It’s Important To Do the Things You Enjoy

It’s obvious. But it’s really important

You’re not bored, you’re not happy – you’re mindless.

One thing that I’ve said about being addicted to your phone is that it’s just a really bad habit but unfortunately, a really effective one.

A basic model of how habits are formed are the three Rs – Reminder, Routine, Reward. (I didn’t come up with this myself – Charles Duhigg is my best source). The easier these are to come about, the habit is much more likely to stick.

For our phones it’s this:

  • Reminder(s): notifications, the phone always being in arms reach, needing it for certain tasks (like alarms)
  • Routine(s): scrolling through social media, texting a friend, watching a video
  • Reward: The small pleasure centre in our brains reacting to some kind of approval.

The problem is that these rewards you gain from social media and watching videos may not be deeply satisfying. Instead, it’s just enough to stop you from getting extremely bored but not enough to entertain you significantly.

You’re hovering just above boredom but nowhere near happiness.

I fall victim to this all the time. I spend time doing things that don’t really interest me. They entertain me in the short-term but leave me feeling like rubbish quickly afterwards.

Given that I’m in pain a lot of the time and that impacts my concentration, I want to fill the time that I have with more enjoyment than superficial rubbish.

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Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

What do you really enjoy? 

All of this seems mighty obvious. To be happy, do things that make you happy.

However, it serves us well to actually think about what makes us happy then think about whether we actually follow through with that.

For example, we might want to think more often:

  • What are the things that make me happy in the short-term but guilty in the long-term?
  • What leaves me feeling really satisfied with myself?
  • Do I spend more time on things that are simply easy or do I challenge myself?
  • Am I doing the same thing over and over again?
  • How often do I end the day feeling satisfied?
  • How often do I start the day feeling encouraged by the plan I have set out?

These questions have helped me better understand what I actually enjoy rather than those activities that are simply easy to do. Rather than going to the path of least resistance, you spend more time carving out a life that you really want to live.

As a result, you may find that after answering these questions that finding happiness in your day requires a bit more self-discipline than you may have expected!

Being satisfied and happy isn’t simply a case of doing “whatever you want” because that can be quite difficult to judge. Rather, we need to think more deeply about the things that we enjoy, then experiment with ways to fill our time with more of it.

The benefit of this approach I’ve found is that it stops everything turning into an obligation. Rather, you want to do certain things because you’re confident that they’ll do good things for your mental health. For example, why would you miss a workout if you know you’ll feel good after and during it?

You wouldn’t. Exercising is something that has a much greater potential to make you happy than sitting down and eating Pringles like they’re going out of fashion. (I promise this does not come from personal experience…)

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Photo by Chris Brignola on Unsplash

Seneca writes that one of our biggest problems is that we “live as though we’ll live forever”, waste it on meaningless things then complain that life is too short.

Ok, but what if I don’t have the energy? 

What do you do when you want to do something you’ll enjoy but simply can’t because of something like chronic pain?

It’s easy to do the easiest thing (like watch videos mindlessly for hours) because you lack energy. So for me, all of these mindless activities tend to come in the evening after a day of being active in some way.

Here are two things I’ve found help:

  1. High energy and Low energy activities

Split the things you enjoy into high energy and low energy activities. For me, it goes like this:

High energy: Writing, reading non-fiction, exercising

Low energy: Reading fiction, calming yoga, Netflix

2. Don’t worry about it

Worrying about how you spend your time is likely to tire you out even more and make you feel extremely guilty. Sometimes, you just don’t have a lot of energy and you just want to watch videos for a while.

Set a good intention for yourself and enjoy the time you have.

It’s important but think about it, don’t worry about it.

When I was reminded of this concept, I began to feel guilty about how I spend my time (I’ve been like this for years). It’s because I turned the things I want to do into things I have to do.

If you don’t reach an obligation you feel bad.

If you make everything an obligation, you’re likely to feel bad because you can’t do everything.

