Problem With Procrastination? Try Doing NothingJust about anyone who has ever put off a troublesome task is familiar with one of my Secrets of Adulthood: Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

When there’s some chore you just don’t want to tackle, every other chore seems alluring. As a friend told me, “My apartment is never cleaner than when I have a writing assignment due.”

In Roy Baumeister and John Tierney’s fascinating book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, they suggest the “Nothing Alternative” to this problem.

That is, if you want to get yourself to do something, make the alternative to that task to do nothing.

This rule was inspired by the habits of writer Raymond Chandler. Chandler set aside at least four hours each day for writing; he didn’t force himself to write, but he didn’t let himself do anything else. He wouldn’t let himself read, write letters, write checks — nothing.

He summed up:

“Two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write. b. you can’t do anything else. The rest comes of itself.”

When I read this, I realized that I’d been following this rule without giving it a name. When I want to do the difficult work of original writing, I often work outside my apartment, in a library a few blocks away. This gets me away from the temptations of the internet, and it also forces me to accept the “nothing alternative.” I say to myself, “I’ll stay here for two hours,” and then I’m stuck. If I’m not writing, I’m just sitting there.

Sure, sometimes I jump up and go look for a book in the stacks, but that doesn’t take long. I end up writing just to pass the time. At home, by contrast, there’s no end to the useful tasks that I can find to occupy myself.

So if you often find yourself procrastinating by working, try making yourself do nothing.

?How about you? Do you procrastinate by working — by cleaning, organizing, answering emails, cruising the internet doing “research,” making plans, or the like? Has the “do nothing” alternative worked for you?

My friend Laura Vanderkam told me about the blog Wandering Scientist, and I’ve really enjoyed reading it.

 


Comments


View Comments / Leave a Comment

This post currently has 4 comments.
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.

Trackbacks

No trackbacks yet to this post.


    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Dec 2012
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Rubin, G. (2012). Problem With Procrastination? Try Doing Nothing. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/02/17/problem-with-procrastination-try-doing-nothing/

 

Recent Comments
  • Ray: One of the most simple and many uses for tool app I know off: Life Charge. You simply add a postive or negative...
  • shalindria: I love spending dream time with my dearly departed relatives. I got closure through my dreams about my...
  • browneyes: I feel I really need the truth out of him. I feel I deserve so much more! He has a problem, I know that....
  • Ainsley: I haven’t found an SSRI yet that works for me, and I’ve been on a bunch of them and a bunch of...
  • Jasmine Fricks: This article reports research from a famine in China over 40 years ago. According to the research, if...
Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter


Find a Therapist
Enter ZIP or postal code