The Now Habit | Book Notes #7

The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil A. Fiore

The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play
by Neil A. Fiore

Have you ever procrastinated?

It’s frustrating isn’t it? Wanting to make yourself do something you know you should do but just not being able to do it. In fact, the more you tell yourself that you should do it, the more you don’t feel like doing it.

Procrastinators know that feeling very well. Have you ever wondered why that happens? I used to think it’s because it’s an inherent personality trait, that some people are just born lazy and some are not. But this book argues otherwise.

We procrastinate not because we are born lazy or we are inherently flawed. We procrastinate because we want some relief from stress. Stress caused by fears we associate with the task we need to do. This includes fears imperfection, fears of failing, fears of being judged ( we think that our work is a direct reflection of our worth).

The fears signals threat to our brains. We respond and try to cope by by avoiding the cause of the stress altogether – by procrastinating. This brings us relief. The relief is only for the short term though, in the long term, it just sabotages our goals and waste the most important, non-renewable resource, we have – time. If our response to a task we deem threatening is procrastination, therefore, the book suggest, the solution we can focus on is to make the task feel safe and unthreatening.

How do we do that?

By doing the following:

  1. Changing the way we talk to our selves

    We may not realize this, but way we talk to ourselves about how we see a task determines whether we see it as threatening or safe. Sometimes, we forget that we actually have a choice on how we view things. We may not always have a choice on the actual task we have before us, but we can always choose how we view it. We don’t have to stick to one point of view, especially when it’s not serving us.

    We can consider the following changes in our self talk:

    1. Change “I have to/I should” to “I choose to”

      The self talk of using “I have to” or “I should” gives our brains the message that we are being made to do something that we do not want to do, that we are helpless victims of our situations, unable to choose for ourselves. It’s dis-empowering and demotivating. Instead we can shift our self-talk to “I choose to”, this moves away from the feelings of victimization and puts the power back in our own hands. Remember, we can’t control what happens to us, but we always have a choice on how we view things that happen to us.

    2. Change “I must finish” to “When can I start”

      When we always think in terms of “I must finish”, it focuses the mind on the enormity of the task, on to do list that’s left undone and the still distant future when finally all task will be checked off. It can all feel overwhelming. Why not try to shift our thinking instead to “when can I start”, as this focuses on the clear, concrete steps (when, where and what you need to do) that we can take right away. It just focuses on the beginning, we can always start right now, on the one task we have in front of us.

    3. Change “This project is so important” to “I can take one small step”

      Thinking that “This project is so important” can again be overwhelming and anxiety producing. It paralyzes us to inaction because we focus on the various ways we can fail. Why not shift instead to “I can take one small step” to remind us to focus on just one manageable step at a time. We can’t do it all at once, but we can achieve progress day by day, step by step.

    4. Change “I must be perfect”  to “I can be perfectly human”

      The more we think “I must be perfect”  as a must have requirement before starting every project, the more we will procrastinate. We are never going to be absolutely perfect, therefore we are never going to start. Perfectionism is a defense mechanism against the fear of failure and criticism, because we rationalize that we didn’t really fail if we didn’t try, right? 

      Instead why don’t we shift to “I can be perfectly human”, accept that we have human limits and flaws. That what we do may not be perfect on our first,second, or third try, but we can always improve on it as we go. To get rid of the need for perfection, it was recommended for us to try to intentionally do it imperfectly the first time and see how that motivates us to work further.

    5. Change “I don’t have time to play” to “I must take time to play”

      When we frequently tell ourselves that we don’t have time to play ( go out with friends, relax, play sports, exercise) because we need to be always working,  life will seem like a never ending grind. We become resentful of the work because we feel like we are missing out on the other good things in life. When we replace that self talk with “I must take time to play”, we prevent that from happening. When we set aside actual time for play in our schedule we will no longer feel deprived of it.

  2. Having guilt-free play

    When we think we should always be working, what actually happens is that we procrastinate when have to work because we feel stressed by all the things we still need to do. Then when we try to go have fun, we feel guilty because we know we procrastinated earlier and we think we should be working to make up for it.

    This happens because we are used to scheduling time for work but not scheduling time for play. Just as changing our self talk to “I must take time to play” instead of “I don’t have time to play” is important, we also need to prioritize and actually schedule play in our life.

    Play should be not relegated to something that we will possibly do when we get some free time in the future.We need to actually set a scheduled chunk of time for it, so we can look forward too with excitement and anticipation. Play can be as elaborate as taking a vacation overseas or as simple as reading a novel. It can be anything that we love to do.

    Play is actually essential, not trivial, to being productive, because it’s the chance to recharge and renew our creative energies. Only with guilt-free play can we be able to work productively. So we need to learn to play hard in order to work hard.

