Imagine the last time you witnessed a temper tantrum.
Chances are that it was from one or more small children. They were probably with Mom or Dad. They saw something on the shelf that they wanted and took the initiative to put it in the shopping basket. At the checkout, there was a difference of opinion.
Or maybe they were in a public park and saw people eating ice cream. First they tried to get their parents attention. When that failed, they made signs and sounds, appealing to them to buy some. When that didn’t work, they tried another approach. They screamed and cried and pouted and stamped their feet so as to cause the maximum embarrassment to their parents.
What usually happens in such circumstances?
A lot of ice cream is sold.
To a certain extent, you do the same thing when you’re faced with a temptation that you habitually give into.
The adult in you says, “No,” but the little kid inside says, “But I want it now!” And then for some untold period of time, you struggle between doing your work or giving in to the temptation that pulls against you.
The temptation could be to take the day off. That’s okay if you need it, or it’s your appointed “day of rest,” or if you had planned to some time beforehand.
The temptation could be to check your email for the fifteenth time or to see who has liked the most recent meme you shared on Facebook.
It could be to chat with your neighbor who you now see outside and haven’t spoken to for awhile.
Maybe you just feel that if you rearranged your office, then you’d be at your most productive.
When you work from home, you’re faced with all manner of temptations to do everything except the work that’s on your desk.
You can have a routine, a time-specific goal, and even the place to yourself, and still find that your mind is wandering.
Maybe you do need a break. If so, then take it; but probably that’s not the answer.
What you really need is a strategy that will remove the inner tension that you feel.
In their book, Willpower, Roy Baumeister and John Tierney explain how to overcome the temptation to eat unhealthy food.
They suggest that instead of telling yourself that you won't have it at all, that you say “I’ll have it later.”
When you do that, the inner conflict goes away. Suddenly you don’t feel deprived. It doesn’t seem like such a big sacrifice, and the inner child stops telling you that you have to have it “now.”
If, in a “moment of weakness,” you dropped into a bakery, not so much as to buy, but rather to salivate, what happens when the person behind the counter asks if they can help you? It’s difficult to say, “I’m just looking” with a straight face, and so you buy something.
A more effective reply would be, “I think I’ll have it later,” and then scurry out the door.
Later, however, is an effective strategy for combatting temptation; and according to Baumeister and Tierney, it’s because it leaves open the possibility that you might say, “Yes.”
What tends to happen it that when you postpone something, you forget about and don't do it at all. And you know this to be true of yourself. If you tell yourself that you’ll do something later that you had intended to do first thing, then you probably won’t remember it again until you’re in bed.
Why does that happen?
It's because of the difference between the two perspectives: "Not now" and "no" are not the same.
If you tell yourself, "No. Never," then the mental and emotional battle is at its strongest. You face maximum resistance, just like the little kids who threw a tantrum. But, when you tell yourself "later," then that resistance goes away because your mind interprets later as “Maybe, but not now.”
"No" is always "No." There’s no room for compromise.
Later leaves open that possibility. It’s not a guaranteed “yes,” but neither is it a guaranteed “no.” And that’s why it’s effective.
If you struggle with the temptation to do something other than your work, then tell yourself that you’ll do it later. Chances are that the outcome will be the same. You won’t do it; but you’ll relieve the inner tension that you feel when you say, “No,” and that will enable you to focus on your work.
And that is how you use procrastination to get your work done.