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The Tyranny of Time Management

The Procrastination Myth

 

The Tyranny of Time Management 1
The tyranny of time management

Here are some common reasons you’ll read about for why you procrastinate…

  • Either we don’t have a proper schedule or system.
  • We’re too self-confident – we believe in our abilities more than we should.
  • We have too much anxiety that results from fearing failure.
  • We have a warped sense of time in that we can’t fully appreciate the long-term benefits of doing something in the short term.

And those are all fair reasons, and for many activities, they are useful to consider. But there was a 5th reason. Namely, that the task we’re trying to do is unpleasant.

Here’s something I realized after several years. If a task is so unpleasant to accomplish, that might mean something! I’ve never found it easy to embrace procrastination. I believed that it was a serious human flaw, and we should do everything we can to eradicate it. I thought that it’s only function was to slow you down. My habits of putting things off were countered by new habits of trying everything I could get my hands on to make sure I never procrastinate again.

I used Evernote, Trello, Google Calendar, Slack, Google Keep, One note, physical notepads, virtual notepads, and every tool imaginable to make sure my new habits stick. I read a book by David Allen called, “Getting Things Done Fast”, and applied his methods to my life immediately. It helped. But it didn’t last. Too complicated. There’s a lot of benefit to becoming more organized, especially if you’re serious about becoming hyper-efficient. I finally read a book called, “The One Thing” years later, and it got me re-thinking all of my new (proud) productivity habits.

Be Task Oriented – Not Time-Oriented

In the One Thing, the authors make the case that instead of obsessing about time management, think about the fewest number of priorities (preferably one) that you need to complete every day.

I applied that advice and found that while my to-do lists were significantly shorter, I was getting a lot more done consistently. And the key word here is “consistently”. It’s easy to create a convoluted time management system where you try to micro-manage every minute of your day and implement it for a little while. But good luck doing that consistently without eventually breaking out of your own skin.

When I took a step back and thought more broadly about what mattered the most to me, and only focused on doing that, I felt happier, less stressed, and more productive. Another classic trick is to limit yourself, no matter what, to 6 tasks a day. The number is arbitrary of course. You can just as well make it 5 or 7.

But the idea is to set limitations. If you let all the haphazard thoughts that you’re constantly generating determine the course of your day, you’re in trouble.

“The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.” Robin Sharma

Hard to Rebel against Rebelling against Procrastination

Here are just some quotes about procrastination that have done a good job to make sure we never put things off:
  • “Never put off for tomorrow, what you can do today.” Thomas Jefferson
  • “Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.” Napolean Hill
  • “My advice is to never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.” Charles Dickens
The problem is, it’s more complicated than that, as are most things in life.Procrastination is bad. But it’s not always bad. It can sometimes be your friend. It could represent a part of you that you’ve been repressing or the vastly superior intelligence of your subconscious, and it might be trying to tell you something really important. Procrastinating might help you be more authentic, more driven, more committed.
Responding to that by treating yourself like a donkey, and forcing yourself to complete tasks your entire being is rebelling against is not the answer.
Procrastinating might allow you to develop a deeper understanding of what you truly desire, and what you’re fooling yourself into desiring. In other words, it might be the precursor to finding your own voice and your rightful place in the world.

Resistance

In “The War of Art” and “Do The Work”, Steven Pressfield urges you to fight the internal voice that stands in our way. But that doesn’t contradict the idea of using procrastination to your advantage. Pressfield’s idea is to get your first draft over with as soon as possible, and rewrite it later. Instead of worrying about the research and the details as you write, reserve them for a future date. I am a bigger fan of the idea of attacking multiple projects in sprints. When expending the highest amount of energy on projects that are demanding most of your attention, you go through an organic process of creation that is more fruitful in the long run. The other method – project management style – requires you to break up a large task into many smaller task and approach each one relentlessly and with the same vigor and purposefulness. But your initial enthusiasm is bound to wane eventually, and instead of calling it “writer’s block” the best course of action is to shift your attention to another project, and be patient enough to find inspiration for your first project again in the future.

