loop johnny

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Motivation and Procrastination. How to get rid of distractions and get the job done.

I am sure you are all familiar with the situation. You are in front of two contrasting paths. One is the distraction ( like the internet, friends, food, video-games, music, etc. ) and the other is the work you have to do but don't feel like doing. How do you get the 'want' to do it when you do not want do to it?

In most cases, procrastination comes rushing in and we delay the matter for another time, self-deceiving ourselves that we are going to take care of it afterwards. As expected, the time where it's too late to catch up comes and we end up with the task incomplete.

I find this a major problem with ourselves, or even more, with human beings in general. We, as humans, are hard-wired to procrastinate and act lazy and do only the tasks that offer immediate benefits. Working hard hours months in a row to achieve something ( even though something grand ) is always moved down on our priority list in favour to those tasks that offer immediate and observable benefits.

You can notice this behaviour on any animal. For example. If, let's say, an ape spots a huge bunch of bananas at the top of a very high tree when he goes on to climb up there and fails several times he usually gives up when something more 'distracting' comes along, like spotting some seeds on the ground. This behaviour helped us survive since the ape might have lost too much energy trying to get up to the bananas, thus ending up dead ( since some seeds here and there might be enough for its survival ). Efficiency at its best.

Now, in a modern society, when tasks are on a larger scale, within a team and long-termed, this behaviour that helped us until now, is causing problems in our day-to-day lives.

What methods are there for suppressing this natural hedonistic instinct that favours short-term tasks over long-term ones, substantially higher in reward?

Can't wait to hear your response.
-Loop

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    May 6 2011: I think breaking down off-putting tasks into smaller chunks is another key. We sometimes procrastinate because we think it'll be long-lasting and complicated, which is not motivating.
    The whole of it might be indeed, but break it down into eatable (and less scary) chunks and you start to see things differently - as dm qanda said, set realistic goals.
    And discipline, of course !
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    Feb 20 2011: On a side note, I had to do my math homework for tomorrow and I ended up formulating this discussion. I just now realized that I got distracted. It is 11PM here and I don't think I can catch up now. I hope I don't get caught.
    • Feb 20 2011: I'm going to play Devil's advocate here and say that not all distractions are bad, and some distractions (such as browsing TED) can even be productive. If we focus on one thing for too long (like math homework) we can easily get burnt out. I think distractions help us to balance our daily activities.

      However if you find yourself getting distracted too often, perhaps you should ask yourself why you don't want to focus on the task at hand. For example: Maybe you're tired because you're staying up too late doing homework. In this situation you should either (a) go to bed earlier so that you get more hours of sleep or (b) find the time to do the homework earlier. You can also try waking up an hour earlier to finish the homework - I usually find that I'm better doing work in the morning hours than at night.

      By the way, congratulations because you also distracted me from doing my work just now. ;)
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        Feb 21 2011: But in more important matters, like career and jobs that are your responsibility to do, it can be very troublesome to engage in it.
        • Feb 21 2011: If you find it very troublesome to engage in your job, perhaps you should find a different one. ;) It's only your responsibility to do your job because you are the one who applied for the position in the first place.
  • Mar 4 2011: Great topic. I've heard about and read Pink's book and thought about it for some time.

    He made a really good case about what drives us on the intrinsic level.

    But I think intrinsic motivation alone will not do it. In terms of dealing with procrastination, I like the old-school way of just doing it.

    And what I mean by that is not just doing a task for the sake of doing it. I mean doing it because I know it is good for myself in the long run. Things like delaying instant gratification and disciplining myself.

    I liken it to building muscles. They are sexy to have but in order to have them, I have to endure a lot of physical (or muscular :D) pain. No muscles are ever obtained from thinking about wanting to have them. The only way to get them is to exercise our old muscles until they are ripped and we get sore for the next few days.

    And please don't think of me as someone who has done it all. In fact, I am dealing with my own share of self discipline and procrastination issues.