  3. Using the right tools to handle our fears

    Procrastination is an ineffective response to our fears. We choose procrastination as a response because we don’t know how else to to handle them. We feel that it’s the only option and we feel helpless in the face of it. But we are not, there are tools we can use to handle our fears, to make those fears work for us by choosing a different response.

    To set goals effectively we can do the following steps:

        1. For the fear of being overwhelmed, use the Reverse Calendar

          Sometimes there’s just too much to do and we feel overwhelmed and at a loss at to what to do and where to start. To overcome this problem, we can use the reverse calendar. This is when we break down the big task to small manageable ones and then spreading out the task to several days, weeks or months. We start with the ultimate deadline in the calendar and then working back and scheduling the smaller deadlines of the small manageable task we set for our selves.

        2. For the fear of failure, use the work of worrying

          Thinking of how we might fail in doing a given task can be paralyzing, we get stuck because we think of all the things that could go wrong and then just stop there. An effective response  we could do is to actually go further and use the work of worrying.

          The work of worrying is taking stock of how we could fail and then devising a plan on how to avoid failing and how to also cope with it if it happens. You can do that by asking yourself the following questions:

          1. What is the worst that could happen?
          2. What would I do if the worst really happened?
          3. How would I lessen the pain and get on with as much happiness as possible if the worst did occur?
          4. What alternatives would I have?
          5. What can I do now to lessen the probability of this dreaded event occurring?
          6. Is there any thing I can do now to increase my chances of achieving this goal?
        3. For the fear of not finishing, use persistent starting

          Many procrastinators love starting projects but have a hard time finishing them. Starting is associated to new beginnings and excitement, while finishing is associated to boring, tedious and dragging. To overcome this problem then, we just need to concentrate on persistently starting and not think about finishing at all. If we just keep starting on the project, eventually, at some point, finishing will take care of itself.

     
  4. Unschedule

    “Just do it” is not a very helpful advice to someone who is procrastinating. Because isn’t that exactly what their problem is? Not being able to “just do it” ? It’s like asking “how do I play basketball” and then getting the answer “just play basketball”. Procrastinators need advice on the how do make themselves do it. 

    The unschedule is the answer to the question of how, it’s a system that can be used to make ourselves do the work. It uses reverse psychology to make ourselves want to do the work instead of avoiding it.

    In the traditional approach, we get our calendar and schedule in the work we need to do first, and then only afterwards, do we add in leisure time activities. Often this would mean scheduling it if we have the chance, it means it’s not really a priority.

    To change that and make play a priority, we can do the following steps:

    1. Schedule play first

      With the unschedule system we do the reverse, on our calendar what we need to do is to schedule in our leisure activities first so we are sure we block in the time to do them. This would give us something to look forward too and remove the feeling of being deprived of having some fun in your life because of our work.

    2. Schedule routines and meetings

      After that, we block in our schedule our routines like meal times, sleep times, commute, socializing and any pre-scheduled meetings or appointments we might have. Doing this will give us a clear and realistic idea of how much time we can actually allot for our work.  Often we don’t have an idea of how much of what we routinely do take time, so we procrastinate thinking that we will always have time to do it later.

    3. Schedule work last

      After all that, what we are left with are time blocks we can allocate for work. We now have a clear picture of how much time we can spend for work. Block in the time so we don’t get interrupted.

    4. Keep an unschedule log, where we credit ourselves of work done only if we have spent a full  30 minutes on it.

      During our blocked schedule work time, we need to keep an unschedule log. It’s like punch card we keep for our selves to keep track of how much time we spent working. What we do is we set a timer for 30 minutes, during this 30 minutes we remove distractions and just work. We punch in if, we spent a full, focused and uninterrupted 30 minutes of work. Then we punch out when we are not doing the work.

      We don’t have to do hours and hours of work, just the 30 minutes. If we want to do more then that’s great too! When we are done, we write it down what we’ve accomplished and then take a break or do something enjoyable. The focus is here is to get us excited on how much we can accomplish in such a short period of time and take note of our progress.

      At the end of the week we can total the number of hours we’ve worked (congratulate ourselves for being productive) and check our accomplishments. Seeing clear evidence of our progress can be motivating in itself. The log that we have can give us an idea of how much time certain tasks take, how productive we are a certain times of the day and why. Patterns will emerge and then we can adjust and optimize how we work.

     
  5. Getting in the flow

    Have you ever had that feeling when you were intensely focused on doing something, and then somehow time seemed to slow down and working seemed effortless? This is what’s called flow or being in the zone, great athletes and artists, report experiencing them when they work. Being in flow can bring more joy into our work instead of making it a drudgery. It can also make us more creative.

