Making believable plans

By johannatime On September 1, 2013 Under Productivity vs Procrastination

An unbelievable plan

Let me set out an imaginary situation: there is little time left to complete that report and you promise that next week, you will work on the assignment full time. You will not waste a moment on e-mail snacking, or hanging around the water cooler, you will lock yourself up and write that report, and on Friday, it’s done.

Sounds familiar? And do you believe it will work? Well it will not, because next week, there will be the same crazy emergencies as the ones that kept you from getting started on this report last week. And you will never find the appetite to work on a report full time. So next week will be a horrible week, or it will not happen that way.

Your brain does not buy unbelievable plans

Your brain can imagine the unimaginable. For the better (like envisioning your life purpose), but often, your mind would freak you out by imagining all the hardship, sorrow and pain that comes with doing an assignment like the above, and your brain does that in a split second. One thing the brain cannot do: two conscious tasks at the same time. So by imagining all the impossible things that need to be done at about the same time (within a split second), you feel like you failed already.

When you have a big task ahead, like writing a report, your brain prefers to do something simple first. Or in other words, you procrastinate and instead of just doing your task, you jump on Facebook or Twitter, or you start cleaning your desk.

How to trick your brain around it?

The key to make a plan work, is to convince your mind that you can do it. So instead of terrifying your brain with emprisonment and working late hours without getting to spend time at the water cooler, you break down your task into bite sized chunks as easy as an e-mail or Facebook snack. And there are some distinct steps you can take:

  1. What is your desired outcome? When is your task done and off your mind? Be clear and fair to yoursef and keep in mind that good enough is good enough. A perfectionist will find it hard to ever complete anything because it can always be done better. And then it is never done
  2. In case of a big project, can you identify parallel or subsequent sub projects to divide the project into smaller chunks of work? Write them down as individual projects with your desired outcome as their joint goal
  3. For every parallel sub project, what is the first action you would need to take to work towards your outcome? An action is an action when you can imagine yourself doing it and completing it. Write those actions down on your task list
  4. Keep repeating step 3 until your (sub) project is done

Indicators for a believable plan

If you are still procrastinating, I encourage you to take a closer look, and see if there is a real next action that needs to be done before the ‘next actions’ you wrote down on your to do list. Because a believable plan:

  • Makes you look forward to doing the next action, you even do more than just the one action, because your next action gets you into a flow
  • Increases your eagerness to achieve your desired outcome, and makes you enjoy the journey
  • May be time consuming, but you don’t find it hard to do
  • Gives you peace of mind when you are not working on your assignment, because you are confident it is on cruise control

Do you ever procrastinate? On what type of tasks? And what’s your strategy to beat procrastination and get productive? Please share your experiences in the comments below:

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