How to Use Procrastination to Foster Productivity

Six months ago I made a fascinating discovery – I’m a procrastinator… but that’s not all. The fascinating part was that, if properly structured, my innate procrastinating tendencies could be redirected and applied to:

1) Fixing my sleep, and

2) Increasing productivity 5x

We’ll get to how in a second, but first a bit of back-story –

I’d been a poor sleeper my entire life. For as long as I can remember I’d suffered form “onset insomnia” (difficulty falling asleep) – It took some doing but resolved itself with some basic sleep highgene techniques (cutting out caffeine, sleeping in a cool pitch black room, no LCDs two hours prior to sleep, etc.), combined with pillow conditioning – a form of behavioral or Pavlovian conditioning aimed at helping to develop a physiological association between the body’s location (being in bed) and the proper cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters required by our brains to transition from a conscious to an unconscious state.  (more about pillow conditioning in a later post)

My strict adherence to these techniques resulted in the complete reversal of onset insomnia. But this did not set me in the clear as I began waking up approximately four hours after falling asleep, never to return to sleep until the following evening. This is known as “terminal insomnia”. So, in effect, I’d merely transferred my insomnia from one end of the sleep spectrum to the other – not my intended outcome.

Here’s where things get interesting…

After eliminating caffeine and alcohol (both of which are known to have a potent effect on inhibiting the release of growth hormone and disrupting sleep quality), and minimizing fluid intake at night, it was easy to rule out any substances or midnight bathroom visits as the culprit for my constant waking.  What was the culprit was an overactive mind syndrome, or, “chatter-brain”.

I have a long to-do list, including but not limited to: finishing unread books, completing posts in progress, compiling ideas on cocktail napkins, getting rid of old junk, organizing my contacts, cleaning my apartment, removing old computer files, backing up my hard-drive and the list goes on… Sure it would be liberating to tackle any one of these to-dos and cross something off the list and off my brain, but these types of tasks just lend so well to procrastination. Then what happens?  When it comes time to draw the day to a close? Thoughts of unfinished business inhabit the mind – Any of this sound familiar?

I’m not so interested in why we do this to ourselves, although I find it curious; I am extremely interested in how we can tap that self-induced, delayed-catharsis mechanism, to yield high productivity, break this stupid cycle, and get a good night’s sleep.

Here’s how it’s done:

Each night, just before bed: choose one task to complete for when you can’t sleep; preferably the one that is causing you the most distress but not one that involves the use of a computer (or any LCD screen). Cleaning your apartment, doing dishes, organizing files, and reading Anna Karenina are all excellent choices.

IMPORTANT – Simply telling yourself that you will do x task is not sufficient. You must set up the task such that you will be fully prepared to execute it, and strictly designate that activity as your ONLY option in the event you are not asleep within 20 minutes of hitting the pillow, or find yourself awake and unable to sleep at any time throughout the night.

For example: I resolved to study Latin and prepared my desk with an open dictionary, uncapped pen, and stack of 4” x 6” index cards to write down and study vocabulary.

And once the task was set, and commitment confirmed, here’s what happened:

I never woke up in the first place and proceeded to sleep through the night! – My innate procrastinator kicked in, even when in an unconscious state!  However, if I were to get sloppy with the technique, only telling myself I would perform an arduous task without actually planning it, preparing, and committing myself to doing it, insomnia would re-emerge.

I’ve been maintaining this practice for over six months now during which time my sleep has only been cut short twice. On the first occasion, I cleaned my shelves and boxed up 40 books to donate to the public library. On the second, I made 20 flashcards for Latin words, committed them to memory, and then returned to sleep.

I cannot advocate strongly enough, to any procrastinators out there who have difficulty sleeping, the benefits of implementing this strategy. – Never again will your energy be wasted, or will you wake up feeling bogged down by chores left undone,  because one of only two things can possibly happen: You either:

1) have a great night’s sleep and wake up feeling refreshed and productive, or

2) make important headway in your life and free your mind by accomplishing something that has weighed you down for far too long.

…Amazing accomplishments all thanks to procrastination – Now that’s win-win.

Comments

  1. […] 1) Design a structure that prohibits wasteful procrastination (not all procrastination is useless, see my article on How to Use Procrastination to Foster Productivity) […]

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