I am the world champion of ‘procrastacleaning’!
I mainly work from a home office, and it is easy to decide that a load of washing needs to go on or be hung out, the kitchen needs a tidy or the shower a clean. Any of this is easier than knuckling down to do that ‘thing’ that, for whatever reason, I am procrastinating about. Procrastinating sucks and it hurts you because if it becomes a habit, then you will often end your day with far less done than you had hoped.
Our days are filled with scraps of time that we waste as we convince ourselves that we don’t have enough time to do X so let’s do Y instead. Five minutes is a scrap of time; we toss time scraps like this around all day. An email here, a Facebook feed check there, an Instagram look or a short read of Medium. These scraps are not long time periods by themselves, and they sure don’t feel long enough for great works or important things to get done. So we waste them, just burn them up.
BUT THE TRUTH IS THESE SCRAPS ARE ENOUGH TO SIDESWIPE PROCRASTINATION AND GET PAST IT AND HERE’S HOW:
Simply make a deal with yourself that you will put five minutes into that thing you are avoiding; just five minutes. That’s all. Less time than it takes to check your Facebook feed or to read that Medium article. The very real chance is that with five minutes into a project under your belt the next five minutes will be easier, and then you’ll end up doing the entire thing.
The reasons why using a scrap of time like five minutes works to beat procrastination is due to two psychological and related effects: The Ovsiankina effect and the Zeigarnik effect.
The Ovsiankina effect is the tendency of people to pick up an interrupted action again when it has still not been achieved because the non-completion of a task leads to an open loop in your subconscious that creates pressure to finish it.
In psychology, the Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. And again your subconscious creates pressure to complete them; it is literally, much harder to get unfinished tasks out of your brain than the ones you finish.
This is why those ‘not done’ tasks and chores keep popping into your head; our minds dislike unfinished business.
USING A SCRAP OF TIME, LIKE 5 MINUTES, HARNESSES BOTH EFFECTS BY THE SIMPLE ACT OF STARTING.
Once begun, the Ovsiankina and the Zeigarnik effects kick in, and our brain begins to pressure us to complete the task.
Another benefit of using scraps of time is that the reason we often procrastinate is that a task seems too large or we are overwhelmed by it. By taking a nibble, we reduce the size of the task, remove overwhelm and by just committing to five minutes we can sidestep this fear and just begin. And once begun our mind will engage to try to get us to finish. It really hurts a lot less when you are doing, than when you are putting things off.
Using scraps of time to get past procrastination is simple but powerful.
Spending five minutes on starting instead of on social media means that those cat videos will still be there, but your head will be pressuring you less.