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3 Ideas in 2 Minutes on How to Stop Procrastination

How to Stop Procrastination is an exclusive issue of my free weekly newsletter featuring 3 Ideas in 2 Minutes on critical thinking, practical philosophy, decision-making, mental models & more.

Instant Gratification Monkey · The 10-Minute Rule · Yak Shaving

I. Instant Gratification Monkey

Over 20% of adults in the US procrastinate. What causes people to throw themselves into productivity limbo by perpetually postponing the task at hand? Writer and stick-figure artist Tim Urban reveals the reasons behind his lifelong quest how to stop procrastination:

It seems the Rational Decision-Maker in the procrastinator’s brain is coexisting with a pet — the Instant Gratification Monkey.

This would be fine — cute, even — if the Rational Decision-Maker knew the first thing about how to own a monkey. But unfortunately, it wasn’t a part of his training and he’s left completely helpless as the monkey makes it impossible for him to do his job.

The fact is, the Instant Gratification Monkey is the last creature who should be in charge of decisions — he thinks only about the present, ignoring lessons from the past and disregarding the future altogether, and he concerns himself entirely with maximizing the ease and pleasure of the current moment.

—Tim Urban, Why Procrastinators Procrastinate

How can you outsmart the Instant Gratification Monkey?

II. The 10-Minute Rule

The 10-Minute Rule is a life hack designed to stop procrastination. Author Amy Morin explains how and why the 10-Minute Rule works:

Simply tell yourself, “I’m going to do this for 10 minutes. Once I get to the 10-minute mark, I’ll decide whether to keep going.” Nine times out of ten, you’ll decide to keep going long past the 10 minutes. […]

Since science says dread is the most difficult emotion to tolerate, eliminating dread could be the key to performing at your best. So rather than waste time immersed in dread, the 10-minute rule will help you dive into a task right away.

The other reason the 10-minute rule works is because it helps drown out those exaggeratedly negative thoughts.

When you don’t want to do something, you likely build it up in your mind to be worse than it really is. Perhaps you imagine yourself being too tired to work out. Or maybe you make catastrophic predictions about how frustrated you’ll feel when you try to do your taxes. Those thoughts influence your behavior and cause you to keep procrastinating.

The 10-minute rule challenges those thoughts head-on. And there’s a good chance once you get started, you’ll be able to keep going.

—Amy Morin, Want to Stop Procrastinating?

What if you can’t even get yourself to do something for two minutes, let alone ten?

III. Yak Shaving

Yak Shaving is a form of procrastination inspired by the animated series The Ren & Stimpy Show. The idea is that when you are yak shaving, you lose yourself in increasingly minor tasks in the pursuit of a big goal. In the beginning, the activities you distract yourself with become more and more trivial.

A similar phenomenon is known as Bikeshedding. Though, this mainly applies to business meetings. Anyhow, I digress. The point is, the more you digress the bigger the chance that you suddenly find yourself shaving the eponymous furry animal.

The idea was coined by MIT software engineer Carlin Vieri in 1990 after he watched the TV show. In the Yak Shaving episode, people are celebrating the Christmas-like Yak Shaving Day, waiting for a yak floating by in its enchanted canoe. You know, because it makes sense.

But there’s good news. In terms of how to stop procrastination, you can also do Yak Shaving in reverse. Start with trivial micro-routines, preferably some that are still remotely connected to your actual goal. Then work your way up towards your main task.

I’ve also written a detailed post about Yak Shaving and how exactly it can help you overcome procrastination.

Have a great week,


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