Beat Procrastination by Separating the Task and the Delivery
If something’s important to us, we want to get it done right. The challenge is, the longer we wait, the more perfect it needs to be to justify the waiting. Perhaps in a bid to stay consistent with our inaction, our brains come up with reasons to wait longer to do something. We build it up in our heads. For example, it must be really difficult to do, that’s why we’ve waited so long.
This is how one form of writer’s block tends to build up. The more time we spend waiting, the more we expect from the final work, the more impossible the expectation is to meet, and the more discouraged we get when we actually write.
The main challenge is, if we don’t take action, nothing happens. And we don’t feel ready to take action today — what if we could do something better tomorrow, when we were more ready (or had more time, researched better options, or had more definitive plans, etc.)?
The solution to this is simple: Change your default to take action, and separate the acts of completing a task and releasing that task. Thanks to the power of technology, we can choose to take action, complete a task, and schedule it to release later into the world. We can always choose to take it back if we change our minds between actually completing the task, and releasing the task into the world.
You can take five minutes to change that with technology by scheduling something to happen in the future.
Example #1: Sending an important email
Let’s say you have someone you want to reach out to. Maybe it’s asking someone you read about how they did something, or whether they know about a related topic you’re researching. You respect them, you see an opportunity to learn, but you don’t want to make a fool of yourself.
Today, you can write up that email in five minutes. With an email finder tool like Norbert, or Name2email, you can find someone’s email in less than one minute. You can then write up a subject line, “Connecting with [insert name here] + topic,” and write up your body text. Or, if you’re really at a loss for where to start, you can Google an email template as a starting point, and tweak it accordingly.
Yeah, the email might not look perfect after five minutes, but that’s ok. With a tool like Boomerang, or Outlook, or the Apple mail app, we can schedule email to go out any time in the future. If we feel ok about it, schedule it to go out two mornings from now. If you feel terrible about it, schedule it to go out a month from now. Then close your email client.
The magic is, the email is now going to go out, until you cancel it. If you want to go back in and change it, you can. You always have the option to cancel it, but if you leave it alone and nothing happens, it’s going to go out, and you may make a new acquaintance.
Example #2: Writing a blog post
If you’re writing up a blog post, just write 250 words in your word processor of choice and toss it up on Medium. Sign in with your Twitter account, and paste your story into Medium. Schedule it to go live a week from now. Or, if you feel terrible about it, schedule it to go live a month from now. Seth Godin publishes everyday at his blog because he has a queue ready to go. Even if he doesn’t feel great about it, it goes up.
Again, the default has changed. Your brain now knows that you have an article scheduled to go live. You will either edit it, add to it, or pull the trigger to cancel it. Either way, you’re making the default to publish your work, instead of letting it wither away in some unused folder on your Google Docs (or in the recesses of your mind).
Example #3: Setting a default, pre-decided option
We all have parts of our lives we need to maintain. For example, if you want to make a choice — a gym, a shirt, someone to come fix your light fixture — do 10 minutes of research today, find someone slightly pricey but reliable (e.g., with good reviews, or potentially a referral), and put time in your calendar (or a task in your to-do list) to move forward on the option.
Sure — the slight premium you might be paying (an extra 10% for not spending 100% more time researching), might mean you might not get the best deal in the world. But it also means you don’t have to hunt around for a gym (and can start working out), you can wear the shirt to occasions, and you no longer have to squint your eyes when watching Netflix.
Make ‘someday’ today
“The four most dangerous words to accomplishing your dreams are: ‘I’ll do it later,’” Shane Parrish from Farnam Street writes on Twitter. But the danger of later expands far beyond dreams. Years later, these things we meant to finish remain undone, trapped by the inertia of our desire for better results.
The best time to have started, and finished, most of these tasks is yesterday. The next best one is today. Remember, for the vast majority of tasks, done is better than perfect. Taking action by default means not letting your tendency for later, or fixation on getting something perfect, be a barrier to you actually getting something done.