Not everything is an obligation. Remind yourself of that when you find yourself saying “I should do this and should do that”.

So set out to fill more of your time with the things you enjoy doing. Be mindful of this intention because it is a helpful reminder that our time is often limited by things out of our control.

It sounds ominous but it’s true. Seneca writes that one of our biggest problems is that we “live as though we’ll live forever”, waste it on meaningless things then complain that life is too short.

Perhaps life isn’t too short. Regardless, let’s take the time to do things we enjoy.

If anything, we deserve it.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

What do you enjoy and what do you want to do more of?

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

(Happy 100th post to meeee!)

Here is why productivity doesn’t matter

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Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

One question that has, for some reason, bothered me quite a lot is: what is productivity?

Throughout all the different personal development and productivity blogs I’ve read, I’ve learned a number of ways to be more productive. Eliminate distractions, exercise, don’t have long meetings and so on and so on.

However, I never really took time to understand what productivity is.

Perhaps this is because the first answer is quite mundane.

The ability to produce stuff.

It’s a keystone behind David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” system which has sold millions of copies and inspired a host of productivity blogs out there.

The more productive you are, the more stuff you produce or complete.

Is this helpful? Anyone can be extremely productive if you take this definition because you can complete a lot of small, relatively meaningless tasks and say you’ve had an extremely productive day every day. This is why answering a bunch of emails or cleaning the house might feel productive even though you’ve put off something more important.

Simply producing more stuff isn’t a helpful definition in a lot of contexts we’re now in. What about…

The ability to produce important stuff.

This is a bit more focused. If complete more important stuff you’re going to be more productive than the person who just completes a bunch of meaningless tasks, right? For example, if you decide not to answer a bunch of emails and instead write the important report or calculate the important calculation, then you’re producing more valuable stuff.

While we’re getting closer to a more usable definition, we’re not there yet. What happens if the tasks you’re working on aren’t important to you but rather someone else? Am I being unproductive because the ‘important’ goals aren’t important to me?

Possibly. But many of us will work for other people and on important tasks that do not completely align with our personal passions. It’s a normal part of a working life in whatever capacity. The importance of the task depends on the context but then we may want to think in more depth about the kind of context we find ourselves in the majority of the time.

We may think about productivity in personal terms – getting stuff done that’s important to you. Doing this might be quite drastic because we could find that we’re largely unproductive despite doing brilliantly at your job or studies. We do want to make distinction between business and personal productivity because not everyone is at the luxury of being able to quit their jobs and focus on things that are only important to them. But it’s a helpful tool when coming to think about your priorities and how you can ensure you’re focusing on them as much as you can.

However, I don’t want to keep on twisting and contorting the definition of productivity. Working on and creating things that are important to you whether that is in a personal or business sense. This discussion leaves us a more important question.

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Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

Does your productivity matter?

The simple definition of productivity – getting stuff done – is unhelpful. Thinking about getting stuff done in terms of their importance is much more helpful. Yet, the more I think about it, the less I think it actually matters.

In the short term, of course it matters. You don’t want to lose your job or fail university because you’re too busy watching videos on things that barely interest you. In the long term, I think the value of an action might be better judged by its ability to help you live with integrity or overall satisfaction.

Focusing on things that are important to you isn’t good simply because they are productive. Instead, it results in matching the things that matter to you and the actions you complete every day. In doing that, we live with greater presence and a movement away from chastising yourself for “not being productive enough” or “lazy” or “wasting time”.

If we judge something as a waste of time because it doesn’t help us live in line with our values instead of whether it is helping us be productive enough, it helps us do a few things.

First, we stop micro managing our time. Doing this helps us stray away from being overly critical of how we spend our time.

Second, it gets to the deeper cause of our disappointment. We can spend a day with a very difficult problem and not write a single word yet still feel like we’ve done something useful. We can spend a day writing rubbish all day, and feel remarkably unsatisfied with everything. It’s the lack of personal importance that seems to drive this disappointment.

