Procrastination

…finding the bug!

A few weeks’ neh months back I thought I could put out some form of a written word, one piece every couple of weeks (at the least). It’s been about 12 weeks and the grand total sits at 2! I do have a cumulative of about 759 words under 8 heads in my ‘drafts’ and some others shelved in the overflowing ‘to do section’ of my brain which bear testimony to my well-meaning intentions. Yes! I am a serial procrastinator and despite knowing this for most of my sane life ‘tomorrow never did die!’ What people around point out as ‘laziness’, I think is just the most glaring and physical symptom of a bigger problem — procrastination. What is more amazing is, despite having this insight and understanding of the ‘disease’ I haven't done anything about it…haah! I have procrastinated doing that too…what a quagmire!
But then, what was causing this disease? Is it a universal a bug as it is made out to be or is it a personal glitch in my programming? Can you procrastinate life? Having watched those videos and attended (mandatory) management seminars, I have walked out thinking, ‘I am going to change my life from this moment, walk back home to draw up an action plan but wait! I will start tomorrow morning…’ it’s like coming out after watching an action movie — you know that adrenaline rush or am I the only one who thinks I shouldn't be allowed to drive after watching a ‘superhero’ flick? It usually comes down to ‘the list’ and the ‘tick boxes’… I have done them, had them on the wall and lost them over and over again…maybe I was doing it wrong? Then there were reasons, excuses, things you tell yourself, my favourite one — ‘…I usually do well when I am pushed against the wall…’ I have had this running ‘resolution’, on many a resolution days — new years or birthdays or every time I started a new semester — ‘I will start sooner for the next one…’ and I wasn't the only one, was I? There were a lot of people on this ship and it sure was a big ship! Its pretty much an all pervading ‘human’ bug, a function of higher cortical thinking which gives us the ability to convince ourselves (and others) about the perpetual idea and the possibility of a future or rather a better future — a by-product of ‘time’. Like any other ‘bug’ it does come with individual variations and some of us are paralysed more than the others. This time around I thought I should make an attempt to find this organism, at a personal level to the least…

Putting something off for later essentially means having something to do in the first place! or rather something you believe in! I have had no ‘belief’ in most of these tasks setting out, they were either assigned to me or someone else had told me of their ‘importance’. Was this the essential flaw in the process? Was this the core of the ‘procrastination problem’ for me? So…things to do come in order — priorities… Urgent things and important things (yup, they are two different words and ideas!) — answering that ringing phone is urgent but studying for that test is important! Important comes before urgent, right? Stuff can be both (which goes on the top) or none (discretionary pile). With a bit of digging around in books and on the www to find the above I have also led myself to believe that I to override the this buggy code I need to essentially recode which translates into making new habits and for a habit to stick the brain needs to be hardwired to think it’s important…that it’s good. Of the numerous things we delegate ourselves or others to do, understanding ‘what am I doing?’ — ‘how am I doing it? and ‘why am I doing it?’ is very useful and most will know the what and how part but figuring out the ‘why’ takes the issue to a ‘critical mass’ which essentially primes it and gives it importance over others where the ‘why’ is undefined or poorly understood.

Damn! It’s still gonna be another list! unless you have just that one thing you got to ‘take care of’! Something else I think is highly debatable is our perceived ability to ‘multitask’, its overrated and I could again quote research which points out that attempts to multitask gets things done ‘slower’ if we look at the bigger picture and the time to achieve the desired outcome on each of the individual tasks if done separately. Wasn't ‘unitasking’ the point of specialization? This is besides the fact that however good you think you are at multitasking your brain physiologically just can’t do that, it naturally puts things first that would help keep you alive! You can switch between tasks at different speeds which looks like you are doing many things at a time — pretty much like the cartoon flipbook you did as a kid… done well it's stop-motion animation! Now only if we could convince our cortex that ‘studying for the exam’ or ‘getting up at 6am’ for that run is the very lifeblood, an essential and non-negotiable habit for its survival.
Procrastination is a habit reinforced by lying to oneself (and boy have I/we become good at that over the years). Rewiring something so deeply ‘learnt’ means unlearning and then learning at the same time to avoid falling back to old and easy ways, it’s like overwriting on those old vhs tapes!
And that’s precisely what it takes to change a habit — it’s a mindful attempt to change a existing thought process, overwrite that tape. Substantial data (that I haven’t researched btw) point out to the brains affinity to a set routine which actually makes evolutionary sense — it’s the carrot for a perfectly performed task or a stick for goofing it up! Remember Pavlov?

With this line of thinking I proposed for myself a set of some studied but highly experimental (especially for a serial snoozer — me) instructions. Indulge me, please?

— Find the situation where you are wandering off from doing something important — Stop and think if you realize the necessity of doing the task — Make sure it is reinforced (try to see the carrot or stick, whatever works — it’s often the stick for distant ones and carrot for the closer ones in my case) — Always and always show up! Start ! The first 10 minutes are the hardest, things will and they do get into a rhythm after the first mile or the first 20 questions… — Make yourself accountable to yourself, to close friends or family and have a wager if it is a valid motivation!

(to be updated if I find something else that helps in due course)

And this is how putting an essay out every couple of weeks is a good exercise and measure in the whole ‘debugging’ procrastination — — Having to carve out time means skipping that movie or the youtube video/es and getting up early enough (6am) every single day (weekends too…for your body doesn't know its Sunday!) to get that run and reach work on time. — Have to finish stuff that’s more important than putting my thoughts on the web — finish those questions, read and work on the lab projects, work on the presentation… — Making myself accountable to putting a piece every second weekend of the month which means I ought to get the priorities first to be able to engage in this, the last ‘important’ thing on the list!

I don't know if the above works or will work (in my case)… I guess time will be an impartial judge. The bottomline, I believe, is finding that one thing that makes doing everything else worthwhile!

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