Chapter 2 – Just get tough and go do it
Now, you probably assume that at some point, my prescription to you is going to be “Just get tough and go do it.” It’s not. I know that if you’re reading this, that’s not an option right now. You’re licking your wounds, and you’re just trying to seek knowledge. You’re not watching videos. You’re being as responsible as you can be in this moment; you’re READING A BOOK on procrastination (congrats!).
So I’m not just going to take the harsh world’s side, and say “Hey, get back to work.” This book is just information, on the nature of procrastination. I’m sure you know how to timebox or how to just get started. You don’t need someone telling you how to life hack your way into instant solutions. What I THINK you need is for someone to procrastinate with you so that together, we can think about this pickle you find yourself in from a new point of view.
In fact, to prove how different I am from other self-help authors, I would like to openly trash one exercise commonly found in these kind of books, and that is: write out your life purpose. This exercise requires that you write for a few minutes about what you really like doing, what you feel called to do, what fills you with a sense of purpose, etc. The goal of the exercise is to help you see the big picture of your life so that it puts your task in perspective. Or it’s supposed to make you realize that the task isn’t connected to your purpose, so you should do something else. Something like that.
But you don’t want to write out your life purpose. No one that I know – who is not a dumb hippie – writes out their life purpose. Don’t do it. Nothing productive will come of it. You would just end up writing sentences that you THINK are possible life purposes, but that have no real emotional connection to you. You would just end up writing platitudes like:
“I like working with others toward a common goal” Ok???
“I want to contribute.” Do you really?
“I want to leverage my skills.” Do you?
Sure I do – but those sentences don’t light me up and give me vision and motivation for what I need to do. A more genuine phrase might be – I like to do things that interests me. Things can interest me for a whole host of reasons. Maybe it feeds into some fantasy I have, or some idea of myself. Maybe it provokes some question with no clear answer. “Could I do that? “What would happen if I connected this old idea that I know well with this new idea?”
Life purposes such as “build value for the customer” or “be a great teammate” might be true (or not), but they don’t light you up. They’re too generic. You don’t need to write out a life purpose and package it into 3 words or 10 words or a paragraph, and frame it and put it on your wall or keep it in a note on your phone. And I’d bet your articulation of your life purpose would be very generic, bland, and useless, and you’d end up tossing or deleting it shortly after.
Defining a sense of self MAY BE a useful exercise and may give you an anchoring idea to come back to. But a life purpose is not a concrete thing that everybody has. Don’t get fooled by language here. And don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re the only one who doesn’t have a life purpose – Or who doesn’t have one that is perfectly complementary with an immediately and obviously profitable career path.
If you really want a writing exercise (hopefully you don’t), I think exercises like.. writing an essay like this.. are more useful and beneficial to the procrastinatory (?) state of mind. Take a small, simple topic and just think about it from different angles. There’s no pressure to it and no stakes. No one will attack you for being wrong, or mean, or weird. These are simply thoughts on the topic – these are your results from going for a walk with this small, simple idea.
Don’t get stuck or feel left out if you don’t have ONE life purpose. It’s good to sit down and try to see the bigger picture and clarify your thoughts. But it’s okay if you either have MULTIPLE life purposes or ZERO life purposes or ONE POORLY DEFINED life purpose or ONE INSANELY IMPRACTICAL life purpose (that you would never say out loud.)
It’s okay that you’re procrastinating right now. It’s okay if you’re just sitting there doing nothing. You’re not necessarily weak or inept. Some procrastination authors remind you of all the possibilities available to you, and how you could acquire some new factoid or new skill to improve yourself and situation. However, acquiring new knowledge isn’t always the best solution to procrastination.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is just sit there and try to find areas you can admit are unknown. Highlight to yourself all the ways in which this predicament which you find yourself in is based on partial knowledge. Think of yourself as participating in a high stakes legal trial – try to poke holes in your problem’s story the way a lawyer would poke holes in a key witness’s testimony. Sometimes, when the heat of a deadline is really on, what’s felt as distressing is not the task itself, but the feeling that the world is against you. The world (with few exceptions) is not usually completely against you. Most people are just narrow jerks that same way that you are a narrow jerk. It’s not personal.
“What if I’m wrong about X and this task/problem/predicament will actually turn out fine?” Solve for X. Note, I did not say “Just get tough and go solve for X.”