Third, we think honestly about the bigger picture – and make steps towards them. My yearly integrity posts are an attempt to slow down and reassess what is really important to me and how I can mould my life and my days in that direction. Doing this places a useful urgency into my days.

So, if not productivity, what is important?

Seneca complains that

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it. Life is long if you know how to use it.

we say life is short yet treat it as though we will live forever. Regularly returning to important values instead of getting lost in thoughts about what is productive and what isn’t, I think, is more helpful overall.

Thinking about productivity is useful but should only come second to thinking about actions that help us live in accordance with our values.

To do this, we have to slow down and remember what is actually important rather than going so fast you’ve been running in the wrong direction for ages.

As always, thank you for reading.


 

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The Low Information Diet

I used to read the news every morning and thought this was a good thing. I’m sure that at some point, I thought more people should do it because it’s important to be an ‘informed citizen’. It wasn’t just a thing I did, it was a duty.

I’m sure I got this habit from my dad. He’s woken up by the news with his radio and continues listening to it on his way to work. He’s an extremely informed person and can probably tell you anything about politics on demand.

However, as I’ve grown up, I’ve strayed from my dad in this respect. I no longer read the news every morning and don’t think it’s necessary for anything.

In fact, I want to read the news less.

This is what this post is about. Reading less news and reducing the needless amount of information we consume every day for greater clarity, focus and more happiness.

Most of the links supporting my argument will be at the end (so you don’t have an endless number of tabs open at the end).

What is the Low Information Diet?

Consuming less information.

Mainly the news but it can also include blogs, internet forums and, email and so on.

There are a number of reasons for this and I think they support the aim to consume less information on a daily basis so we can pursue other interests and be more involved in our own lives through active engagement rather than passive participation.

Removing the passive aspect of news consumption means we’ll make a more deliberate effort with the information we consume and become more likely to consume higher quality information.

Why bother?

I want to highlight a few important reasons why we should consume less news and information. I will also address a few problems people might have.

A lot of this is inspired by the essay Avoid News: Towards a Healthy News Diet by Rolf Dobelli. I don’t agree with everything he says but that’s not terribly important.

News is harmful

It is sometimes beyond useless.

The overwhelming majority of news is negative. Studies have shown the average ratio is 17:1 or 95% negative news!

You may come to the conclusion that it’s just the way the world is.

I was part of a lecture given by two BBC News journalists where they taught us how to create compelling headlines and write stories. There was a Q&A session at the end and I asked one of the women what she thought about the lack of positive news in the media.

“Positive news doesn’t really go anywhere.”

You can create stories from a murder investigation but stories about literacy rates increasing or cured diseases tend to stop after one news reel. It may be true that positive stories and tend to lack new developments the same way a negative one would but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Since news stations (even government-funded ones like the BBC) require views, they’re far more likely to include prolonged negative stories rather than standalone positives.

This attitude is compounded at times. Myself included. The attitude of ‘positive news isn’t real news’ pervades our thinking far too often. If we hear about an explosion that’s killed 30 people but see the news reporting about plastic bag use decreasing (which has important consequences for our environment) we might think to ourselves ‘This isn’t news. Why are they wasting my time?’

It’s unfortunate because it hides the good in the world using the excuse of ‘I want truth’ which is really a veil covering needless cynicism.

Assuming the world is bad and wanting the news to confirm that belief that is not truth-seeking. It’s ego-stroking.

Being bombarded with negative news is very good at causing anxiety.

We get facts about some disaster and feel bad about it. It doesn’t affect us directly so we don’t do anything to help apart from say ‘that’s really sad’. Then we feel bad about something we can’t change.

For a lot of people, the news doesn’t inspire the amount of action that’s proportionate to the news we watch every day. So a lot of the time, we’re entertaining feelings of depressed helplessness.

