I try to take 15 minutes to meditate every morning. The old proverb goes: “If you have enough time, you should meditate 15 minutes each day. If you don’t have enough time, then meditate for 30 minutes.” I laughed the first time I heard that, but I think it’s 100% true. The days I don’t meditate or the days I’m most distracted and most prone to procrastinate. The days I’m most stressed and anxious, the days I feel like I have the least time are also the days when I am most prone to procrastinate. Coincidence? I think not. Meditation helps. The more overwhelmed I feel, the more important it is to take the 15 minutes. Or even 10 (like this youtube video). I used the Headspace program for a year and I do recommend it, but once I had it down it was not much harder to do with a free app like the Insight Timer.
The second method is pleasure reading. I’m a lifelong reader of science fiction. I love it. But aside from pleasure, this gives me a real method for reducing my stress and anxiety. Some activities just postpone my anxiety for a short time. So, reading a political or economic article is interesting. It’s a diversion from an important but anxiety-provoking activity. But when the article is done I don’t feel any less anxiety; if anything I feel more. The deadline is a little closer. Kira Newman over at Tech.co expresses her anxiety as a graph, and I think that’s useful.
Procrastinators (like me) don’t want to work until there is a crisis. Strangely, once the crisis hits, I start to work hard and the anxiety goes down. That’s the central paradox of procrastination: crisis = less anxiety.
This is why a longer timeline for a project may not produce better results or less stress. The longer timeline means that there is room for denial and inertia. The worst thing is an infinite or undefined deadline because anxiety can increase without bounds.
This is also why diversions or “breaks” are dangerous: they put off the crisis that will help get things started and get the anxiety under control. Tim Urban calls this urge to divert the “instant gratification monkey.”
Isn’t pleasure reading another break? I think “procrastination breaks” are attempts to reduce the anxiety the same way that eating snack food is an attempt to reduce hunger. The bad habit would be to wallow in anxiety, divert, wallow, divert, endlessly. Like someone who feels hungry, eats candy, and then immediately feels hungry again. It’s a bad cycle. The answer is not to stop eating, but to eat the right thing: an actual, satisfying meal. Reading is the right thing for me. It’s still not easy to get started without a crisis, but it’s easier without the ever present desire to divert.
Fun reading list this year: Dawn by Octavia E. Butler, Ash by Melinda Lo, A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan, Beauty by Robin McKinley, Memory by Linda Nagata, The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and even a non-sci-fi book called That’s Not How You Wash A Squirrel By David Thorne