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If Kafka Can Do It, Why Not You?
If you’re one of the millions who (like me with this article) doesn’t do things until the last possible moment, you’re among many whose achievements were not limited by procrastination. Bill Clinton, Franz Kafka, Margaret Atwood, Mozart, Leonardo Da Vinci, Frank Lloyd Wright and many others have publicly confessed to their procrastination tendencies. Clinton describes himself as a “chronic procrastinator”. Mozart wrote the overture for Don Giovanni in a single night — the night before the opera’s debut. When Da Vinci’s benefactor threatened to cut off his funds due to incomplete projects, (the Mona Lisa took 16 years to complete!) Da Vinci replied, “Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work the least, for their minds are occupied with their ideas and the perfection of their conceptions, to which they afterward give form.”
So if you’re among the 95% of people who procrastinate, how can you still achieve your goals? There are many ways to go about conquering procrastination and the advice varies depending on the source. Margaret Atwood, author of 14 novels, nine short stories, 16 poetry books and many other articles and shorter works, created an alter-ego, Peggy, to boss Margaret around and prevent procrastination. Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet, Inc. manages his procrastination by doing tasks immediately, saying, “If you ask me to do something, I’ll do it immediately. It makes the world more efficient and it makes me more efficient as an executive.”
Recently, studies have been conducted on procrastination and methods of management. Georgetown University’s School of Nursing recommends three different techniques:
- The Pomodoro Technique (my personal favorite): The technique is simple. A timer is set and you work for that period of time, ignoring any unrelated tasks. Once the timer goes off, you have a set, short break. After three cycles, a longer break is taken. Commonly done is 25 minutes on, five minutes off and after three cycles, a 25-minute break is taken before starting over!
- Break large tasks into smaller chunks. If you get satisfaction from crossing items off a list (whether metaphorically or physically), then taking a large task and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable tasks can be a great motivator.
- Practice self-compassion. If your procrastination is fueled by negative thoughts and self-doubt, handling the root of the issue is more effective. Reflecting on the emotions you feel towards the task at hand and disproving it using facts and rational thinking helps to tackle self-doubt and facilitates task completion.
With the many different root causes for procrastination (self-doubt, ADHD, neurodivergence, distraction, etc … ), ways to cope and manage are almost as numerous as the procrastinators themselves. I could write a much longer article detailing all of the different methodologies and strategies, but that would take all day – and my 25-minute timer just went off! So instead, I ask: do you procrastinate? If so, how do you manage it?