I can’t help it if I’m a sucker for books with titles that make big promises. And the bigger the promise, the more skeptical you need to be. I was willing to believe in Get Everything Done, when Mark Forster confesses to being a procrastinator. I was won over by the insight he shows into the (lack of) motivation procrastinators have. Though the book strikes me as repetitive and somewhat disorganized, it delivers a collection of tactics for procrastinators to overcome our resistance and actually do things.
He discusses making time for “depth activities,” like walking, writing, meditating, exercise, or prayer. When we do these things that matter to us, we feel centered. When we don’t, we feel like the whole world is off balance. Trouble is, when time seems short, these are the first things to go. The solution? “The best way to do this sort of regular, recurring, daily activity is to schedule a specific time for it that is inviolate.” Sound familiar?
But the really interesting discussions are the ways Forster offers to deal with resistance to the ordinary day-to-day tasks and projects. These are the principles I am finding most useful:
- The only way to deal with resistance is action.
Putting something off only makes it harder to do. The next time you look at it, you already feel guilty about putting it off, so you’d rather avoid it than think about it, so you put it off again. Thus, the resistance increases until the pain received for not doing it exceeds the pain of doing it. Meanwhile, the resistance never goes away, but hangs over you in a cloud of vague anxiety while you find busywork so you can feel like you’re doing something useful.
It’s not going to get any easier, so you might as well do it now.
- Build the strength to face resistance by deciding what you will do. Then do it.
This “mental strength training” is the very first thing Forster advises. Every evening, decide on one thing you are going to do the next day. Make sure you have defined it clearly enough that you will know it’s done. Then, the following day, do it! If you succeed, make the next day’s task a little harder. If you fail, you chose one that was too hard. Choose one that’s a little easier. Day by day, you stretch yourself, falling back when you fail.
- Overcome resistance by working in short bursts.
You can work on anything for five minutes. Once you start, you encounter the flip side of resistance: once we begin doing something it becomes easier to keep going. However, working for an indefinite period is not as effective as working under a deadline. That cut-off concentrates the mind. You can harness this “end-effect” by setting a timer for a short interval and stopping when the time is up. Since you haven’t finished, you will crave continuing it. Set the timer again for a short break or another project. Meanwhile, your mind will keep working on the first project. When you come back, you’ll have more ideas than you would have without the break.
Five minute bursts may be a good way to get started, but you would drive yourself nuts if you kept that up. So lengthen the time after each break, 5, 10, 15 minutes, up to 40 minutes. This system is a lot like the (10+2)*5 Procrastination Hack. It sounds crazy, but it works.
- Embrace resistance as a guide.
We resist the things that challenge us. When you identify the thing you are resisting most, that’s usually a sign of what we most need to accomplish.
Sometimes, however, we may be resisting because we are being pressured into something we know at heart we shouldn’t do. In this case the true resistance is against examining our feelings on the matter, for fear the necessary action may be standing up and saying no. And that means we circle around and revise the first principle.
- There are only two ways to deal with something we are resisting:
Do what we are resisting OR
Make a conscious decision NOT to do it.
Either way, you are making a decision and committing to it.