It’s rarely substantial

Most of the news we read or watch isn’t substantial. They’re bound to be very short articles without much investigation. That’s the nature of first-then-fact news. These pieces are bound to just make us feel bad about an event without discussions (not assertions) about why the event happened or what progress is being made on the problem.

There are many brilliant articles and journalistic pieces out there. They take time and effort to both create and digest. The feelings they create whether positive or negative are a result of active engagement rather than a simple fact devoid of proper discussion.

You can test this yourself. Think about the number of articles and news pieces you’ve read today and count the number of things that have made a substantial effect on your day. The number is probably low. Unfortunately, if you haven’t already spent time curating your sources of information, then the ratio of useless to engaging will be skewed in the wrong direction.

Not everything you read or watch needs to be life-changing. That’s a high ask.

The aim here is to focus our attention to sources of information or activities that improve the quality of our lives and the time we spend taking part in the activity. A trip in the 24 hour news cycle is unlikely to do that.

Dobelli’s point here is important. He says it’s difficult to recognize what’s relevant but much easier to recognise what’s new. The news always offers us new things but can’t always be relevant to our own lives on a consistently enough to justify following it every day.

If something is relevant, the chances are we’ll hear about it from someone else who follows the news or from more specialised sources.

If we miss out, the world will keep on spinning and your day will keep on moving forward.

No, you won’t be boring

A fear I’ve heard expressed is that we’ll become boring if we don’t stay up to date with the news because we’ll have nothing to talk about.

It’s true that some small talk focuses on current events but I don’t think this is particularly important. There are two reasons for this:

  • News isn’t much to bond over.

It’s much more useful to take interest in the person you’re talking to rather than a news event that has a high chance of just creating pity.

  • Consuming higher quality information leads to higher quality conversation.

This does not mean academic information. If we focus on things we find really engaging (that can be reading a comic, book or watching a film etc.), we’ll be happier talking about them to other people and others will be happier to learn about them.

I’m confident that the best conversations you’ve had did not revolve around the most recent news event at the time.

If current events do come up, it means you’ll learn something new.

Don’t worry if it’s daunting to always say ‘I didn’t hear about that’ (not that there’s anything wrong with it). This information diet does not necessarily require no news at all but a deliberate reduction.

Too much information ruins our attention  

While I think the other points are important, I find this is particularly potent because it expands beyond the problems of the news.

There’s only so much time and energy we have every day to focus our attention on certain things. Bombarding ourselves with more information day every forces us to make many decisions about small things.

Nicholas Carr wrote an article expanding on this problem. A study was completed in 2007 analysing what happens to brain activity when novices to the internet begin browsing the internet for prolonged times. Their brain activity increased significantly but that didn’t automatically mean better brain activity. They were more likely to skim articles, and become more shallow thinkers.

This doesn’t mean skimming is bad. It’s a vital skill but clearly cannot become the only way we consume information. If not for the fact that slower and deeper reading leads to better comprehension, keep in mind that being engaged with activities is a key ingredient to being happy.

What can you do instead?

One complaint about the low information diet is that you might not have anything else to do. Another is that being fully engaged with activities is often tiring. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read a good book/article
  • Talk to people
  • Write a journal about your day
  • Look around and take in your surroundings (I’m serious)
  • Listen to music
  • Watch a movie or enjoyable videos (stand-up comedy is an example)

There are many things you can do which don’t require a lot of mental energy which are still enjoyable and remove us from anxiety-inducing news.

The Low Information Challenge

You might not be convinced by this.

I wasn’t at first and feared that I would lose my privilege as an informed citizen. None of that happened. I’ve strayed from this and wish to go back. Here’s a challenge that we can do:

  • No news for one day. Then a week. If you can keep on going, even better.

It will require a deliberate effort since checking the news tends to be an ingrained habit nowadays. That’s why we’re starting off small rather than diving into never reading the news again.

If that sounds too difficult or simply absurd try the softer version.

