5 Steps to Stop Procrastinating, Focus & Be Productive

How can we be more productive? There’s a lot of ways: Use the pomodoro
technique, break the project down into smaller pieces, drink coffee, remove distractions
from your workplace, listen to classical music (specifically this song), and just don’t
procrastinate. Okay- Wha, What about that last bit? You know how you’ll have everything ready
to do your work, you know exactly what to do, but you just can’t start? Sometimes for me it’s like there’s this
physically painful forcefield between me and action- and I just can’t… do anything… Then I’ll open up Netflix and the pain will
go away. That’s the thing you don’t want to do. So what can we do in those difficult moments
to get stuff done without needing an approaching deadline to finally kick us into gear? I’ll tell you: Do two pushups and take a
shower. “What the hell are you talking about?” OK I know that doesn’t sound like much,
but give me a couple minutes to explain the process and the 5 concepts behind why it’s
so effective. The very first step in this is to notice what
is going on in those moments when you are having trouble getting started or when you
are getting distracted. This is something I picked up from Psychiatrist
Judson Brewer. He gave a talk called “a simple way to break
bad habits” where he talks about how you can use mindfulness to stop cravings that
lead to bad habits. Judson described an incredibly successful
experiment designed to help people abstain from cigarette smoking. People were instructed to simply be curious
about their smoking cravings when they appeared. The point was to analyze and understand that
craving. To not focus on “oh my god, I need a cigarette.” but to focus on “Oh I suppose I’m a little
tired or irritated with this slow internet, so I am expecting a cigarette would make me
less uncomfortable.” Just by taking a moment to really understand
the craving, the participants had unprecedented success with abstaining from smoking. So I started trying this when I was working
and analyzed what was going on in my head when I was having trouble staying on task. Usually it was something I could put my finger
on: I was irritated with how slowly I was progressing in the project, or I suddenly
started wondering when Saturn was discovered, or I just really wanted to watch an episode
of the Simpsons. Taking notice of the craving to get distracted
helped way more than I expected. It was enough to be able to say “That’s
a stupid reason to stop working…” and the craving would pass. Unfortunately it didn’t work all the time. This is where part 2 comes in. The second part comes from human behavior
master BJ Fogg. BJ describes in his TED talk how there are
2 very effective ways to create new positive habits: 1 you can Change your environment
or 2 you can tack the habit you want to create onto an existing behavior. With the second method, BJ talks about how
he was able to get in about a 100 pushups a day by simply pairing a new behavior – pushups,
with an existing behavior – going to the bathroom. So every time he got up to pee, he would do
two pushups. You might say “Why not 10 at a time, he
could do 500 pushups per day” – actually, the small number is important to the likelihood
of him actually doing it. For example, if you’re trying to get yourself
into the habit of jogging every day, you’re more likely to commit and make a habit- if
your target is 200 meters per day rather than 5 kilometers. No matter how tired you are, a jog up and
down the street is do-able. And, you’ll probably end up doing more than
200 meters, but the point is that day by day you’re making it into a habit. You can do all sorts of things with this concept
like get yourself to start flossing everytime you brush your teeth. I chose to make the habit of doing pushups
when I caught myself procrastinating. I successfully made it a very regular habit
by starting with 2 pushups, but now I regularly do more like 10 or 15. When I first started this, my idea was just
that “If I’m gonna slack off, I might as well get some exercise” but this exercise
helped me in a way I didn’t expect- it was giving me a small boost in willpower so I
just would go back to work instead of opening up netflix. Richard Branson has claimed that working out
gives him 4 extra hours of productive time each day. Several studies have shown that exercise increases
BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which stimulates the production of new neurons. BDNF is very important to learning, memory
and higher thinking. While a couple quick pushups isn’t going
to grow me a whole ‘nother hippocampus, it will increase blood flow, getting more
energy and oxygen to the brain, making it perform a little bit better. Better performance also means increased willpower,
which is usually enough to get control of myself and stay on task. .
