February 13, 2019
Mark Twain once said: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” The reason being that no-one wants to eat a frog. Putting off eating it until later in the day may seem tempting, but it will give you opportunity to put it off again and again until you don’t do it altogether. This is essentially the heart of all procrastination.
We look at a task that we don’t want to do and come up with reasons to avoid it or we just don’t think about it at all until the deadline arrives and we are forced to do it. Often these tasks are important, and putting them off makes our lives or work worse. During my college years, I would often put off writing major papers until the last possible minute.
It got so bad that I reached the point where I would get up early the day the paper was due and hammer out a 10 or 15 page paper, often printing it up as the class where it was due was starting. This terrible habit resulted in me receiving poor grades and created huge amounts of stress for me as I dreaded due dates.
There are all sorts of things people procrastinate to avoid dealing with. Often, folks will put off lifestyle changes they need to make for health reasons or tasks they need to take on as a part of their jobs or difficult conversations they would rather not have. It’s easy to think we are at the mercy of our procrastinating tendencies, but this is not the case. There are all sorts of small changes we can engage in to fix procrastination patterns in our lives. The most obvious one is the one suggested by Mark Twain, if you have an unpleasant task, do it immediately. It’s unlikely that the task itself will get any more fun the longer you put it off. If anything, you are more likely to overthink it and convince yourself that it’ll be worse than it’ll actually be. Procrastination tends to have a snowball effect. It gets worse and bigger the longer it takes us to get started.
The simplest solution is to do it immediately, before there is a chance for it to get worse. This ‘just do it’ approach is especially important first thing in the morning, when we tend to have a larger reserve of willpower to draw from for taking on an important task.
The big thing is making the decision to do it, regardless of how we feel in the moment. Most folks have little trouble doing this when it comes to all sorts of daily tasks. For example: we go to work every day, whether we feel like it or not. This is because we have decided this has to happen. So we do it. The same aide applies to procrastination. If we allow our feelings to dictate our actions, we will never feel like doing unpleasant tasks so we will never do them.
Another simple trick is taking on tasks piece by piece, rather than as a whole. When I wrote my novel, I found that I made better progress when I just set out to write a small amount every day. Small goals are less daunting and make it possible to accomplish more over time. It’s mentally easier to take one bite of the frog than it is to swallow it whole. Breaking a task into smaller steps makes it easier to overcome procrastination.