16. 8. 2019

How to Kill a Procrastinator – 55/5 rule

A Bit of a Story

            Two years earlier, I was a generic procrastinator. When the school bell rang, and we were free to go, I would head straight to the café where I would waste most of my afternoon (and money) drinking wine and smoking cigarettes, often just for the sake of it. It usually was already dark outside when I returned home feeling tired, slowly getting sober. When the alcohol mostly vanished from my veins, and I took a quick nap, usually at around ten o’clock, finally, I began to study, finishing between midnight and two o’clock in the morning. This was my modus operandi, and not to mention how unhealthy it was, it wasn’t practical as well (falling asleep during the studying time was a regular thing for me).

            Back then, I was in what I now call a Procrastinator mode. It’s a bit different from just being a procrastinator because it suggests that it is possible to switch the mode off. I believe the danger behind the whole procrastination halo is that people think it’s fixed – once you are a procrastinator, there is no way out of it. That is, of course, comfortable, because when you believe this, you don’t feel obligated to do anything about it – because what can we do, right? However, the truth is it’s not something fixed – you can switch it on and off.

            Once I realized this, I started to search for a way to get out of this mode. I struggled a lot, naturally, however, in the end, I managed to succeed. I was able to start writing on daily basis, keeping up with my other obligations as well. For two years, I was taking a run every morning before I set off to school (now I use this time for writing). I read much more books than ever before 1. I quit smoking and, finally, I have now enough of sleep. On this voyage to kill a procrastinator in myself, I came across many different tools, rules and other stuff which helped me a lot. The most important of them I’d like to share with you now, so you can use it to help yourself. 

If You Don’t Know What to Do, You’re Confused, Not a Procrastinator

To start being productive (to switch the Procrastinator Mode off), you need to know what to do first. 2 If you know what you want or need to do and you still are sitting on your ass wasting your time scrolling the Instagram, then, my friend, you are in the procrastinator mode 3. If you don’t know what to do and feel helpless, you’re confused. People often mistake these two – laziness and confusion – however the difference might be apparent. 

            So, before you start feeling sorry for yourself and call yourself a procrastinator, make sure you know what you want to do with your time, for this might be the solution for your problems. Should you be working on any school assignment? Is there a book you’d like to read? Should you go to the gym? Write it down. If there is nothing you want or need to do, you should invest your time in searching for something or enjoy your free time in relaxation (which is not the same as procrastinating). However, usually this is not the case – often the problem is that there are too many things we should do, and we don’t know what to do first. So, go ahead and write it down, one by one, things to do. 

            Now, if there had been any confusion, it should be gone by now – you now know what to do. Ha-ha, good job, but that’s just the beginning.

The 55/5 rule

Now let’s get to the core – the question How to stop wasting my time and do what I want to do? The answer is simple – follow the 55/5 rule. The rule is designed to switch the Procrastinator mode off. To explain it, let’s picture a simple to-do list:

  1. Read
  2. Write
  3. Exercise

 And a timetable:

            9:00-17:00 – Work

            17:00-20:00 – Free time

            20:00 – Theatre

There are three activities to do, and three hours of free time in the schedule. If you were in a Procrastinator mode, you would return home from work, sat down on the sofa and started wasting your time, thinking about all the things you wanted to do and felt sorry for yourself because you are such an unhappy procrastinator. If you were confused, you would be trying to do something, but always quit it to do something else – like reading for a minute, then writing for five minutes, then exercising for ten minutes and so on and on.

            If you followed the 55/5 rule, the first thing you would do would be writing a new schedule. When doing this, keep the priorities in mind – do the important stuff first, and keep the rest for later. The new schedule would look like this:

            9:00-17:00 – Work

            17:00-18:00 – Writing

            18:00-19:00 – Exercising

            19:00-20:00 – Reading

            20:00 – Theatre

Now, the confusion is gone – you know what to do, and you know when to do it. You won’t be frantically switching between activities worrying if you have enough time to do everything and if you should be doing right this right now.

            If you still have troubles keeping your concentration on the task, try to specify the schedule even more. It’s helpful to plan the specific activity you’ll be doing:

9:00-17:00 – Work

            17:00-18:00 – Writing an article about elephants

            18:00-19:00 – Exercising – heavy weight lifting, running

            19:00-20:00 – Reading a book about elephants

            20:00 – Theatre

            As you see, creating a schedule is often pretty easy, however, the clarity it provides is helpful as hell.

The next step is even more straightforward – when the time to do something comes (like at 17:00 to write), set up an alarm on your phone to ring after 55 minutes, and during these 55 minutes, forsake yourself doing anything else than the activity you should be doing. 4 If it is time to write, turn off the internet, get rid of any distraction and spend these 55 minutes trying to write. It’s okay to struggle. It’s even okay not to write a word at all. Even if you should spend these 55 minutes staring at a blank page and thinking where to begin, it’s okay. As far as you don’t get distracted by anything else – like writing messages to your friends or liking their photos, it’s okay. 

When the alarm clock is over, your phone rings and you know you are free – for 5 minutes. That’s why 55/5. After the break, repeat the same thing – set up the alarm clock and don’t do anything else then exercising 5, even if you were tired as hell after first ten minutes and should spend the rest forty-five laying on the floor crying your eyes out. Till the alarm clock is over, you won’t be doing anything else.

End of a Story

            This is the way I switched my Procrastinator mode off and set up a new, finally-not–wasting-my-life mode. If you follow the simple 55/5 rule, you will be able to do just the same. It may be difficult at first – which is natural, so feel free to modify the rule, so it suits to you best (e. g. 40/15 or 30/10) – however, make sure the working time is always at least twice as long as the break. Having a 5/55 rule is, of course, being fucking lazy again.

            After some time, you’ll get used to being productive as much as you were to be a procrastinator. It will feel natural and, most importantly, satisfying. You’ll be surprised of how much you can do with your time. As Seneca put it, “It is not that we have short time to live by, but that we waste a lot of it.” So, do yourself a favour – stop wasting your time. Kill the procrastinator.

If you like to read…

…and if you want to switch the Procrastinator mode off and switch the Productive hero mode on, read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work. It is life-changing.

If you liked what you read…

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