  • Restrict news consumption to 10 minutes at the end of the day

Rather than welcoming endless streams of information, we limit it on purpose.

I recommend trying going cold turkey first though. There are benefits to just not reading the news at all.

In a month, I’ll report back about how the low information challenge went. I hope you join in too!

‘til next time.


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Further Reading:

Avoid News: Towards a Healthy News Diet by Rolf Dobelli [PDF]

A short objection to Dobelli’s article (highlights some of the disagreements I have with Dobelli)

The Low Information Diet (Mr Money Moustache)

News is 17:1 negative – Studies like this tend to be he-said-she-said where they’re repeated ad nauseam without a source. I found one in Democracy Under Attack: How the Media Distort Policy and Politics by Malcolm Dean p.415 (he actually has it at 18:1)

Why We Love Bad News More Than Good News

Why Bad News Dominates Headlines (very good discussion about our tendency to say we want good news but read bad news)

The Power of Ignoring Mainstream News

Some Great Articles:

The Blind Man Who Taught Himself to See

Lionel Messi is Impossible

How David Hume Helped Me through my Midlife Crisis

This blog I found is full of them…

If you have any recommendations, feel free to mention them below!

How to Create Plans You’ll Stick To

There are two easy ways to create feasible plans:

  1. Pretend you have 30% the energy you usually have
  2. Copy a plan you’ve completed successfully before

Note that I’ve left out the most obvious way – looking at a calendar and the things you have to do then filling up the hours.

Why don’t we stick to plans?

I’m probably one of the biggest culprit of this which is what led me to figure out how to stop this from happening again as it was becoming a huge source of frustration.

It’s simply too difficult

For some reason, if we imagine a free day we imagine a lot of time. But we also assume our energy levels will match that. It often doesn’t.

Cramming the day with loads of activities is only going to make you tired quickly and far more likely to stop doing them even in the middle of the day. If it’s a long term plan it’s even less likely to continue.

We get distracted

Distractions are a huge problem. As research shows, after a distraction, it takes about 25 minutes to get back into work.

It makes our work far less efficient and moves everything in the plan forward. Therefore we work longer, become more tired and start putting things off.

We don’t give ourselves enough time

We might assume that we can get an essay done in 3 hours but sometimes we might get stuck which means we have to take a longer break. Or we can’t find the book we want.

Same with side projects you might want to do after work/studying. If we expect to do all of them in a minimal time then we’re either going to drop them completely or reduce them drastically and feel guilty about it.

We procrastinate

Looking at a large plan for the day can be intimidating and cause us to procrastinate. Therefore we don’t do anything we aim to. Here’s one simple way to stop it.

Making plans work

  1. Assume less energy than normal

This point relies on assuming you have less energy than your plan assumes

If we try being superhuman then get intimidated or worn out by our plan, it’s not a useful. On the other hand, if we’re more modest, we have a much easier starting point, procrastination is less likely and we will complete things.

Let’s take one of the plans I’ve had in the past (and I’ve had many):

Capture 4 Capture 3 Capture 1

This is actually a simplified version of a plan I had at one point in my first year of university.

Looking back on it, it’s surprising to think that I considered it then even more surprising is that I was annoyed when I couldn’t complete it! Nearly 9 hours of difficult (and unnecessary!) work I had planned. That’s on top of being social, dealing with chronic pain and you know, trying to not hate books after my first week.

The plan didn’t work for a variety of reasons:

  • I didn’t have the energy to complete them
  • I ignored other factors (like having friends and going outside)
  • It was boring
  • It wasn’t flexible

Creating the plan with the mind that you’ll have less energy means you plan to do fewer things, increase flexibility and still complete things. So the plan above might turn into this (assuming there’s a 9am start):

Capture 2

And that’d be it.

The first plan has nearly 9 hours of mentally tasking work while the second has 4 hours with large breaks in between. It’s much easier to start and I found I got more work done with the second plan overall.

