This is a post about time.
Time moves faster than we expect.
In fact, there's a little somethin' somethin' called the Planning Fallacy. In short, we're systematically wrong about how long things will take us. It's the reason every project due in a week comes late. Why every professor is bombarded with emails for essay extensions. And why I can't consistently publish content on this blog.
I have a growing list of nearly one thousand article ideas, all unwritten. Worse, I have several concept skeletons lacking flesh. Bones with no meat. Outlines in need of full sentences.
But that's fine. I like ideas. I like outlining. I even like writing. I just prioritize everything else over my soul's nourishment. Fortunately, I have an accountability partner that keeps me to it. And his content is absolutely gripping. EVERY TIME. A true expert. A rider of the Time Dragon.
How does he do it? I don't know. But here's what I do know. There are very particular set of skills, skills that make me a nightmare for people like me. Skills that always get me in a seat, hands to keyboard, techno blaring, words flowing.
If you made it this far, this is your reward.
The Procrastination Slaying Sword
It's actually simple. It's not even hard to implement. Piers Steel, the guy who studies procrastination pretty much figured it out. It has to do with Utility i.e. how much you want to do the task (or how good you think the task is for you to do).
Utility = EV/DiD
Task Utility = (Expectancy x Value)/(Distractibility x Delayability)
E = Expectancy = How confident you you are that you can do the task.
V = Value = Task importance, relevance to your life, or (inversely) pain to work on.
Di = Distractibility = Anything in your immediate environment (including your mind) that takes your attention away from work.
D = Delayability = Amount of time you can delay before the work needs to be done.
You can read a deeper dive by Khatzumoto as it pertains to learning foreign languages, in his case, Japanese.
Let's me explain how it works with this post as an example.
Expectancy = 100% confident. I can write this article. So far so good.
Value = A bit shaky. Probably less than 10 people will read what I write unless I go all-out on SEO, but then it's less relevant and more painful to write.
Distractability = For me, this varies by the day. If I exercise, meditate, take a cold shower, eat a good breakfast, drink pure matcha, and plan every hour of my day, I might have good focus. If I don't do all this, there are a hundred pieces of content, a dozen friends to talk with, a few important projects, and of course my day job to distract me. And doing research for an article only pulls me deeper into the ineluctable rabbit-hole that is the internet.
Delayability = Here's the real problem. Blog posts have no deadline. I'm beholden to no one. I can write whenever I feel like it. And although I kind of always feel like writing, there's no impending reason to write. So I don't.
To turn all that information into a numerical value, scale each piece from 0-100 on a decimal scale such that 10 = .1, 50 = .5, and 100 = 1. Now estimate.
E = 1
V = .25
Di = .50 (with a daily variance of 100% such that some days I flow like Buddha at a rave, others I'm Ozzy Osbourne strung out staring at a screen with no comprehension of what's in front of me.)
D = ∞
U = (1*.25)/(.50*∞)
This task has undefined utility or simply put, it won't get done.
Let's solve that.
Earlier I mentioned an accountability partner. Every two weeks we write an article or we pay a $50 punishment fee. Now there's a deadline.
D = .5
U = (1*.25)/(.50*.50)
U = 1
The task will get done.
However, the equation breaks down when you try to maximize value.
Let's try anyway.
Expectancy is already 100%, but if you need confidence that you can write the article you're trying to write, lean into that anxiety and ask yourself why. Then obliterate those concerns!!
Check out Aversion Factoring for specific help.
Value is a bit tougher. Try to clearly state your goals.
For this article, I want to readers to learn how to work on what they love when they feel resistance to it. However, that means fulfillment is dependent on other people. No good.
To fairly evaluate my work, I need to have a goal I can achieve on my own. Otherwise, I'll get another infinitely impossible task. So this article is valuable if writing it teaches me how to write more consistently. And I've 100% learned a lot already!
Distractibility deserves an article unto itself. Mine stems from too many interests. My friends affectionately refer to me as 'the train trying to ride every track'. There are plenty of strategies to decrease distractibility.
Below are a few anti-distraction tactics that work for me.
- List tasks that need to get done by EOD. Plan every hour spent on them.
- Set timers for everything I do. Die by that alarm tone.
- Brave Browser, AppBlock, Freedom.to, OneTab, and other internet tamers.
- Strict morning and nightly routine. Don't break the chai
- Dopamine Detoxes, Monk Modes, and on-demand flow states.
- DRINK MORE WATER. Every ounce increases productivity 3% (personally).
If all those methods are in full-blast, I might hit 100%. Mission accomplished.
That said, when U = (1x1)/(1x1), you still get 1. The task gets done.
It just might get done faster if you test these tactics.