Another thing that might happen is my desire to get distracted and stop working will be
less than my desire to not have to get up and exercise. These two situations alone are usually enough
to keep me from procrastinating. And, this small practice is reinforcing my
ability to be mindful of my actions. In another video I talked about how sites
on the internet like facebook or twitter use a “Hook” to keep you constantly using
them. This mindfulness practice makes it easy to
get yourself out of this hook say “I don’t even know this person, why am I looking at
their wedding pictures?” And then close Facebook So What do you do when you have the willpower
to work, but you need to come up with new ideas to continue? If the task at hand only requires the will
to do it, you can continue using the exercise trick to boost your willpower. But What if you’re at the point where creativity
is necessary? This is where the shower comes in. Surely anybody has had the experience of being
in a shower and having a good idea suddenly hit them out of nowhere. 8.2 million subscribers to the subreddit /r/showerthoughts
shows how universal of a phenomenon that is. The key with the shower is not necessarily
the action of washing yourself- the key is actually being isolated in a usually quiet
room where you’re not working or watching TV or checking your phone. When Salvador Dali needed creative inspiration,
he would relax on his sofa with keys in his hand and when he dozed off, the keys falling
would wake him up. He would then quickly jot down whatever ideas
he had in that moment. Thomas Edison did something similar with ball
bearings and relaxing in his chair. Albert Einstein supposedly had one of his
insights about the nature of light when he was rowing on a boat in the middle of Lake
Geneva. The common theme here is… they’re not
doing much. Their minds are relaxed and not straining
on a particular task. So it doesn’t have to be a shower – you
can replace it with a distraction free walk, relaxing in a chair, just something slow and
quiet to keep your mind relaxed. However, If you do happen to be able to take
a brief shower or bath the warmth of it cause you to release dopamine, and increased dopamine
flow is linked to better creativity. So what’s going on here?Engineering professor
Barbara Oakley has a good explanation for what’s going on. She says there are two modes for the brain:
a “focus mode” where you are focused on a particular task, and a “diffuse mode”
where you are relaxed. You can think of these states as your brain
being two different types of pinball machines. The focus mode brain has many bumpers, so
once the pinball takes off it’s easy for the ball to get stuck in a certain area. The diffuse mode brain has less bumpers, so
the pinball bounces much farther around and more parts of the brain can be accessed. In his book “Originals,” Adam Grant says
that this sort of productive procrastination is actually one of the traits of creative
people who take truly original ideas and turn them into multi million dollar companies The last part of this has to do with the flow
state Steven Kotler, the author of The Rise of Superman,
talks about something called the “flow state”, a state he describes as an optimal state of
consciousness where you feel totally absorbed in the task at hand and all aspects of performance,
mental and physical, go through the roof. If you’ve worked on a paper with only 3
hours left until the deadline and you were typing continuously at double your normal
pace and you didn’t notice 2 hours passed until you had to pee, you were probably in
the flow state. A common trigger for going into flow is high
stakes moments like “finish this paper or I fail” or “make this jump or I die.” Steven says that in order to put yourself
in the flow state, you need to be aware of a 4 part cycle that starts with working through
a phase of struggle where you are focused and working hard at a challenging task. The next step is to go into a “release”
phase where you take your mind off of the problem. The third part of the cycle is being in the
state of flow. After you’ve focused really hard and then
taken your mind off the problem, you come back to it and (if you’re really lucky)
your brain will start to release a bunch of performance enhancing chemicals and you’ll
work or perform incredibly effectively. The fourth part then is a recovery phase which
is sort of like a hangover. The chemicals that enhance performance are
also the feel good chemicals, so you go from this amazing kind of “high” when in flow
to feeling pretty crappy once those chemicals are used up. So it’s also important to be able to deal
with that neurochemical hangover by getting the proper vitamins, minerals and some sunlight
so you can get back into cycle again. Of course actually getting into the flow state
isn’t easy. For me, I notice I can sometimes get into
it if I’ve cycled between grinding really hard and getting my mind off the task say
2 or 3 times in the span of 2 hours. So that is the 5 part anti-procrastination
process. And The good thing about this process is that
you get better and better at it. The more you practice mindfulness, the easier
it is to be in control of your actions. Every time you successfully do pushups after
getting distracted, it becomes more of an unconscious habit. Steven Kotler says you can even learn what
triggers put you in flow and then learn to more consistently put yourself into that mega
performance state. One thing that is really important is making
sure you’re taking the right kind of breaks. If you are hoping to get into flow, one of
the things that you can’t do during the release phase is watch television, because
it will actually change your brain waves in a way that blocks flow. And, It took me a while to notice that taking
a break by watching Netflix, I didn’t get many creative ideas appearing in my head. This kinda thing makes me wonder how many
creative insights may have been lost by people being constantly stimulated by their smart
phones. Most of us can’t even cross the street without
replying to a text or scrolling through the Twitter feed. It makes you wonder if Einstein would have
had those insights about the nature of light if instead of the clouds, he had a smart phone
to look at while he was on his boat. If you liked this, make sure to subscribe. If you really liked this you can help me out
on Patreon. Here are two of my other videos: One on How
the internet makes us less productive and another on how the low fat eating guidelines
made us a lot less healthy.


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