How To Fix Your Broken System for Have-To-Do Task Completion
Did you read my previous article on How To Use Video Game Design to Become Productive? If you haven’t, head on over there. Trust me, taking the time to understand why you procrastinate and what exactly you need to look to change will save you hundreds of painful procrastination hours down the road. Because the reasons why we procrastinate aren’t so obvious.
If you have read my article on the MDA Framework and how it applies to productivity, you understand that the goal is to fix your aesthetics. And this basically means we need to become playful when it comes to Have-To-Do tasks.
Why We Don’t Like To Do Our Have To Dos
I recently interviewed someone who is a self-proclaimed procrastinator. Almost immediately he shared a story about how instead of working on his assignment, he drove to the supermarket, bought Oreos and pancake batter, and went home to deep fry them. When he ran out of Oreos to fry, instead of trying to reorient himself to start the assignment, he stayed up until 2am searching around his kitchen to find other random things to fry, to see what it would taste like.
We laughed together. It sounds so ridiculous out loud, like why would he feel the need to do something so pointless when he’s really pressed for time? But there was a dark overtone, as it became clear that these habits were getting in the way of his success and the stress of not getting things done was becoming overwhelming. When I asked him if he ended up pulling through and submitting the assignment, he said he couldn’t do it. It was really late, he still had no motivation, and now his kitchen was messy. He gave himself the whole night to work on this assignment, but the hours ended up wasted.
I had a hypothesis for why he had so much trouble finding the energy to reorient his mind and do the work. I prodded with the question, “Does getting graded on work give you anxiety?”
He immediately opened up with a really lengthy response.
“Professors don’t understand the kind of effort and time that goes into an assignment, they only grade the work. It makes me unmotivated to think that I could spend so much time and effort on something and for that to not show in my grade. I guess this causes dread, because it would suck to spend effort on something that no one will appreciate.”
The number of times someone has said this! For many, it would be preferable to blame lack of time to prepare as a reason for falling short than to recognize shortcomings in skill.
This is why procrastinators tend to be perfectionists, or smart people who want to set high expectations for themselves but the anxiety of not meeting expectations causes them to put it off. By procrastinating, perfectionists have a scapegoat excuse to justify what they believe will end up being evaluated as sub-par work anyways.
Tricks To Becoming Playful
So to ease this anxiety, we need to become playful. Here are some tricks you can use to orient your brain to be less anxious/stressed/perfectionist and more playful.
Ease the importance you place on other people’s opinion
People are people, and we all have faults. No one is better than another, and you need to remind yourself that whoever is giving you work, they are human as you are. They may be better at the certain task you’re being evaluated on, but that doesn’t make them a better person. Ingrain this thought and know it.
Think of it like an experiment and try different things!
You win some, you lose some. The stakes of Have-To-Dos aren’t really that important. As you go through them, you understand what you’re better at and what you’re worse at. Give it your best shot, and try to have fun with it!
Play around with different studying techniques, study groups, ways of reaching out to resources for research help, ways to organize your notes and do research. Come up with a strategy for succeeding, and give it your best shot.
A useful tool for some people is competition. Think about how fun racing in Mario Kart is with a friend vs. playing by yourself. This could be a bet with a classmate who is also struggling in the class, or a dare for whoever is able to come up with a better proposal for the project. This strategy depends on who you are, but it can help reinforce playfulness, keep fears in context, and make Have-To-Dos feel more fun.
And remember that mistakes from trying are ok!
Care about your future self
Think about your future self as someone you deeply care about. You want them to be happy, you want them to accomplish great things, and so you do what you can right now to help them in the future. Caring about your future self will help your mind become motivated, organized, and open to just trying things and doing your best. This puts the pressure off trying to be perfect in the moment, as your best effort for your future self is enough.
You Can Overcome Your Perfectionism and Become Playful
Do you ever have a moment where you feel very pensive or profound? Maybe it’s after a particularly interesting conversation, or you just finished reading a new book. Take advantage of those moments, and build an Aesthetics Tool Kit. This kit is a compilation of letters, lists, and reminders your prepare for yourself that will become little bursts of motivation and inspiration that’ll support you when you’re feeling bogged down by anxiety and dread.
Once you find the inspiration to work, make a concrete and manageable schedule for yourself, and conquer! Make getting stuff done easy for yourself mentally by battling your perfectionism and fears about consequences. Do your best, and remember to be playful.
I don’t want you to just read this article, acknowledge the advice, and then not do anything to help yourself. That’s why I created specific worksheets and activities for you to print out so you can work towards changing your perfectionist mindset to tackle Have-To-Do tasks.
These activities will help you build your Aesthetics Tool Kit, so that you can learn to become more playful and motivated to finish work, rather than be anxious about it and dread it.