Stop procrastinating and focus on the ONE thing that matters

Work smarter, not harder

This article aims to help you optimize your life experience, by finding ways of identifying your highest priority and focus on that. Do the right things.

Don’t make the mistake of just running very quickly up the closest hill (possibly lowest or smelliest).

Spring cleaning

If you went to college (don’t, skills are almost always more important than a formal education, and the skills to education value ratio keeps increasing) you know about procrastination.

You also know you would have been better of spending the little time you had on actually studying, instead of on an impromptu spring cleaning.

Ask “What do I want?” rather than “What do I feel like”

The procrastination devil occasionally get hold of the best of us, but to hold him at bay you should craft a method of pausing the time wasting and ask yourself “what do I want to accomplish (in the long run)?”

Early on I realized that whenever I faced a difficult choice and made elaborate pros/cons lists, there was always just one factor that decided the whole thing. The number or strengths/weights of the arguments just never were a factor in the decision. It was always just one thing.

I soon realized I could look for that factor intuitively. One way was flipping a coin, instantly feeling whether it was the “wrong side”, and then (when I knew what my decision should be) look for why the right side was the right side.

A very easy example could be listing pros and cons with keeping your partner, or adopting a problematic rescue dog. No matter what the list looks like, the “I love him/her” argument will always trump everything else.

What do you want or need? Get rich, become famous, be happy, independent, read books, get married, ace your exam, travel, shop for groceries, listen to music, clean, study, get ripped?

First list the things you want/need to do (from little things like clipping your toenails to big things like getting a PhD in theoretical physics or writing a bestselling book about the science of color).

WHY?

Then ask yourself why you want or need those things. The ‘why‘ exercise might make you scratch or add a few things. It also will help you prioritize. Try to pin down exactly what it is you desire, what it is you hope to accomplish or feel by reaching a specific goal. Once you do that, “owning a super sports car” or “fuck a model” might not seem as important anymore.

Don’t do the little things

Whenever you catch yourself “Just doing a little thing first“, pause and ask “How can I get closer to my real goals?“.

If you want to be a writer – sit down and write first thing in the morning, and put off all the little things – including going to the bathroom, shaving, getting a coffee, check your email, watch the news etc.

Nothing else is important until you have done what’s important

There really is no “list” of goals – just ONE ITEM

efficient procrastinate decision prioritize pros cons

There is nothing going on that can’t wait a few hours or even a full day. However, if you put off your life altering important project, for cleaning or shopping, you risk never getting anywhere at all.

After spending at least an hour (hopefully more, if you get into a state of flow – remember to put the phone on silent, close down pages with email or social media and put on a long playlist of your favorite work music. These are my two best playlists for working: Slow Fox and GOTH) you’ll usually be brimming with energy.

By then it’s easy to just run through the little things on your TO DO list: run 5km, bring money and do the grocery shopping on the way back, vacuum, do the dishes and clean and start the washing machine before showering. Then check your email, social media, call your mother, meet that friend for a coffee or whatever you felt like doing.

Don’t bury the lead

If you started off doing the little things, you’d be slow and ineffective about it, not to mention content and tired afterward – not at all feeling like attacking your BIG project.

Put off the little things and focus on the life altering decisions

Here are a few simple examples of inefficient compromises and poorly handled to do lists:

  • Watching TV instead of *your project*
  • Spring cleaning ahead of a major exam
  • Walking and texting – enjoy and focus on the walk. Text when you have stopped walking (or have taken a deliberate pause)
  • Speed reading – read what you want to read and do it in your own pace

Most important of all: Be You

However, make sure *your project* is your project, and not just about impressing others or trying to fit in, living vicariously through brands and conspicuous consumption or some other second hand life.

  • Find out who you are, know yourself (e.g., through living laterally)
  • Rank your goals with the most long-term, life altering ones first (who are you deep down, who do you want to be, what do you want to accomplish)
  • Focus on your number one priority first, and put off everything else
  • Make sure you get closer every day to goal number one

P.S. A friend of mine has experimented with a software for ranking your TO DO list according to, e.g., immediacy and long term impact. You can check out the presentation and the DaVinci TimeBot here. I suggest you find your own way of prioritizing your tasks and ambitions, but do read Eric James’ article anyway to get some inspiration.

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5 Comments

  1. >Nothing else is important until you have done what’s important

    Very true

    and definitely will be checking out that davinci time management tool

  2. Top article – this is fast becoming one of my favourite blogs.
    I am definitely guilty of doing the small things first and then arriving at midday wondering where the time has gone, no more!

    • Thanks Nick

      It’s all too easy to fool yourself you’re being productive by taking care of unnecessary chores.

      I’m all for freedom (retired, remember), but some artificial constraints seem important for true progress.

  3. +1 on this is fast becoming my favorite blog :) This article is just what I needed to get back on track!

    Here’s the paragraph that did the trick:

    “If you want to be a writer – sit down and write first thing in the morning, and put off all the little things – including going to the bathroom, shaving, getting a coffee, check your email, watch the news etc.”

  4. ”Early on I realized that whenever I faced a difficult choice and made elaborate pros/cons lists, there was always just one factor that decided the whole thing. The number or strengths/weights of the arguments just never were a factor in the decision. It was always just one thing.”

    So true.
    Noticed that myself a lot as well.
    Also agree on the one thing at a time approach.
    Tried both, there’s simply not enough energy and time throughout the day to fully give 100% to more than one thing.

    Better to crush a watermelon with a sledgehammer.

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