Overcome Procrastination – Five Minutes at a Time

Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t – or didn’t want to – get off the couch and accomplish anything? Everyone has those days… and weeks! Procrastination and avoidance have their charms: they can create the experience of a temporary island of tranquility in the midst of a sea of demands – a tranquility that lasts until the tsunami comes crashing in, at which point you scramble around, gasping for breath and doing what’s required to survive.

What are some reasons for procrastination? Sometimes it’s sheer overwhelm – too many things to do and only one you to do them (where oh where is my cloning machine?) or the task is so complex it’s daunting to know where to start. Sometimes it’s disinterest – the things you have to do aren’t on your favorite activity list. Sometimes it’s an emotional block, like fear of the outcome or rebellion against requirements (regardless whether they’re externally or self-imposed). Sometimes it’s simply self-created drama: As Olin Miller observed, “If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.”

Each of these factors has its own untangling that’s required. Overwhelm benefits from prioritization. Complexity requires breaking a project down into bite-sized pieces. Disinterest may be addressed by brainstorming around creative alternatives for getting things done. Emotional blocks can be especially juicy to dive into for great self-insight.

And yet in the meantime, the tasks at hand still need to get done. To this end, one of the most practical pieces of advice I ever received was to set a timer and spend a minimum of five minutes every half hour working on the tasks at hand. Think about it: You can do anything for five minutes. Once the five minutes is up (or you lose momentum after going over the five minutes), you can go back to lying on the couch or watching a movie or whatever floats your boat for 30 minutes (set your alarm). Then go back to working on the tasks for at least five minutes. Rinse and repeat.

Here’s a secret: As Olin Miller observed, we have a tendency to build tasks up in our heads, so quite often you will find the five minutes turning into longer because once you’ve started, you find yourself engaged. And hey, if you don’t, you’re five minutes closer to being done than you were before you started.