  1. Copy a previous plan.

The second condition is easier to implement. If you’ve successfully created and completed a plan before, copy it and use it again.

However, it’s important to take into account new factors when doing this because your past plan might have been completed under much different conditions. For example, if you’ve caught a cold, your energy is going to be lower than it would be normally so you’ll complete less work or it’ll take longer to complete the same amount.

But remember to be reasonable. If you’ve planned an overnight stay at your library or a general rush till exams, you won’t be able to sustain it for a long period. To combat that, refer to point one.

An impromptu Q&A session

“But you’re doing so little work – you’re obviously doing a Philosophy degree this doesn’t apply to me!”

Fortunately, it still does. If you’ve ever planned anything and never completed it (although you feel you should have) then it applies. Creating unrealistic plans is normal and unless you actually have unlimited energy, it’s fine to plan less and complete more.

Dealing with chronic pain means I’ve had to change how I view plans and making my time more efficient. This is one way I’ve managed to stay with the crowd despite being in pain all the time.

“But what if I can’t plan less! I have so much more work to do than you”

That’s where the second condition comes into place.

Not every plan can work on such little energy. Deadlines and loads of work exist. If you’ve actually completed a plan that meets the demands of your current situation, mould it around that. As Scott Young says, you’re allowed to experiment.

If not, continue to assume you’ll have less energy when creating it. And stop procrastinating.

“What if I have scheduled commitments?”

If you have a variety of things you want to do (clubs, learning new things, blogging etc), reducing the amount of energy you’ll have to complete it seems ridiculous. It isn’t.

In this scenario, you have to exercise prioritising and say no to some commitments. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you won’t do them, get frustrated at the ‘little free time’ you have or burn out very quickly and blame yourself.

Admittedly, it is difficult saying no to things especially when you seem to have a lot of time for trying new things. Those things won’t disappear straight away and there’s no point in planning them if you’re too tired to complete them.

It’s alright to say no.

“Am I allowed to continue working past my smaller plan?”

Yes. A minimal plan makes it easier to start working. It doesn’t necessarily put a limit on how much you should continue working. Though, it should make you more efficient with the hours planned – reducing the need to continue working much more.

The next day, return to the minimal plan. A good plan is sustainable.

“I’m rubbish with times. What if I oversleep?”

Ignore times and focus on activities. Instead of planning the hours, aim to work on a project for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening.

If that is too difficult, aim to do an hour of the project during the course of the day. The earlier the better of course as you don’t want tiredness to excuse you from working.

“Did you write these questions yourself?”

Some things are best kept secret.

Action Steps

The take away from this is to reduce the amount of energy you’ll need to finish a plan so it’s easier to start and easier to complete.

What can you do now?

  1. Create a plan for your ideal day
  2. Assume you’ll have less energy than normal
  3. Create a new plan.

A small amount of completed work is better than a large amount left wished to be completed.


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The One Phrase to Beat Procrastination

Procrastination plagues all of us.

Whether it’s a writing an essay or cleaning the house – we have tasks we want (and need) to do and put them off anyway.

To combat this, we’ve probably read a number of useful things on stopping procrastination. Break down the goal into small and manageable tasks, plan your day, set deadlines, and work without distractions and so on.

They’re all helpful but we still put things off. When we think of the task, we begin to feel uncomfortable. Let’s delve into that feeling of resistance.

What do we feel when we procrastinate?

Should we actually spend time with these feelings, we might learn a few things.  We’ll split the tasks into the classic Eisenhower matrix.

If it’s important but not urgent, we’ll find comfort in procrastination because we don’t have to do it but feel guilty because we know it will be helpful. If our thinking continues, we might feel guilty for having these feelings at all.

If it’s urgent but not important, we might feel anxious or on the other hand, apathetic towards the task. The task’s urgency means we have to think about it but since it’s unimportant, the deadline might just zoom past without consequence.

