-Do items? Just make a list of all important stuff that you have to do along with stuff that you will do to avoid doing the important stuff. And then cross them off when you do them. Soon you will be left with only the important, and now urgent, things to do, and you will do them because that's how procrastinators work. In my experience, it has proved to be easier than it sounds. It also drives up satisfaction levels. 

It is essentially a win-win situation, wherein you put off doing something but still end up doing a lot of useful things. So embrace the procrastinator in you, and maybe trick them a little. And I'll be doing the same. From tomorrow.