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).

Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten from a random article on the internet…

tumblr_lajpy4c9m51qc9fga…was from one of those “How To Get Stuff Done” articles that someone shared awhile back. And one of the key recommendations of this article was that when you get a task, you should just start it. It doesn’t matter if you can only spend fifteen minutes on it; all you need to do is start. Human beings hate to leave things unfinished (witness, for instance, how many people will even finish books and movies that they hate), and, as a result, when you start a task it’ll always be in the back of your mind.

That piece of advice dovetailed with something I’d long ago observed about myself, which is that within fifteen minutes of beginning a task, I can usually tell how long it’s going to take me. Doesn’t matter if it’s a research paper, homework assignment, revision, blog post, or whatever. I just get a sense of how much progress I’ve made in fifteen minutes and am able to say, “Hmm, this is going to take about three hours.”

But if I try to make my estimate before actually starting, then they’re much more likely to be inaccurate. This screws me in two ways. First of all, sometimes I think a task is going to be huge and take a long time, and I spend weeks putting it off and procrastinating and worrying about it, and then it only takes an hour or two to actually do. And sometimes I think a task is only going to take an hour and I put it off to the last moment, and then find that I actually need to put in a minimum of eight hours.

Even with all this wisdom, I can’t say that I am the best at starting tasks as soon as they’re assigned to me, but I am getting better and better at it. All through grade school and college and the first two years of my working life, I don’t think I ever did any assignment except: a) the night before it was due; and b) entirely in one sitting.

It was only after going freelance that I learned how much effortless life could be. If I start something a week in advance and do an hour or two a day, it’s usually done in time, with no stress or effort.

As the ultimate test of this theory, I sat down in front of my computer for two hours last Sunday and spent fifteen minutes on each task that I had due in the upcoming week. And while the last three days have been extremely hectic, I actually managed to finish everything in good time and without nearly as much stress as I’d have expected.