If it’s urgent and important, the feelings  of guilt, dread and discomfort are multiplied. We’ll feel trapped within the confines of our own procrastination – like slaves to distraction and quick entertainment.

Depending on how bad the procrastination is, the task will remain undone and we’ll just deal with the consequences.

There are many feelings we have while procrastinating. A lot of it stems from the fear of discomfort and results in self-criticism that makes us feel bad rather than change action in a sustainable way.

How can we combat this?

The phrase to beat procrastination

“It’ll be better after I start”

Since all of our feelings from procrastination are born of inaction, using them it’s useless to gauge how well the task will be done. We often overestimate the difficulty or underestimate our ability to try.

Stop thinking about how you might feel during the task and quieten the internal monologue convincing us to give into instant gratification. Start the task then experience how you feel.

Starting something always feels better than not starting but wanting to.

I’ve never felt worse for starting something I’ve needed to. Of course, I’ve abandoned things or disliked them for a variety of reasons but it’s better to have justified reasons and progress under your belt rather than being guided by fear.

Conclusion

When you find yourself procrastinating, say “it’ll be better after I start”.

Because it will and you’ll be OK.


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Other helpful reminders for procrastination:

Create without expectation

What’s wrong with now?

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate

The Aspiring Writer

“I think I want to get into writing.”

“I’ve been working on a novel myself actually.”

“Oh, really? How long have you been working on it for?”

“A few years.”

“I only started this whole writing thing a few months ago. Nearly finished, then?”

“Fortunately, not that much. It’s in the early beta stages but I’ll get there. I need to do some more aspiring before I get to the writing.”

“Don’t you want to get it done?”

“No. That’s the best part. I am an aspiring writer. Not a writer. I don’t have to do any of the hard work but I’ll still look like I am. I can just say I’m working on it and by that I mean procrastinating.”

“Working means procrastinating in your world?”

“Yes it does. Working is procrastinating since it gives all the benefits without any of the honesty. My novel is really grand. It’s a story of a protagonist who is best friends with his opposite and gets jealous of how successful he is. The protagonist is me. The friend is imaginary just like my real life ones.”

“This is getting quite personal. Sorry if I’ve awoken any demons here…”

“Oh no, that’s fine. My demons are visible for everyone to see. In fact, I’ll probably write about them some day.”

“I hope you get round to that.”

“So do I. I’m sure it’d be a great read.”

“I’m not looking to write a novel. I think I want to write a children’s book.”

“I couldn’t do that within any deadline.”

“It’s going to be about a girl who wants to be a comedian but her parents thinks she’s too pretty to be funny. Then she’ll try making herself as ugly as possible by painting her face and wearing her brother’s clothes all the time.”

“Haha, sounds like a fun story”

“Thank you very much. I really hope it makes a statement about gender roles in society because it really needs to be said. But in a more light-hearted manner”

“When will you release your Magnum Opus to the world?”

“Oh I have no idea. I’ve just been busy.”

“Ah yes, that pesky busy-ness that seems to plague all of us. What are we even busy with? Coffees and ‘work’?”

“Don’t mock what I’m saying. I’ve just been busy – it’s on the back burner.”

“I get busy too. Facebook and twitter are just so blue. Like my feelings lately. Writing is just so torturous.”

“But you don’t write? You just ‘aspire’.”

“Yes, that’s what I meant. Thinking about writing is so torturous I don’t do any of it. It makes it less like torture and more like a romanticized struggle between pen, paper and a fleeting mind”

“It can’t be that difficult, can it?”

“Oh it really is. You just have to trust me. Are you going to finish your cake by the way?”

“No, please, help yourself. Can you continue the thought about struggles?”

“Yes I will. Just couldn’t pass up on a lonely triple chocolate muffin. Anyway, in its simplest form, I think a lot of my work is going to be rubbish so I don’t write anything. It gives me the excuse to hold onto the idealised form in my head and reminisce in what could have been had I actually had the desire to sit down and write.”

