A procrastinator’s “Hair of the Dog.”

“If your job is to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning, and if your job is to eat two frogs, eat the big one first.” – Mark Twain (with a tip of the hat to Ana Swanson and Tim Pychyl)

Hair of the dog refers colloquially to alcohol consumed the morning after to cope with a hangover from drinking the night before. If, like me, you’re prone to procrastination (another form of addictive behavior), you might want to click on the link and learn more of the fascinating etymology. That’s what I did first thing this morning, while waiting for the coffee to click in.

The proximate cause of this investigation was a link from today’s Washington Post website, this by Ana Swanson entitled The real reasons you procrastinate – and how to stop. She cites Tim Urban, among others, reproducing his cartoons on the mind of a procrastinator. Absolutely. Ridiculously. Funny.

Thankfully, Ms. Swanson’s extensive article also contains the cure and the science behind it, attributed to Timothy Pychyl (and others; I’m telling you, you have to read the entirety). Here’s what she gleaned from him:

“Most of us seem to tacitly believe that our emotional state has to match the task at hand,” says Pychyl. But that’s just not true. “I have to recognize that I’m rarely going to feel like it, and it doesn’t matter if I don’t feel like it.”

Instead of focusing on feelings, we have to think about what the next action is, Pychyl says. He counsels people to break down their tasks into very small steps that can actually be accomplished. So if it’s something like writing a letter of reference, the first step is just opening the letterhead and writing the date.

Even if it’s an extremely small action, a little progress will typically make you feel better about the task and increase your self-esteem, which in turn reduces the desire to procrastinate to make yourself feel better, he says.

I know this works, from personal experience, because I had already started doing just this (albeit intermittently) a number of years ago, maybe around 2004-2005, in response to reading a 2002 book by David Allen, entitled, more positively, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, which is founded on the same principle. I found the book off-putting at first (told me things about myself I was reluctant to acknowledge), but have since reread it a couple of times, and each time it’s grown on me. Back then, I shared the book with my boss, who’s since made far more of a success of living by Mr. Allen’s advice than I have.

Parenthetically, (my boss) and I have someone else to thank for this, a person who shall remain anonymous, but suffice it to say, when she went off to Cornell for graduate work in communication the book was recommended to her. Recognizing my desperate need, she passed the tip along.

Thank you, anonymous person!

Oh, by the way, given all the time you’ll be saving because you’re now on your way to increased productivity, you’ll now have the time to explore one last link before you dive in – this on the single best joke told by each president, starting with Obama and working back. (This link, tragically, was next to the article on beating procrastination at the moment I was reading earlier this morning. I couldn’t resist.)

After all, laughter is good medicine, right?

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