    We can enter the flow state by using the two minute focusing exercise which aims to replace stress and guilt with focus on the present moment. We can do this by entering a relaxed state of mind by following these steps:

    1. Sitting on a chair and focusing our attention on our breathing. Imagine letting go of stress and tension as we breathe out. Inhale, hold the breath and then exhale completely ( do this three times). 
    2. Then focus our attention to our body, the feelings from arms, legs to our feet. Release any muscle tension as we exhale. Allow your body to relax. Inhale, hold the breath and then exhale completely ( do this three times).
    3. Let go of any all of thoughts and images of the past. Inhale, hold the breath and then exhale completely ( do this three times). 
    4. Letting go of any thoughts and images of the future. Inhale, hold the breath and then exhale completely ( do this three times). 
    5. After the twelve breaths, we are now in a deeper state of relaxation where we can give ourselves any positive suggestions. We can choose to tell ourselves that how alert and ready we are to begin working on the task at hand. 

    We can choose to do this, short two minute, exercise before we work on task, especially ones we are having a difficult time with.

     
  6. Fine tune our progress

    Overcoming procrastination is not easy and we won’t be able to do it overnight. We should aim for progress not perfection. As we get better with changing our self-talk, scheduling guilt free play, unschedule using the tools to manage our fears and getting in the flow, we can get even better by fine tuning our progress using the following strategies: 

    1. Planned Setbacks

      Our road to overcoming procrastination will not always go smoothly, in order to learn how to deal with failures effectively we can plan setbacks. We can plan to deliberately fail. Doing so can help us make better plans on how to deal with failure and how to prevent it.

    2.  Controlling/Noting distractions

      When we are trying to focus on a task, uninvited thoughts may pop up in our minds that may demand attention. In order to make the most of our time when we are focusing, we can just take note of any distracting thought down on paper and just review it later. When we’ve written down and allotted time for it later, it no longer needs to bother us while working.

    3. Mental Rehearsal and pre-programming

      When we have done the work of worrying, we now have a plan to deal with setbacks. To set our self up to have a productive day, we can visualize the things we need to do, the possible setbacks and what we will do to overcome them. Just like how athletes visualize their moves in advance, we can imagine how we will move and react for the day. We will be more primed to do what we’ve already imagine than what we haven’t.

    4. Effective goal setting

      We may have many goals in our life, but the fact is we have limited time to pursue them. When our focus and energy are scattered to too many goals we could end up feeling demotivated and frustrated because we are not making progress as much as we want. Effective goal setting is picking the goals we can work on right now and letting go of what we can’t. If the goal is important but we don’t have the time for it right now, we can schedule to them later when we’re done with the ones we currently have.

      To set goals effectively we can do the following steps:

      1. Recognizing the work of procrastinating

        Working takes energy, not working also takes a lot of energy ( worrying, feeling guilty, cramming). Working on our goals moves us forward, procrastinating holds us back, either way we are spending our time and making an effort. We need to recognize if we are spending our efforts correctly.

      2. Freely choose our goal

        Remember the power of choice. We can choose how to view our goals. Viewing our goals as something we freely choose to do will increase our motivation to do what needs to be done. Even the difficult, painful and boring task can be viewed as the price we choose to pay to accomplish our goals.

      3. Create functional observable goals

        Goals that are functional and observable should have an action step, a deadline, and associated cost (money or time). Getting clear about the three components will help translate a vague goal to an actionable one.

     

Procrastinating can leave us feeling drained, frustrated and full of regrets. It’s an ineffective and unhealthy response to stress. But we are not helpless, we can choose a more effective way to deal with that stress. The tools we were given like changing our self talk, having guilt-free play, the unschedule and getting in the flow are great tools to have in our tool belt when it comes to the dealing with the problem of procrastination. That’s the good news, the procrastination problem is a solvable one, we are not stuck with it. The more we use these tools, the better we become.

Book Summary of The Now Habit

  • We procrastinate not because we are lazy, but because we want some relief from the stress that we are feeling. The stress comes from the fears we associate with a task
  • We can overcome procrastination by making the task feel safe.
  • We can do this by following these steps:
    1. Changing the way we talk to ourselves
      1. Change “I have to/I should” to “I choose to”
      2. Change “I must finish” to “When can I start”
      3. Change “This project is so important” to “I can take one small step”
      4. Change “I must be perfect”  to “I can be perfectly human”.
      5. Change “I don’t have time to play” to “I must take time to play”
    2. Having Guilt Free Play
    3. Using the right tools to handle our fears
      1. For the fear of being overwhelmed, use the Reverse Calendar
      2. For the fear of failure, use the work of worrying
      3. For the fear of not finishing, use persistent starting.
    4. Unschedule
    5. Getting in the flow
    6. Fine tune our progress
      1. Planned Setbacks
      2. Controlling/Noting distractions
      3. Mental Rehearsal and pre-programming
      4. Effective goal setting
        1. Recognizing the work of procrastinating
        2. Freely choose our goal
        3. Create functional observable goals