The Now Habit

The Now Habit by Neil Fiore is a self-help book about understanding and overcoming procrastination.

Procrastination is a mechanism to cope with the fear that is linked to the beginning or the end of a task. Nobody is “lazy” on all fields of endeavor. You might not be able to start the next chapter of your novel, but still do the required reading for your college course.

A good way to start on managing procrastination is having a procrastination log where you jot down the time, the activity, your thoughts and feelings, your excuse, your attempt of a solution and your resulting thoughts and feelings.

The usual cycle of procrastination looks like this:

  1. You let the task at hand influence your happiness and self-worth.
  2. You want to execute the task very well, so that your perfectionism is satisfied. Thereby you increase your chance of failure by setting the bar very high.
  3. You fear that you cannot meet the expectations you have imposed on yourself. You cannot act.
  4. You avoid the problem by procrastinating.
  5. Shortly before the deadline you have to do something. You do it, but not as well as you could have, given the time allotted.

The first step towards keeping procrastination at bay is to create safety. Failure must not be the end of the world. You need to remember that many very successful people had big failures. Your value as a person does not depend on the task.

A way to reduce the pressure you feel is to be mindful of language. Avoid “I must” and “I should”. Try to think in terms of “I want to”, “I choose” and “I decide”.

A “should” means not being happy with a situation and deciding to do something about it. It does not mean “I dislike the way it is and I'm going to complain”.

“I must finish” is not a helpful way of thinking. The better way is “When can I start?”. Try to get things done at least partially, long before a deadline looms.

Partial work is an important aspect: you don't have to complete a big project in one sitting. Bite a small, manageable chunk off and get that done. The project may be big, but it can be tackled in smaller parts. Do a first draft. Or one test chapter. Maybe it even helps to do a first draft sloppily on purpose and edit it afterwards.

“I must be perfect” is inhumane. You are allowed to be human. Learn from mistakes, respect boundaries. Don't criticise yourself harshly. Have some compassion for yourself.

Take time off. Friends, Leisure time, your partner. They are important and healthy for you. Incorporate leisure time and sports in your schedule. Don't let it be a secondary concern for “when you find the time”.

Imagine the concrete goal and the rewards. Let it pull you towards it. Don't think about the long way till the goal, think about the way you've already behind yourself.

Don't get overwhelmed. You don't have to know the perfect starting point. You may take time to learn and feel secure in your task. Don't bad-mouth your achievements and progress.

Plan in reverse and invent lots of smaller deadlines. Start with the externally imposed deadline. Plan backwards what needs to be done to complete the task by that time. Plan intermediate steps with their own, much shorter deadlines.

Channel your energy into actions to remove the threats that you fear.

Play through the worst case. What's the worst thing that can happen to you? Imagine what you could do in such a situation. Are their alternatives? Are there maybe even upsides? How can you reduce the probability of that worst case happening?

Sometimes people work on tasks pretty well and productively, but they never seem to finish a task. Prolonging the almost-finished task takes up energy, as well. Just put that energy into finishing and reap the rewards.

Excessive preparation before beginning a task is also just procrastination. Limit it and then just start. If you really need research or other preparation, you will find out later.

Don't be discouraged by the seeming lack of progress after starting. It's often the case that the beginning is the hardest and slowest part. The time spent in the first phase isn't lost, you've got a better understanding of the problem and your task.

The fear that the demands of you will rise after successfully finishing the current job is irrational. You will still have some autonomy to make an informed decision later. Don't fret about it now.

If you feel that you need more time: are you sure that it isn't just perfectionism? Not everything needs to be polished. Weigh the cost and benefit of working on it some more versus finishing it.

Use the “Unschedule”. The Unschedule is like a schedule, but it starts with you entering blocks of recreational activities and leisure time. Only then do you enter your tasks, after you've worked at least half an hour without interruption on them. This gives you a realistic overview of how much work you can possibly tackle. Tasks are never scheduled, only recorded after the fact.

Aim for thirty minutes of uninterrupted, quality work. Take a break after that block.

Setbacks are inevitable. Look out for them. Observe yourself. What were your thoughts and feelings? Why did you revert to your old ways? Make plans how to counter that in the future.

Drop goals that can neither be achieved nor started upon in the near future. Change your plans and re-schedule it for a later time. Don't let that goal linger without any action towards completion.