But why are we such chronic procrastinators?
Lately, I’ve been trying to identify why I feel the urge to click away from what I should be doing and go do something — anything — else. And I think I can identify a few clear patterns.
Does any of this sound familiar?
1. Facebook and Twitter are fun. Damn them, social media channels are a far more enjoyable way to fritter away my day than any actual work could possibly be. And when you work in social media (like I do), you’re doubly screwed by this fact.
2. My tabs are open. If I keep seeing that new (1) in my Gmail, Twitter or Facebook tab, I’m going to click over and see what’s new. Because I like new, and I like validation. And that (1) could be anything. I’ve said before that I loved college because I knew anything could happen there, on any day, which made every day an adventure. Sadly, the (1) is as close as I get to that feeling today. It’s a tantalizing future in parentheses, dozens of times a day. How can I not click?
3. Page loads kill my day. You’d be surprised how often I click out to Twitter, Facebook or email instead of waiting for something as simple as a blog preview or a video render — which might take as little as 5 seconds — to load. Because those are 5 seconds I could use to catch up on a Twitter conversation I’ve been half-having… except that 5 seconds turns into 20 minutes, and then it’s time for lunch, and then a nap, and then…
4. I feel obliged to be entertaining. I have nearly 6000 Twitter followers, and I like to imagine they’re hanging on my every word, rejoicing when I share something amusing or meaningful that brightens their otherwise mundane days. (I wish I could say I get the same value from them, but in fact, I rarely check my timeline because I’m too busy trying to find things to share with them. If I read more tweets, I’d never accomplish anything.)
5. Actual work requires more mental capital than distractions do. Accomplishing something meaningful in my day will likely require effort, dedication and tunnel vision. But racking up a bunch of “quick touch points” in social media seems like I accomplished something, doesn’t it? It’s easier to get that 10% dopamine rush repeatedly throughout the day than it is to bear down and work my way to 100% through “actual” work.
6. The endless loop. Check my multiple accounts on Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Favstar, blogs, etc. Leave comments, answer questions, ask a few. Find something to share. See who else shared it. Answer an email. Refresh. Repeat. (All day.)
7. No consequences. Really, if I did want to just watch YouTube videos all day, I could. I’m self-employed. If I want to screw myself and scramble to pay next month’s rent, I can. It’s my choice. Social media is freedom, and I naturally feel obligated to milk it for all it’s worth. If I had an employer who was holding me accountable for my workday, I’d be using social media as a reward or an escape between deadlines, rather than elevating it to its current status as a time-sucking lifestyle. But, as my own boss, I have a patriotic right to watch one more YouTube video. That’s why we fight the wars, isn’t it?
8. Too many stepping stones, not enough Lambada. Let’s say I have a goal, and reaching it requires me to accomplish 5 small tasks, in a specific order. If I won’t feel the rush of a payoff until I do all 5, I’m less likely to start on 1 than I am to spend the next hour dicking around on Facebook, because not enjoying those first 4 steps will feel the same whether I start them now or later.
9. If I don’t have a plan that’s guaranteed to succeed, I have less reason to follow it. If those 5 steps lead to me getting paid, then I’m going to follow them (eventually). But if, as a freelancer, those 5 steps might lead to me getting paid or they might not, then following them is a crapshoot. I might as well just browse Chainsawsuit for ten minutes instead...
10. I don’t even know what the next step is. I may have a mile-long to do list, but if step 1 for each of those tasks isn’t clearly spelled out, I have no clear understanding of what I should be doing next. And taking the time to figure out that whole process is a process, and that takes time. But liking my friend’s adorable puppy photo on Facebook? I understand the ROI on that…
11. Writing about distraction is a distraction. When I blog about distraction, I get a huge traffic spike. Tell me that’s not a fucked up Pavlovian habit to get hooked on.
So, what do I — and we — do?
We kill it.
All of it.
Three Ways to Blow It All Up and Feel Like an Action Hero
[NOTE: I feel compelled to point out that, as I typed the above sentence, I felt the urge to click away and cycle through my social media tabs. Seriously. While writing a post about distraction, I had to fight the urge to check in on Facebook to see if I was missing out on something more important. I swear, this social media mindset is insidious...]
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And he gets shit done.
A) Grab the Nearest Problem and Solve It.
My girlfriend and I work notoriously poorly together, because I’m a process-based person and she’s a “do what’s closest at hand” kind of person. I can be concocting a strategy for accomplishing a massive project and she’ll derail me by asking me to clean the bathroom because we have guests coming in five days. My mind is boggled by her inability to focus on the long view, and she’s irritated by my reliance on lists and processes (which I spend more time rewriting than carrying out).
Funny enough, some philosophies indicate she may be right.
Remember how I said I’m less likely to start step 1 of a project if the process (or payoff) isn’t clear? If I were really smart, I’d just dive in and get started anyway, because by doing so, I’d be one step closer to success or failure, rather than sitting here staring at it. And by that rationale I can fail 4 times and succeed once in the time it would take me to write another, “better” to-do list.
B) Work without the Internet.
It’s no secret that I get more done when I’m not online. I also think more clearly when I’m not plugged in. I actually used to enjoy editing video at Starbucks in the days before free wi-fi because I knew I could sit there for a few hours and not be able to check my email.
If you’re as socially-addicted as I am, nuke it. Work without it. Go someplace where there’s no web connection. Leave your smartphone at home. Block your most-visited websites. Yes, it’s extreme, but if your problem is as extreme as it increasingly seems like ours is, you’re not going to put that fire out with a flyswatter.
3) Cut All Your Losses Except One.
One of the reasons I’m so distracted is because I’m overwhelmed. I’m juggling half a dozen separate ventures right now, all of which are competing for my time, attention, energy, expertise and resources. Some of them pay, some of them could, and any of them could be something I could do full time… but none of them are. Yet.
And so I do all of them half-assedly.
Really, I should kill one. Or all of them but one.
If I did that, I’d reduce my to-do list exponentially. I’d only be responsible for one route to success, which I could commit to fully, rather than hedging my bets and basing my expectations on what I can do with 20% of my time, rather than 100% of my time.
Paradoxically, the more I have to do, the more I embrace distractions because I start to feel like those distractions are “my choice,” rather than what they really are, which is “the wall I’m building between myself and success.” If I won at one of the ventures I’m fueling, I wouldn’t need distractions to create cheap thrills; I’d have the real thing.
And who knows what that could lead to?
So, if you want to do more, start doing less. But do all of it.
The Fourth Option
Also, I have identified a fourth solution which I haven’t mentioned yet, because I’m a few weeks away from being able to discuss it clearly. I have too many variables in play right now to make a proclamation just yet, but I strongly suspect this approach will work for me, and maybe for you, too. So stay tuned…
… but not too closely. You have work to do.