But I wouldn’t be surprised if those numbers have doubled in 2020.
Common procrastination advice includes curt-lipped half-truths like “just take action now!” and “create a plan and write it down”.
But remedies such as these are about as helpful as telling someone with chronic depression to “just cheer up!” and make you want to backhand someone with all of the force of Chuck Norris during his prime.
So in this article we’re going to briefly discuss what procrastination really is, and then I’ll give you a simple fix to stop procrastinating that actually works (the kind Chuck Norris would approve of) called the Non-Zero Day Method.
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What is Procrastination
Procrastination may not formally be considered a psychiatric condition, but it can still cause severe psychiatric suffering and distress, and be the catalyst of many health, wealth, and relationships problems.
In other words, it makes you feel worse than a stunt actor in a B-rated action movie whose only purpose is to be pummeled by the protagonist.
Strictly speaking, procrastination is failure.
It’s a failure to do what you know needs to be done in favor of something else that gives short term emotional amelioration, but no actual long term benefits.
Procrastination comes in all shapes and sizes, and it can affect every area of life like your professional work, academic studies, social relationships, finances, and personal projects.
While some forms of procrastination are fairly innocuous, such as waiting until morning to take out the trash (because it’s cold outside dammit!), others have deep and lasting impacts on your anxiety levels and self-confidence, and can cause severe self-consciousness issues.
One study identified 5 categories of procrastination, which I think are pretty accurate:
- Life Routine Procrastination
- Decisional Procrastination
- Neurotic Procrastination
- Compulsive Procrastination
- Academic Procrastination
The Causes of Procrastination
The truth is that nobody really knows exactly what causes procrastination or why we do it (and there are likely several correct answers.)
Some studies have linked it to demographical causes like age, sex, and geographical location. But as these things are pretty much out of your control (especially when the world is quarantined) it’s best not to focus on them.
The causes that you should focus on are the personality traits that have been linked to procrastination: traits like neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsiveness. It’s a tall order, but one of the best ways to fight procrastination is to actively mitigate these personality traits in yourself.
However, the most important and relevant cause of procrastination is simply stress.
And unfortunately it’s a double edged sword because the cause of stress is procrastination.
This produces a nasty cycle where you procrastinate because you’re stressed and you’re stressed because you procrastinate: I call it the Procrastination Feedback Loop.
Plus A Pandemic
Add in a global pandemic and there’s an almost infinite amount of stress to be had.
Environmental factors like the pandemic have a huge effect on your stress and thus supercharge the Procrastination Feedback Loop.
So, the point is that you shouldn’t get too down on yourself if you’ve seen an uptick in your procrastination lately.
Studies have shown that procrastination is one of the ways we cope with life stressors (environmental factors beyond our control); your recent procrastination is natural.
Also, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone because everyone else is experiencing an uptick in procrastination as well.
The number of Google search results for “how to stop procrastinating” in the four months prior to the pandemic totaled about 42,000.
Since January 1st, 2020 that total nearly doubled to almost 79,000.
Suffice it to say, we’ve all been procrastinating, so don’t be too hard on yourself mmmkay?
The Non-Zero Day Method
With that being said, the Non-Zero Day method is a way to return some semblance of normalcy to your life and finally stop procrastination by building upon little wins during this pandemic.
The methodology is simple enough: you don’t have to do everything today, just do more than nothing. These are abnormal times so as long as you make progress, no matter how small, you can still count the day as a win.
It sounds simple but it’s deceptively hard because if you’re reading this article then you’re likely a high performer, and it’s very difficult for high performers to settle for anything less than “perfect.”
Yet, you must commit to the Non-Zero Day Method and be ok with not “doing it all” every day.
Here’s how it works:
1. Take out a piece of paper (or open a spreadsheet) and draw a 3 x 5 grid like this.
2. In the first row write Health, Wealth, and Relationships from left to right. These 3 columns represent the major components of your life (feel free to choose others if they’re more applicable to you.)
Now break down these components into the specific actions that you’ve been procrastinating.
3. In the health column write down each task you’ve been procrastinating that’s related to your health in a different row. Fill out as many rows as you can.
4. Repeat the same process with the Wealth and Relationships columns.
5. Once you’ve filled out as many squares as you can take a step back and examine your Non-Zero Day Grid.
For the next week these are the things that you’re going to have a non-zero day for every day. Again, a non-zero day doesn’t mean that you have to make huge progress in each of these tasks, it just means that you have to do more than zero.
For example, a non-zero day for “situps” may be 5 situps. For “job searching” that may be sending in 1 application. For “messaging friends” that may be sending 1 text.
Something, anything, is better than nothing.
Here’s the most important part:
Put a little checkmark in each square as you complete a non-zero day for that task. As your non-zero days grow you’ll feel a sense of achievement which will reduce your stress and thus have a compounding effect on your procrastination.
With enough non-zero days you will feel better, be more productive, and ultimately stop procrastinating: this is the Non-Zero Day Feedback Loop.