You’ll never guess where I found this life-altering piece of productivity advice!

ahh-procrastinationYou know, you read all these articles on the internet, and most of them are total SEO crap: silly wikihow articles churned out for $15 a post in order to get some ad-money by perching on top of a search result for a term like “How do I stop procrastinating.”

But then, once in awhile, one of those posts comes at you with some amazing advice. God knows where it comes from. Maybe the writer of the article was particularly good and conscientous? Or, more likely, they had a friend or a relation who knew something about the topic in question. Or perhaps every person does genuinely have one or two decent pieces of wisdom to impart, and sometimes you end up imparting that wisdom in the form of a generic looking listicle.

In any case, I’ve been making my way through the revisions on my novel, and I feel like I’m on track to finish by my April 1st deadline. And I realized that I actually tend to make my deadlines more often than not nowadays. And, what’s more, I usually make them without going into ‘crunch mode’ or getting all stressed out.

And I owe it all to one tiny little article that a friend shared on Facebook.

The article is gone, unfortunately. I mean, it probably still exists somewhere on the internet, but I have no idea where it is. But anyway, the title was something like, “These seven trick will teach you how to finish all your work on time!”

And the first four of them were trite and obvious stuff like, I don’t know, making to-do lists and breaking up your proejct into discrete tasks that could be doable in one sitting. But the fifth item was great. It was something like:

Begin each assignment as soon as you get it, even if you can only work on it for a few minutes — Research has shown that human beings hate to leave things unfinished. If you put off starting an assignment, then it’s possible to push it out of your mind, but if you begin to work on it, then your mind will prod you to return to it until it’s eventually done.

This could not be more true. I swear to God, it’s like magic. Nowadays whenever I get an assignment, I just open it up and work on it for twenty or thirty minutes. And then I know that, no matter what, I’ll finish it by the deadline. I have no idea how this works, but it just gets done. Sometimes I’ll even procrastinate for huge chunks of time in the middle. For instance, today I revised for two hours and then daydreamed for two hours. But over time, the effort I put in slowly accelerates and the ratio of work to daydreaming decreases and voila, it gets done.

P.S. This is not the article that my friend shared, but it is an article that’s about this phenomenon (which is apparently called the Zeigarnik Effect).

2 thoughts on “You’ll never guess where I found this life-altering piece of productivity advice!

  1. Xan

    What I like about this blog is that when *you* use a clickbaity post title, I know it will *actually* be good…

    I did not know this phenomenon had a name. But here’s a natural corollary that works very well for me: When you’re in the middle of a big project, choose stopping points that are *not* natural stopping points. At the risk of being overly simplistic, suppose your usual approach is to write a novel one chapter at a time. You chunk the work into these discrete tasks (as the productivity advice instructs you), and knock them off one by one. Well, maybe it’s better to stop every day in a state of undoneness. Stop a page before you are done writing the chapter. That way, the next day you have an urge to complete the chapter, and then you are over the hump and can keep going onto the next chapter.

    I find this hard to pull off sometimes because natural stopping points are…natural. There’s definitely an efficiency loss to stopping right in the middle of things. You forget stuff and have to re-remember it next time, and some of it you will simply lose, never to be recovered. But procrastination is usually the bigger fish. For me, getting started is the hardest thing, by far.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Yes, Hemingway famously did this! He stopped every day while he still had something to say. My process is a bit different, so it doesn’t work quite as well. I spend months working on the first chapter and then I write the rest of the book in a few weeks.

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