Procrastination is all-prevalent. We all understand that it is not a good thing to procrastinate. We understand that it is no fun to put ourselves under artificial pressure just before the deadline while we could have spread that work over several previous days. We have seen time and again that the quality of our work suffers when we leave things to the very end and then work under artificial time constraints.
Yet, we procrastinate.
There is abundant literature around how to keep procrastination at bay. There is advice around how to set up self-imposed deadlines, how to avoid distractions like social media, how to introduce accountability systems, and how to setup and follow rules. I have done all of that too.
But rules and systems have an inherent problem that come with them.
Do you think we don't have rules for traffic? Do you think we don't have rules against corruption and tax evasion? Yet, we face violations on these fronts everywhere we look.
The problem with rules and systems is that they need to be enforced. In addition, we tend to follow rules only in the word and not in the spirit. Which means, there is an entire industry around how to spot and exploit loopholes (lawyers, tax consultants, etc).
We face the same when we resort to rules for beating procrastination. We find loopholes in the rules and we are not strict in enforcement of the rules. Besides, strict enforcement doesn't have a good effect when the work to be done needs intellectual involvement. You can force a kid to study for hours a day every day, but there is only so much she will improve if she is only resenting the enforcers and going through the motions.
My theory on how procrastination works is simple. The amount we procrastinate on a task is inversely proportional to the quality of the result we are satisfied with at the end of the task. And by satisfied, I mean, the least level of the outcome that we are ready to live with. For example, if I'm satisfied to self-publish and have only ten people buy my book, the amount I will procrastinate is much higher than if I want to be picked up by a publisher.
This is because the lower the quality of the end product, the lesser the effort needed in getting there and the lesser the time that needs to be spent in getting there. This gives procrastination has a lot of leg room to operate in.
Whereas, when we are shooting for a high quality end product, the amount of effort and time to be spent are higher, forcing us to start early and procrastinate less.
But the truth is that we always feel like we are procrastinating, no matter what, because we are always spreading our tasks over a time that is just enough to take us to the bare minimum quality we will accept. Which means we are always thinking to ourselves that we could be doing more while we are deciding not to and being distracted at the same time.
The best way to beat procrastination is to tend towards perfectionism and demand a higher quality end product from anything that you set out to do.