“Hmm. My work might be terrible and that’s really scary.”

“All aspiring writers know that it’s meant to be scary. We’ve all read On Writing by Stephen King a few times and still don’t want to face that fear. I certainly don’t. That’s not in my job description.”

“I’m not an aspiring writer. I’m a writer! And I haven’t even read On Writing. I read a lot of children’s books and cartoons for inspiration.”

“Sorry for offending you. I just thought that since you haven’t actually done any writing but say you want to, you’re an aspiring writer.”

“I’m far different from you.”

“You definitely are. Your hair is brown.”

“I mean about this whole writing thing. I’m actually going to write and you’ve made it very clear you don’t even want to.”

“OK, OK. I’ll believe you. You really want to write but don’t write.”

“Because I’m busy.”

“You’re busy.”

“I really am. I have a job.”

“So do I. You’re not too good at this whole spot the differences thing.”

“I’ve always wanted to write sto-“

“Write stories and books and even plays ever since I could remember.”

“Don’t be so rude. You know what I mean.”

“Apparently I don’t.”

“No. You don’t. Writing makes me feel like an armless, legless-“

“-man with a crayon in my mouth. Pity. I don’t want to feel like that.”

“And you never will since you don’t write.”

“Perfect.”

“I’m quite tired and should get going. I have some things to do. I think I’ll start my children’s book today. You’ve inspired me.”

“No no, I aspire. Not inspire.”

“I’ll get started tonight and send you my first draft.”

“I wish you the best of luck. You’ll need it as an armless, legless man. Do you want my email, twitter or anything?”

“When I finish it, I’ll find you.”

“I’m confident you won’t.”

“Find you or finish it?”

“Both.”

“Enjoy your aspiring.”

“Enjoy yours too.”

“I’m a writer.”

“And sooooo am I.”

What’s wrong with now?

The next time you catch yourself putting something off for ‘later’ try asking yourself the question: “what’s wrong with now?”

What’s happening right now that’s making me put the work off? Why can’t I do it now?

I find the value of this question comes in a few ways.

It makes us truly aware of what we’re actually doing. The spiralling of bad habits such as procrastination, binge-eating, excessive gaming/movie watching, are often born from mindlessness. Asking this question brings us back to the present moment and makes us aware.

We look at what we’re doing and honestly assess whether it’s more worthwhile than the other important task.

Say I’m watching something on Netflix and remember I have an essay to write, assessing my situation lets me understand that what I’m doing isn’t actually going to help in the short or long-term. I can put the show to the side and work on my essay instead. Most of the excuses we use often appear weak when we put a little bit of pressure on them. The movie can be paused, Reddit won’t shut down and we can save YouTube videos.

What happens when we face an excuse that actually has some strength behind it? At that point we can set priorities. If we’re doing something that we honestly feel takes priority, then we’re doing the most important task. Which is the main goal. After the first task is done, we can move onto the next without guilt.

Answering this question requires honesty but that mustn’t be mistaken for self-hatred or criticism. This isn’t a plea to fill all of your waking hours with meaningless work. In fact, I think that would be counter-productive. Resting after work or just taking a day off with friends can be the most important thing to do.

Now, deciding which task is genuinely the most important is slightly more difficult. However, that’s fine as it’s just something we have to wrestle with at times. Asking this question helps us start deciding what to do instead of getting lost in distraction and later being disappointed at the end of the day.

As with many things, taking advantage of the moment and overcoming your internal fear of starting (or finishing) a task requires practice. There are still times when I ask this question with another task in mind, answer it with ‘nothing’ and continue putting it off. However, it’s still a helpful question that’s made me more mindful of my desire to find procrastination and move onto more meaningful work.

Set priorities. Be honest. Be mindful.

Soon you’ll answer the question and find nothing is wrong with the present moment because you’re doing all you should and want to be doing.