Procrastination—it is something that every one of us know all too well, and in today’s technologically saturated world, it is more prevalent than ever.
Not too long ago, procrastination required a little bit of effort—if you wanted to know what the score was to last night’s game, you had to go hunt down a newspaper, or that one guy who knows way too much about sports—but now, when access to an endless amount of information and entertainment is just an arm’s reach away, procrastination requires hardly any effort at all.
For productivity, this is obviously a big problem. Whether you are working on an annual report or America’s next great novel, easy access to procrastination makes it difficult to achieve your goals. Figuring out an effective way to overcome these urges to procrastinate, then, is of utmost importance.
The biggest mistake people make when trying to become more productive is quitting whatever it is they are procrastinating with, cold turkey. This approach may work in the short-term, but it hardly a sustainable solution. A more effective and practical approach is the so-called “10-minute rule.”
The way the 10-minute rule works is that anytime you feel the urge to procrastinate—to check social media or browse online for those clothes you probably don’t need—tell yourself, “I can do that thing in exactly 10 minutes, but until then I have to work on whatever it is I should be working on.” And the chances are, as soon as those ten minutes are up, your urge to procrastinate has dissipated.
There is, of course, a neurological explanation for why this occurs, but we don’t have to look at the science to see that the 10-minute rule works. Its effectiveness is especially apparent in eating, specifically over-eating: You’ve already had dinner, you know you don’t need to consume any more calories, yet late in the night you have a sudden urge to go grab a snack—you can either fulfill that desire immediately, or you can push it off into the future; if you take the latter approach, you will probably find that the desire to eat has disappeared.
Or, for another example, think about the many times you’ve worked straight through a meal—chances are, besides that first initial surge of hunger, you weren’t hungry at all despite the fact that your body actually did need calories this time. Why is this the case? It all comes down to attention and patience.
If you focus on your desire, its hold over you will only grow in strength; but if you direct your attention away from your desire and toward the task at hand, it will eventually dwindle into the background—but it requires time; if you only fulfill your immediate desires, you will merely become trapped in an endless cycle of un-productivity.
It is important to remember, though, that mental rest-breaks are imperative for boosting your overall productivity levels—the human mind can only devote so much meaningful attention in a given amount of time. So, it is up to each individual to distinguish for themselves what is useful distraction and what is simply procrastination. If you try out the 10-minute rule, making this distinction will become infinitely easier and you will find yourself being more productive than ever.