Do You Keep a Procrastination List?

It’s a pretty standard practice at most supermarkets and grocery stores. I think the only place where I haven’t seen it (yet) is Costco. You mosey your way through the aisles to pick up a carton of milk, a box of cereal, a pack of chicken thighs and a loaf of bread. These are all pretty typical items on the shopping list for most families. No big deal.

The Cheap Temptations

You make your way over to the checkout and you’re immediately hit by a variety of celebrity gossip magazines. There’s a bit of a lineup, so you catch yourself skimming through the headlines for some of the latest scandalous dealings. The line moves a little bit and you’re hit with fully stocked shelves of candy, chocolate bars and chewing gum, along with more magazines. There may be some cold beverages in little fridges there too, sold for at least double the price (on a per unit basis) of the larger packs you found back in the regular (non-refrigerated) aisles.

And I don’t know about your local supermarkets, but the Real Canadian Superstore here in Vancouver always has a deal of the day or a deal of the week. The cashier is obligated to offer this to you — it could be anything from cough lozenges to dish soap — or else you get one for free.

Why? Why do all supermarkets stock up their cashier lines with these relatively small items? Because they’re all impulse buys, designed to tempt you after you’ve already gone through all your regular shopping in the main part of the store. You see, there’s this concept in psychology called ego depletion and the idea is that your self-control is a limited resource that gets depleted the more you use it.

Enter the Procrastination List

So, what does picking up a sleazy tabloid and a bottle of fizzy drink have to do with Internet marketing and making money online? The very same mechanism at play at the checkout stand before you’re greeted by the cashier is equally applicable to how you go about approaching your day-to-day life as a self-employed professional.

When you set your own schedule and when you don’t have a traditional “boss” to answer to, the opportunities for distraction and procrastination are limitless. And after you exhaust your self-control trying to avoid Facebook and YouTube for a couple hours, it becomes so much easier to give in to your temptation to dive into some forum or fall into a bottomless pit of Google searches, and these end up being a tremendous waste of time.

Perhaps with a healthy dose of irony, I came across an interesting strategy as I was meandering my way through the Internet one day. It’s called the procrastination list, but you can call it whatever you want. Basically, you maintain a list of tasks that you are “allowed” to do when you feel the urge to procrastinate. The key is that when you want to procrastinate, these are the ONLY things you’re allowed to do.

This is a little different from the scheduled breaks you would allow yourself under the Pomodoro technique, as those 5 to 15 minute breaks should be spent away from the computer anyhow. Instead, pull in some items from your Kanban boards or your other to-do lists, items that are lighter and “fun” and could serve as a pleasant escape or “break” from what you’re normally working on.

If you write a lot, as you probably should as a blogger, then perhaps one of your permissible procrastination list items is to take pictures for a product review or shoot a video for your YouTube channel. Maybe it’s to dive into a helpful book that you’ve been meaning to read. The main thing is that when you feel like you want to procrastinate, you must pick something from your procrastination list. If you don’t want to do anything from the list, then you have no choice but to return to whatever it is that you’re currently working on.

Do Better Work

Now while some researchers have evidence that may debunk the notion of ego depletion, the lessons we can learn from the concept can still be applied to our everyday lives, both personally and professionally. Stack the odds in your favor of actually getting important work done. Always keep a procrastination list.

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