The Caveat of Fighting Procrastination

It’s easy to fool ourselves into believing that we are slaves to our own demands. But we’re not, we’re a lot more rebellious than we think. Who’s we? Our internal nature, subconscious or cumulation of all our past experiences and wisdom, our soul. If we try to tyrannize our own lives for long enough, we’ll eventually snap.

“If your being is objecting to something someone told you to do, maybe you’re right” Jordan Peterson

The Virtue of Procrastination 

Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, surnamed “Cunctator” (The Delayer), was a Roman statesman who employed a novel strategy (that is now known as guerrilla warfare) in the Second Punic war against Hannibal.

Instead of engaging in an all-out war with his superior enemy, he targetted the enemy’s supply lines and only directly engaged in small numbers when the battle was taking place on favorable grounds.

In Gladwell’s book, “David and Goliath”, David doesn’t triumph by engaging head on with Goliath. He uses his speed, and skill on his slingshot to weaken Goliath until the right opportunity presents itself.

In investing, playing the long game is far more profitable than day trading. In sports, the team that overcommits leaves vulnerabilities at the back for the opposition to exploit.

Few understand that procrastination is our natural defense, letting things take care of themselves and exercise their antifragility; it results from some ecological or naturalistic wisdom, and is not always bad—at an existential level, it is my body rebelling against its entrapment. It is my soul fighting the Procrustean bed of modernity. – Taleb

Taleb wrote this in Anti-fragile. By ecological, he means naturalistic. That isn’t to say that something that is naturalistic is morally superior. But from a survivalist perspective, our nature predates our civilization, it predates humanity. It would be unwise to ignore it.

Jordan Peterson compares our neurological systems to that of a lobster in his book “12 Rules for Life“, particularly the areas of the brain concerned with social hierarchies. When lobsters lose in fights, they lose their social status and develop depression because they no longer produce any more serotonin.

Similarly, when we get defeated or move down the social hierarchy, we also produce less serotonin, and just like the lobsters, we slouch down.

The Procrustean bed is an ancient story that describes how a pathological but well-intentioned host (Procrustes) would treat his guests in the following way. If the guests were too short, he would stretch their limbs to fit the bed, and if they were too tall, he would cut them off.

Similarly, fighting procrastination is pathological in some ways. We simply have a natural way of being and there are certain naturalistic urges that we have that would be unwise to ignore. Those urges don’t need to be active. They can be inactive.

In other words, we can have the urge to really not do something, and instead of berating ourselves and making ourselves feel subhuman, it’s a lot healthier to accept our “imperfections.”

Sure, we need to force ourselves to do certain things, but not being too extreme or tyrannical about it is far more productive in the long run.

What can we learn from all this Crustacean, Procrastination talk? 

The first takeaway is not to be so hard on yourself when you can’t seem to force yourself to do everything you think you think you want to do. And I use the word “think” because we often don’t really know what we want. We can easily fool ourselves into believing that we do, and media, society, and our inner dictators can help us enforce that narrative, but eventually, we learn the truth about who we are and that narrative dies.

Using my ecological reasoning, someone who procrastinates is not irrational; it is his environment that is irrational. And the psychologist or economist calling him irrational is the one who is beyond irrational – Taleb

Another great takeaway, and borrowing from Peterson again, is to plan your days in a way that you would enjoy them. One trick I’ve mentioned before is to put limitations on the number of things I demand from myself, but a better trick would be to do the things you really want to do. You don’t need to feel like you’re in prison for the rest of your life.

If there’s something you don’t want to do, but need to do, then make it a small part of your day and get it done with, if your body doesn’t completely rebel against you. And another thing, if whatever you’re doing all day (out of necessity) is something you hate and keep putting off, then here’s an idea, stop doing it. You’re better off changing your major, job, etc… than trying to stick to it.

The carrot and a stick approach can only work for so long.

Since procrastination is a message from our natural willpower via low motivation, the cure is changing the environment, or one’s profession, by selecting one in which one does not have to fight one’s impulses. – Taleb

Research: 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/science-choice/201606/the-5-most-common-reasons-we-procrastinate

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quintus_Fabius_Maximus_Verrucosus

 

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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