    Glad you brought up the issue..!
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    Feb 22 2011: I know what you mean, especially since I discovered things like StumbleUpon (worst thing for any procrastinator) I often find myself pushing a button and browsing page after page of interesting or funny stuff on the net.

    Whilst this is the way I found TED and a lot of other great things in the first place, it also eats up a lot of time. Whereas in school it was ok to do nothing until the day before a written test and it usually worked out well, college has very different requirements.

    The only solution that I have found is run away from distractions and "hide" in the library with the things that I am learning. Every time I speculate I might be able to learn something at home, even if it's not in my own room, I notice I end up doing something else.

    Delaying gratification really is incredibly decisive for success as shown by Joachim de Posada and other researchers with the marshmallow experiment (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/joachim_de_posada_says_don_t_eat_the_marshmallow_yet.html).

    We all have our marshmallows, but not eating and waiting for the second one can be quite a burden at times...
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      Feb 22 2011: This marshmallow trick is double-edged. Cause when you transfer it to the real life, either side is winner or loser. If you count degree or some else good you call it - "they waited for marshmallow and they got their goods", or if someone gets the degree instead of doing what he likes it's like - "they ate first marshmallow too soon and lost the second one".
      Even with kids, it's not like two marshmallows later are better then one right now.After comparing values, there is a sacrifice one or the other, and all choices are right answers.
      I totally agree with "We all have our marshmallows, but not eating and waiting for the second one can be quite a burden at times" and can add "we all have second marshmallow that tempts and doubts us from taking a first marshmallow now, and both marshmallows require unordinary merits and qualities"
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      Feb 23 2011: Stumble. Stumble. Stumble. ... ( 2 hours later ) ... Stumble. Stumble. ...
  • Apr 9 2011: Making sure of rewarding myself after x minutes of study with x reward helps. Setting realistic goals, exercise, diet and taking more and smaller breaks also helps.
  • Apr 8 2011: Whether distraction is useful or not depends a lot on what kind of things steal your mind away.

    When you are not under pressure, such as at work or with a maths test hanging over your head, I think there is some value in your mind drifting. I have a pile of shelved projects, and my habit of wandering away from the line has robbed my of the intensity I started out with for them. But procrastination has become somewhat of a moderator for me. On the other side of the distraction, I get to assess the value of the project with a little perspective, and if there is real potential there, I pick up where I left off, and often become stricter with myself with regards to that project from then on.

    The strictness is key for me. I see the creative spirit as something that needs to be honed, because it is one thing to have inspiration, and quite another to discipline yourself until you have given a good idea the effort it is worth. See the time you are alone as "production time". Divide up those hours at home into 2-3 hour segments, plan in coffee breaks etc, don't get caught in a chat unless it helps your cause, and be true to yourself when you assess your efforts.
  • Mar 22 2011: Actually I have been trying to find a Ted Talk that actually addresses this problem. (Any suggestions?)

    I think it is fine to pursue a dream after finishing school but while one is at school they have to do boring Math or boring German. Why sit through German when one has no interest in it? Why learn Math when I've got a calculator?

    I think the schools has to tie in the long term benefit. As with the gym workout you know what you are striving for as you can picture what your body is going to look like. Whereas for Math... and A grade is not tangible, and it doesn't make me look cool in front of my peers.

    Correct me if I am wrong but I think we can become less distracted and move ourselves away from distractions if we see the subject as a means to get us to a highly emotional, desirable, and achieveable goal, that we highly value.

    Otherwise plan to remove yourself away from distractions and accept the pain.
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    Feb 21 2011: B. Hellinger Die Mitte fühlt sich leicht an (1996)
    J.Enright. Enlightening Gestalt: Waking up from the nightmare.

    Distraction is usually created by "attachment" or delusion of having and absence.
    If you get distracted, it often means you don't really need it now. Understand what happens, don't become slave of delusions or automated behavior and live happily.